Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2009 at 01:20 PM

Here’s what I’m thinking about today:

Joanne Jacobs linked to this article in Slate: In the recession, does advanced education really pay off?

Interesting in general, but particularly this stuck with me:

And what about the people whose degrees and passions lie along paths that are eroding beneath them? As in, oh, the dear journalism students. Sam writes that when he started journalism school at the University of Missouri in 2004, “I was OK with the low pay expectations and was fully willing to start at the bottom of the food chain.” He promptly got a job at the local paper “and just as promptly, was laid off.” He's working at Applebee’s. “My question, I suppose, is this: For a person who had dreamed of covering sports for a newspaper (and developed few web-based skills to supplement his writing skills), what is the best option? Go back to school in a different area (which I can't afford), keep pushing my resume to those who aren't hiring anyway, or give up my dream for something more plausible?”

And here is something that I wrote last year but never got around to posting:

Sometimes it seems like education focuses on a best-case scenario. Go to a good school, get good grades, participate in extracurricular activities, get into a good college, get a degree, get a job, get a house and two cars and a big TV, be happy. We drop our children off at Kindergarten (or, these days, preschool) and their new sneakers and their shiny lunchboxes reflect our wish for them to be happy forever — to move seamlessly from one good place to another.

Are we fostering the attitudes our children need when things don’t go as planned?

How did we create this kid who was smart enough to get through college, smart enough to be a professional journalist, but evidently not smart enough to figure out how to create a new strategy when outside forces went against him?

There’s a lot of buzz lately about “21st century skills” (the so-called “soft skills” like critical thinking, creativity, problem solving, and working cooperatively) and I tell you what — this is what it’s really about. It’s about how we drop the ball when we train kids to pick up skills and knowledge but somehow strip away their ability to think for themselves, weigh options, form opinions, and make decisions. When I read that bit about the journalism student, I couldn’t help picturing him as a confused little mouse wondering who moved his cheese.

Things don’t always go your way, you don’t always have control over everything, and sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. Even if you did everything you were supposed to do. Even if you got straight As. Even if you were the best employee. You are not entitled to a perfect life, even if you think you deserve one. Things go wrong.

Education should do more than prepare kids to fill job openings. It should prepare them to be something more than the sum of their salary and their possessions. It should strengthen their ability to deal with the unknown, not weaken it.

30 comments

Comment by Mary on April 17, 2009 at 02:21 PM

Good stuff as always, Lori.

I've been reading a lot about business management and entrepreneurship, and the one consistent theme in advice and testimonies of successful businesses and entrepreneurs is that it is absolutely essential to be able to change products, methods, plans, strategies, etc if something is not working or circumstances change. They all emphasize the importance of having a good plan. These are not "fly by the seat of your pants" people by any means. But you develop a plan, and when something doesn't work how you thought it would, you make changes. Or if external circumstances change, you adjust. Sometimes you change your desired outcome along with it, but you always change how you do what you do. This advice is coming from business people who are thriving in these down times because they have deloped those skills.

As my son is at work with us everyday, I'm trying to translate what I'm learning into appropriate lessons for him for the future. Developing those soft skills is neglected in many schools and families, but it's something vitally important for their future survival.

Comment by Cristina on April 17, 2009 at 05:36 PM

This made me think of a favorite quote by one of my favorite philosophers, Linus Van Pelt.

"Well, I think that the purpose of going to school is to get good grades so then you can go on to high school; and the purpose is to study hard so you can get good grades so you can go to college; and the purpose of going to college is so you can get good grades so you can go on to graduate school; and the purpose of that is to work hard and get good grades so we can get a job and be successful so that we can get married and have kids so we can send them to grammar school to get good grades so they can go to high school to get good grades so they can go to college and work hard..."

Hope you enjoyed that!

I think too much emphasis is put on good grades. I know it would be wonderful to have high achieving schools, but what is happening is achievement is being left behind in favor of pleasing the teacher/principle/government/taxpayers at any cost. This is not a way to foster creativity. Kids become lost once they leave school, because they no longer have someone to tell them what goals they need to reach to "pass" and studies have become so specialized that they can't think outside of their boxes. Sir Ken Robinson's Ted Talks explain this better than I can, as well as Tom Chapin's song "Not on the Test" which I just heard on YouTube the other day.

