[Advice] Our Children

What we don’t teach our children in school for eight hours a day would be classified as child abuse, if we actually believed that the nature of the world of work has changed for adults.

But, we don’t.

The world of work is a place where adults are thrown together with other adults we didn’t choose to be with, with whom we have little in common, and must be “nice” to (meaning non-confrontational, but not too nice) in order to “get tasks done.”

School prepares our children for this, disappearing work world. The world of the white-collar office or even the disappearing, blue-collar factory. School tells our children to sit in desks for 8 hours a day, while an adult stands in front of them, lecturing every hour, on the hour.

No naps. No crackers. No grape juice. Not even in kindergarten anymore.

Governments get involved in schooling because people in power (politicians, political consultants, et.al) want nice compliant voters, workers and adults.

Parents send their children to school because that’s the only way to “get opportunities” out of an adult life that seems more and more volatile, or because of the threat of jailing.

Society overall demands schooling (and the ways we currently school children are a product of the Industrial Revolution, John Dewey, Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor—among many others) if no other reason than some adults would rather not see children “running around town” questioning the carefully constructed adult worlds.

Seems like an environment ripe for bullying, stress, mismanagement, organizational conflict, and avoidance of outcomes.

There are some ways out of this:

Teach to individuals, not groups.

The group lecture doesn’t work without individual engagement, even for well-trained adults. There’s a reason Greek philosophers taught outside by asking and answering questions, taught walking around, and were constantly considered to be “corrupting the morals of the youth” of Ancient Greece. If Socrates could do it with 15 kids under an olive tree (or walking through a marketplace), so can the post-modern, 21st century educator with all the technology that we have.

Teach principles, not values.

Here’s a principle: “Choose to be good to one another and learn how to get along with people you don’t like, and who don’t like you.” Here’s a value: “Let’s not bully each other because it hurts the other person’s feelings and it’s wrong.” Children are incredibly gifted at sensing the adult hypocrisy that lies dormant behind adults employing the language of principles to hide other motives that are sometimes value driven, and sometimes not.

Teach emotional intelligence, principles and individuals from ages 5 through 12, teach skills, abilities and life options from ages 12 through 17, then let children decide to go to college, or not with their families.

At a practical level, the current formation of primary schooling in this country is broken, no matter whether the governing policy is Common Core, No Child Left Behind or even Midnight Basketball (remember that from the 90’s). This is because the next world that our children face is post-industrial, requiring the ability to dance with fear, fail with grace and be courageous without shame (which children need reinforced between 5 and 12) and requiring people to be really skilled immediately, regardless of credentialing (what children need reinforced between 12 and 17).

Adults (who have children and vote and who don’t have children and don’t vote) need to change our story of why we send our kids to school, and change the assumptions and expectations that we have around learning and the world of work, before anything will change in the school system itself.

Until that happens, we will raise, and nominally educate, generations of people, who will be released into adulthood, with little understanding of what is happening to them in their working lives, why it is happening, and how to overcome it.

Which is a recipe for increasing societal conflict, not decreasing.