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Would You Hire Your Own Kids? 7 Skills Schools Should be Teaching Them

Schools aren't teaching the skills our kids need. Why?

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Listening to Summers’ comments as a former high school English teacher myself, I was surprised by the list of skills he thought important: not only being able to communicate one’s thoughts clearly and concisely, but also being able to create focus, energy, and passion. Summers and other leaders from various companies were not necessarily complaining about young people’s poor grammar, punctuation, or spelling—the things we spend so much time teaching and testing in our schools. While it’s obviously important to write and speak correctly, the complaints I heard most frequently were more about fuzzy thinking and young people not knowing how to write with a real voice.

6. Accessing and Analyzing Information

Employees in the 21st century have to manage an astronomical amount of information flowing into their work lives on a daily basis. As Mike Summers told me, “There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren’t prepared to process the information effectively it almost freezes them in their steps.”

It’s not just the shear quantity of information that represents such a challenge. It is also how rapidly and constantly the information is changing. Quick, how many planets are there? While I was at Harvard in the early 1990’s, I heard then Harvard University President Neil Rudenstine say in a speech that the half-life of knowledge in the humanities is ten years, and in math and science, it’s only two or three years. And that was fifteen years ago! I wonder what he would say it is today.

7. Curiosity and Imagination

Clay Parker stressed the importance of employees whom he hires being more than just smart. “I want people who can think—they’re not just bright—they’re also inquisitive. Are they engaged, are they interested in the world?” And Mark Summers told me: “People who’ve learned to ask great questions and have learned to be inquisitive are the ones who move the fastest in our environment because they solve the biggest problems in ways that have most impact on innovation.”

Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind, observes that with increasing abundance, people want more unique products and services. Plain vanilla won’t cut it any more in today’s crowded marketplace: “For businesses it’s no longer enough to create a product that’s reasonably priced and adequately functional. It must also be beautiful, unique, and meaningful.” Pink notes that developing young people’s capacities for imagination, creativity, and empathy will be increasing important for maintaining our country’s competitive advantage in the future.
The Global Achievement Gap Revealed

I’ve spent time leading what I call “learning walks” and observing in classrooms all over the country for more than twenty years. In my new book, I profile a number of secondary honors and Advanced Placement classes in three school systems that enjoy excellent reputations due to their high test scores. Here is a sampling of what I saw:

Advanced Placement Chemistry

Students are in groups of two and three mixing chemicals according to directions that are written on the blackboard. Once the mixtures are prepared, they then heat the concoction with Bunsen burners. According to the directions on the board, they are supposed to record their observations on a worksheet. I watch a group of three young men whose mixture is giving off a thin spiral of smoke as it’s being heated—something that none of the other students’ beakers are doing. One student looks back at the blackboard and then at his notes. Then all three stop what they are doing—apparently waiting for the teacher, who is sitting at her desk, to come help them.