Review by Sonja Vandeleur
Educating our children in a changing world
David N. Perkins
David Perkins is a founding member of Harvard’s Project Zero, and in this book, he offers a toolkit for thinking through “what’s worth learning?”. This book was published in 2014, but it is perhaps more pertinent now in 2022 than it was then. Students of all ages have been forced to adapt rapidly in the past two years. Many students and educators have grappled with remote learning and the other challenges of lockdown, but the pandemic has also prompted many of us to reimagine school at the practical and functional level. And so the following question is more important now than ever before: “How do we prepare our students for life in a complex, changing, and challenging world?”
As Perkins argues, curriculum is one of the most important elements in making students ready for the future. By reading this book, you will find concepts, curriculum criteria, and techniques for prioritising content so that you can guide students towards the big understandings that matter, as well as getting students to ask big questions to dig deeper. The fourth chapter, “Big Questions: Learning beyond What’s Settled and Known”, was one that struck a chord with me. I have an interest in developing curiosity in our students, and so getting them to go beyond the obvious. Perkins states that Big Questions are not hard to find; it’s a case of standing back and getting a panoramic look at almost anything. For me, it is also about asking students questions to go beyond the known.
At the beginning of the book, Perkins addresses the question: “What’s worth learning?”. He does not answer this question in the book, as good answers to this are continuously under construction. In his closing paragraph, he states that “ ‘What’s worth learning?’’ is an impossible question if we want the perfect answer. We are indeed educating for the unknown. But with some thoughtful criteria and a sense of mission, we can grope smart’.
I often write in books that I buy if they are of great interest to me. They are my books, and I want to underline, make comments in the margin, highlight certain sentences; I do want some of my books to sit prettily on a shelf. My copy of “Future Wise” is full of pencil marks. It is a book that makes you think, ponder about how things are done, and question the way in which you teach and what you teach. Perkins’s writing is easily readable but highly thoughtful.