Comment by estea on April 17, 2009 at 07:07 PM

"best-case scenario" - oh yes yes yes. my life did not fit that scenario. not one little bit. but it's alive and well! and the sense of entitlement this whole line of thinking fosters? oy vey.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2009 at 07:43 PM

mary, thank you and i absolutely agree. we own our own business and the boys have been around that since they were born; we talk openly about things that have not gone as planned and how we are going to deal with it. being able to share your work life with your children is tremendous.

cristina, i did enjoy that! :^)

that “entitlement” estea mentions is what i think is the worst part — we have convinced the kids that if they do a good job (which we will call a *great* job), then they will be rewarded. and unfortunately, that’s not the way life works. we may as well be honest about that and prepare our kids to deal with life’s ups and downs — and keep forging ahead to get the life they want! (which hopefully is defined by much more than a wii and an SUV.)

Comment by Amy on April 17, 2009 at 08:23 PM

First, and not exactly on your topic, but my university alumni magazine just highlighted the fact that it was rated #15 on a list of schools, which ranked return vs up-front investment (AND the rankers used out-of-state tuition, not in-state). They were comparing tuition with future earning potential, and yes, that's just the money side, not the whole experience, etc, but it was encouraging for those of us who have no way in hell of sending three kids to Ivy League schools even if they want to go and get in. My and my husband's alma mater was the top-ranked school in New England, public or private. While there, I majored in wildlife biology and he majored in political science. I can quite honestly say neither of us had a big ol' life plan (as that journalism major in your quote seemed to have), and thus it couldn't get disrupted, could it? I graduated in a recession and waitressed full-time for over a year, and I was happy I was paying the bills. I had no illusions about having to work in a certain job in a certain way. My husband, needless to say, is not in politics.

When my kids have asked what college is (we live right near the university, and they've had college student babysitters), I've told them that it's a place where you go to study something you're deeply interested in. I don't think I've ever connected it with a particular job, except in reverse, ie, if you want to be an underwater explorer like Dr. Ballard (who my older son idolized for a while there), you need to learn certain skills, and the way in which you prove you have, generally, is to go to college and major in oceanography, in that case. (At which point I pointed out that Dr. Ballard teaches AT OUR STATE UNIVERSITY. RIGHT DOWN THE ROAD! You could save room & board even!! THREE COLLEGE TUITIONS!!) Anyway, my hope is that the kids study what interests them. I trust the rest will work itself out, as it has for their parents.

Comment by Karen on April 17, 2009 at 08:33 PM

Great post! You sum up my feelings exactly :-)

Comment by Catherine on April 17, 2009 at 09:08 PM

I have thought for a while now that I would prefer the education system (and I only know about Australia's) to have more relevance to real life and teach life skills - that is the 21st century skills (learning how to learn as I call it) that you talk about but also just simple things, like teaching budgetting in maths.
I also think the system is so focussed on getting the grades to go to college/university, when (1) not everyone wants to go and (2) even if you don't get the grades it is not the end of life as we know it or even the end of that career dream because there is always another way.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2009 at 10:19 PM

amy, i graduated in a recession, too!

i was the first person on my mother’s side of the family to go to college. i had a ridiculously naive idea about higher education. i was a liberal arts major and i expected to get an *education* (oh, my sweet young self!) and i wanted to learn it *all* — philosophy, political science, sociology, psychology, literature, astronomy! (okay, not math. but everything else!) it was the early 80s and everyone around me was fixated on what jobs they were working toward; i didn’t understand that attitude at all (or at least not for the first year or so) — i was focused on *now* — i thought college was a *really big deal*.

i was disenchanted, to say the least. with few exceptions, my college classes were a series of hoops to jump through to get a grade, to get credits, to get a degree.

my head was a in a pink cloud, though — my classmates knew exactly why they were there, they were working toward a career, and most of them had gone to big high schools and they already had a “get it done” mentality about coursework.

