Before Every Child Is Left Behind: How Epistemic Games Can Solve the Coming Crisis in Education

WCER Working Paper No. 2005-7

David Williamson Shaffer and James Paul Gee

September 2005, 18 pp.

ABSTRACT: In his recent bestseller The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman argues that countries like the United States can no longer compete in the global economy on the basis of making and selling commodities. Their competitive edge increasingly comes from how well they produce products, services, and technologies that are new . . . special . . . non-standard—and thus not easily produced across the globe by competitors. In this paper, we look at the educational implications of this crisis—implications that are both profound and alarming. We argue that young people in the United States today are being prepared for “commodity jobs” in a world that will, very soon, only reward people who can do innovative work and punish those who can’t. The problem is being exacerbated by a new equity gap, in which some students have access at home to the technologies they need to prepare for life in a digital world, but many do not—a problem made worse by current educational policies that focus on giving students standardized skills for standardized tests rather than preparation for creative thinking and innovative work. We argue that the time to tinker with schools, as we have done for decades, is over, and that the change we need is neither liberal nor conservative. We make the case here that the same technologies that are creating this crisis provide a potential solution, and we propose the concept of epistemic games as one way to solve this looming crisis of learning

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keywords: Outsourcing; Innovation; Epistemic Games; Learning