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Pedigree or Skill?

We’ve been pulling the wool over the eyes of kids for generations. We, the K-12 education establishment, have been sending the message that a college degree is the undeniable key to professional satisfaction and economic success. Since the end of World War II, we have propagated this myth: a college degree will assure a better standard of employment, and life in general, than a life without it.

I admit that I played into this myth. We would brag frequently that all of our high school graduates were attending university or other post-secondary training in the year following their commencement. We did what the system expected, measured and recognized. All kids exiting the system would be prepared to find success in a university setting.

What about those kids who didn’t hold these aspirations? They must have felt “less than.” “To be successful requires the pursuit of a college degree. If that’s not my ambition, I must be a slacker, somehow on a different level of societal importance.”

Shame on us. We’ve been promoting a lie.

According to 2018 data, 28.9% of respondents had “some college”, while only 20% completed a bachelor’s degree.

What really matters? Pedigree or skills?

Let me be clear. I want my medical doctor to have a list of degrees. I want my lawyer to have the appropriate degrees to suggest that he/she understands the intricacies and complexities of the law. I want the persons teaching my children to posses the degrees that suggest content expertise and the pedagogical competence to capably educate my child.

But, do I need to know that my computer technician, a field of discreet and considerable skill, holds a college degree? Does the mechanic who navigates the computer console that controls my car require a college degree? Will my coffee taste better, will my plumbing function more efficiently , will the art that adorns my wall be more impactful due to a college degree held by the artist?

Does a degree from an ivy league east-coast private school carry more weight than one issued by a local public institution?

No and no. Yet, we’ve told kids that they need to aspire to a college experience, that their lives will be enhanced by the possession of a “certificate of expertise” from the “right” institution.

A certificate of what? And at what expense? Our collective college debt has become a national disgrace.

Within our standardized system, we teach kids to listen, memorize and to effectively recall what they’ve “learned.” Success in these areas eventually leads to a declaration of accomplishment, a suggestion that because they have learned the required elements of the curriculum that they have also qualified themselves to be competent. The reward? A degree.

Degrees may suggest what a student has learned. But, they may not identify what the student knows, and the skills they posses, the very skills that our 21st century economy requires. A degree, you pick the field, may convey the competence of content knowledge. But, does it offer assurance of:

  • Critical thinking,

  • Creative problem solving,

  • Analysis,

  • Innovation,

  • Collaboration.

These are the skills that our contemporary economy needs and employers require. These are the skills that must be taught in our schools. These are skills that are essential, skills that require thoughtful instruction, though not necessarily leading to a degree.

It is skills we must teach, skills that are rooted in the interests of students: their aspirations, their interests, their hopes. Skills will define the qualifications of our future workforce. It is the development of skills that will assure an educational experience that is relevant to the learner, a level of relevance that has everything to do with learner engagement and meaningful learning.

Let’s get honest with kids.

Tell us what you’re interested in, and we’ll do our best to prepare you for that next step. It may require the pursuit of a degree. Or, it may involve a specific set of experiences that guide you to your aspirations.

It’s the skills of our students that we need, not necessarily their pedigree.

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