Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:00]:
Welcome, advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast. A podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their skulls. Today's special guest is doctor Deborah Pomeroy and f Joseph Marlino, authors of New Era, New Urgency, The Case For Repurposing Education. So without further ado, Joe, Deborah, thank you so much for joining us today.

Debbie [00:00:30]:
Thank you. Great to be here.

Joe [00:00:31]:
Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:32]:
Pleasure as always, my I'm excited for today's conversation. We're gonna be talking about 21st century skills. But before we get into that, Joe, I wanna start with you. I'd love for you to share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Joe [00:00:42]:
I'm currently president of the 21st Century Partnership For STEM Education. It's a nonprofit research and action organization outside of Philadelphia. Currently, we're working in Egypt. We've been there for the last 12 years, designing new STEM schools for their ministry of education and also new teacher STEM preparation programs for in 5 universities involving about a 180 new courses. So that's what keeps me busy.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:01:07]:
Now, did you say you're actually in Egypt or you're working out? Clarify that for me.

Joe [00:01:12]:
We have about, we have an Egyptian office made of Egyptians of about 20 people, and then we have about 60 US faculty as consultants plus our staff that are working with the A large part of our book is based upon our our stories in Egypt as a proof of concept as to repurposing education, which is what we did in Egypt.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:01:40]:
Got you. Okay. Okay. I was I was about to say, brother. Let me I would love to see that that is on my list of places to go. I wanna see the pyramids and and Nile River the whole nine. So one of these days I'll get out there.

Joe [00:01:53]:
Right. Right. It's a trip.

Debbie [00:01:55]:
Alright. And the best part of Egypt is actually not the pyramids or the sphinx, but the people.

Joe [00:02:01]:
Okay. Yeah.

Debbie [00:02:02]:
Yeah. Really.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:02:03]:
Well, speaking of Deborah, I I wanna throw it out to you now. I'd love for you to share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Debbie [00:02:09]:
Sure. I started off as a as a research scientist for just a couple of years and then went into education. I taught high school chemistry mostly for 19 years in Fairbanks, Alaska. Then I went into teacher education, got my doctorate and I taught science teacher education at a small university just outside outside of Philadelphia. At that point, I was involved in several different school reform projects and grants and and met Joe that way. And we were involved in a big NSF project, many schools, districts, and universities in the Philadelphia area. And as that was coming to a close, we decided to form our own nonprofit, which is the 21st Century Partnership. And and through that, I tried to retire, but I got called back into action for this big Egypt project.

Debbie [00:02:57]:
And, it was just an amazing experience. It was just like the the perfect culmination of my whole career. After about 10 years in that project, I I did retire and that gave me the time to work with Joe on writing this book, which was really our dream.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:03:13]:
I love it. Well, great. And and I'm excited. One piece from that book. I know you're talk like you said, to talk about the 21st century Eakins. And and I I wanna talk about this because I've talked about it before, but that was years ago, maybe 3 or 4 years ago when I had a conversation about that with a a guest on the show. Yeah. And so I I wanted to kinda update those things.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:03:34]:
So let's start with sharing with us what are the 21st or what are 21st century Eakins. Deb Deborah, let let me get your thoughts first.

Debbie [00:03:43]:
Well, first of all, let me say by that we're just giving our best estimate of what the 21st century skills are gonna be because, in fact, there's, quite a quite a bit of time left in this century. And so one of the things we have to think about is is flexibility and trying to anticipate the future and preparing preparing our kids for a future that we really don't even know and can barely imagine, science fiction notwithstanding. You know? Anyway, I'm thinking critically. You know, we hear discerning truth from fiction, something which is more important now probably than than we've ever seen, especially with AI emerging so strongly on the scene. Things like managing time well and planning and setting goals and collaborating with others, listening and respecting others. One of the big ones is learning from mistakes. And one of the things we really try to talk about is failing can actually be winning. Because if you think about what we're trying to do as learners, if we learn from our mistakes or learn from our failures, then in fact, if the goal is learning, then then the mistakes and failures help us in that learning process.

