Tuesday, May 15

Dillusionment and Educational Paradigms

Way back near the end of March, I read an interesting post over on Rural Revolution about an article someone had posted on Yahoo titled How to Earn $100,000 and Still Feel Poor. While the outpouring of response was predictably derisive, I've found myself thinking back to it more than once since.

I think the core of that author's lament is too important to ignore because its echos are shaping the mindset of the next generation: he feels cheated. He did everything he was "supposed to" do - worked hard at his career, raised a family, bought a house and saved for retirement. Now, just when he expects to being reaping the payoffs of his diligence, life seems startlingly thin and unsteady.

That theme shows up again in a video by Sir Ken Robinson of TED and the RSA. He points out that children these days are much less invested in school than their parents were because they feel the same disillusionment that the Yahoo poster did. They are seeing their grandparents and parents are on shaky ground after a lifetime of doing everything by the book, and have stopped believing that academic success is the route to a desirable future.

Likewise, in Now You See It, Duke University Professor Cathy Davidson argues that modern schools and businesses present incoming generations of workers with a tense paradox. Structurally and behaviorally, they continue to run on practices designed to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution. But they reward out-of-the-box 21st century solutions. Students can't help but notice that many of the most brilliant, most successful (and richest) entrepreneurs in of the last ten years never completed college - if they even went at all.

Personally, I think that this makes one of the best possible cases for home schooling. What better venue to teach children crucial skills like time management, self-discipline, and flexibility early on? How better to expose children to the multitude of potential jobs available to them, and to help them dabble in those opportunities early?

More importantly, however, I believe that this widespread disillusionment should be a critical factor discussed in every school district in America. Traditional public schools can have a lot to offer, but they need to be on the same page as their students. Recognizing that many of these kids won't - and maybe shouldn't - plan to attend college right out of high school (or at all) will fundamentally change how schools approach curricula, guidance counseling, internship programs and extra-curricular activities.

My guesses? If these ideas are taken seriously, we should expect to see:

* An increase in the number of students attending BOCES or similar programs that prepare them for a trade immediately upon graduation.

* A shift from considering music, art and other extra curricular activities as optional to using them as a core factor in students' educational plans.

* Widely expanded internship programs, getting high schoolers hands-on experience in real work places as early as possible.

* A re-shaping of college recruitment, admissions and academic programming as fewer students enter with "exploratory", "undecided"  or liberal arts majors and more students enroll after time in the workforce, motivated by with specific goals and pursuing more technical majors.

There's a lot of room for discussion and dissension when it comes to education, but when the same idea surfaces repeatedly in vastly different arenas it's usually a sign that it's time to sit up and take notice. I'll be interested to watch and see where this one leads.

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