what i was writing about up there was my feeling that we’ve all gotten together to sell a bill of goods to the youth in this country, and it starts with “you are the most specialist, brilliant child who ever lived” and it ends with “…and if you do *everything* right (and you should! and you can!) then you will live happily ever after.” it’s in society’s best interest to convince us all to work hard, and it’s in colleges’ bests interest to convince us all that a degree is a ticket to a good-paying job and a happy life. i’m doubtful that they will ever change their respective tunes. but i think we grown-ups owe it to our kids the gift of perspective. and, hey, while we’re at it, the gift of some values that go beyond job + earnings + belongings.

thank you, karen! ;^)

catherine, yes!!! crazy that kids are in school for 13+ years and *don’t* learn those life skills. and yes — perspective! — life won’t end ... and what amy said — if there is something you want, you need to figure out how to get it. but if it doesn’t work out, you’ll be okay.

Comment by Barbara in NC on April 17, 2009 at 10:39 PM

When I was in my 20's, I dropped out of grad school and was happily working as a cake decorator.

Folks would often make comments to my parents about the use I wasn't making of my expensive private college education. My mother (gotta love her), would tell people that I got just what I needed out of college--I learned how to think for myself and make my own decisions.

I do think that educational institutions can provide that, it's just a crime that they are so often encouraged to value technology and concrete skills over critical thinking and (dare I say) self-exploration.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 17, 2009 at 11:29 PM

b, i do love your mom!

people would say to me when i was in college, “what are you going to *do* with your degree?” me: i’m going to .. learn .. with it?

i agree with you — i think they could provide that, too — but whereas individual teachers may reach out to a student with that kind of encouragement and support, i don’t think schools would adopt it as a policy. and it needs to come from somewhere.

Comment by Dawn on April 18, 2009 at 03:21 AM

Great thoughts here...
When we run into difficulty... we do that often round here... I ask Fionna "What could we have done instead" "How can you handle that better next time" "What do you need from me" , etc...
We brainstorm better ways to handle situations that arise so we have the tools for next time... That's the idea anyway!
In this case we are working on our interpersonal skills but the ability to answer those questions will be used in so many other aspects of life.

After my teaching experience I realized that students don't know how to formulate questions. They are only expected to regurgitate answers. This puts them at a great disadvantage for problem solving... I lost my job. What am I going to do next?.... There is no formula to follow here. There is no text book in which to look for the "correct" answer.
I started having my students make up questions after each discussion. Questions they had or if they did not have any... ones they thought might show up on a test, just something to get them thinking. These questions led us on to other great discussions. Hopefully they learned something!
We do the same thing in project work at home... as you have mentioned many times about keeping a journal that includes their questions/wonderings!

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 18, 2009 at 04:00 AM

I hope I can be like Barbara's mom someday. Or that I already am.

This so hit home with me, since we have a freshman in college. I think she really is just jumping through hoops so she can be rewarded with the job at the end of doing everything right, and I'm afraid for her. She bought into the wealth and success model of our locale. Our mantra has been "do what you love and the money will come" and it's worked for us to varying degrees of success, but I don't know that it sunk in with her, since our financial success is not par for the neighborhood, if you know what I mean. We've amended to "work REALLY HARD at what you love and the money will come." I don't know that she trusts that she'll find work in the field she loves or related fields, and she'll so afraid of not having financial success that she'll do something safe instead. As we have seen all too clearly, there is no such thing as safe. I want her to enter the working world being nimble and thoughtful and able to reinvent herself. I just don't know how to get it through her very conventional skull.

I graduated in the recession of the early 90's, as did Jeff. We were happy to get jobs, much less dream jobs. I hope for more for my kids, but at least we now know to teach them how to make their own luck.

Comment by Cathy T on April 18, 2009 at 12:57 PM

When I graduated in 1988 I thought I'd be a teacher in a public or private school. My dream job was teaching k-3 in an alternative school where the kids learn in small groups and math was individualized, and the grouping was mixed. Then I found out that between 200 and 350 people were applying for the same 2 to five jobs in each system. I went to a preschool and became a "teacher" with kids 15 months old. Not teaching (in my head) but hanging out with kids and guiding them toward developmental steps so other teachers could teach them when they were older. LOL. I loved it and decided to go to grad school to learn more about this age group and how best to guide them. At that point I knew I'd never last in a regular school as a teacher! And I knew that education should be individualized throughout the process. That issue was the one that in the end, 10 years later, led our family to homeschooling (truly was my husband's idea though!). Incidentally, when I went back to grad school, my husband an I talked about how it was the exchange of ideas I was after, not the pedigree, and that I'd most likely stop teaching to be with our kids at home before I had paid for all the classes!

