The essential question the candidates should be trying to answer — but that is not even being asked very often — is how to create good jobs in the 21st century. Thirty-seven million Americans are poor, and roughly 60 million others are near-poor. (These are people struggling to make it on incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 a year for a family of four.)I like this way framing the issue because it reflects good principles of design. We use a similar approach in our efforts to improve learning and assessment based in part on the work of Wiggins and McTigue: Understanding by Design. The idea is simple- start with the goal in mind and plan backward to identify what is required to achieve that goal. Implementing that simple idea can be challenging but usually worth the effort.
Personally, I search for answers to this essential question through our efforts to find ways to use technology to support improving teaching and learning. Suzie Boss, an author of the recently published book Reinventing Problem-based Learning, asks, "What's missing?":
American teens are plenty confident that they can solve the world's most vexing problems with the help of technology, according to the latest Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. There's just one not-so-small catch: more than half of today's high school students feel unprepared for careers in technology and engineering.What can we do to help teacher candidates help their future students and colleagues to answer these global essential questions? Suzie's answer includes more support for project-based learning. MSAD75's (Maine School Administrative District) district-wide commitment to expanding service-learning opportunities show how schools can engage in this work.
Note: I tried to find a brief introduction to the ideas behind the term "essential questions" at Wikipedia but did not find an entry for it. I'd like to see a group of pre-service candidates create an article as an authentic performance of their developing understanding of this important idea.