Debbie [00:04:54]:
And and that's so different from from the kind of rote memorization that we sometimes encounter in in educational systems. You know, one of the things we have often said is that, yeah, kids will get these from from home and they'll get these, you know, through extracurricular activities. They'll get them from their community organizations or from church activities. But it's in school where they'll really refine and hone. And school should be a place that really promotes these through learning activities, you know, that are really meaningful. You know, kids have to learn how to filter out the noise. They have to learn how to check their sources and test ideas, look for inconsistencies, and and actually, trust their creative instincts. I don't know.

Debbie [00:05:43]:
Joe, do you wanna Yeah.

Joe [00:05:44]:
I well, I agree with everything you said, Deborah, but I I I wanna add a few more things. Sure. I think the big skill in life is to learn how to become, how to form your own identity, and yet also be part of a group and how to work with a group, but also how to code switch, how to go from one group to the other. That's a skill. And because of the new technology that we have is very easy to be manipulated and to be moved around. So having a sense of solidity as to who you are and who you wanna be is increasingly important. And that plays out not just on the job, but in personal relationships. Yeah.

Joe [00:06:24]:
Yeah. Whether it's your boy or your girlfriend or your partner or whatever. Learning how to work with other people and being yourself, learning who you are, I think is a huge lifelong learning process.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:06:37]:
So I'm curious. If I had asked you this question 5 years ago, what are 21st century skills? Would your answers be the same as they are just now?

Debbie [00:06:47]:
I think we've become even more committed and and more intensely driven by by this by the need for these skills. I think what what Joe added to this first of all, AI has just, you know, come in much faster I think than most people anticipated it would. And so that's certainly a factor. But I think socially, when we think about the kinds of things that Joe was talking about, that's evolved in the last 5 years, I think.

Joe [00:07:17]:
And a lot of for me personally, a lot of this has been driven or developed or stimulated by writing this book. It took 14 years to write it. And the first part of the book deals with the history of the United States over 400 years as told through the lens of education and as told through the lens of 5 lifetimes. And for me, it made me realize that this country is still becoming and it has challenges of who it is and how do we deal with diversity, which is increasingly a reality. You know, it's no longer white Protestant, you know, it's a much more diverse. So the challenge for me is how do you live in a society where you treat other peoples equally and not so that one group is assimilated and absorbed into the dominant group. And that to me is a huge shift right now in the country. Right now, more kids are under the age of 18 are from minority groups than from the dominant white.

Joe [00:08:18]:
And it's going to continue that way. So we have to come to a moment of truth as to who we are and are we going to accept and not only accept, but embrace our differences. And at the same time, recognize what unites us or what should unite us.

Debbie [00:08:35]:
That yeah.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:08:37]:
I'm sorry. I would agree. I I'm not an expert in 21st century skills. However, I would imagine with the advancement of technology and everything else and I love, Joe, how you brought up, you know, just the fact that our demographics are are look different 5 years ago. And I think all of those things together makes a lot of sense. So let's talk about how. How do we help students get those Eakins? Because we're considering, you know, future generations. They might end up becoming leaders down the road.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:09:07]:
They might end up being CEOs or entrepreneurs, all these different things. So how do we support our students and help them get those skills? Joe, I I wanna get your take first.

Joe [00:09:18]:
We have to think about the purpose of schooling first. What is the purpose of schooling? Because what it is right now was created 40 years ago when the nation at risk report came out and which is the dominant paradigm that we have right now in this country. And that paradigm was basically we have to compete against Japan and Germany because we're in a global economy and we need to get everybody into college and career success. That became the overriding purpose. But now we're in a different era. I mentioned about the diversity. I think what it has to do with recognizing in terms of schooling, the particularity of the individual, okay, rather than just a category of a person. This person is made up of multiple identities.

Joe [00:10:05]:
And how do you form your own identity and at the same time be part of a group? And what kind of group are you a part of? And how do you make yourself a part of that group in a way that's positive and not something that's negative. So understanding choices that one has a responsibility to themselves, responsibility to someone L. And that schooling has to be, that idea should be embedded in the culture of the school and exemplified by the adults, but also structured in a way that gives voice to students so that they are held responsible and they participate in crafting rules and regulations for themselves. So it's a different paradigm potentially. Deborah?

Debbie [00:10:48]:
Yeah. Well, you're carrying it actually further than what we we talk about in the book, which is great. That's the fun part of being able to talk about it even beyond that. Yeah. And and our thinking is continuously evolving in this respect. So, you know, so what we do is we first as Joe says, the first thing we have to do is figure out what's the purpose. And but once we figure out what's the purpose that we want, and we can have actually, we can have very, very different people who actually espouse the same purpose. But then we have to say, okay, so let's define exactly what each of your terms are.

