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The Problem with Education

April 30, 2019

Let me start by saying this: I think educators, particularly those in public education, are true heroes and have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Our organization, ADDO, currently has programs in more than 1,000 schools in over 40 states across America.

With that being said, I’d like to address an area of education I think we’ve gotten terribly wrong.

A number of years ago, there was a movement dedicated to preparing students for the 21st century job market.  Many people felt that education was still operating out of an industrial age, and in turn, curriculum wasn’t giving this generation of students the skills they need to succeed in the modern workplace.

I agree that they identified the right problem, but their proposed solution was wrong. Over the last decade, we’ve seen an overemphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) with the hope that developing these hard skills would produce the next great technological generation. STEM is not a bad thing, but we have put so much focus on STEM that we’ve neglected many other skills that students need to succeed.

A few years ago, the experts decided that the arts are important to developing the whole child (rightfully so) and added “A” for arts to make it STEAM. I believe the arts are very important, but simply adding one additional element into a fatally flawed system shouldn’t make us feel better. Once they agree that physical activity is important, they’ll probably just add an “R” for recess, and we can call it STREAM. Sometimes the experts aren’t that smart.

We are still left with the same problem and a short-sighted solution. If the goal is to equip this generation to succeed at work and in life, these students need more from us.

The Case for Soft Skills

For example, Google did a 15-year study on their highest performing employees. (For those of you who have never used the internet before, Google is a technology company—one of those letters in the STEM acronym.) The results were remarkable. The seven top skills that made them successful were all soft skills like being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into others, having empathy, being supportive, and making connections across complex ideas. Before you ever got to any STEM skills, these others were all more valuable to their success.

I don’t even like using the term “soft skills” because these skills aren’t lesser; they are life skills that every single one of us, especially this next generation, desperately need.

I see this as an employer. I want people on my team to be effective communicators, to work collaboratively, and to be problem-solvers.

I see this as a customer. Not only do I want accuracy in business dealings, but I also want to be treated with care.

I see it in our work in education. As we seek to develop leaders from cradle-to-career, there is a desperate need for soft skills. While we are making strides in high school and beyond, it needs to start earlier.

That’s why I’m passionate about a program we created called The Voyage. You can call it leadership development, social/emotional learning, or soft skills, but at its core, we are providing elementary schools an easy-to-implement initiative that gives students tools and resources for life. We are equipping teachers with a program that instills character and helps students cope with anxiety, stress, and the challenges unique to their generation.

When schools implement The Voyage, they are seeing discipline referrals decrease, while engagement and academic performance increases.

STEM is not enough.

I would love your help. If you know a teacher, a counselor, or a principal at an elementary school, would you help us spread the word about this program? If you’re a parent, an active community member, or if you are just passionate about the next generation, I would love for you to share this website and these resources.

I believe The Voyage is a program that our world needs. Would you help us impact the world by telling others about The Voyage?

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