Friday, December 8, 2017

How We Fail Most Children

I have always been passionate about education, more specifically, the fact that most Americans reach adulthood lacking most of the soft skills that are required for great success in our culture and economy.

I attended a well funded, highly rated high school from which I went to an excellent university, and I came out with a cum laude degree and almost none of the skills or knowledge that I would need to be successful beyond academia.

It is no mystery what I needed to know, nor are they difficult skills to teach: business planning, goal setting, salesmanship, networking, and the like. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have learned that our economy is such that opportunity still exists and that you need to know to look for it. Too many young adults do not know this, which is why some of the best minds of my generation are flipping burgers or working at the mall.

With the birth of my daughter, I have given a great deal of thought to this over the past few years. Knowing that the education system will fail to provide her this array of skills and knowledge, how will I supplement that education to prepare her for success?

The juxtaposition of a number of interactions with particular people and groups this week has reminded me that this is a much broader problem affecting almost every young person approaching adulthood, but that there are resources which could be mobilized to help.

The fundamental problem is that education has been structured by experts who are focused on the acquisition of knowledge who lack expertise in how that knowledge is executed to create results in adulthood. The focus has become testable knowledge: accountable, concrete, useless. We can talk about test scores doing this or that without recognizing that many high achieving students become low achieving, unhappy adults.

The solution is simple but not easy.
We must teach our children that opportunities exist if they are bold enough to seek them.
We must teach them the basic skills for success in adult life: networking, salesmanship, grit and resilience, goal setting and achieving, and business concepts such as marketing, bookkeeping, and the like.
We must teach them the value of entrepreneurship, whether in terms of running their own business or simply thinking of themselves as the masters of their own commercial destiny rather than drones in a vast capitalist machine.

These things are not difficult to teach, and the first step would be to teach them to the most motivated to learn: the top and bottom students. The top students are eager to learn and succeed and they desire to know how to succeed at the next level. At the other end of the spectrum, many very intelligent students drop out, burn out, or tune out because they have not learned these things, and they would benefit the most from them because the lack of this knowledge is why they have disengaged from the educational system.

They could be taught in afterschool programs. They could be taught as courses in school. They could be directed independent study projects. There is a variety of options, but it must be done. An entire generation of millennials have fallen into adulthood, saddled with student loan debt, unprepared for a dynamic and changing economy, and we are all suffering for it.

This can be better. Together we can find a way.

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