It Takes All Kinds: Students

This is the final in this 4 part series

“Preparing students for jobs that haven’t been invented” I first saw this statement almost seven years ago as I viewed Karl Fisch’s original “Did You Know” It’s one of those important statements that has generated many great conversations.

In our attempt to place some more context on that declaration I’ve been noticing a trend of late. Many people in my circles, those that advocate change and change that revolves around technology, have developed a kind of exemplary model student that demonstrates the potential that exists as a result of the web. The web has enabled and empowered otherwise less privileged students to develop their pathways and own businesses and passions. And this is often associated with the start-up culture. The design-minded, coding entrepreneur working in Silicon Valley making millions. Exhibit A:

Let me say first; I like much of this video. I like the fact that it suggests schools should be teaching coding and programming, although I think an hour might be enough. I tweeted it out as a conversation starter about what schools should be teaching students. That said, I was reminded quickly of the direct association with coding and startups. When we think about people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, our affection for them is less about their talents and more about their wealth. I love the possibility of individuals pursuing their passions, not simply as a vocation but as the fulfillment of lifelong learning. The web is, in part, about empowerment, but it seems our best examples tend to be those who have figured stuff out on their own and started their own companies without the help of a teacher.  This message alone can be very alarming for teachers. Often that’s the intent, but I worry it also polarizes folks. Teachers face enough bashing in the media, telling them they aren’t needed even indirectly may not advance the conversation as is intended.

While I can’t argue that we need different workers today, I’m cautious against a trend to create a narrow vision of what kind of person/employee/job we think our students should become. We praise the new qualities of creativity, collaboration and critical thinking as essential for success, and it often seems these are best associated with the hipster startups. I don’t argue against these qualities, but I don’t think we’ve done an excellent job of providing examples of these conditions at work in more traditional employment and vocations.The common vision is the Googleplex of engineers and programmers sitting on comfy couches drinking lattes and creating the next big thing.

I wonder about those students who perhaps don’t have those aspirations or drive or abilities to manage the challenges required for the new age jobs. I wonder about the young woman who is hoping to be a firefighter or a homemaker. I wonder about the young man who becomes a barber or a mechanic or a nurse.

I think we have a couple of issues to deal with. First I believe we need better relationships with business. Currently, so much of school and curriculum is dictated by universities who pay little attention or concern with the real world and thus are content to graduate massive amounts of teachers when there aren’t enough jobs available. A closer relationship with local business and industry will provide a more realistic and broader perspective for our students. I’d encourage you to watch Mike Rowe’s TED talk on the celebration of work. This is not to negate the entrepreneurial spirit but actually provide them with more knowledge and insight. At the same time giving students a more realistic view of employment. There is a whole realm of work related to service that is not at all about creating anything excepting caring for people. I’m not saying there is no room for innovation here but that’s not the motivator.

The second issue is that we continue to balance the idea that schools are primarily about jobs and preparing kids for the workforce. A successful life includes the ability to make a living but is only part of success. The idea that learning is just for the purpose of academic and vocation but learning is for pleasure, and essential human existence is often lost on our kids.

This entire series was sparked to remind myself that I see the world through my lens and my enthusiasm for change is often narrow. As much as we talk about diversity, we tend to create and share repetitive images and stories that actually do the opposite of our intent. These posts serve more to challenge my stories and perspectives. I’m guilty of all these notions from time to time and value when my presumptions are challenged. That’s how I learn.