We Know The Answers, But Do We Have The Questions?

A Pew Research Center study shows that Millenials are on their way to becoming the most educated generation in history, meaning that more of us are graduating with undergraduate and graduate level degrees than any other generation. This means that more of us have formal education and training. What this doesn’t mean is that we are the most prepared for the working world than any other generation.

In fact I believe that traditional education has left most of Gen Y unprepared for “creative economy” work. A study last year by the Conference Board found that 97 percent of American employers agree that “creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces” and 85 percent of employers who seek creative employees state that they struggle to find them, as summarized by Wendy Waters, a contributor to Richard Florida’s website The Creative Class.

Unfortunately I have to blame this lack of “creativity” in the workforce on a traditional education system focused on producing really great factory workers. Free formal public education didn’t even come about until the 19th century to meet the needs of industrialism. They used the “efficient” factory system as a model for free public education to produce standard workers for the industrial economy and the system worked quite well for that purpose. Here we are in the 21st century in primarily a service economy though, and our education system has not changed much. As a young student I learned pretty quickly that school was really just one big game I had to play. It was instilled in my classmates and me that we would only be rewarded if we knew the right answer on our tests and if we regurgitated that which our teachers told us was true. The education system that once prepared students for the industrial economy no longer works in preparing students for today’s service economy that thrives on having original and often unconventional ideas.

I want to share an example of this from my 3rd grade Spanish class. It was around Columbus Day, so my teacher asked us to write something celebrating Columbus and share it with the class. I began telling the teacher that I had nothing to contribute because I didn’t believe we should have a day to celebrate such a bad man as Christopher Columbus who was responsible for spreading disease to and slaughtering the natives of the land. And when she insisted that he should be celebrated for discovering America, I questioned whether he even ever set foot on American soil.

The teacher immediately called my parents in for a conference about my “disruptive” classroom behavior. My parents were stunned by the teacher’s request, but in the end the teacher suggested I no longer attend her Spanish class. Maybe I was wrong or even a little bit too stubborn, but as a 3rd grader I should have been encouraged to ask good questions, even question the status quo, and think creatively instead of being punished. From that incident forward, I cannot remember any moments in which I openly disagreed with a teacher or asked an obscure question. Looking back at my educational history and the relationships I have encountered between teacher and student, it ends up that I have always disliked the ways I have been taught. Unfortunately, I had been so deeply socialized in the traditional education system that I was completely unaware of other educational methods.

I’ve recently been exploring and happening upon various other education systems where creativity, self-expression, and ownership of education are valued, including homeschooling, Montessori schools, and Democratic Free Schools. Systems where children are encouraged to ask questions and think on their own don’t require courses later in life to teach creative thinking (i.e. the purpose of many humanities-based universities); it would instead come naturally.

While I don’t think that my own education has completely failed me, I do believe that it failed to prepare me for that which employers are currently seeking: creativity. And while I cannot undo the damage done, I do believe that our generation has a vested interest in education and we will strive to make sure that our own children are not denied their curiosity or creative abilities and will be prepared for the working world that awaits them.

“Creativity is as important as literacy—and we should treat it with the same status” – Sir Ken Robinson

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