As parents to our four kids, we talk quite a bit about higher education and why/whether people can or should pursue it. My kids see college as a place where you can take what classes you want and when you want. They know it probably isn't as simple as that but the idea behind the thinking is solid. Though they see high school and grade school as more negative and positive, they do not have that same issues with college life.

Comment by Tracey on April 18, 2009 at 12:59 PM

I'm one of those strange people who chose differently from everyone around me. I was the gifted high schooler who chose not to go straight to college. Boy did I ruffle feathers. I worked for a few years and then I paid my way through community college for an associate's degree and the associated skilled trade. I can say it was the best decision I ever made. I don't feel like I wasted any time in classes and I was free to take all the fun electives I wanted (within reason, of course). When I left school, I went right into an in demand career.

I must say that I get rather ruffled when people expect that the only next logical step for a high schooler is college. It is a great option, but there *are* others! As was pointed out by Christina, life shouldn't be all about good grades.

As to versatility... I think that it can be hard to abandon a path once you have begun. One more reason why I'm in favor of alternatives to college. Perhaps something service oriented... Americorps, missions through churches, etc... then more school. "Life skills" are attained at a time when they are needed and are useful for the college experience. Communities in need receive helping hands. And the service can also kill off that nasty entitlement issue. Woohoo... everyone wins! ~:-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 18, 2009 at 01:45 PM

dawn, not only interpersonal skills and the ability to answer questions, but *resilience* — the ability to deal with it when things go wrong! we have set up a system in school where, as you say, there is just one path to one answer, but also there is just getting the answer right or getting it wrong .. and if you study hard you won’t get it wrong. when real life is so much more messy and complex — and things go wrong all the time. better to realize that and be prepared to deal with it and know how to get on with it.

this is why i like project-based learning and children working together cooperatively — it mirrors *real* life and gives children the opportunity to build those skills rather than just, as you say, learn to regurgitate answers.

it’s so true that asking questions is not a part of most students’ lives in school — questions would slow things down! and there’s ever more ground to cover to prepare for those standardized tests...

sarah, absolutely true, there is no perfectly safe route to choose .. “nimble and thoughtful and able to reinvent [one]self” is an awesome goal.

a lot of people i graduated with in the 80s said they would put in their years in corporate life and then do what they really wanted to do — it was a very common life plan. i wonder now whether they ever go around to doing the things they really cared about.

this much is clear to me — kids need time when they are young to explore their interests and their talents and connect with the real world in meaningful ways, so they are better prepared to make those big decisions when they are young adults. otherwise they are just making familiar choices — looking to recreate the achievement and material comfort they’re used to.

cathy, i think it’s a general trend for teachers who want to individualize and do something different/innovative to choose the younger grades — in the old days, Kindergarten, and now preschool — or at least i know several people who have made the same choice! to get away from the expectations, the testing, and the teaching scripts, you just have to keep going younger.

your point about elementary/high school vs. college makes sense to me — the student has more control in college. more control to choose the course of study they want to pursue, to choose the professors that appeal to them, to be in charge of their own schedule, etc.

i love what you said, too, about going to school for the exchange of ideas rather than the pedigree — but i think those opportunities should be free! :^)

tracey, thank you for sharing your story! i got a very similar reaction when i “wasted” my degree by immediately starting my own business rather than taking a good job.

i agree with you about taking time before college to explore, in the hopes of avoiding those common mistakes young adults make when they have to immediately choose a college and career path out of high school. i have *many* friends who pursued one degree, realized it wasn’t really for them, and then went back for another. what a waste of time and money! but again, i think we could fix this by giving kids the chance to explore during their school years — why wait till after high school? when i think of my boys homeschooling high school, i think of them as having those opportunities to work and explore and connect.

you are so right about those life skills being useful for the college experience! i imagine kids in your scenario would be much more successful in college and would appreciate the opportunity more as well.

i worked my way through school and it was an absolutely invaluable experience; it prepared me to start my business and attract clients upon graduation, and i felt years ahead of my classmates. i have developed a strong preference for mixing work and learning; i think they support and strengthen each other. the “four years of just classes followed by a lifetime of work” seems completely unnatural by comparison .. not to mention the fact that everyone remakes themselves at some point, so more learning *will* be necessary.

