Twenty-first Century Learners

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” This quote is from Rabindranath Tagore who in 1931 was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He also was India’s first Nobel laureate. His friends included such men as William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound and Albert Einstein. These men all lived and worked at the end of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. Tagore was giving his plea over one hundred years ago! But the same holds true today, now, in the twenty-first century.

Our children were born in a time that is different from the years in which their parents and grandparents were “learning.” While there are some fundamentals across our various academic disciplines that remain constant over generations, how these are presented and worked with are indeed remarkably different. Our students are learning about a world that is changing almost daily. As our students study in a discipline – math, English, science, history, foreign language, arts – they are also learning how to advocate for themselves when they need assistance. Self-advocacy becomes part and parcel of what they need in the 21st century.

We want our students to leave Derby able to ask good questions, as well as be comfortable engaging in meaningful discussion. In addition, we provide numerous opportunities for our students to work on teams – in the classroom, in the theater, on the playing fields, in other countries via technology. Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, lists seven skills that students need to acquire today in order to be prepared for the future: critical thinking and problem-solving (being able to ask the right questions); collaboration across networks (teams are not all in the same location now, thanks to technology); agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism (think of projects in the Healey Center or The Invention Convention or the Global Nomad Program); effective written and oral communications; accessing and analyzing information; curiosity and imagination.

While Mr. Wagner is speaking at the high school and college level, we at Derby can translate his message to be age-appropriate to what we are doing here. Our students were born in another time – in fact, as I have said earlier this year, all our students were born in the twenty-first century. This is the century for which we need to prepare them. Many of the challenges presented by our teachers (projects, research assignments, outreach opportunities) lay the ground work for what is to come as they move on to higher levels of education. We should celebrate these opportunities and applaud their teachers for their commitment to forward thinking and preparation. Derby is a remarkable school that is building bridges to the future!



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