Debbie [00:11:27]:
Because if you think about what does it mean to be a citizen in a democratic society? One person might answer that one way and another person might answer it another way. And so beyond just the purpose, you have to really tease out what are the values and what are the specifics that go into into enabling a focus on that that purpose that you can all buy into. And then of course, you develop a curriculum that focuses all of its activities around that purpose. And it has to be a purpose which kids see as relevant. It has to be meaningful to them. That's one of the reasons why the Egyptian, I think, project was so successful is because the purposes the purpose of the schools was was to enable the students, the graduates to address Egypt's grandest challenges. And there was a list of what those grand challenges were. It should include overpopulation and pollution and energy and and the use of arid areas and climate change, purposes that we really recognize in this country as well.

Debbie [00:12:34]:
But the thing is is that these purposes are so meaningful to these Egyptian kids because they see it every single day of their lives. You can't help but go through the streets in Cairo or any of the villages in Egypt and not be aware of the urgency of solving these, just like our kids are aware of the urgency of solving some of our social problems.

Joe [00:12:59]:
So the minister of education gave us the freedom throughout all standards, all assessments, gave us a blank slate. This is the minister of education one star schools. Yeah. And say, you design it from dust up, literally dust up. And we started by asking the teachers, what is your vision for your country? So purpose always begins with a vision for the country. So if you believe in Christian nationalism, that's one vision And that then informs the purpose of your school. It's not something I ascribe to. But if you have a different aspiration for the country, then you have a different purpose.

Joe [00:13:35]:
And then the curriculum follows from that. So that's how we did the Egypt project, and it's been widely, widely successful because it's owned by the ministers, the ministry, and owned by the students. And it's it's very relevant. You know, you see it right when you walk off the airport. Exactly.

Debbie [00:13:54]:
And the curriculum has to be the curriculum is a 100% focused around that purpose. So it it's e it's easy to see that every day is an enactment of that curriculum and is moving towards the success of of that purpose.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:14:10]:
Gotta start with what's the purpose of school, and then you can Eakins go from there. It reminds me of the backwards design concept, you know, where it's like, well, once they're done with this school year, where do we want them to be at? And then we find a way to work there.

Joe [00:14:24]:
Right. I would take it one step further back, which is what's your aspiration for the kind of society you want to live in? You know, and that's for the adults to say too. What's your vision for the community and what kind of and that has to be a facilitated conversation. But then out of that comes the purpose.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:14:41]:
Gotcha. Okay.

Debbie [00:14:42]:
Right. But we use the principles of backward design for every aspect of this entire project, and and we think it's really, the only way you can really go and make sense.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:14:52]:
Let's get a little bit more specific. Okay? I I like the backwards design and Eakins a little bit further and Eakins of I I wanna maybe talk to the teachers for a little bit in regards to teaching our students within the classroom, those 21st century skills and maybe some strategies for our educators out there who are in the rooms and considering our future generations, future folks out there. I like how our conversation Eakins of started from a broader scope, but I wanna see if we can maybe get some more specific, maybe, strategies for our teachers. Deborah, I wanna start with you. What are some things that a teacher can do within their classroom that would help support students and those 21st century skills?

Debbie [00:15:33]:
Well, so we have to think about, are we talking about teachers working within their current educational structures, their current curriculum? Are we talking about teachers in a new iteration of schooling in this country, which would be defined by a new purpose? So I think probably one of the first things that teachers can do is to reflect as to what why am I really teaching this? And why is it important? Why is it important to the students in their lives? Why is it important in the greater society? And, you know, why is it maybe important in biology or in chemistry or literature or whatever it is? But and how do how can we make the learning experience more meaningful to students in that way? And it's something that I wrestled with as a teacher for many years, you know, trying to to make chemistry, you know, more meaningful to my students. And, and I did as much integrating as I possibly could, both with the math teacher who was across the hall from me. I also taught English, and so I would try to bring literature in as much as I could. I tried to get the students working together, but I had limitations in the curriculum because I was in a very, very traditional college prep high school. And so, you know, I tried to to stretch as much as I could, you know, take whatever liberties the principal, would allow. And fortunately, I've managed to to to do fairly well with that. But I think the the very first thing has to be to think about what is your own purpose. And if you can't articulate that, then you have to really sort of think about how we can how we can create a purpose.

