Education needs to quit proselytizing kids into a humanist world view and focus on the life skills that are going to help these young people grow up to be great workers and citizens. Currently we push kids to attend twelve years of school and then encourage them to consider trade school and college. I read recently the following thoughts.
What if we made athletes always practice but never have a game? Would they sense a purpose? Most athletes will push themselves through drills and practices so that they can get good at the game.
In the same way we need to prepare kids for the real world. Testing needs to replicate some real life situations in order to be effective. Consider this idea. The school year starts out with a basic science lesson on plants. The kids learn some things about the plants and how they grow best. There is also a discussion on the economics of plants. How much one can expect for a seedling or even the fruit or vegetables. The kids would then use math to figure out what plants the class should invest in. An informed teacher could also include history of certain plants and how cultures have risen or fallen on the prosperity of these plants. As the plants grow the kids are learning more about math, science history and economics.
Along the way the class could elect leaders that will help make some of the decisions and a good teacher could even replicate unions and corporations into the study.
At the end of the year the kids would sell the plants or the produce of the plants. As a celebration if the kids make a profit they could have a celebration dinner or donate the money to charity. There are multiple ways to even improve on this simple concept.
I read of one school that put together trials regarding critical historical events. The kids dressed up in period costumes and took on all of the standard court appointed roles. The kids learned much about the actual historical situation and also about the court system. This was done in an actual court room where a judge met with the kids and helped them through the process. By the time the project was done the kids had a great understanding not only of history and the court system, they had fun doing it.
It is critical that we remember that schools were designed to prepare kids for the work force. By a well rounded curriculum as spelled out above this would be possible. Regardless, all education based programs need to include the following if they are going to effectively help kids prepare for life above the poverty line.
Develop Sense of Purpose
At about eleven years old a young man decided that he wanted to play baseball for the New York Yankees. This purpose shaped his entire life. Even as a teenager he recognized that the choices he was making could enable or disable that dream. He chose healthy food and exercise. He chose to avoid crime figuring that jail would not help his chances of making the big leagues. In those difficult teen years he was concerned that he could get a young lady pregnant and then have to quit baseball to take care of a little family. As a result he chose to not date much in High School. There is much more but ultimately this young man played shortstop for the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter.
The point is that a destination and a hopeful dream can make a huge difference in people’s lives. School and work seem to have no meaning unless there is an ultimate purpose. In college I was a dishwasher. On the surface it seemed meaningless. But really it was teaching me servant hood and humility. Additionally it was keeping me on campus and out of trouble. Finally it was giving me some money that got me through college with much less debt. This seemingly pointless job had a great purpose in making me the man I am today.
Help students find purpose in even the most mundane tasks will benefit them when they are adults.
Develop Healthy Self Esteem
Now I know that some of you are rolling your eyes on this one. But hear me out here. I am not talking about giving everyone a trophy. What I am saying is that everyone has something they are good at, go find that thing and encourage that thing. People, ALL people have value. Unfortunately, for too many they fail to discover and find that value. That is a task that schools are uniquely designed to do. Too often in schools there becomes a focus on what a student fails at instead of focusing on their strengths. Now there may be a need to help someone that is failing in one subject to master the basics, I am not suggesting we ignore those things. But what is this person really good at, how can we help that person to succeed.
I once read about a chronically poor student who seemed to be doodling and goofing off in most of his classes. One day the teacher caught a glimpse of what the student was working on. It was a fantastic picture of a shoe. With a short conversation the teacher discovered that this student had designed several different styles of shoes. An idea blossomed in the teacher. Soon after the teachers were incorporating foot related elements into the lessons. History, math, science and even literature came to life for this young man. Today that young man is working for a major shoe company as a designer.
In the standard school there would have been simply a focus on getting him to pay attention and to do his homework. Instead finding the young man’s dreams and adjusting the lessons to connect to that dream made him feel good. That feeling good translated into life success.
Develop a Sense of Discipline
Too often in schools we get stuck on the actual academics of educating the boys, girls, men and women that attend those schools. But what we often forget is that school also trains us for the work world. You must be in a class at a specific time. That sounds like most jobs that I have held over the years. At school you have expectations in homework, attendance and tests. In the work world you will often have to conduct research, show up on time and present yourself to customers. At school you will also need to work around tricky relationships. That also happens at the work place.
We live in a quitter society that quits the moment things get too difficult. It takes discipline to push through the difficulty and get to the prize. In passing a difficult exam it is rarely comfortable staying up late and digesting incredible amounts of information. The stress of the test also takes a certain amount of discipline as you focus an consider how best to answer questions.
Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Gaining in discipline prepares one not simply for work but for life. Marriages, parenting, healthy living all require discipline. Our schools need to focus on helping kids move from external motivators to internal motivations for discipline.
Develop a Vision of Opportunity
I was working at a shelter for women and children. One afternoon I was visiting with one of the teenage boys that was staying there with his mom. We engaged in lots of small talk about school, sports and girls and then the conversation shifted to the future. Curious, I asked the young man what he wanted to be when he graduated High School. There was a long awkward pause and after a few moments he shrugged. “I don’t know maybe I can get a job at Taco Bell.” Now don’t get me wrong, Taco Bell is a fine place to work. I do love to eat there when the opportunity rings. But for a High School boy full of potential and promise dreams of working at Taco Bell it threw me off. This was the best he could imagine for his life. He did not dream of managing or owning a Taco Bell but simply hoped to maybe someday get a job there.
This is where schools must get busy and develop dreams for our young people. Help them to imagine what can be. Dig deep and help people find their passions that maybe have died. Challenge our young people to rise up and solve the problems of our society.
Too many like the young man that I was visiting with at the shelter have learned to settle. We can solve the problems of our nation and our world. They will not be easy to solve or it would have been done already. We can solve poverty in our community. We can solve racism and discrimination in all its forms. We can solve any problem that we can imagine. But it is going to take us dreaming and hoping and wanting more for the future of our world.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
-John F Kennedy
Develop a thirst for knowledge.
For most of the past twenty years I have had a stack of books on my dresser or on my desk. The pile never seems to shrink though I read a book a week. But let me tell you what happens. While reading a book the author will quote someone else or tell a story from history and suddenly I get excited about that person or place or time. I do some research and order some books from the library or the online book store. I want to know more, learn more and be more. There is so much interesting information out there. I wish that I had more time to learn it all, to experience it all.
I have traveled all over Europe and have been to South America. I knew some things about history and culture of the places I went to. I learned a ton while there. But sometimes a book or article will point out some fact that I missed in my travels and I want to go back to take more in.
What would happen if we made learning so much fun and so exciting that movie cinemas would find it difficult to fill the theater? Open the minds of our young people to research history and discover all of the incredible and different ways of thinking that are out there. Let them learn from history and other cultures more than from social media.
If knowledge becomes exciting enough we might need to move toward 24 hour libraries instead of all night shopping. Create a passion for learning and I am believing that someone might stumble on the cure for baldness, cancer or any other illness that is wrecking our society.
1) What are the factors that keep us from making the recommended change of focus? How can we overcome those factors?
2) Conduct a study to discover a person in your community that developed a dream from childhood and made it into a productive life. (Like the Derek Jeter example above)