Interdisciplinary thinkers needed

by December 1, 2008 • 2 comments

It is amazing how the world changes in a few years.  In the 80s and 90s, corporations wanted skilled people to handle programming, maintenance, marketing and manufacturing operations.  Now companies want something different.

Modern companies need broad, international thinkers who are comfortable moving between cultures and disciplines.  In today’s work environment, it is not uncommon for modern employees to work with programmers in India, manufacturing personnel in China and marketing people in Chicago, all in the course of one day.  Unlike a decade ago, it makes no sense to spend a year learning the latest computer software because it is obsolete within a few short weeks.

The speed of change is so fast, it is mind numbing.

Now the question is, can our educational system change to meet the demands of the new paradigm.  According to Catherine Gewertz, in her Education Week article, Assessing ’21st-Century Skills’ Won’t Be Easy:

“Business and higher education leaders are pleading with schools to teach ’21st-century skills,’ such as interdisciplinary thinking, that students need to flourish in an increasingly global, technology-rich society.”

However, parents and educational institutions seem to be dragging their feet, fixated on what worked in the early 90s.

At this point, kids need more than computer classes in kindergarten and special schools that focus on math and art.  To be good interdisciplinary thinkers, they need an understanding of all subjects well, really well.  As starters, everyone needs to know and understand Algebra and geometry, the periodic table and conservation of energy, the US Bill of Rights, and design and color.  We need young people who are as comfortable with differential equations as they are with discussions of the Tang Dynasty.

What we did in the 90s isn’t enough.   We need to change our perspective and expect our kids to learn more.  If we do, companies will rush to hire US graduates.  If we don’t, our kids will face tougher job prospects when they enter the workforce.

Juliann Talkington is the administrator of the Panama City Renaissance School. Reach her on 850-215-8712 or

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1 Sandy Thompson December 2, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Excellent commentary on our ever-changing educational needs. As a former Art and Science teacher, I was extremely fortunate to work in a DOD school system that recognized the importance of providing an integrated, interdisciiplinary curriculum. It makes learning easier and more fun for all ages and also increases retention.



2 Penny Halsell December 2, 2008 at 10:16 pm

As a mother of a very talented computer expert who is a Freshman in high school (Bay High, we need to get the Computer Technology Academy running again for our future workers to be trained.

The budget axed this program and if we truly want to “educated” for the future, this program needs to be reinstated. The academies at Bay High that still exist are music and culinary…good, but we need computer technology.