Two major issues facing educators are the need to train students for changes in the labor market, brought about by advances in technology, and the question of how issues like “effort” and “character” impact success in learning.
To adjust to the labor upheaval that followed the industrial revolution, a long-term overhaul of our educational systems was essential, which is an approach that some argue may need to be repeated.
One of the best ideas that America had was mass primary education. That’s one of the reasons it became an economic leader.
Our commitment to education needs to continue. Lifelong learning will be essential for people to keep pace with the changing demands of roles constantly being reshaped by technology.
In The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), asked what jobs will be left once computing power enables inexpensive, computerized solutions to problems that previously required costly human engagement. Brynjolfsson says,
“We have to reinvent education and reskilling … people are going to have to take it upon themselves to more aggressively learn these skills … it’s going to be a case of lifelong learning and continuously reskilling.”
Dominic Randolph is the headmaster at Riverdale Country School. Riverdale is one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools, with a 104-year-old campus in the wealthiest part of the Bronx. Tuition starts at $38,500 per year, and that’s for prekindergarten.
David Levin is the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools in New York City. KIPP operates a nonprofit network of eleven free, open-enrollment public charter schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and Washington Heights. Randolph and Levin manage very different schools with very different student populations. Yet both men have a common vision of what is missing from our current public and private educational systems.
They both believe that the most critical missing piece in education is character development.
In a September 14, 2011, article, entitled, “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure,” by Paul Tough, Randolph says,
“Whether it’s the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful. Strangely, we’ve now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they’re screwed, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve grown the capacities to be able to handle that.”
Levin works with a less affluent and more ethnically diverse student population. But he shares Randolph’s concern. As Levin watched the progress of KIPP alumni, he noticed that the students who succeeded in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism, persistence, and social intelligence.
These were the students who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time. They were able to bounce back from a fight with their parents or their boyfriend. They had the willpower to resist the urge to go out to campus parties and instead stayed home and studied. He came to see these traits as an indispensable part of making it to graduation day.