Whenever I travel I choose the hotel based on the hot tub. I love them. I can sit in them for hours. I always meet the great people and hear amazing stories. This weekend was no different.
We were in SLO for the memorial service of one of my husband’s best friends. I am always a bit disoriented when someone passes, because that question re-imerges “where did they go?”. I mean they were here, now they aren’t. Where did they go? And what did all the life mean in between birth and death? I mean this thought spirals in my head in a very disconcerting way…. thus the appeal of the hot tub.
This trip I met several parents who were in SLO looking at the school – it’s college tour time. Not for seniors mind you – for juniors. The parents each had that strained “what if my child doesn’t get in” face; “What if my child doesn’t measure up”? Talk of AP classes, GPAs, SATs, PSATs PPSATS, SAT subject tests and of course getting the right major to make the most money. It’s the same every year. (Remember I used to be a high school teacher – this is just the beginning of the instillation of insecurity we brainwash our kids with.)
What I didn’t hear was how the students felt about the schools. Only the marketing/branding bumper sticker slogans each of the schools has so carefully designed. These were wonderful kids mind you. They have good grades, are doing everything “right” and these parents are good, concerned parents. BUT DOES EVERYONE HAVE TO BE AN ENGINEER?
We are educating kids like we are programming computers. Data in, Data in, Data in. Spit out the test answers. Write the pre-programmed essay with just the right amount of “out of the box” essence to show you are “creative”. Data in, data in, data in, repeat. Retake the SAT so it will APPEAR you are smarter. Don’t take that class, it won’t benefit your overall GPA. Don’t do that activity – it won’t benefit your resume. Don’t don’t don’t, data in, data in, data in.
I have a better way to go about this. Ask the student what problem he wants to solve in the world. Then let him find out what he needs to know to do that. Take those classes. Excel in that. And always take something that doesn’t necessary appeal to your first choices because it will surround you with people who don’t think like you. And that’s a good thing.
And most of all listen. Listen authentically with the ear of your heart. The world needs you. “To do what?” you ask. To be you. That’s it. Not our pre-programmed version of you – YOU. The real you. The one who sees the world from a vantage point that no one else can. Oh, and learn how to communicate with people. Lots of people. Especially people who aren’t like you.
I met Brian (I will call him Brian, but that isn’t his name). And I met his mom – a flower designer, a creative, bright intelligent communicator. She has the strained face. The fear face we mom’s get when we buy into the education hype that gets thrown at us in the third year of high school.
Brian designs things. No surprise, so does his mom – she is a florist; although we of the 21st century who judge everything be triple figure salaries wouldn’t see it that way. She is a natural designer – a born problem solver. Brian wants to be an engineer. Actually the kids is already an engineer – he designs football helmets to protect the brain and long board skateboards. He needs engineering skills to do what he already does; what he already loves. So I am not worried about Brian. He’s a lucky one – who has a massively creative mom, who, without intending to, passed on her creativity to her son, who now uses it to design cool stuff he cares about. He is solving problems. He is protecting brains and helping skaters go fast, safer. What school should he go to? Come on, does it really matter if he gets into Harvard, Yale, Duke or even SLO? Or is that just part of this vanity thing we are doing right now – wanting to talk about what fine school our kids is going to. Are our kids just our cocktail party chatter? He could probably learn what he needs right off the internet! But he will go to college. And he’ll do very well in life – not because or the school, but because this kids is curious… and he’s got stuff he want to do.
Then there’s Joseph (again, not his name). He is hump shouldered, quiet, makes eye contact with reluctance, and KNOWS he doesn’t measure up. Every move he makes is second guessing himself; every breath he takes he holds for a little too long, for fear there won’t be enough. He is confined within the barrier of expectation that have been put over him; a rose under glass. His parents have him in the four AP classes and the kids is visibly smothering. His grade point is only 3.5 (HORRORS) and he is looking with panic at the next several months and how he will get his grades beyond a 4.0 so he can up his GPAs SATs, SAT subject tests, grades, grades, grades. He thinks he will never make the cut. He will never get where he needs to be. “Where is that?” I ask him. His parents are professionals – so he will be too. Professional what? He shrugs, takes in a breath that he holds a touch to long and looks down.
