Monday, March 25, 2013

Preparing our Students for the (1950's) Workforce

This morning, while getting ready for school, I was getting my daily dose of news by flipping through different stations on TV.  One station shared a Forbes report of the top 10 skills you will need to find employment in 2013.  They were:
  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Complex Problem Solving
  3. Judgment and Decision Making
  4. Active Listening
  5. Computers and Electronics
  6. Mathematics
  7. Operations and Systems Analysis
  8. Monitoring
  9. Programming
  10. Sales and Marketing
Watching this list unfold on the screen a belief that I've had for a while was reinforced.  Out of those 10 skills that are being sought in the workplace, we focus on exactly one of them in our schools.  And the way we go about focusing on mathematics is so damaging that the majority of our students graduate without a real knowledge of what mathematics actually is, let alone the ability to apply it to real situations.
We talk about graduating students who are college and career ready, yet we focus almost all of our time, energy, and resources on things for which neither colleges nor employers are looking.

Not only are we not preparing our students for the workplace of their futures, well beyond 2013 and the list above.  We're still preparing them for the factory jobs of the 1950s in which compliance, basic reading and writing skills and the ability to calculate were all you needed to be successful. 

The more we focus on standardized tests as the driving force in education, the more we make it impossible for our students to develop the skills they most desperately need.  You cannot measure critical thinking, active listening, complex problem solving, or any of the above skills on a multiple choice test.  As much as the corporate reform movement of the past 15 years has complained that schools are not properly preparing students for the workforce, nothing has forced schools to shift focus away from those skills our students most need more than the corporate reform movement. 

Our students need to be able to critically think, problem solve, evaluate difficult situations, and actively listen, yet we continue to put the greatest importance on multiple choice tests, ensuring that none of those things can be a focus in schools.  Our students need to learn to use computers, electronics, and to program, yet we put policies in place to prevent them from even taking the electronics they already own - the very electronics they will need to utilize in the workforce - out of their pockets. 

Basically, we have turned schools into places where we prepare students for the realities of our past.  While some overcome this insanity to become successful, pointing to them as a reason to continue with this broken system is like pointing to the 90 year old smoker as a reason to give our children cigarettes. 

It is time to confront the realities of the 21st Century.  We don't know what jobs will be available to our students in the future.  Many of them don't exist yet.  We do know that skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making are becoming more important.  That should drive what we do in schools.

Ten years ago, the world was very different than it is right now.  The phone in your pocket didn't exist.  No smartphone did.  There was no such thing as an iPad or a digital tablet.  Now, those items are ubiquitous. 

My fifth grade students are 10 and 11 years old.  What will the world look like when they are looking for jobs?

I don't know, but I do know it won't look like the 1950's. 

So stop trying to force me to prepare them for that.


  1. One of the reasons that education tends to be a system of status quo and slow change is that there are many, many more people alive who went through that system saying things like "It was good enough for me, it is good enough for kids today", and "We don't have to change everything, we just need to teach the basics better." Those things were all well and good when the goal was to be a capable-but compliant-underling. Those who rose to the top (often in spite of the system rather than because of it) became managers of the rest of us. But most of those jobs are gone, and they aren't coming back. We wouldn't want them to. They are some of the lowest paying jobs in the world today.

    The world has changed. Quickly. Jobs of today and the near future require people to do more thinking and independent decision making. We aren't order followers, but thinkers capable of less management because of our competence. As a parody video recently pointed out, there is no "answer C" to choose when we don't have 4 clear choices presented to us and no clear answer. We just have to figure it out and ask for help from others with the information we need. That's collaboration.

    The proponents of "going back to basics" and corporate reformers need to let go of what was their past. As Michael pointed out, it's not our future. We shouldn't have to wait for an entire generation to die off before doing what is right for the current one.

    1. Andy,

      Fantastic comment. There's nothing to add to that other than, "Right on!" And, "thanks for taking the time to comment."


  2. Hi,I'm from South Africa and in my country we are in the process of implementing a new (more progressive) curriculum that promotes critical thinking and being able to apply knowledge instead of just passing on theoretical knowledge..I am a young and new teacher and i welcome these changes but many of my colleagues are resistant.I think partly people fear technology because it threatens their own position,teachers might fear virtual classrooms and uploading lessons onto Youtube etc.because it might make their own positions obsolete...

    I agree with what you said,it makes no sense for us to deny in the classroom that technology exists, instead we should embrace it and adapt our classrooms and in the process some teachers might be pleasantly surprised to see how beneficial technology can be..

    Big fan of your blog!

    1. Nelmari,
      Thank you for the comment and the kind words!

      One of the reasons we have to switch to a more student-centered approach and less teacher lecture is exactly for the reason you mention. It is possible to replace a teacher lecture with a YouTube video, but no computer can replace a mentor. It's ironic, isn't it, that the fear of being replaced leads us to stagnate, and thus makes us more replaceable?

      Here in the United States I see the fear you mention, as well as other fears in teachers that make them resistant to change. I see fear of not "covering" a bloated curriculum. I see fear of failure being a huge factor. I see fear of being different from other teachers.

      Change is always hard. Especially for teachers, it seems...

      Again, thanks for taking the time to comment!