Comment by JoVE on April 18, 2009 at 03:01 PM

Will respond to your post and then go back and read others responses.

I think this is another side effect of a particular model of education. Rampant credentialism is what I call it in my grumpier moods. The principle seems to be that you don't need to learn skills and knowledge that you could put to use in multiple ways but rather that you get a credential and that gives you a right to a certain kind of job. This is most evident in the question about whether the unemployed journalism grad in question needs to "go back to school".

If we take the other approach to education, then the thing that jumps out in the journalism story is "why doesn't he have web skills?" and why doesn't he get some. Most of the people really making it on the web these days are self taught. And if he is truly passionate about being a sports journalist then why isn't he out there writing about sports and doing something with that writing -- either on the web or freelance for print publications. Sports journalism doesn't seem to be in bad shape from where I sit.

These kinds of questions often seem to be based in a view that what is needed is a "job" with a salary and so on. And one of the things that is happening in the economy is that the number of jobs like that are declining. A large proportion of all journalism is now freelance. Same in other fields.

I am self-employed, myself. So are you. And the key skills and attitudes for self-employment are an ability to assess your own skills, improve your skills and knowledge as needed, identify a market for your skills, and go out there and sell what you do to the people who need it. Your security comes from the value you provide. If you provide value, you can earn money.

But the attitude of entrepreneurialism can also be taken into the search for more traditional jobs. You are providing value to an employer. What skills and knowledge do you bring? What can you DO with those skills and knowledge? What value have you provided in the past?

There is a blog that talks about this latter approach: http://pursuethepassion.com/journey/

Okay, now reading other contributions. This is a really important topic.

Comment by JoVE on April 18, 2009 at 03:13 PM

Oh, I had another point. It is important to recognize the political nature of statement about the economic value of higher education. In the US, where there has always been a lot of private higher education, this is less obvious. But in Canada and the UK where there is mainly public higher education and where there has been a shift from grants to institutions and individuals to attend to individuals paying tuition fees and institutions seeking funding from other sources, it is more obvious.

Is education a private good? Does it only benefit the person who is being educated or does it benefit all of us to have educated citizens? Is that benefit primarily economic (e.g. higher level of education = higher paid job) or is the benefit also qualitative (as in Barbara's mother's example, and others)?

These are the political ideas that underpin a question like "is higher education worth it".

We don't all agree on the answers to those questions, which is why they are political questions. But it is the underlying political beliefs that will influence the responses.

The other political issue in all of this is whether we want citizens who are good at doing what they are told (e.g. do this, get a good grade) with a promise of reward, even in the face of evidence that the connection to the reward is tenuous (e.g George Bush who didn't get where he is today by getting good grades). Or do we want citizens who can ask questions and change things that aren't working.

The reason we are not training children in the skills of resiliency, problem solving, and creativity, is probably because those skills would not make them politically docile. Kids with those skills would probably challenge all kinds of established elites and rob them of their power. In addition to figuring out ways to earn a living.

JoVE

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 18, 2009 at 03:17 PM

jove, “rampant credentialism” is a perfect phrase.

i remember an article a few years ago that talked about how a particular job (slips my mind now — something related to physical therapy i think) used to require only a high-school degree, then it required a B.A., and now it was going to require an master’s degree … not because the job itself had changed or become more challenging … simply to reduce the pool of applicants. and this in turn made that job more expensive for a person to get, because that had to invest in so much more education to qualify for it. interesting.

re: “why *doesn’t* he have web skills?”, yes! that is what i meant by “who moved my cheese?” if he can’t figure out how to get what he needs and where the work has moved to (because it’s not like the world is going to stop caring about — or reading about — sports), then he has a serious problem.

i wrote just the other day about how all workers should know that they *are* entrepreneurs and go from there … just as we should all take responsibility for our children’s education and not think we can delegate that to the government. it’s about ridding ourselves of this idea that someone else is taking care of us. no, they are not. you are, in the last analysis, responsible for yourself. a few generations ago people put all their faith into their employers and worked there for a lifetime, giving them complete loyalty. now, we can’t hide behind that fantasy any longer. hopefully people will also rid themselves of the idea that government and business have their children’s best interests in mind.

