Sunday, December 4, 2011

Education, Employment and Learning

This week I wrote a letter to my legislator, Tim Probst, in response to an e-mail he sent out asking his constituents for input on six different economic recovery ideas. You can read the ideas and our exchange here.

In his proposed ideas for economic recovery this statement resonated with my feelings about society, education and children:
"There is dignity in all work, and there are critical skills shortages across all post-secondary levels, from technical training to apprenticeship to two-year degrees to university degrees. Yet our culture seems fixated on a “college or bust” attitude. Too many of our students do not seriously explore their career opportunities at an early age, and too many see themselves as failures if they're not on a college prep pathway."

All too often we discount certain jobs or careers. We look down on people who hold jobs that we feel are beneath us or less worthy than other jobs. Some people look down on jobs that require manual labor while other people scorn white color jobs, it depends on their upbringing, their background, what job they work and the jobs of their friends and relatives. We need to step back and think about how all jobs have value. They have value because they are necessary for the smooth function of our society, they have value because the people who work them enjoy doing them, they have value because we depend on people who do the work that we don't enjoy or can't do ourselves.

As parents we need to support our children's passions and interests. We need to pay attention to what lights up their eyes. And we need to value whatever that might be. We also need to value all types of learning. In some families school is held up as the sacred grail, something that everyone must go through to succeed in life. Our society is presently putting a huge emphasis on science, math and technology. The reality is that only children who really delight in science or math or technology should follow the path towards a career in those fields. The other side of that reality is that there are only a small number of jobs in our society that require advanced learning in those fields.

There are children who were born to dance, draw, create new technology that we can't imagine, find cures to diseases, help families heal from past wounds, cook amazing meals, and to bake fabulous cakes. Some children were born with a passion for heavy machinery and others for flying airplanes; some children run like the wind and others prefer to curl up with a book. Each child is unique and we need to embrace that, support that, and love them for who they are. We should not try to squash them into a one size fits all educational mold that spits them out at graduation prepared for jobs that they will never enjoy. Our children need to know that whatever they love to do, that is what they should be doing.

In the same way we need to value all different kinds of learning. Some children spend hours playing video games or creating new worlds with their computer. Some children want to spend hours in their room drawing pictures, writing stories, or composing songs with their guitar. Some children prefer Legos and building elaborate structures, others want to bake, train their dog to do tricks, or swim for hours at the pool. Learning is taking place in all these situations. This learning is not less valuable than what might take place at school. In fact, this learning is most likely much more important than the learning that takes place in a school. Children should be encouraged to explore their interests and follow their passions. It is precisely by doing this that they will figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. For some children school may play a role in their path to a fulfilling future, but for other children school and college are unnecessary at best and quite possibly deterrents in their process of becoming who they are.

It is time to reconsider our attitudes towards education, employment and the messages we are sending children. We need to be respectful of all career paths and all educational options. We need to provide our children with opportunities to explore the amazing possibilities for their lives. As Representative Tim Probst said, "For our students, it means a more accurate view of the real world, a better chance to become the person they are meant to be, and a well-earned sense of pride in themselves, their talents, and their future."