“Uh……I don’t know.”
My son’s brow furrowed in concentration. His eyes trying to fend off the panic that was trying to creep in.
“Ok, let’s skip those for now. How about Montpelier?”
“Vermont!” he said triumphantly, erasing all the other emotions of doubt and worry for the time being.
This was the scene in our house a couple weeks ago, memorizing the states on the map and their capitals. In class, my son and a classmate created a poster board outlining and labeling all the states in their proper location on the map. It’s funny because I remember vividly doing this in fifth grade as well, drawing a grid on the poster board, outlining every state and coloring it with colored pencils. Is it odd that thirty years later kids are still doing the same projects? The thought crossed my mind, but I quickly let it go because I did feel it was important for the kids to know where each state was on the map. While the kids worked on the map at school, at home they were asked to study for a test where they would match the capitals to the states. Do they really need to memorize these? Isn’t easier just to ask Siri? Of course, I couldn’t say any of that out loud, this was the assignment for the class and my son had to complete it, but I couldn’t help but think this was pointless.
Technology has changed our lives immensely and with it has also changed the skills necessary for the new jobs it has created. “It’s Official: Future Employers Don’t Care About Your Kid’s Math Score” is an article recently published on Inc.com which discusses the shifting skillset for the jobs of the future:
"Funny, isn't it? When two people solve a problem together in the workplace, it's called "collaboration." But when school kids do the same thing, it's called "cheating." At least, I used to find it funny. Ha-ha. Now, I'm dead-serious about kids working together.
The World Economic Forum's 2018 Future of Jobs report summarized 10 job skills that are on the rise. Among them are three flavors of collaboration: complex problem-solving, ability to influence, and idea generation. Notably, rote memorization is trending downward as a hot skill (thank goodness).
For young people looking to land their first "real job" around 2022-2025, developing these collaborative skills now is critical. And they'll need to break from current norms to do it."
I feel fortunate our school has already started to “break from current norms” in some ways. Later this year instead of doing a science fair, my son’s school will participate in a STEM fair (as mentioned later in the article where students work together on projects to solve problems). Many assignments are done using computers to get the kids comfortable with using technology for more than just playing games and watching YouTube. These small changes in the curriculum will help our kids, but will it be enough?
At the end of the article, the author uses the subheading of “The exploration generation” and writes:
"So on the one hand, it's a shame that well-rounded education has fallen out of fashion as parents obsessed with brand-name colleges railroad their kids down a single, linear educational track. On the other hand, it's a golden opportunity for kids whose parents are more flexible. These days, exploring a wide variety of subjects feels like cheating because you're bucking the trend. But viewed through the lens of future employability and success, going broad instead of deep is downright savvy. Not to mention a whole lot of fun."
Just as the school curriculum has changed and the skills necessary for future jobs has changed, so too must we change as parents. We were raised to believe there are “good” grades and “bad” grades. “Good” grades meant you would get a “good” job and be able to take care of yourself, whereas if you had “bad” grades, you would surely struggle in the future. It’s not that simple any more. We have plenty of examples of people with Ivy League educations mired in debt and unable to find a job that will help pay all their bills. On the flip side, there are stories of entrepreneurs who never finished high school but had a great idea and became successful.
Right now, grades are the only thing we have right now to measure “success”. In this deeply competitive world, grades plus test scores are the only way to evaluate students to determine who gets into a school with limited space. But as collaboration, problem solving, and creative ideas become more and more important, it’s probable the entire grading system will be forced to undergo a complete overhaul. How would you even put a grade on a new idea? If you can’t grade it, does that make it less important, less relevant or less impactful? Those changes won’t happen while most of our kids are in school, so for now we will have to play within the current rules. But at the same time, we as parents can become more flexible. We can encourage our kids to enjoy learning and developing their skills. Instead of just memorizing for the test and celebrating (or commiserating) over the results, we can praise the process and the possibility.
I know this is hard for many parents. We strongly believe “good” grades are the only grades that matter and often it’s the source of a lot of stressful conversations in our households. But the next time you find yourself worried about a grade your child got on a test or in a class, I want you to ask yourself this question “How did knowing Frankfort was the capital of Kentucky help me get to where I am today?”
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.