Dinner with the Real World

Last week my husband and I had dinner with friends.  One of them is an engineer and supervisor for an engineering firm, the other owns his own business.  During dinner, the conversation turned to education and was very enlightening.  After discussing with both of them how they felt we were turning out ill prepared students, I asked the question, “What do you want from an employee?”  The engineer, who does the hiring at his company, quickly answered, “I don’t want the most intelligent person.  They usually do only as I ask, no more or less, and expect a raise because they’ve completed another year of service.  I hire people who are willing to work hard, do what they see needs to be done, and take an initiative to make things better.”  Wow, that’s not at all what we prepare students for.  We give them a scripted set of instructions, tell them exactly what they need to do, they do it and then expect an A because they completed the task. Sometimes extra credit is given if the student didn’t manage to achieve that A with the original script.  I’m not pointing fingers, I have fit that description at times too. We try to provide opportunities for students to take the reign, but when we saddle the task with a strict rubric we’ve taken a lot of their thought process away. The business owner was even more frustrated, sometimes turning beat red while discussing with us.  He just wants people to show up on time, complete their job on deadline, not expect multiple chances to get something right because that costs him money, and to understand how to use basic math skills including understanding how money works.  His comment threw up a red flag immediately.  Isn’t a lot of our discussion recently about the “real world” allowing adults to turn things in late and having multiple opportunities to get things right? Isn’t it a school of thought that students should understand why something works and not just memorize?  He disagrees, “Please have them memorize addition and multiplication facts. Please make sure they can count change.”

Their request to the education field, PLEASE STOP.  Please stop allowing students to pass through our doors without:  learning to be responsible, completing assignments on time, working hard, showing up, and being responsible.  Please stop considering basic skills as unnecessary because we have technology. Please stop taking away the sting of failure because then they don’t learn from it.

My dinner with the real world has challenged some of my views.  I do believe in mastery learning, I do believe that not all students learn at the same time. The real world told me that it costs them money if it takes a person multiple times to learn something. They don’t want to employ that person.  I also believe that students must learn to meet deadlines, must learn to work hard and not expect things to be handed to them, and must take ownership of their actions and stop blaming others.  The real world agrees with me on that.  So where does that leave us in our quest to educate young people, not just academically but for the “real world”?