Is this really the best that we can do for career planning, especially at the high school level? Just thinking or talking about it? That’s about as effective as being an entrepreneur who never builds anything, or asks any good questions of customers. [For the record, the “Get experience” is about job shadowing, which I argue is exposure over experience]
The last time someone asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” before writing my college application essays was in the fifth grade. Yet we sort kids based on their perceived aptitude and limited career musings.
With the exception of my Architecture class, the subjects I have been most interested in as an adult were miserable to me in high school- for a variety of reasons: teachers, assignments, etc. I’m lucky that I maintained my curiosity, otherwise those fields would have been forever tarnished.
We’re making kids choose careers at 17/18 based on limited course catalogs, experience, and exposure to what’s out there. Not to mention that hardly anyone admits the nonlinearity and indefinite nature of career trajectories, beyond letting kids know it’s okay to change college majors. That’s a problem even when we’re ignoring that jobs are invented and destroyed all the time, and that there are ways for people to combine their passions in ways that can’t be described by any O*Net profile.
We can do better for career education. Just think about it.
This week, I’ve been writing my Statement of Purpose for a graduate school application- with a theme about learners versus students- and having conversations around teacher feedback for education technology company product development. So it seems fitting that I should stumble across this today:
I find there are still learners and students. The learners search for information on how to use the tools, play around with them and experiment in the classroom. The students wait for a training session or workshop, attend them, complete assignments but there is not a significant change in the use of the tools.
One conversation I had recently was with a teacher-turned-entrepreneur about getting teachers more meaningfully engaged in education technology feedback. In our conversation one thing that really stood out was her assertion that we need to give teachers professional development so that they can learn how to give useful feedback to companies. That assumption rubbed me the wrong way.
Professional development seems to be the go-to for doing new things in the field of education. It never really seems to get questioned more than “Does #edchat do a better job?” It’s telling of the system’s attitude towards learning. It screams “you can only learn if you’re being taught.” It’s a horrible tone for a system that has recently become much more reflective on creating lifelong learners.
Fortunately, some teachers are learners, not just students. They’re already experimenting and giving their feedback, whether you teach them or not.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been thinking about dropping out of graduate school.
I’ve hesitated about talking about it here for many reasons, including but not limited to: the irony of an education activist talking about the irrelevance of my education, the potential for the institution to take my remarks the wrong way, and embarrassment for getting into this situation.
And then I stumbled upon this article about failure by famed education pundit Alfie Kohn. This really struck a chord with me:
Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning. That’s not something we’d want to eliminate. But when students who are tripped up by challenges respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out, they sometimes do so not because of a deficiency in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because those challenges — what they were asked to do — aren’t particularly engaging or relevant.
While I disagree about his conclusions and some points in particular (like denying the ability to give zeros, based on my personal teaching experience), I think he’s indirectly said something really important about failure and learning.
Despite my increasing commitments to learning and writing about education, I have found myself spending less and less time participating in education. At first I thought it was just because I was spending so much time learning to code, starting up my company, keeping up with classes, and writing about tech for Infospace, but then I realized this new schedule really isn’t keeping me from participating fully. The real problem is that education is estranging me, and there was entrepreneurship with open arms. It’s not to say that I’m jumping ship, or abandoning education, quite the opposite. Now I’m just taking the lessons that I’ve learned from entrepreneurship to change my outlook on education and vice versa. I think that there are a lot of things that they could learn from one another.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned? Attitude is everything.
To put it bluntly, education is depressing. The entire sector is filled with people who are tired, do thankless work, battle red tape and apathy, and incessantly bicker. There’s an economy of schadenfreude and an incessant cynicism for those who do well. Don’t believe me? Just look at Diane Ravitch.
There’s also (in tech terms) a disparity between the consumers and the customers of education. I’m not interested in appealing to the customers. They’re too invested in passing state tests and keeping their tenure and unions. In my time in Silicon Valley and working on my startup, I’ve learned that passion and an idea can take people far places. This concept has pushed me to keep learning new things and keep working, despite the difficulty. Sadly, that’s not the case with education right now, not on a system wide level. Right now, I don’t have the idea to help the consumers, especially on a grander scale.
I’m not abandoning education by any means. I can’t dedicate my life to something that doesn’t have a grander vision. Entrepreneurs lack the same kind of cohesion that education has. There’s a collective vision that happens in education because, at the end of the day, it is (or at least should be) about kids’ education and changing their lives for the better. With entrepreneurs, it can be about making money, changing norms, building value, becoming a better designer/developer/entrepreneur, just doing your own thing, or some combination of all of the above. Their vision can become a collective vision for their company, but what it is exactly that entrepreneurs are supposed to accomplish is designed to be a question mark. I’m creating an online dating site because I care about changing the way that people interact with one another for the better, and if I can help a few people fall in love that would be pretty cool, too. But it doesn’t quite compare to changing a broken system.
So when it comes to dealing with the status quo, dealing with red tape, and fighting off the cynics, I’m going to go in the direction that is encouraging, appreciates experimentation, and doesn’t called failed attempts failures. For now that means that I’ll be spending more time in tech and working on my non-edtech startup (youshoulddate.me). It’s giving me a chance to become non-jaded again, look at things from a new perspective, and learn a few lessons about change that can be applied to education. I’d rather be the continual newcomer with fresh input than a jaded pundit with the same input. So for the moment, I’ll be mostly removing myself from the education space. I need to not burn out on something that I care about.
I’ll still be posting on here from time to time whenever I read something of interest or have some new thoughts, but I won’t be as prolific a writer as before.