Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teaching for what's next...

First of all my apologies for missing my post last week. We moved into our new house last weekend so I was up to my eyes in boxes, paint, etc.  I had a post rolling around in my head but ran out of the time (and energy) needed to write it down.  After a week of hard work our family is feeling much more settled.  We even had the chance to attend the Pioneer Days Parade today.  What a great time and what a great event for our community.  Our kids should be stocked up in the candy department for at least 18 months!

This week I would like to discuss the issue of teaching for what is next.  I feel strongly that one of the most important things a high school does is to prepare young people for their future.  This has long been one of the primary tasks of schools.  For several generations that future was fairly predictable.  It often went something like this....schools were used to sort students into groups.  A small group of students were college bound.  They would become the next generation of doctors, lawyers, architects, and so on.  The larger group were being prepared for jobs at the local factory or the family farm.  These were great jobs.  The proud men and women that worked in these factories or ran family farms built and fed this country.  A high school graduate could comfortably expect to get a job in manufacturing, make a living, raise a family, and enjoy the American Dream. Several generations prospered in this environment. 

This "20th century" model of schooling worked very effectively for the purpose for which it was designed.  Schools did  a great job of preparing students for what was next in their lives.  Now you knew there was a "but" coming, and here it is....

The problem is that the world around us is changing.  It has been changing for some time but the symptoms of this change have only recently become blatantly obvious.  We are no longer preparing students for the same world we once were.  The 20th century models of economy, employment, even national security no longer apply.  We all know that the small town family farm has become more and more rare as farms are forced to grow larger and larger to survive.  Manufacturing jobs have decreased dramatically all over the United States, including here in Milford.  One of the most startling examples of this can be found in a brief video called "Did You Know"  It was produced by a professor at Iowa State University named Dr. Scott Mcleod among others.  The video can be found here  Before you read on, take a couple of minutes to watch the video if you haven't already.

This video is full of verified statistics that demonstrate the changing nature of the world around us.  Some of the strongest points for me in the video were:
  • The Department of Labor estimates that today's students will have an average of 10-14 jobs by the age of 38.
  • The top 25% of the students in India outnumbers all of the students in the United States.
  • The top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004
The glory days of getting a factory job right out of high school and working there 40 years and then retiring are, for the most part, behind us.  Since 2003 only 15% of all jobs in the state of Iowa have been in manufacturing while over 53% of jobs LOST since 2008 have been manufacturing jobs.  The jobs of tomorrow require a new skill set.  Preparing students for these jobs of the future requires us to change much of what and how we teach and learn.  I once heard someone say "if your job can be done cheaper or faster by a computer or someone overseas who is willing to work for less money, it will be.  We are all familiar with outsourcing.  Our challenge is to make our students un-outsource-able. 

Therein lies the problem...our job is to prepare students for their future, but that future is changing so fast we don't know what it will look like.  One thing we do won't look like the past.  The American public education system is great at preparing students for the past.  It has been said that no generation will be more beautifully prepared for the 20th century.  The problem of course, is that the 20th century is over.  It has been for 10 years now.  We need to turn our attention to the future.  That will take a new way of teaching, and a new way of learning.  More on this later...time to step down from my soapbox...I'm sure there are some more boxes to unpack! 

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