His parents are wonderful people and they clearly love their kid. But this kid is NOT allowed to make mistakes, and he does make mistakes, lots of them. He has proof; 3.5 grade point average. PSAT’s only in the 87th percentile. “But that’s ok I am taking them again. And the SATS I can take until they are right.” This kids can hardly breathe. “What do you love to do?” I ask. He looks at me confused. “I dunno.” “Like activities, that you love to do?” I continue. No answer. Mom prompts, “He has friends”. The kids shrugs.
What are we doing to these kids? We are so panicked by the hypnotic education system (which by the way IS NOT WORKING VERY WELL). We have education systems that mimic factories from the 1800’s. The medium has become the message – we have become a machine and we push these kids, batched according to date of manufacture, through the treadmill of “standardized” education. Each will be dumped out at exactly the same place – the end of the treadmill. And we will do our best to put them right back on another treadmill called college. Is it really good for ALL OF THEM? We don’t have time to answer that question. We have quotas and the factory bell will go off at any moment.
It’s time to stop this. We are not machines and educating mechanically is not what we need to create new things. We are in a conceptual age where we will create new things or we will become the third world country that the manufacturing jobs are shipped off to because it’s cheaper; and we will enjoy those wages right here in America. That is what we are training with our manufacturing style education system. And we as parents are paralyzed to do anything differently because if we do we’ll lose our place in line. How do we stop this insanity?
We need to learn. All of us. We need to learn why? What? Where? What if? We need to stop depending on limited testing to tell us if someone is learning. Stop teaching to tests with the illusion that there actually is one right answer… one way to do it. We write manuals on it. And manuals on how to use the manuals right. We are obsessed with getting it right without a care in the world for GETTING IT.
Why? Money. The money conduit has been flipped on – the student loan scam. We want butts in the seats. Not necessarily butts that can do the work, but butts that will sign for the student loans THAT CAN NEVER EVER BE FILED AWAY IN BANCRUPCY! We have watered down the education system while simultaneously instilling a panic in kids to get the best grades to get into the best college. But the truth is, just about any kids who wants to can get a loan to go to college. Why? Because education has become a racket. We need the clients in the seats – our college and universities are dependent on it. So we have more kids in college than ever before and are replacing upper division courses with remedial classes BECAUSE OUR STUDENTS ARE NOT COLLEGE READY. But we don’t care, as long as they sign for those student loans.
Our economy is based on the need for slave labor (sorry, minimally paid wage workers – not necessarily minimum wage, just minimally paid). We need people who will take the low paying jobs so the stockholders will make more money. We no longer have our eyes on the stakeholders, we only care about the stockholder. Do YOU own a lot of stock? Me neither. But that’s ok because I’m a lotto ticket away from being a millionaire. Do you hear the fantasy thinking that is creeping into our logic? Ugh. Sorry, I digress. College degrees don’t guarantee success. But most of the time they DO guarantee debt. So you’ll take any job to pay it back, and do just that.
Next time you are at Starbucks, or any restaurant, ask if your server has gone to college. The answer may surprise you.
So is this ok? Not from where I stand. I project out 10 years and wonder what our long game plan is. Undereducated, over debt burdened 30-40 year olds. With a smattering of EXTREMELY wealthy people benefitting. Add to that the kids who never played the game, dropped out of high school, found their way into the privately owned prison system and are now out. What does that world look like to you? It looks like a big problems.
So what are the most important skills today? Learning how to learn and learning how to solve problems. Period. What skills do we need for that? Who knows? The world is changing daily and at a rapid pace. How do we plan for 10 years from now when, in reality, we have no idea what it will look like. I don’t know the answer, but I know the skills. Learning and problem solving.
We need a myriad of diverse thinking people with MANY different skills. I don’t think it’s going to help if we have a world full of ONLY engineers. Some engineers, yes. All engineers? How many engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None, they just report that it’s dark.
We need diversity. And we need it now. So it should reflect in the schools. There should be quality math, science, english, social studies, history, AND ART. Not obligatory art – rigorous quality arts classes. Demand them. Creativity and problem solving is the Vitamin D – not the whipped cream. You won’t know you are deficient until you don’t have it. And we do’t have it. We need the diversity.
Diversity is risky. But that’s life. Let your kids take a risk. Let your kid find out what problem he wants to solve in life and set about finding the answer. He will thrive. So will she. And in ten years we might even end up with the skills we need to solve the problems we have created.
This has been brought to you by Studio V – because if education is happening, the arts are necessary. Let’s make ARTS NECESSARY again!