Meeting Tony Wagner

My unorthodox school, being strange as it is, got the pleasure of meeting Tony Wagner. 

I had seem him in the back of the class, walking around, watching us. With a shock of peppered white hair and a smile permanently tugging the corners of his mouth, he is the picture of a man happy with his life. He didn’t speak much; sometimes, he’d ask me what I was doing. It was only until two days later that I was formally introduced to him, the Harvard professor Tony Wagner.

Dressed in a Hawaiin-inspired shirt and casual pants, little would have expected the man who walked onto the stage to be of such responsibility and passion. Most would think such dignity and wisdom would be encased in a suit and tie and a serious expression to match.

“They enter smart, and they leave smart. The question is, are they innovative?”

His eyes light up and he waves his hands while he speaks, drawing out the problems in education rarely spoken about. There are 7 skills that young people need to succeed. Critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entreprenership, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination. The world operates digitally now, and education must be adjusted to suit the younger generation as “digital natives” and the hope for the future.

Education is the most isolated part of society in evolution, falling behind science and technology. Wagner mentions how even the best schools rely on textbooks, a one way “consumation” of information, nonexistent student-teacher relationships, and rote memorization. This education completely contradicts the working world, where information is at our fingertips and collaboration and communication is key. How can our children be expected to solve the amounting world problems when the skills needed is not cultivated in them?

His honesty cuts deep into everyone. Educators are leaving the education system outdated because they are so isolated themselves. They live most of their teaching lives alone, not seeing the importance of digital devices and communication skills. Because of the problem trickling down the stream from educators to students, students come out of high school unable to formulate their own thoughts into clear concepts, unable to analyze, and unable to solve problems.

After a moment of silence, questions start pouring in. “How can students form good, trusting relationships in big classes?” “What about the schools without digital devices?” “Aren’t we “consuming” you?” How can IB teachers incorporate digital media into the curriculum when the IB exam is a written one?” Wagner smiles at each question and answers with a heart beat’s hesitation. Many of the questions are met with a nondefinite answer, but for every question he struggles to answer, he brings up and deepens other points such as the expanding technology world, and the outdated methods of even the most prestigous curriculums.

In the stretch of an hour, the unorthodox looking man had joked, explained, and smiled his way to a convinced audience. With a quick laugh and bow, he was off again, in the same quick and energetic manner of a youth.


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