The 21st-Century Isn't the Future, It's Now

The 21st-Century Isn’t the Future, It’s Now

Lee Copeland

Lee Copeland

At Ludington Middle School in Detroit, Mich., typing was mandatory. It was considered an important course, part of the core curriculum, not an elective. This I know for sure, because I failed it in sixth grade and was forced to retake it in seventh. Several aspects of that experience still stick with me now — more than 25 years later.

At Ludington Middle School in Detroit, Mich., typing was mandatory. It was considered an important course, part of the core curriculum, not an elective. This I know for sure, because I failed it in sixth grade and was forced to retake it in seventh. Several aspects of that experience still stick with me now — more than 25 years later.

First, as difficult as it may seem, it is possible to fail typing, and I did it with flying colors. I couldn’t figure out why I had been forced to learn “a-s-d-f” or “j-k-l-;” for that matter. At that point in my 12-year-old existence, semicolons were not part of my grammatical vernacular. Shorthand was also a mandatory course, which I did pass. It seemed invaluable because other than our astute typing teacher, none of the other teachers could read it — making it an ideal script for writing notes to pass to friends during class.

Second, in the lectures that followed my spectacular first failed class, my parents and guidance counselors made sure that I understood the importance of the typewriter to my success in middle school and beyond. In my defense, I pointed out that if typewriters were so important, why didn’t we have one at home? Not the type to put up with back talk of any kind, particularly when accurate, my parents quickly bought an unwanted and unappreciated early birthday present — my very own electric Brother typewriter with a built-in erase ribbon.

I did pass that class my second time around — out of fear of failure and fear of my parents. It’s ironic that years later, I would become a journalist and an excellent typist to boot. But my problem then is very similar to what educators still face today — the problem of relevancy.

Our cover story, “21st-Century Skills” on Page 32, delves into that very challenge — relevancy — and teaching skills that will help our students participate better and compete better in the global marketplace. Mention the term to parents, and most haven’t heard it. Explain that it’s about ensuring that our students can compete in an increasingly global, high-tech and complex workplace, and it hits closer to home. While technology — computers, interactive whiteboards, the Internet, online databases — contribute to the options available to educators, the challenge is infusing critical thinking skills into a teaching environment that’s necessarily become increasingly high-tech and complex. The skills needed for the 21st century might have changed, but ensuring that our students see the relevancy hasn’t.

What a difference a quarter century makes. Our middle school students don’t take typing but keyboarding, and most have it down pat before they enter middle school because computers are a part of their everyday lives. Still, 21st-century skills go well beyond navigating a keyboard — it’s about navigating and competing in an environment that’s increasingly global and competitive. And preparation for the 21st century isn’t a lofty future goal, it’s relevant now.

Editor in Chief, leecop@cdw.com

Necessity: The Father of Invention

By the mid-1800s, several inventors from around the world had toyed with typewriting machines, but those early prototypes were far from a commercially successful product. Yet faced with striking printers, a Milwaukee, Wisc.-based newspaperman named Christopher Latham Sholes started tinkering with his own typesetting machine. In 1868, in conjunction with colleagues — Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soule — Sholes had a prototype of a mechanical writing machine built. Later, he produced the machine, called the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, with gun and sewing machine maker E. Remington & Sons and sold about 5,000 machines between 1874 and 1878. Mark Twain bought one of the first typewriters in 1874 and claimed, “I was the first person in the world to apply the type machine to literature.”

Improving Qwerty

Have you ever wondered about key placement on a traditional keyboard? Well, so did August Dvorak, who created the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard in the early 1930s, putting the vowels and main consonants on the home row, where typists rest their fingers. Dvorak’s design lets typists hit 70 percent of their strokes on this row, compared with 31 percent of their strokes on the home row in Qwerty. Dvorak claimed this keyboard setup improved speed 20 percent and accuracy 50 percent. The world’s fastest typist, Barbara Blackburn, uses the Dvorak keyboard and has been recorded at a top speed of 212 words per minute.

Source: dvzine.org, Guinness Book of World Records

Oct 30 2007

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