Comment by Amy on April 18, 2009 at 03:45 PM

re: working while in college, I did too, all four years of my first degree. I waitressed, I took various jobs that might help provide experience in my major, I volunteered (same reason). At one point I was juggling three jobs and a full course schedule, and I was commuting 45 minutes each way to campus. I did not describe myself as a college student; I said I was someone who went to college. Honestly, I'm not sure why so many people still have the idea that college is 4 years of classes with maybe a little work-study job on the side. That doesn't describe most people I know. On the other hand, did I feel my GPA was more impressive than an equally high GPA earned by someone who wasn't working 30 hours per week? Yep, I did. And I certainly would point that out in interviews.

My boss at one of the restaurant jobs had never gone to college; he owned the restaurant and clearly was doing well. I think he dropped out of school as a teenager. I gathered he hadn't had an easy childhood. However, he really really seemed to have a thing against college students. (The restaurant was near a well-known not inexpensive private college, not the one I attended.) One night he was railing against how we college students had it so easy. living off daddy's money, blah blah blah, wait until you get to the real world... and yet, both of the college students who worked there were, by definition, *working!* I was paying my own rent, etc, by then. As far as I could see, I *was* in the "real world" (whatever that means--hard work and drudgery, I believe he meant) but I was also going to college.

Anyway. I think the reality, for most students, is not what most people are still picturing when they think "college student."

Oh, for the second degree, which took two years, I worked the first year and actually managed, due to some inheritance when my grandfather died, to do nothing but go to school for one year. It was amazing. I could spend 40 hours per week in the darkroom! Wow. But I knew what a rare opportunity that was and I didn't take even one minute of it for granted.

Hmm. I have more on this entitlement thing, but I'm already rambling on...

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 18, 2009 at 04:11 PM

amy, keep rambling, i want to hear it.

i went to school with a lot of spoiled (i thought at the time) kids who were doing the minimum in the classroom and spending the rest of their time having fun. when i told one girl that i couldn’t meet for a group project until night because i worked, she said, “oh, i work, too! and she worked ... three hours a week.” i tried not to react, but it was impossible.

at the same time, i would have *loved* to have just gone to school and not have to work! i would power-walk past students lying on the quad reading and couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be able to devote time to relaxing *or* learning in a more enjoyable way. i wanted to be spoiled. :^)

i can look back now and see that it wasn’t pleasant for me, but the early work was a huge benefit to me later. i think an ideal situation would give teens and young adults time to work and time to learn — and time to live. that’s what i have now! ah, balance.

Comment by Molly on April 18, 2009 at 05:48 PM

News flash: if someone wants to be a journalist, start exploring and developing stories for Pete's sake. Young Sam ... step out into your field PAID OR NOT. otherwise, tell your story walkin' ...

I worked my way through community college. Afterword did bits as bank teller by day retail manager by night to pay for coursework toward the BSc in marketing. That's my nutshell. What I found, was that landing jobs in ad agencies (mid-sized and small) was more about selling myself, than the credentials on the paper. Once inside the place, the selling continues.

It has always been clear to me that there is no sure thing in the job market.

Bottom line is we are all self employed in a way: whether we choose to sell our hours for dollars in a "job," or create our own business opportunities. I'm not sure how to impart this to young people. In our family it happens to be by example.

There is a conversation going on over at facebook "What will define learning in the 21st century" lead by IDEO. This entire thread should be linked to their page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/Big-conversations-small-talk/32804909010?sid=8467f998a46848097b8767f72eb8b0aa&ref=search

Thank you for elevating my pulse rate today.

