Sunday, September 5, 2010

Challenges for a Changing Curriculum

After reading a recent article by a Harvard economics professor, I realized that we have a long way to go to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century. He advocated basic courses for students and adults such as introductory economics, psychology, and probability and statistics. His viewpoint is that in order to respond to the issues of today's economy, we must have a better understanding of the forces that influence it. New Jersey's recent addition of a financial literacy requirement is a good step in the right direction. Surely many of our country's home mortgage woes could have been avoided if we all were more informed consumers.

However, there are broader challenges on the horizon. Making sure that our future citizens are empowered to make informed decisions regarding their financial futures is great, but we need to think beyond individual sufficiency. We must prepare our students for the teamwork required of the global workforce. They must develop an awareness of and appreciation for different cultures in order to effectively interact with their global counterparts. The U.S. State Department has identified 10 critical languages for the future: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish, and Urdu. Many of our students may not even be able to locate where these languages are spoken, let alone have any appreciation for the cultures of these foreign language speakers. When one realizes that China and India have more honor students than America even has students, the need becomes more apparent. Moreover, India is a young country with over 50% of its population under the age of 25.

Our isolated approach to preparing American citizens must change if we are to empower our future leaders to move fluently in an economy where India and other growing countries play a greater role on the world stage. It is not enough to remotely study these other cultures. Our students must be able to interact with students of other cultures, thus broadening awareness on both sides of the divide. Sure, foreign exchange programs are great for this, but they serve a limited audience and are financially impractical. Rather, we educators must fully use the technology available to us. Setting up Skype conversations, furthering email contact, opening up global wikis, or perhaps even arranging for group projects across nations are a first step. The CIA World Fact Book provides comprehensive information about all aspects of different countries, and is a wonderful resource for both teachers and students. The door is wide open. It's our job to help our students cross the portal onto the world stage.

Here's the New York Times article from the Harvard professor:
A Course Load for the Game of Life

Here's a link to the U.S. State Dept.'s Critical Languages Program:
Critical Language Scholarship Program

Here's a link where you can explore the over 6,900 languages of the world:

Here's a link to the CIA World Factbook:
The World Factbook


  1. I couldn't agree more. Thanks for the links and info. Excellent food for thought!

  2. Thanks, JT! I'm glad it got you thinking! Keep on posting and adding to the discussion.