Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

Peter Gray got me again. As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity  was originally posted Sep 17, 2012 but just showed up again on my feed, and it’s even more relevant today. The situation has arguably worsened considerably in five years.

Gray writes: “In the business world as well as in academia and the arts and elsewhere, creativity is our number one asset.  In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs acknowledged this when they identified creativity as the best predictor of future success. It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades.”

The article details research methods, explaining how creativity had been accurately measured in the study. If you’re into analytics, read the article–I won’t elaborate here.

Findings summary: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” (there’s a reason for that!)

We have automation to do menial, repetitive physical stuff, and artificial intelligence to even do some light lifting low-level, analytical thinking. The only way for humans to add value that machines and computers cannot (yet) replicate is our unique ability to think creatively. So kids and adults alike are losing the edge we used to have, and the very capabilities the new workplace most demands.

The economy and the nature of work, for that matter the world, have all changed. Education has not, and it shows. The US workforce is seriously deficient in the new skills, and it starts with poor preparation in school.

If you’ve read much Gray you know his position on traditional education. His concerns include the serious and lasting damage inflicted on our young people by rigidity in education, standard testing, no freedom to play, to explore, to really learn.

How much damage? This came along two days after the Gray article: America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate   Research shows that “…increased pressure on students to achieve academically, more economic uncertainty, increased fear of terrorism, and social media are behind the rise in suicides among the young.” And of course bullying, most of which takes place at school, by peers.

We dump our kids into a toxic environment and expect them to learn in ways that are contrary to their natural wiring, and they are not even developing the skills and attributes that may help them survive to adulthood and beyond. And the US workplace is crippled by a poorly prepared talent pool. Related?

Hello (hello…hello…) is there anybody IN there? Just nod if you can hear me.  Is there anybody home?

You’d think we’d eventually wake up and realize this is a life-and-death social and economic problem. We’re failing our young people socially and emotionally, even doing irreparable harm, and plodding along with antiquated teaching methods and curriculum. Along the way we’re trashing the economy and our global competitiveness. It’s more than a double whammy because the two issues are connected and compound each other’ impact.

We expect conformity, we demand following rules, rigidity. We condemn creativity, freedom of expression, exploration. It’s so contrary to human nature. And the same expectations, issues and profound, lasting damage applies to big kids too—at work, in politics, in social interactions.

Gray’s writings and the education reform movement are not just about education, it’s social reform. Much, much bigger than kids in school and the education system.

I’m not an expert, not a “real” educator (full-time subbing doesn’t really count) and I’m a dozen years removed from parenting. So why should I care so much about education and parenting, the way we treat and teach our children, the way we force them to “learn”? Why should I care that society is going down the tubes? I’m old enough, I can surely ride this one out to The End.

The driving purpose behind what I do is a need to to do my part to make the world a better place for future generations. I kind of like my grand children. Haven’t met their kids, and I doubt I’ll have the chance. But I bet I’d like them too. They are why I care, and why we all must care.

Resolution?

Suicide and the skills gap share a common denominator…the two issues are one. They need to be clearly connected and framed together, then a concise and compelling narrative developed: here is the central issue and here are the impacts.

Then share the resulting narrative to build grass roots awareness and concern. The need to act must be elevated to the pressing crisis status it deserves. Emotional well-being can be life-and-death for too many kids, then there’s sustainability of our way of life for all of us. High stakes.

We must attack the issues with a consistent, coordinated focus. But here’s a huge barrier: tons of organizations, armies of concerned people, so many that none seem able to get anything of substance accomplished. Turf wars, fragmentation, over-saturation, diminishing returns. Maybe more simply herding cats, bb’s in a boxcar.  Joiners and activists are mule and Clydesdale, no offspring out of that one. Chaos, anarchy, complexity, rampant A.D.D. Experts blowing their knows all over each other, comment threads akin to meth head babblings. Very few if any groups can stay on-topic and maintain focus on progressing toward a well-articulated common goal. Crafting, sharing and staying focused on a common goal—what a concept!

We need laser-sharp focus and a coordinated attack. Activity does not equal progress.

********

Post Script: I Rest My Case

There’s technical writing and persuasive writing. Dissertations and journaling on a napkin. Investigative reporting and data analysis, and editorials / opinion pieces. Some folks scream if they don’t see annotations and scads of trustworthy numbers (an oxymoron!). Others could care less about style, sources and data–they’ll look further if they want to. I’m in the latter group. I can do the first examples of writing but at a price–my sanity. But we demand more and more technical expertise, less and less creative thinking. So we get a bunch of grown people sitting around highly polished tables, all fearful of being the first to raising their hand and say “I don’t understand”. Fear and angst in school and the adult world has taken root like a fast-spreading cancer.

Suicide PSS…

I just read a story about a young woman who hung herself several years ago in her college dorm room. Written from her mother’s perspective, it was a look-back at red flags. Her mother said: “I keep coming back to one such warning sign, one that is so obvious now. I don’t know how I didn’t see it: not worrying about future consequences.”

I’ve studied engagement theory and its relevance to young people, a spin-off of my business world involvements turned toward youth and education. One key measure of engagement for kids is their feelings toward the future. I’m no expert but there may be something there.

I taught 4th-6th grade guidance classes off and on for a year, 45 minutes for each class every 10 school days, social-emotional development, bullying stuff. Not nearly enough time. I waited impatiently for the material to turn the kids inward, to help connect them with their inner feelings, put a name on what they dream about, what they hope for, what truly makes them happy. On the flip side, what makes them unhappy, what they fear most. Identify the bogey man under the bed and exorcise it. But the curriculum never went there. So I did what I could to take the kids there off-script

Our education system continues to fail kids and we continue to lose them. One of the reasons radical unschooling is so powerful is that it enables and encourages kids to connect with their Self. We desperately need to re-connect with our humanity, for the common good….no, survival…of kids of all ages. Maybe we need to strive toward making “Un” a state of mind, a way of life?

(Part Two: Living Large With This “Un” Thing)

 

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