Yesterday Eric Schmidt on MSNBC’s Morning Joe was asked what Google was looking for in the people they hire. Without hesitation Eric said “intellectual flexibility.” I thought this was an original and useful way of talking about the ability to “think out of the box” to be imaginative, to be creative.
We know what we are looking for in 21st century workers, but every time we talk about our schools producing such workers we talk first about the “basic skills.” Those skills we deem foundational, the skills we think everything rests on literacy and computation have reached canonical status. We do not question their validity, we do not question their importance, we take them as givens.
Today, they absorb all of the oxygen in our classrooms, they are the focus of the school day, and they are supposed to be practiced in every curricular activity as well as in students’ out-of-classroom time. Whatever we may think of their importance and necessity, if we believe that Eric Schmidt and so many other leading business and economic thinkers are right in looking for employees who can think out of the box, then we must ask the central question: “Does learning these basic skills lead to intellectual flexibility?”
I leave you with that question. For consider that Asia countries, who have been much more successful in basic skill development than we seem to have been, are seeking ways to help their students learn to be as creative as American workers!