WHAT should students learn for the 21st Century?

Luminaries answer CCR’s seminal question


Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers

Founder and former president of CD Baby

No Speed Limit to Learning

There’s no speed limit
I graduated college in two and a half years, only because a month before I began I met a professor who told me it was possible. He believed “the standard pace is for chumps”, and that any ambitious person can graduate college in half the normal time. Self­-directed learning, experimenting, and accomplishment doesn’t wait for someone to teach you or give you permission. This same approach proves that all other limits (like “it takes money to make money” or “you’re either born a performer or you’re not”) are false. Those are just the standard rules set out for standard people. The ambitious ones are unstoppable.

How to question everything
Since the facts are changing more often now, the key is to build a deeply­ingrained habit of asking great questions. Imagine a different style of teaching where a teacher says some facts, and the students are graded on whether they asked questions about those facts. Teacher says “Columbus found North America in 1492.” Students are required to come up with questions ­ (“What was his goal?”, “Who funded the exploration?”, “When did he consider the mission complete?”) – to pass the class. This teaches that life is not like the traditional teacher that asks questions, and we just have to answer. Life just presents a bunch of info, and it’s up to us to ask the questions.

How to unlearn and relearn
“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”­ Alvin Toffler
Many more industries are going to completely change in the 21st century. One of the hardest things any adult has to face is that the way they’ve been doing things is obsolete, is now considered wrong, that they need to forget it all, and learn to do the opposite.  Instead of waiting for that to happen ten years after school, start a deliberate practice of it in school. Pick any subject or skill and learn it one way for half the semester, then announce that it’s obsolete and wrong, and learn the opposite way for the second half.

How to be considerate
Thinking of the future leads to accidentally over­emphasizing the importance of technology. But most of life, even a hundred years from now, will still be dealing with other people. As more kids grow up glued to gadgets, the competitive edge will go to the few who learned to listen, communicate, be empathetic, negotiate, persuade, be considerate, and really understand others’ non­verbal communications. I didn’t really learn it until I read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” when I was 18. It taught me how to understand others in a way that massively and permanently changed my life, and made everything easier since. (Being considerate is the root of all leadership, marketing, manners, diplomacy, and all other inter­personal aspects of life. Why is it never really taught?!?)

Copyright – Derek Sivers