In the last 150 years, the ability to speedily adapt to change has allowed America to hold a long-term global leadership position. Cooperative trade and communication infrastructures were built across the country that allowed people to share knowledge and resources. A significant amount of our workforce’s ability to apply forethought and adapt was attributed to the American education system. Held as a paragon for generations, experts studied it and other countries tried to emulate it. But the story of our workforce wasn’t tied to the classroom exclusively. Those experts were missing the whole picture.
Decades ago, when most Americans lived on farms, young people honed their thinking skills with hands-on jobs that took what they learned from parents first, and then the classroom, integrated that knowledge and then applied it to real world problems. Whether it was growing crops and raising animals (applying biology and chemistry) or baling hay, building fences and repairing the barn (applying physics and mathematics), children routinely made critical decisions that impacted their own lives and the lives of those around them. Often there were immediate, life-threatening consequences for failure to finish chores or complete tasks someone else was depending on them for.
Knowledge was put to use both in personal ways and for the benefit of others. Individuals had to perform under tough, chaotic circumstances. The result was self-confidence, a strong sense of purpose and value, and real, life-long learning.
Young children grew up on a steady diet of self-directed behavior. There was an appetite for growth and a willingness to change quickly and, with a wealth of creativity and drive, to risk, and adapt to change. This has been the basis of success in a worldwide free-market economy.
While classroom learning was/is indisputably important, students of the past came to school having had far more real life experiences than children have today. Thus, the education system alone cannot ensure the success of children today.
We all want our children to grow up in a joyous and safe environment, but we also need to recognize the importance of experiences that are challenging, at times stressful, and include opportunities for success and failure.
And Then Came the Internet…
In recent years, technology has enhanced our ability to access and manipulate massive amounts of information compared to the past. In the mid-1800s a set of McGuffey Readers was considered a prized possession. Then came the popularity of affordable encyclopedias, revered in every home they graced. Today, the swelling of access to information on the internet has devalued its value in the minds of young students. It’s also had dramatic implications for formal education. Young people assume that there is always an immediate right answer to every question, and it can be found on the internet.
What are educators supposed to do with children cognizant of an endless supply of information, but without the ability to apply judgment and reasoning in its interpretation?
Truly educated people do more than acquire information in a classroom setting. Those who regularly achieve success—and maintain it—are those who use critical and creative thinking skills to acquire and integrate information to solve problems and add value. Critical and creative thinking skills are not memorized. They are developed from facing life experiences and solving problems. These individuals don’t just move a controller or swipe a screen; they create, they innovate, and they serve others. They don’t just do a job and then consume, they make this a better world for themselves and others.
Though once the paragon of educational systems, America has dropped slowly from the top of global performance measures and now faces countless, multi-faceted challenges. Why? What do we need to do to bring ourselves back up? It will take time. But together we can.
Read on to learn about the B2W approach to a solution.