Thursday, January 8, 2009

Our kids are being jobbed

Barry Bachenheimer ponders future jobs for our students in his latest entry on his "A Plethora of Technology." He's also putting together a conference scheduled for tomorrow that features Scott McLeod (Dangerously Irrelevant) giving the mini-keynote address "The jobs you're preparing students for don't exist anymore."

I'm getting so confused these days I can hardly tell when something's tongue-in-cheek, though a personal virtual-presence agent is no doubt over the top. Still, the exercise is a useful (and fun) one.

We may well be prepping kids for jobs that will no longer exist in a few years. We step into la-la land, however, when we to train them for imagined jobs that might never exist. I fear we are underestimating where high tech is going while overestimating how much hum
an help will be needed once we get there.

(We now have machines to solve sudoko problems created by machines designed to create sodoko problems. And people use them.)


I teach low-level 9th grade science classes. Most of my students hard-working kids who remain naive enough to believe that they will be doctors and engineers and game designers and NBA stars. A few will be. Most won't.

Even if every child in America was blessed with an IQ of 150, the drive of Thomas Edison, and the wisdom of Abe Lincoln himself, most would not be the engineers and the doctors and the game designers and the NBA stars.

Let's stop pretending.

I'd like to turn the question of future jobs on its head--what skills do children need to learn to survive an age when their "skills" are no longer marketable?

Here's my back-of-an-envelope list, scribbled down quickly:

1) Every child should know how to grow and grind wheat.
2) Every child should know where to find potable water within human-powered distance.
3) Every child should know how to knead bread.
4) Every child should know how to start a fire to bake the bread she has kneaded.
5) Every child should know how to build the oven to hold the heat of the fire he has started.
6) Every child should know how to build a wooden table and chairs to sit when she eats her bread.
7) Every child needs the social skills to have loving relationships to have someone to break bread with.
8) Every child should know how to sing and to play an acoustic instrument, to share sounds with good company.
9) Every child should know how to share stories.
10) Every child should know how to spin yarn, and how to knit his yarn into blankets, to keep him warm when he sleeps with his love, bellies full of bread.
11) Every child should know how a home is built, so each can share their skills when a home needs building.

(Families used to provide most of these, but most adults in this part of the world
have not mastered even half of the list.)

In our rush to create children designed to compete with foreigners to serve the good graces of international corporations, we have forgotten to teach them how to take care of themselves.

All photos by Jessica Pierce of things made by Jessica Pierce--hundreds more things can be seen here. Not all school safe, or at least not safe for teachers.


John Spencer said...

One thing that always seems to be missing from this "jobs not created yet" dialogue is "what is the purpose of education?"

If we teach students to think well about life, they will do well in any job. If we teach them to think critically about technology (rather than simply how to use it) they will understand both the technocratic and the Luddite arguments and will discover for themselves how to live well in the digital age.

doyle said...


(I actually wondered while writing the post if I should have explicitly stated what I thought the education is--but figured I ranted enough for one post.)

christine said...

dearly beloved -
For many years, I felt like an anachronism for knowing, or wanting to know everything on that list. there's a few I'd add, in fact. And some I'd hide - knowing how to quilt AND weave and knit. how to build a log cabin, with only an axe. Now I'm finding more and more that people hunger for these experiences. How can someone reach forty without ever kneading bread?

zombie chemo brain

J Clark Evans said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Spencer, preparing for the unknown possibilities of the future is simply recognizing that it is unknown. We cannot continue to prepare our students for factory jobs or middle management anymore. Now it's time to focus our efforts on creating creative critical thinkers who are flexible and independent in their learning when they leave us. Of course, this has been done for centuries in school settings, like your earthworm example in your next post. Using current technologies is another weapon in the teacher's arsenal to accomplish the goal of facilitating learning, whatever the age or level of learner-there seems to be something out there for everyone. The evolution in education that is happening now should be a refinement of what we are doing well and an adventure in discovering how we can serve our students and create an even better future for us all.

jplaman said...

Though in some fundamental ways I agree with you, I also don't think we can pretend that somehow within our student's lives the mega cities where they live will somehow disappear and 7+ billion people will each have their own tract of arable land to grow wheat (rice in my part of the world).
Sadly, we've lost that connection to the land within this most recent generation. Ask your students how many have a close relative who is farming or even gardening?
Creativity, communication, collaboration, information literacy, and curiosity. These are the learning habits are not technology dependent but those who can do these things with technology will be in demand no doubt.

doyle said...

You're right, a good chunk of the population will not have their own tract of land to grow grain.

In this part of the world (northeastern US), most folks who do have tracts of land grow inedible grasses--just as easy (perhaps easier) to grow wheat.

I do think every child should know how to grow wheat, even if no tract of land is available. Put a wheat berry in a discarded carton cut in half (make sure you punch holes in the bottom), fill with dirt, water it, give it light, watch it grow. Reminding a child of our connection to the ground can be a life-altering experience.

(I'm tempted to grow a small plot of wheat in my front yard--I've done it once in the back. Be interesting to hear what the neighbors say.)

If we keep growing as a species, and we keep up the fantasy that our resources are limitless, knowing how to grow things may be an extremely important skill in a decade or two, especially here in the States--we are blessed with good land.

Those without land depend on cash, and cash depends on participating in a destructive (and currently ill) economy. A few basic life skills may prove far more valuable than the quadratic equation for most of my students.

AJ Clark Evans
What a world! I got to see you speak via skype at a conference Friday, and now we get to share words!

Now it's time to focus our efforts on creating creative critical thinkers who are flexible and independent in their learning when they leave us.

Yep! I took those words (with attribution) and ran with them--they're now sitting in an incomplete post.

doyle said...

Dear Chris,

I hope your zombie chemo brain is getting some rest today.

We've somehow managed to demean the day-to-day life folks lived not so long ago. On the plus side, the li'l downturn in the economy is going to give a lot of us a bit more time to learn some new old things.

See you in Kansas!