Comment by Sarah on April 18, 2009 at 07:15 PM

Actually, this is something that is going on at my house. My husband (who has a college degree and a vocational school diploma in two different areas) was laid off permanently about two months ago. Neither of his job areas are hiring in this economy. I have been staying home, and as a teacher, even if I wanted to go back to work, I can't for another 6 months. So what do we do? Well, I will tell you that we are going to make it just fine. It has just taken some creativity and hard work and flexibility. Some people seem confused when they find out about the choices we are making right now (I won't burden you with all the weird details) but we are totally happy and we're fine financially. I feel like that is because my husband and I are creative, free-thinking people that can handle whatever is thrown at us. And that is not something either of us learned in public school. These are skills we were taught at home and "the hard way."

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 19, 2009 at 01:48 AM

molly, yes! we are all self-employed. that’s exactly what i’ve been saying. and YES re: the poor little journalism major — again, exactly what i was saying — how can you be successful if you give up on being a sportswriter just because the landscape changes?

how can you be successful if you give up at *anything* just because the landscape changes?

i’m going to check that thread out…

sarah, exactly — public school doesn’t teach those skills! it’s funny, i was just talking about this exactly same thing with my mom just now … some people are able to deal with whatever life throws at them; some aren’t. and more than that — some who *are* able think they are *not*. why is that? people don’t realize what they are capable of. some of us are lucky enough to know. people who lack confidence live with a lot of fear, even when they really do have the capabilities.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 19, 2009 at 03:34 AM

This open thread spawned a fantastic conversation between Jeff and me about where we're going as a family and about how we teach our children to be nimble through example. Jeff definitely grew up with the idea that if he did the right things and let his work speak for itself then he'd be successful. After dropping out of a PhD program, and then being laid off from jobs 3 times in 7 years, he learned that just wasn't the case. He did go back to school for a law degree, and has a secure job, but we talked a lot about where he wants his career to go and what we can do to get it there. He's let things just happen in the past and trusted that it would work out for him. Over the last 5 years, he's learned to take charge of his work life and make it happen for him. But this topic was so helpful in opening up the conversation for us today, because it's time again to set goals and make them happen.

Me, on the other hand. I never wanted to do things "the right way" so I did them the hard way and learned that I can always make things work out. I didn't choose the easiest life, but I've sure learned a lot along the way. Now we're combining his discipline with my survival instinct.

So thanks to all of you!!

Comment by anonforthis on April 19, 2009 at 11:51 AM

I have been mulling over this post all weekend. I am on the verge of divorce after 11 years of staying home with my kids and I am experiencing this same lack of ability to be creative and answer the question of what to do next. I was one of the spoiled kids in college; though I worked from time to time, I didn't have to. Then never really found a career until I had kids and staying home felt like enough to do. But now that I am faced with the end of that way of life, I find myself feeling that sense of entitlement, as if life doesn't ever send people unpleasant surprises, and a mental inflexibility, having no idea how to extricate myself from this difficulty. Anyway, in the midst of all this, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this particular idea: how am I qualified to help my kids learn to be adaptable and creative in the face of challenges when I seem unable to do this myself? Thanks for the topic, very interesting as usual

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 19, 2009 at 12:58 PM

sarah, when we were talking about this yesterday, i kept thinking of a project in did in college for a folklore class. i collected those mimeo’ed and xeroxed cartoon and joke pages that people would copy a thousand times and hang on their cubicle walls or office bulletin boards. there was one that said “work hard and you shall be rewarded” with a cartoon beneath of a morose-looking guy with a giant screw piercing his entire body.

i’m glad this has sparked some good conversation with you guys; it sparked great conversations here, too!

anon, i’m sorry you’re going through this.

are these qualities skills that you have to learn, or are they abilities that you develop? i believe they’re the latter.

you have the flexibility, creativity, and ability to forge ahead and be resilient inside of you. even if your circumstances didn’t encourage (or force) you to discover it before, you do have these reserves and you *can* develop them.

most people just don’t realize their own strengths and abilities, possibly because they’ve never had to draw upon them.

you have everything you need within you. good luck!

Comment by Jen on April 20, 2009 at 11:09 AM

Excellent and well thought out post! I agree- so important to teach kids how to think critically and creatively. I've often said that it won't be the straight A book smart student who solves world problems or finds cures for diseases; it will be the person who is able to think 'outside of the box"; the person who can look at things differently.

