Growing the Next Generation of Teachers and Children

Keynote Address, COMPASS Curriculum Showcase, August 12, 2001
By Margaret Cozzens,
Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Colorado Institute of Technology

Thank you Eric and all of the COMPASS staff for inviting me to talk to you on this beautiful Sunday morning in Colorado. I am pleased that you have chosen the University of Colorado at Denver to host this most important meeting about instructional materials for secondary mathematics education. As many of you in this room know, improving mathematics education has been and continues to be a passion of mine. It was ten years ago now that I started work at the National Science Foundation by initiating a call for the development of instructional materials in mathematics at the secondary level. Many of the results of this call have been on display at this meeting.

As Peter Drucker says, "ideas are somewhat like babies - they are born small, immature, and shapeless. They are promise rather than fulfillment." What do we need in order to make embryonic half-baked ideas into something that makes sense for student learning, an opportunity for all students? The instructional materials that we see around us at this meeting started out as shapeless, immature imaginings, and have evolved into materials that make sense and provide opportunities for students to learn mathematics in very different ways than in the past. It takes teachers to grab a hold of the materials and transform them and the children that use them into adulthood, in a society where knowledge has become the central resource.

"Leave no child behind" is a phrase often heard in the last two years, not just from President Bush, but also from many who have no political affiliation or political interest. This phrase implies that we have left children behind, and we have.

In every state, in every community, we have left children behind. We have not believed that all children can learn, and that it is worth our while to make sure all children have the opportunity to learn. We in this country are increasingly aware of the diversity of our cultures, our languages, and our schools. Yet our educational systems seem locked in the arguments of the past: basic skills vs. understanding, homogeneous vs. heterogeneous grouping, etc. John Dewey attempted to transform education from one based on an agricultural economy to one based on an industrial economy, one where children were prepared to live in a changing society, and where instruction was directed toward the demands of an increasingly scientific and urbanized world. Unfortunately, his ideas were trivialized and never fully realized.

Today, instruction must meet the needs of the postindustrial age, "the knowledge era" as Drucker calls it. This society needs all people to be able to read and write and follow instructions accurately, regardless of their native or home language. Citizens need to speak and write with fluency, use numbers effectively, and be personally self-reliant, inventive and cooperative. Most importantly, our schools are at the front of the line in providing the capacity for continuous mental and moral growth. All children need to learn and, most importantly, respect learning. Yet we are still engrossed in the arguments of the past.

Today we have to think about how we grow the next generation of school children, and the teachers that will teach them. We have to stop thinking about today and this moment in time and think about what we want and expect of our citizens in 2020, and how we can work today to produce citizens, including teachers, with these capabilities.

Think for just a minute about what you would say are the three most important abilities that people will need to possess in 2020. Here is my list:

    1. the ability to make moral and ethical decisions for themselves and society (cloning, embryo usage, the death penalty, etc.);
    2. read, interpret, analyze, and write a summary (information will have to be synthesized because of the great quantity available);
    3. solve problems from the most simple to the most complex (find cures for disease, most efficient automobiles, voter turnout, etc.).

What skills and understandings should secondary mathematics programs provide to assure that citizens have these abilities?

We need to begin today to develop and use curriculum and instructional materials that provide our children with these skills and understandings at all grade levels, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

What skills and understandings should secondary mathematics teachers and others possess to ensure that children learn what they need to learn to acquire these abilities?

We need to start now to prepare our teachers in our teacher education programs to ensure that the next generation of teachers possess these skills and understandings.


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Last Revision: 10/03/05