home schooling paths
E-journal July 13, 2010

A Misled, Mis-educated Generation

by Ellyn Davis

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Cover_icon1I've spent most of June and the first week of July visiting family, so the newsletter has been put on hold. Plus I'm trying to figure out how to create a Wordpress blog and when I finally have it figured out, I'll start putting out the newsletters in blog format. But the trick is learning to think like Wordpress thinks, and I haven't quite mastered that yet.

In the meantime, I ran across a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. The article was entitled, "A Lament for the Class of 2010." The gist of the article was captured in three paragraphs:

"Over the next few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Millennials will graduate from institutions of higher learning. They will celebrate for several days, perhaps several weeks. Then they will enter a labor force that neither wants nor needs them. They will enter an economy where roughly 17% of people aged 20 through 24 do not have a job, and where two million college graduates are unemployed. They will enter a world where they will compete tooth and nail for jobs as waitresses, pizza delivery men, file clerks, bouncers, trainee busboys, assistant baristas, interns at bodegas.

They will console themselves with the thought that all this is but a speed bump on the road to success, that their inability to find work in a field that is even vaguely related to the discipline they trained in is only a fleeting setback. They may even spell this out in detail on their Facebook pages, perhaps accompanying it with a pithy quote like "When you're going through Hell, keep on going." They will do this right after they have finished deleting the summer-year-abroad photo where they're shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. In asserting that the sun will soon break through the clouds, they will be echoing what college grads told themselves last year, and the year before. This is only a temporary reversal. Surely, IBM or the State Department or Morgan Stanley will eventually respond to that glittering resume. After all, every company worth its salt needs a few Gender Studies majors! The sun'll come out tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

More sophisticated young people may already suspect otherwise. With the obvious exception of youngsters born during the Great Depression, no generation in American history faces more daunting obstacles. Economists theorize that this may be that very rarest of things—a generation that does not do as well financially as the generation that spawned it. Even the pasty-faced Pilgrim toddlers gamboling around Plymouth Rock in 1620 had better prospects than this one; at least the Massachusetts economy was still expanding back in the 17th century. And kids entering the work force after the Alamo or the Donner Pass Incident or the Crash of 1873 weren't saddled with the kind of debts kids tote around now. Back then, ordinary people didn't go to college. And back in those days, you could always pack up and move west, to California, let's say, where the streets were paved with gold. Now the streets aren't paved, period.

The article drives home the fact that today’s college graduates, even those from prestigious Ivy League universities like Harvard and Yale, are likely to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and their entire academic life training to be irrelevant in our new economy. Why? Because our educational system keeps churning out students just the way it was designed to 100 years ago. But industry doesn’t need what it needed a century ago.

These new graduates have been trained to fail in the worst possible way, because they are failing at what they’ve been trained to think they should do.

Several years ago, Harvard Business School advised its students on what they would have to master in order to plan a career in the new international economy. The report warned that academic classes and professional credentials would count for less and less when measured against real world training. The report listed ten qualities Harvard considered essential to successfully adapting to the future:

1. The ability to define problems without a guide.
2. The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
3. The ability to work in teams without guidance.
4. The ability to work absolutely alone.
5. The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
6. The ability to discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions about policy.
7. The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
8. The ability to pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data.
9. The ability to think inductively, deductively, and dialectically.
10 The ability to attack problems heuristically (through problem solving, learning, and discovery).

And most recently, the 2010 Global IBM CEO Study surveyed 1541 CEOs, general managers, and senior public sector leaders from 60 countries across 33 industries and concluded the following: Creativity is the most important and sought-after attribute, followed by integrity, global thinking, ability to influence, openness, dedication, focus on sustainability, humility, and fairness.

As you have probably already realized (if you've read practically anything I've written in the last 20 years), industrialized education trains people to follow instructions (instead of to creatively blaze their own trails); to engage in rote learning (instead of deep, thoughtful exploration); to work for grades (instead of their true passions); and develop a compliant disposition dependent on “the system” for security and employment (instead of attempting to start their own businesses).

School teaches you to avoid experimentation and risk and trains you to think you have to “get it right” at least 90% of the time (make As). But the most successful entrepreneurs, pioneers, innovators and creative risk-taker in the world only “get it right” 20% of the time. That’s one reason why the largest number of the world’s billionaires are “drop-outs” from school.

The implications of these lists are enormous. If you really think about each quality that has been projected as essential to living successful lives in the future, not one of them really has anything to do with what is traditionally taught in school.

On the one hand, the lists are depressing because they mean we need to groom our children to be able to thrive in a world that will be radically different than the ones we've known as children and adults and we may have to teach them competencies that we don't even possess ourselves.

But on the other hand, these lists should cause a huge sigh of relief from all the home schooling parents who are freaking out about whether they will be able to cover all the bases academically with their children. Why? Because none of the competencies needed for the future have much to do with academics. They have to do with what home schooling families already excel at--raising children with character who are creative, natural thinkers and learners.

Until next time....


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