Joe [00:17:17]:
I taught math, high school math and did a lot of training with teachers and I would walk in the classrooms and exactly that. I would ask teachers, why are you teaching algebra? And they said, algebra 1. And they said, well, you need it for algebra 2. And I said, well, why are you teaching algebra 2? And I said, well, we need it for trigonometry. Well, why do you need trigonometry? Well, you need it for the SAT. And then I said, well, but there isn't any trigonometry on the SAT. Then they didn't like me after that. But there is a way by, by thinking about what the purpose is, you're also thinking about what is it from the student's perspective that they find engaging, that they will find engaging.

Joe [00:17:56]:
So let me give you a short example. So there's statistics, for example, that you can teach with a normal curve, all of that. So there's different ways to teach that. You can just teach it dry, right out of the book, or you can frame it in a way that's engaging. And I'll give you an example. So I, in my class, I would say, does anybody here have any family members with diabetes? And you get certain members up there or cancer or any health issues. And usually all of the class, I said your auntie or your uncle or your parents will have these issues. Is that how do you know, how's a doctor know that someone with diabetes has diabetes?

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:18:35]:
I don't

Joe [00:18:35]:
know. Well, this is what this course is gonna be about because this course is all about what's normal and what's not normal. And in medicine, you know, you have a problem when there's something that's outside of the normal and it becomes abnormal. You know, you have too much blood sugar or you have too high blood pressure, etcetera. So we're gonna teach you how the whole medical establishment is based, and it's all about a normal curve. Do you wanna learn that? Okay. Then we go from there. So it's about engaging the student with a reason for them wanting to learn something.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:19:07]:
Alright. So I hear I I I like the idea of starting with L, you know. I I know shout out to Barbara Bray. She she's she does a lot of work on defining your why. You know, why are you in a classroom? You know? Yep. Just check.

Debbie [00:19:20]:

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:19:21]:
Or are you there to to, you know, change lives? You know, what Impact life. Right? What's your why? I hear that and I and I think I agree. We do need to start there. I'm just kinda thinking from, like, are there activities? Are there things that I can build into my lesson plans that is going to support a teacher that is trying to help build those 21st century skills. I mean, Joe, you mentioned earlier in regards to recognizing, you know what? Our our classrooms look a lot different when it comes to our demographics. Yes. Are there some skills that teachers can teach our students when it comes to recognizing those differences? I'm I'm looking to see if we can kinda pull a little bit more on the like like very specific type of strategies that our teachers can, who are listening, can take home as they go to class tomorrow or something like that?

Joe [00:20:11]:
Well, I would say a student centered approach, and there's different features of a student centered approach, student presentations, group work, discussions among students, presenting issues. Again, it's not teaching the material, it's teaching the student. So engaging them in questioning the material. What do they wonder about? So it's all it but it it can't be done in isolation of content. So you can't teach 21st century skills or whatever this is sort of apart from content. So it starts with your content. And the question is, why are you doing this particular content and not something else? For example, we do not teach any law at all in high school. None.

Joe [00:20:52]:
So we don't know actually it's, it's the, the, the legal system in all of its many manifestations, like, it's like a nervous system throughout, whether it's real estate, criminal justice, government. L is sort of like a nervous system throughout the society, and yet we don't really know much about it. Same thing with economic systems. So systems, I think, are a missing link in the curriculum and being able to see how systems operate. So you mentioned chemistry. You can teach chemistry with a, starting with a bucket of paint. And from there you can expand all out in terms of how the system, the whole or material life from cups to paint to everything is chemical. And most kids wanna know how to make money.

Joe [00:21:37]:
Right? So we're gonna teach you how to how you can make money.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:21:40]:
Yeah. At the end of the day.

Joe [00:21:41]:
Yeah. Right. In math, I I I do a thing in math. I say, what's the biggest largest business in the world that you can't see, touch or smell it. Okay. But yet everybody has it or should have it. Finally, they, they come about and realize it's insurance risk. And that becomes the beginning of a lesson on expected value.