Glad that I found your blog. This is my first visit.
Have a good day.

Comment by anonforthis on April 21, 2009 at 10:51 AM

Thank you for your kind encouragement, Lori. I hope as I go through this I can find in myself the qualities that I haven't shown yet, but that I would so like to nurture in my children. Then maybe it will all be worth it for all of us!

Comment by Ellie - Petalplum on April 23, 2009 at 11:18 PM

Lori, You are one of the wisest women I know.
I would so love to curl up on a couch with you and chat and chat, or lie on a blanket in the soft grass, on a beautiful blanket, drawing and watching our children run and explore and climb and laugh and yell. and LIVE.

I've only read about 1/4 of these comments, they are all such great points (but my day has too much to do, to keep reading them all).

I remember the day I got my high school final results - all the kids were waiting at the post office together, for them to arrive from the state head office. I took my paper and sat in the back of the car, with mum and dad in the front, and my sister beside. I cried when I read the numbers - as I'd pretty much almost, not quite failed. Being a smart person, with intelligent parents; someone who took top class of maths, and english; I had expected a better mark. Not top of the school marks, but better than just higher than a fail.
But I realised that while I knew things, and loved learning, I didn't like having to learn to pass tests - that I couldn't answer things the way the markers wanted. My mind worked a different way. Really - in art theory; we had to talk about what the artist meant when they painted/drew/sculptured their work. I got those answers wrong. Obviously I didn't know what that red line really meant - but, isn't art about what it feels - not what it means. And, do the art teachers know more or better than me about what someone else thought when they did their art.
Of course, the answers in a maths question are more black / white; but my cousin, who did well in high school maths class, cannot now add up or do fractions, etc in her head. While, my dad taught me how to not have to use a calculator; and now I can work it all out in my head.

Obviously, I didn't get into any of the colleges or Uni's that I wanted to. I wanted to be an actor -and study that at the top schools in Australia (NIDA), but you need top results for that.

Many years after school, I went to a TAFE course, that I really enjoyed. I was learning for the sake of being with other like-minded people, and learning something I wanted to learn. Not to get me a job, but for fun, to learn it.

I've worked hard, not earning much money, my whole "career" as a waitress and retail manager. Right now I am a mother, and starting my own at-home design (with my husband, who didn't go to college either).
My dad keeps telling me that I am doing the best thing that I am doing.
While I have stresses (mostly lack-of money, like everyone else), I am happy with where I am. I know my own worth, and intelligence. And one other thing - I don't have a big college debt that will hang over my head for the rest of my life.

I know that having parents who embraced being who we are, and not judging school results (and big houses and cars) as a measure of success is a big part of who I am. My dad dropped out of school (okay, he was actually kicked out!), and spent a lot of his early life doing what most people would call wasting his life. But I think he is the most well-rounded, intelligent, free thinking person I know today. (My mum's dead; but she was all those things too - in a different way).

Sorry for the ramble. Thanks for listening.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 23, 2009 at 11:41 PM

ellie, thank you so much, that is the best compliment ever (i will work to deserve 1/3 of it!), and i would love to do all of those things with you! :^)

after everything, now, with your family and starting your business, and doing work you really care about, if only you didn’t have to feel terrible about getting those marks. i am one of those people who got good grades in math and can’t balance my checkbook (and would never try — because math bores me so intensely — and i blame the terrible teacher i had in high school). and i did well on all tests, because i’m good at tests … even if i didn’t learn a *thing*. meaningless.

when people get going about standards, i always think about that — how well i did on all the tests, but how intensely bored and unhappy i was, and how it didn’t mean *anything* to me and certainly didn’t reflect any real learning — it only reflected my ability to test well. boo.

i had an interesting conversation with a friend whose parents have always been self-employed; we were discussing how much of an effect that has on a child — on her, and on my sons. i think it’s pretty big. because like your parents, we are off the main path, and we have different values. you were so lucky to have parents who supported you and cared about the right things!

thank you so much for sharing this — it’s made my day. and lol re: only making it through 1/4 of the comments — it was an active thread, and people had a lot to say! :^)

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