A beginner’s guide to Tony Wagner
Where does he work?
Tony Wagner is a Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, an American think-tank that researches educational policy and practices, and advocates for evidence-based policymaking in education. Before this, he held a number of positions within Harvard University, including a stint as an Expert in Residence their Innovation Lab and spending more than a decade as co-founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. An integral part of the university for over 20 years, Wagner also completed his M. A. T and Ed. D. at the university's Graduate School of Education.
What is he best known for?
His 2008 book, The Global Achievement Gap, analyses what he deems to be the growing obsoleteness of American schools and their failure to prepare today's learners for professional development and future employment.
He says: "My view is that these numbers, taken together, point to a new and little-understood challenge for American education: in today's highly competitive global knowledge economy, all students need new skills for college, careers, and citizenship.
"To fail to give all students these new skills leaves today's youth-and our country-at an alarming competitive disadvantage. Schools haven't changed; the world has. And so our schools, then, are not failing."
What's it all about?
The Global Achievement Gap is the culmination of interviews with employers and classroom observations in some of America's best public schools. Wagner unearths an enormous disparity between what modern employers look for in today's school leavers – such as creativity, communication, and critical thinking skills – and what American schools provide young people with (passive learning, fact regurgitation and weak lesson plans).
Wagner cites examples of schools who 'get it right' and provide graduates with new skills, and explore the hiring practices of modern employers. From this, Wagner creates what he calls "The Seven Survival Skills for Careers, College, & Citizenship in the 21st Century". These include:
• Critical thinking and problem solving
• Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
• Agility and adaptability
• Initiative and entrepreneurship
• Effective oral and written communication
• Accessing and analysing information
• Curiosity and imagination.
A modern manifesto for education reform, the Global Achievement Gap is as much a resource as it is a campaign to halt educational policies that are leaving America's graduates unfit for the world of work. It has sold over 120,000 copies and is widely read by teachers, researchers, and lawmakers alike.
What does he research?
Tony Wagner's research is as rooted in history and anthropology as it is in reform and educational evolution. His work documents the teaching methods of the 19th and 20th century, and their incompatibility with modern work and citizenship. Wagner asserts that the challenges of the modern world – which he identifies as the future of the economy, democracy, and even the world's ecosystems –demands that educational institutions should focus more on producing entrepreneurs and innovators.
In the trads vs progs debate, Wagner is a prog. Wagner believes that people can learn to be innovative entrepreneurs, and identifies three ways to bring these qualities out in people: to encourage play (which fosters exploration and experimentation); to foster passion (which encourages pupils to develop a deeper understanding of the things they care about); and giving them purpose (to emphasise the potential all children have to make a contribution to the world). He shares the belief that most people can become more creative and innovative, given the right environment and opportunities.
What he says:
"With well-designed pedagogy, we can empower kids with critical skills and help them turn passions into decisive life advantages. The role of education is no longer to teach content, but to help our children learn—in a world that rewards the innovative and punishes the formulaic."
What others say:
"As far as education reformers go, Harvard education professor Tony Wagner is king." - David Cutler, Spin Education.
"The man speaks English and doesn't go down a black hole of unnecessary language or scholarly writing. He gives what every parent, teacher, principal, or for that matter, anyone who has any interest in education, may need to know: the global reality, competition, skills, content, teachers, testing. He actually suggests smart solutions." - T.J. Westerberg, The Daily Riff.