Joe [00:22:00]:
All of insurance is based on, upon expected value. So you want to make money, learn risk, learn expected value because whether a casino or an insurance company, that's how you make your money by understanding risk management.

Debbie [00:22:15]:
Yeah. I wanted to to jump in because you did talk about about projects and activities. And I think that that's that's a huge part of it. But and I think we have to think about there are activities that can be done within a a class period. There are activities that that can be, longer, you know, take a couple of days or a week. And then there are activities or projects that can take a whole semester. And and each one of those has has different attributes. One of the things that we've discovered in our work in Egypt, for instance, is is by having a Eakins work together in the same group for an entire semester on a very, very complex challenging project under guidance, of course, from, from their teachers enables them to develop skills that, that are just barely touched upon in a project.

Debbie [00:23:09]:
They have to dig really dig, do a a semester long project with very high standards and and and so forth. So but Eakins can't just start out like that. They have to be scaffolded into, into the kinds of skills necessary to tackle big projects. And so so starting small, having kids work in collaborative groups, switching the groups around so that kids are working with, with other kids who are in some cases similar to them and in some cases very different from them gives them a perspective as to how they can adapt and work within those groups and develop some of the kind of of skills that that, are needed.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:23:54]:
I will say this, Joe and Deborah, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. And I've learned a lot, especially in regards to 21st century skills, you know, starting with ourselves first. Why are we in the classroom? And and I love the answer regarding, you know, 5 years ago, we might be having a totally different conversation.

Debbie [00:24:13]:

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:24:13]:
So, thoroughly have enjoyed this. I'd love for our audience to now hear your final word of advice. So Deborah, I'm gonna start with you. Why don't you share any word of advice you wanna give to our listeners?

Debbie [00:24:25]:
We've talked about purpose. And one of the things that we've realized is that when we go through the doors of a school, we think we have our own set of purpose or expectations of what education should be. But then realizing that every person who walks through that school door may have a different idea about what that purpose might be. And so thinking about starting conversations with people, with kids, with parents, with teachers, administrators, and so forth. What do you think that purpose should be? Because I think people would be astounded to find out how different we think about about the purposes of education. And then realizing, well, that's be because of that, it's almost like a cacophony of ideas. It does it's it doesn't there's no music yet. And you realize that in in order to make beautiful music, you have to really pull that all together into into a a single vision.

Debbie [00:25:22]:
And so I would say to think about your own purposes and then think and then invite others into the conversation.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:25:29]:
Gotcha. Joe, what about you?

Joe [00:25:31]:
I think that there's a big role for superintendents and school boards to play. And in this, is that teachers can only do so much because they're in their classroom. That schooling is surrounded by a larger social economic context. So that requires looking at all of this all of the factors that go into whether or not a child develops in a good way. Poverty is a huge issue, right? That's the single largest determinant of whether or not children are going to be quote successful on traditional achievement tests. But beyond that, if you have the purpose that your goal is to develop the human being in the context of their community, You have to involve the community. And this is where the superintendent and the school board are in a unique position to enable that to happen. And then the principals are key as well because the principals create the culture in the school.

Joe [00:26:25]:
And if you create a good school culture with your teachers, kids go into that school and they know why they're there. And they have an emotional attachment to that school because they're surrounded by something more than academics. So it takes, it does take a village and in the school, it takes more than the school because I would say, but certainly the principal is a key.

Debbie [00:26:48]:
I'm a senior lawyer.

Joe [00:26:49]:
Deborah, if

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:26:49]:
we have some folks that wanna connect with you, what's the best way to reach you online?

Debbie [00:26:53]:
We have a website for the book. It's probably easiest to reach us through the that and it's New Era, New Urgency Education, not edu, but full education. It's probably easiest to do it through that. Yeah. But I'm also on Facebook and LinkedIn and Instagram and, you know

Joe [00:27:09]:
Yeah. New era dash Dash. New Urgency Yeah. Education. Yeah. Yeah. And we can be reached there. And you can also learn about the book Sure.

Joe [00:27:19]:
As well. Yeah.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:27:20]:
Well, I will leave links in the show notes as well, folks. So you can just click on the link and that'll take you right there. Joe and Deborah, it has truly been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time.

Debbie [00:27:30]:
Thank you. Thank you. It's been fun.

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