Thursday, March 23, 2017

"The Jobs of Tomorrow"

I'm wondering, more and more these days, if "the jobs of tomorrow" are actually a thing.  The school system where I live is pushing math and literacy so early and so hard because, they tell us, kids need to be "college and career ready" when they graduate from high school.  But what's left behind in the exclusive focus on reading, writing, and calculating is much of what makes being human worthwhile.

Everyone says they hate math, but what most people really mean is that they hate calculating.  People generally like puzzles and patterns, though.  It's satisfying to order and organize the world.  It's also important to have basic math skills, because they're useful in everyday life.  Shoving formal math education down the throats of 4 year-olds doesn't help, though.  It just teaches them that they hate math.

Aggressive formal literacy education is no more useful.  People learn to read because reading is important to them.  Pushing formal reading instruction earlier and earlier doesn't create better readers.  It creates readers who believe reading is hard and they are bad at it.  To encourage children to learn reading, we don't need to drill them on phonics and sight words, we need to give them time to be curious, a chance to see that reading will help them find out things they want to know, and opportunities to read.

People learn to write because writing is important to them, too.  The fundamental piece of writing is not vocabulary, grammar, or spelling, although all of those things are good.  The fundamental piece of writing is ideas.  To encourage children to learn to write, we need to give them time to have ideas, a chance to see that other people are interested in their ideas, and opportunities to write.

When we spend all of our schooling time doubling down on formal math and literacy education, we miss opportunities to learn to communicate through painting, sculpture, music, drama, humor, and diagrams.  We miss opportunities to learn to ask good questions and to hunt for the best answers.  We miss opportunities to practice collecting our own data, reaching our own conclusions, and sharing our own results.

All of the things sidelined by education are the things that allow us to make our own meaning.

And I'm not sure I believe in "the jobs of tomorrow" anymore.  I'm not sure we can count on jobs and careers to provide meaning and direction to our kids' days.  I'm not saying that jobs will disappear entirely, like this video suggests.  I'm sure there will be jobs.  I just wonder how many.  For most of human history "jobs" have not been a thing.  People have always worked and had roles in their communities. but the current age of jobs, where most households function by one or more of the adults working full-time for a company for money to exchange for goods and services, is just a tiny sliver of human history.

If school is trying so hard to prepare kids for jobs that aren't going to exist, what will they not be prepared for?  What if our children have universal basic income and a whole lot of free time?  How will they fill their time if they've only ever learned sit down, be quiet, and practice your math facts?  I feel for the children prepared to be the next generation of working stiffs if there are no jobs of tomorrow waiting for them.

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