Future-proofing my child

I look at my daughter and wonder about what her life will be like when she’s an adult. What kind of job will she have? Where will she live? What type of lifestyle will she have?

I’m determined to help her be ready for whatever kind of life she’ll have. It’s a daunting task. As both a parent and educator, I’ve done plenty of reading and thinking about how the world is changing and what schools can do about that. I’ve recently read (and am re-reading) the very excellent book by David Price,  Open: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future. Price reflects on the changes in society brought about by technology and how that impacts learning and working. It’s a great manifesto for any concerned modern educator and it puts into context some of my concerns as a parent.

In particular, I’m concerned that school – my school and any school – is failing to prepare my child for what she will have to face in the future. I feel guilty about that as a teacher, and I hope that my work helps to improve the situation in my school at least. However, it really does seem to me that the institution of school is not & can not change fast enough to make a difference to my child.

In particular, there are a few areas that seem to be lacking in what schools (or at least my school – and most schools I know) address and emphasize in the education they provide.

Financial Literacy

Sure, school gives children some money problems in math classes, and perhaps some attempts at financial education (my school has an elective Economics class in High School), but for the most part there is no real teaching of skills needed to succeed or excel in the world of money management. Some schools may have some Home Ec classes in which students learn to balance a checkbook or prepare a household budget, but even this isn’t enough. Children need to know about and understand the stock market, investments of various types, retirement funds, etc. Ideally, there should be some learning and practicing of skills that would help them become – or at least have the potential to become – entrepreneurs.

An interesting analysis of financial literacy and education was published in the New York Times by Economics professor Richard Thaler. While decrying the state of financial literacy in the American population and the lack of financial education in schools, he discusses a meta-analysis of financial education which indicates that financial education doesn’t necessarily make financially knowledgeable people. One of the main points he & the study makes is that doing more of the type of training (schooling) that’s currently being done will not be effective. This is exactly the same point David Price makes in looking at learning in Open.

Practical Skills

While the Maker movement is helping to resurrect and revitalize the development of  hands-on skills in children, the reality is that many schools have no venues for students to learn practical skills. Any reasonably capable person should be able to perform basic tasks such as changing the plug on an appliance, checking and maintaining a car engine, changing a bicycle or car tire, and similar such skills. In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, schools really should be teaching soldering, calibrating and repairing. The excellent book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew B. Crawford, argues that such practical “trade” skills not only are intellectually stimulating and inherently valuable, they also guarantee permanent employment: while technology has and will continue to replace or outsource many jobs from call centers to offices, there will always be a local need for plumbers, electricians, and repairpeople of every kind. Besides, if we are truly interested in “teaching the whole child” and “creating life-long learners,” then schools must help children develop the skills that will help them to become competent and capable adults who are not only knowing but handy.

Mastering Technology

Schools have adopted technology full-tilt, and my school is no exception. The use of technology abounds in schools: 1:1 laptop programs, classroom tablets, student and class webpages, etc.  However, the typical use of technology in schools is just that: using it. Teachers and students build a website using a template or form, in which they fill in the boxes set by others. Students use laptops to blog or tweet or other forms of digital writing. Students create Prezis or edit videos to give reports. None of this is particularly technological: it’s the same old projects & activities merely carried out using computers. None of this requires any fundamental knowledge of or understanding about how computers (or networks, the world-wide web, etc.) work. Some schools are starting to bring back programming and computer science as subjects – I’m pushing hard for our school to do just that – and that is important for our students’ (my child’s) futures. Work will continue to be mechanized and computerized, and the people who can actually program the computers and make the machines work will be the victors. Derek Thompson from The Atlantic has written a brilliant article about the fastest growing jobs of the decade and the robots who will steal them. If robots are taking jobs, then the students who know how to build and program the robots will be the ones in demand.

 I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.  ~Mark Twain

As a teacher and as a parent, I know that I cannot rely on School to teach my child everything. I know that I have my responsibility to her to teach her a wide variety of skills. I welcome that. I’m happy to educate my child in these as well as other areas.

What concerns me is that School is not interested in putting these kinds of areas at the forefront of education. Despite numerous intelligent arguments put forth by respected individuals, School remains entrenched in a structure of learning that is centuries old. There’s no space for programming or tinkering or entrepreneurship in a curriculum locked into Mathematics, Science, History, Literature, etc.

So, like all parents, it’s up to me.

Come here, Nadia. Let me show you how you can earn more interest on your allowance…

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