In a time of change

Published by Lori Pickert on August 13, 2011 at 12:34 AM

Are schools preparing students to invent their own jobs?

Bill Gates (who has called America’s high schools “broken, flawed and underfunded”) made a speech to our country’s governors this spring suggesting that certain college and university departments prepare kids for jobs and others don’t — and maybe we should do something about that.

“It’s my understanding that the Gates Foundation wants to prepare students for ‘work, life and citizenship,’ but Gates’s remarks today seem to shave off two-thirds of that vision, while emphasizing a view of work-related learning that is much too narrow and unsettlingly dated. His call to focus on specific fields and departments, rather than whole institutions, implies a sharp dividing line between ‘general education’ and ‘specific majors’ that is, in fact, a relic from before the Cold War.” — Carol Geary Schneider, President, Association of American Colleges and Universities

Educational pundits compared Gates’ comments with his long-time rival Steve Jobs’ statement when the iPad was unveiled:

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.”

Technology is not enough, says Steve. The humanities are important. Though maybe Bill wants universities to become job-training programs but still encourage kids to load up on liberal arts in their spare time. That’s unclear to me.

Pundits keep coming back to the same old statements about what students really need — the same things we champion on this blog.

[C]olleges and universities must prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. One of the highest in demand — cybersecurity — did not even exist a decade ago. Graduates must be lifelong learners improving their skills to match the next generation of jobs. — The Jobs of Tomorrow

Once in a career path, the more general skills of communication, organization and judgment become highly valued. As a result, liberal arts graduates frequently catch or surpass graduates with career-oriented majors in both job quality and compensation. A longitudinal study conducted several years ago by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that the wage differentials that existed between career-oriented majors and academically oriented majors were all but eliminated within 10 years after graduation. — Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on Higher Education and How to Prepare Students for Success

What’s needed most are a set of educational practices — whether in the context of the traditional liberal arts, a technical program, or something in between — that empower students to seek knowledge independently, to collaborate, follow their passions and to connect their knowledge with the real world. — When Classrooms Can’t Keep Pace

On the one hand, there’s a faction saying “21st-century skills” and “seek knowledge independently” (self-directed learners), but on the other hand there are people like Bill Gates (who is backing up his opinion with a lot of cash) saying we should be turning out workers.

It brings to mind this quote:

In a time of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. — Eric Hoffer



Comment by estea on August 18, 2011 at 12:28 AM

oh bill.

love the hoffer quote!

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 18, 2011 at 01:19 PM


Comment by Heather on August 18, 2011 at 04:25 PM

Where will our innovation occur if we only churn out cogs to fit the current machine? It seems that the current school model already does churn out workers. So much emphasis is given to tests and rote learning. I personally prefer a richer model of exploration and pursuing one's deepest interests and desires. With a love of learning and knowledge, one can accomplish many things. Hoffer is very astute in that quote.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 18, 2011 at 05:00 PM

i agree — it's the people who fail at school who seem to end up innovating .. out of necessity, perhaps!

i just read a quote the other day about entrepreneurs; a business leader said "the A students end up working for the B students at companies owned by the C students." !!!

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