Prepare Students for Their Future, Not Our Past

I enjoyed reading Ian Juke’s recent blog post entitled “Highly Educated Useless People.”

I had just finished speaking at an international educational conference. What followed completely floored me. It was not only what was said but also who said it, and how they said it. The comment was as follows:

“Our students are amongst the very best performers academically in the world.” The speaker was describing students from his country.

As he walked away, he calmly added, “The problem is that most of our students couldn’t think their way out of a wet paper bag if their life depended upon it. They’re nothing but highly educated useless people.”

The commentator: The Minister of Education of a certain high profile country.

I was speechless. Highly educated useless people? What was he really telling us?

What he was saying was that his high-achieving students had school smarts and thus could excel at school-related activities – that they had developed special abilities that would allow them to move smoothly through the school system because they had developed the necessary skills to effectively cram for and write tests. What he was suggesting was that most academically successful students do well in large part because they have learned to play the game called school.

But in describing them as “highly educated useless people”, what he was also suggesting was that while many students in his country, particularly the brainy ones, had school smarts, they did not possess what is generally known as street smarts. For him, being street smart was about having the necessary higher-level thinking skills and competencies above and beyond being able to do well on a written exam that were needed to live and work in the real world beyond school, solving real world, real life problems in real time.

I recommend you visit the Committed Sardine blog and read the rest of the post in which Mr. Jukes suggests how we can make our students both school smart and street smart.

Image Credit: Work with Schools, Aguilar Branch: young people’s librarian by New York Public Library

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