Strategist, Speaker, Designer, Instigator

Square pegs, dodecahedral holes (part 3) [post 33/100]

Already 1/3 through this 100 posts malarkey and I haven’t run out of things to write about yet. I might soon, though, so if there’s something you think I should be writing/ranting about, please let me know. I’ll be offline for Easter break for the next few days, so no more posts til next Tuesday.

This concludes your public service announcements. Now, on to the content.

Over the past two days, I’ve been writing about employment and education. This morning I was linked to this article by a student in the Palo Alto school system, which has inspired this third post on the topic.

I agree with these kids that the way they’re being educated is crazy. I also think it’s unfair to continue to propagate the notion that good grades –> good university –> good job. While it’s certainly true that a degree from a top university will open doors, there are also growing numbers of university graduates all over the world who are struggling to find work. At the same time, I have deans of universities asking me and my colleagues in the digital world what kinds of people we’re looking to hire, so that they can re-tool their curricula to match our needs. I always thought education was about teaching us how to think – how to think critically, creatively, laterally, productively – as a first order of business, and how to apply that thinking as the second. But these days it feels more like a giant global factory, churning out people with degrees that map directly to the job titles they’re supposed to be going for.

While the system may seem efficient at first glance, it’s woefully underpreparing its graduates for reality. Reality isn’t getting a job with a company straight out of college and then working there, moving up in the ranks, until you retire. It’s not been that way for some time. Statistics suggest most people will change careers 3-5 times before they’re 38. And considering the impact technology is having on the business landscape, combined with the rate of change, I imagine this number is only going up from here. To be certain, ongoing learning  is more and more critical to remaining relevant in the workplace, in almost any kind of job.

I remain convinced that the most important and useful thing an education can impart is the ability to keep learning, and to think in creative and productive ways. Factory farming specialty brains to fit into roles that will almost certainly change if not disappear, seems unsustainable to the point of being actively irresponsible. Surely it would be more productive and effective to design our learning systems to acknowledge what we know to be true, that the world in which these students will be living and working will be changing faster and faster – we should be helping them to identify and develop skills around their natural strengths and talents, and mitigate their weaker areas. Nobody’s brilliant at everything, so why are high school students expected to be?