to view on medium.com:
Your glass is full and empty of red wine. Or are you concerned about the empty bottle — do you make decisions based on substance or essence?
I was sitting having a drink with a friend and we were discussing one of my previous posts, My Tuesday Evening with Living Death (https://medium.com/what-i-learned-today/b52afdfc281) where I address this idea of having a full heart. We were also discussing a previous conversation we had about how in order to make room for change (personal, social, whatever), one must “make space” or “empty their cup.” For example, to start adding different things to a routine such as working out, one simply cannot just start going to the gym, some part of their old routine must die, such as watching a TV show.
Recently an old elementary school friend’s mother died. We were not super close so my folks found it sort of strange that I was so compelled to go to her funeral. I know why I want to go, although I was kinda ashamed to tell my mother. She was trying to figure it out and I finally just blurted out “I wanna be a part of it.” For some reason I so badly wanted to go and witness this celebration of life.
It’s 7:30 pm on a Saturday and I’m sitting alone in my tiny apartment. My girlfriend has a work meeting, I haven’t made any plans with friends, and I don’t really want to leave my home and I have no desire to go amorously wander around the city. The social media and emails are silent. There is no message or phone call to be answered. The apartment is dimly lit and I’m sitting at my counter-top with everything and nothing to do.
Twenty-five percent of college students meet the diagnosable criteria for a mental illness. The current unemployed or underemployment rate for those with a recent college diploma is 53%. Going to college nowadays means you have a one in two shot at getting a satisfactory job after graduating and one in four shot at experiencing a mental health issue. These two sad outputs clearly point to a dysfunctional system and beg two simple questions. Are functional students experiencing a system that creates dysfunction? Or are we inserting a dysfunctional student into a system inept at reducing this dysfunction. I thought one’s college years were supposed to be the “best years of your lives” — well, unless you peaked in high school.
I recently was on a leadership retreat for a business school mentorship program and I asked about 10 different people the reason that they joined this organization. For every single person I talked to the conversation when something along these lines:
“So why do you want to be a part of this group?”
“Oh, umm, leadership experience I guess.”
“Why do you need leadership experience?”
“Ah, to put on my resume.”
“Why do you want this on your resume?”
“So I can talk about it in the interview process and get a good job.”
“Why do you want a good job?”
“So I can make a lot of money.”
Several of the people explained the reasoning behind wanting to make a lot of money was to pay off student loans, help support their struggling family, or become financially independent of their parents. These are terrific reasons to want to work hard although there were a few who chuckled and said “to be rich.”
We have taught our youth to do things because of delayed gratification. Studying allows you to do well and get into a good college. Athletics allow you to get recognized and perhaps get a scholarship. Clubs and leadership opportunities get you into a good college which in turn allows you to get a good job. These are all too common statements that end up being our motivation for doing things and our intention is wrong from the start. We should be studying, joining teams and clubs for ourselves, for fun, to learn about dealing with people, and to push ourselves to find our capabilities rather than allowing this diction bestowed upon us to become our motivation.
We wonder why our society drastically destroying the earth for resources to create more stuff? We focus on the gratification from reward rather than the gratification of performing something here and now for the sake of doing it.
K-12 Educational System:
The poor performance of the United States public educational system is no new news given the math, science, and literacy global testing boom. Suddenly “engineering” programs are popping up all over the nation as we teach our children how to make wooden chairs using 3-D printing or tiny robots that sort marbles. $200,000 went to my high school to purchase equipment and support the creation of the “fab-lab” (part of a $15 million high school remodel). It is great to see money being put into our educational system, but what are we actually supporting?
The engineering program coordinator is quoted in a local paper saying "this is about addressing what our kids need to learn and how we get them excited about learning those 21st century skills that business leaders say they so desperately need." First off, let us make decisions based on the best interest of the children, not what “business leaders say they so desperately need.” I am fairly confident that if we all took advice from business leaders all the time we would be in a lot more trouble than we are - I am a finance major at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
IBM conducts a global survey of the world’s CEOs and in 2010 about 60% of CEOs polled cited creativity as the most important leadership quality, followed by 52% for integrity. A fab-lab can inspire creativity, but this is what is often called a band-aid solution. In the United States children hit their peak level of creativity at age 5. Studies by Paul E. Torrence from the University of Minnesota has identified how children use between 80-90% of their creativity capacity at age 5 and this rapidly decreases throughout our schooling reaching about 10% capacity as a senior in high school.
We test in stagnant settings, define time limits, select the “best” answer from 4 or 5 available choices, and conduct nearly the same structure in class every day. I cannot imagine a real world business problem that has the above listed characteristics. Suddenly, we throw an “engineering program” in a school and say that that is going to prepare our students? The people who solve these black and white problems from the 4 available solutions listed below are the same ones saying we need to start teaching engineering, math, and science skills in schools to keep up with the “global economy” and “prepare our children for the workforce.”
How about preparing our students for life? Ability to solve ambiguous problems and flexibility are the emerging leadership values listed in IBM’s 2011 survey of world CEOs. But we are so concerned about measuring and ranking people that we cannot see past the measuring tape at the detriment we are causing to each child’s definition of their self and ability.
The most excruciating days I can recall from my educational experience are 3-4 days after a test when we are given our graded papers. I never enjoyed seeing other student’s scores and I detested being asked how I did on the exam. Constantly student would be asking around trying to determine where they rank against their peers. This appeared to be the most important thing above the actual knowledge acquired and students would wallow when friends succeed and rejoice when they emerged superior. We rank children and give them a place amongst their peers based on their ability to perform in this tiny, insignificant challenge. Instead of a student feeling good for learning, we use competition as the motivational tool for progress from the very beginning. Yes, it captures the student’s animalistic desire to survive and be superior to its peers for the sake of reproductive preservation. But this is really only necessary in a society where there is scarcity.
We have a society that is founded on the idea of scarcity and fear. Really, every student will be taught nearly the exact same thing for the remainder of their education with a slight ability for students vary in course rigor. We will not run out of opportunities to learn and we do not have to compete for places to establish ourselves at the top of the knowledge chain. This striving to exert superiority reinforces the individual ego and separates the human from the actual self and others. We get caught in an idea of what it means to be superior and the ego is fed with each success or affirmation elevating “us” above to rest.
The illusion of this importance manifests itself as students engage in negative behavior such as cheating, bullying, and sabotage for advancement. This occurs frequently in a kindergarten classroom, just ask my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Mohn. Ironically, this also occurs in corporations and government, just ask congress. The system is perpetuating this behavior, it is not that humans are inherently bad; we are just programmed to destroy others on our journey to the top.
Future education must move away from using competition as the motivational tool. Finally, it must account for ambiguity and encourage original creativity as opposed to the defined and measurable separating skills amongst students.
Here are some words from a perspective, some of it old, some new, none false, none true.