I have a confession to make.
When my daughter was eight-years-old, she told me she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. I responded, without thinking, “Well, you better have a day job."
I drove her to her room in tears.
After realizing what I had done, and with an enormous tail between my legs, I headed toward her room to apologize. Just as I reached the door, she opened it with a huge grin and said, “I figured it out! I’ll be an art teacher!”
She and I may laugh now but if I told that tale to Yong Zhao, professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy and author of Never Send a Human to Do a Machine's Job, he might shake his fist at me, not because of poor parenting, but because I insisted she needed a day job.
OK. I doubt Mr. Zhao would shake his fist at anything. He has an infectiously upbeat personality and whimsical sense of humor while simultaneously scolding us. He says everything we are doing in education is wrong, wrong, wrong and that my misguided paradigm is so old, old, old.
Zhao argues that to help the middle class grow again, the last thing our kids should strive toward is a day job. You heard right. Even worse is if they strove to become employees.
Instead, he makes the compelling case we need to nurture the creative and entrepreneurial sectors which are growing fast at the top and middle. These are the future job creators. Our education system and my old-fashioned parenting skills are tailor-made to create employees which, although a fast-growing sector, it’s the service sector...and it’s at the bottom.
In my defense, technology is changing the world fast. When my daughter was eight-years-old, few people knew of the Kardashians and YouTubers were a new phenomenon.
“We’ve gone from the Model T to the Tesla and from the switchboard to the smartphone. Yet high school has remained frozen in time,” the XQ The Super School Project website proclaims.
The billionaire investor, Mark Cuban, agrees. He even believes that technology will end up eliminating technology jobs because the software will write itself. "What looks like a great job graduating from college today may not be a great job graduating from college five years or 10 years from now," Cuban said.
Cuban’s thinking is in-line with Zhao’s - employers will look for candidates who excel at creative thinking and have an entrepreneurial drive.
Thankfully, none of our children are prevented from these creative and entrepreneurial classes. They don’t have to be an aspiring artist or the next Steve Jobs.
No, these categories are much broader.
Hundreds of years ago, art in all its forms used to be reserved for a select, wealthy group of people who could afford access to it. Because creativity is no longer reserved for this “special” group of people we, as a culture and country, find more value in artists today.
We consume a wide array of products and services which Zhao calls the “age of abundance.” Traditionally undervalued talents are becoming more valuable. These are YouTubers, musicians, dancers, artists, inventors, spiritualists, psychologists, Kardashians... We consume personalization. We want choice and we’ll pay for it.
We reward people who can create these choices.
All of us is creative in something. There is no such thing as a creative or non-creative person. The question is, has your child found out what releases her innate creativity or not yet? If not, no worries. These early years are for exploration. Zhao says children should be encouraged to explore not memorize.
Zhao is not talking about the strict idea of entrepreneur here. He also refers to social-preneurial (social justice advocacy is an example) and intra-preneurial spirits (not relying on others to solve our problems).
Technology is a huge driver of this phenomenon. It is opening new markets unheard of only a few years ago. You can now sell access to your possessions (your living quarters or your car) as well as your skills (turns out helping people assemble IKEA furniture - this is not a joke - can be quite lucrative).
The creative and entrepreneurial classes don’t look for jobs. They create jobs.
I’ll leave the herculean effort of modernizing the American education system to experts like Zhao and XQ The Super School. However, these concepts have gotten me thinking a lot about how I can help my son and daughter outside of school. And in particular, why I’m worried about our girls.
How might we be able to nurture these concepts at home?
A. Personalize Our Children’s Education - This means allowing our children some autonomy - they should use their strengths to pursue or incorporate passions.
School projects are perfectly suited to channel creativity and more and more teachers accept original twists on the staid ‘ole book report.
For instance, my daughter filmed herself acting as a news reporter "interviewing" the characters in the book she was assigned. She also dressed up like the author and a book critic. With the beauty of movie apps, she edited it all together.
You don’t always need computers. I remember a classmate back in high school who, instead of writing a report on WWII like the rest of us, tape recorded himself giving a blow-by-blow account of the war like an announcer calling a baseball game. Even back in 1986, the teacher was happy to let him try something different. Not only was it fantastic but we shouldn’t be surprised he is doing fantastic things today.
B. Move to Product Oriented Learning - engage children in making and marketing things.
Marketing doesn’t always have to be about making money. The important idea here is to understand others’ needs and to use your talents to help better their lives.
This can look like making a documentary promoting a cause you are passionate about or maybe a “how to” video. Not technically savvy? No problem. Researching local needs and organizing warm coat drives or car washes for charity are tremendous marketing and leadership experiences.
Here’s an article about a man who saw a need and built a business around waiting in line for people. This entrepreneur now employs 20-30 people who wait in line for your iPhone for a fee. He’s not an artist or engineer. He’s a job creator. Zhao would love this guy.
Into apps? Back in high school, Zack Banack liked to develop video games. However one day, he and his friends were disappointed when their existing weather app predicted a snow day but it didn’t pan out. His friends begged Zack to make a better one. So he did. The Whiteout Watch app predicts the chances of a snow day by collecting and comparing various data, user location and real-time weather information. Of course, the app deals with the weather so results aren’t guaranteed, but it’s more accurate than its competitor Snow Day Calculator. Its average rating of 5/5 stars is stunning.
C. Globalized Campus - schools may not have realized this yet but you and your children know location doesn’t define learning opportunities anymore. Look outside the classroom and your town. I guarantee your children are already doing this. Everything your children are interested in is out there. They just need encouragement to find it. Enough said.
And here’s a final important point relating to our girls.
D. Help Your Girl Avoid "Nice Girl Syndrome" - Girls are rule followers. This isn’t a bad thing unless you are afraid to explore the blurry edges, try the risky projects, and dabble in side ventures.
Zhao says our out-of-date, employee-oriented schools reward making good grades, doing your homework, and paying attention to the lecturer. These are great for getting a “day job” but not for becoming a part of the new economy.
Girls generally excel at all these things. Unfortunately, just walking up to a teacher and asking for permission to do something outside the box might seem risky to your daughter. Help encourage her.
Don’t let her get “a day job.”