We’re really worried about our kid’s capacity to compete in the world, in the global economy. That’s on everybody’s mind. Recently I was on a panel with one of the head engineers at NASA. He hires a tremendous number of engineers. He’s from India and I asked him “Are we really falling behind? Everybody’s worried about that.”
His answer was interesting. He said not in terms of content. Our kids know content, and besides, content is changing every two years. So what’s more critical than content, and what our kids are not good at, is collaboration. Nobody’s going to be struck by a bolt of lightning and figure out global warming. It’s just not going to work that way. It’s going to be people across nations and time zones and languages working collaboratively. A lot of our kids are not collaborative. A lot of our kids are very entitled. He was telling me many funny stories of kids who were working there for two or three or four months saying, “So, you know, like when do I get my raise?” Or, “When do I move up the ladder here?”
He said they had not even gotten their hands dirty yet, and yet they expected praise and being told how great they were. So they were expecting way too much, way to soon. They didn’t have an internal sense of how they were doing. So they were not only in need of constant praise but constant evaluation. He said, “What we really need are kids who work collaboratively, who aren’t knocking on my door every five minutes to find out how they’re doing, kids who have grit.” The business work now is grit, perseverance and a good work ethic. And he said, “This is where our kids fall down.”
So in the meantime, we’re paying all this attention to content, which of course matters. Your kid has to know the content. But we’re sort of slacking off on the social skills, the collaborative skills, innovation, communication, creativity, thinking outside the box. These skills have really always defined American progress, and are less and less defining our kids as we standardize test them and try to fit everything into a metric system.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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