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52-Card Pickup: How has the digital media revolution reshuffled the deck of essential school subjects?

When/Where: Saturday, 9:00-9:45am in Hamilton.

Presenter: Ethan Delavan, Seattle Country Day School.

Objectives: This session engages participants in rethinking how their practice does and does not conform to traditional school subjects.

Audience: PK-12 Schooling, Educational Administration & Policy


The digital media revolution has fallout implications for every part of our culture. Our educational approach needs to be able to keep up with emerging economies like India and China. Now is the time to assess the revolution’s implications for how we have dealt out basic K-12 school subjects: math, science, language arts, social studies, art, music, physical education. These arbitrary divisions made sense in an era of industrial production. But that era has moved into an economy based on creativity, on visual communications, on ever-changing designs for interrelated technologies. Our era has seen the emergence of job descriptions and expectations that were unimaginable only a decade or two ago. The profusion of new kinds of post-graduate programs and undergraduate majors is a testament to how different the demands on higher education have become. These demands are filtering down into secondary and even primary education in ways that K-12 schools have been slow to realize and accommodate. Now is the time to divide school subjects up into new fields that more accurately reflect the kind of thinking, communication and specialization that will be demanded of our students in college and the work force. Media literacy is knocking on the door of venerated K-12 institutions. And related fields like rhetoric and oratory, long ago swept under the rug, deserve a fresh look in view of how vital personal presentation will become. Design is a strong contender as a subject in itself, and it borrows cards from math, science and art. This paper advocates the following K-12 subject area framework: communication, culture, finance, logic, design, empirics, and health. Each of these areas subsumes parts of our traditional subjects, as well as each meeting a new demand of the digital media age. Exactly what these new school subjects will be is still a matter of debate, and that debate needs to begin now, since it is key to America’s economic standing in the coming century.

Participant Involvement

Attendees will give feedback about the urgency, feasibility and details of the proposed framework. After laying out the framework, I will have specific questions that can spur discussion.

Download the 52-Card Pickup slides here.


Here are some of the pieces from which I’ve drawn (in no particular order):


  • Ethan Delavan, Seattle Country Day School: Ethan Delavan has taught Pre-K through 12th grade for fifteen years. His journey from drama teacher to technology teacher taught him much about the interrelatedness of fields that are often thought to be disparate. In his work as Technology Coordinator at a private K-8 school for the gifted, he must bridge the gap between the advanced technical knowledge of his students and the struggles of his teaching colleagues to keep up.
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