Back to the Future

Dave and I have been having a lot of conversations lately while researching and planning for the next school year. (I know, I know, you’re shouting at me: “Next school year – I’m just trying to get through this semester!“) We’re there with you. But – we’ve learned (sometimes painful) lessons over the last few years about doing things far in advance, since prerequisite testing, application deadlines and school planning conferences all seem to creep up on us as the year flies by.  So – we start early, and then by the time we have to really solidify our plans, we’ve had time to rehash options with the whole family about which direction each child would like to proceed. Then, we secure what we need to head in each direction, and change the course as we go along. We dream about having a DeLorean time machine to go forward in time and see how things turned out.

Trying to help our kids hack their way through this jungle is complicated. There are a multitude of options, and they have to answer some difficult questions along the way. What things are you interested in learning more about? Do you want to exclusively homeschool, continue to go to school part-time, or go to school full-time? What grade(s) do you see yourself in right now? Which subjects would you rather do at home? Do you want to do project-based learning or enroll in a formal online class?

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the “endgames” of their respective educational experiences – or, really the lack thereof.  I’ve discussed in my previous posts that our only goal is for them to be as happy as they can be. We don’t care if they save the world, or find a cure for cancer, and we are not caught up in the prestige of their education or profession. We’ve lived our lives, and are happy with what we’ve become, so we have no need to live through them. We also think they need to be prepared for a future that might demand the flexibility required to raise their own (possibly) gifted children.

I have come to believe our kids may be the “in-between” generation for education: they will likely still need a degree(s), because right now it’s the path to choose if you’d like to pursue your passion as a profession.  On the other hand, given the seismic shift that is taking place in higher education right now,  it’s entirely possible that many positions won’t require a degree ten years after they’ve gotten one, and then they will be alongside probably very capable people who never had to invest as much in their education.  After all, we’re moving towards a lifelong learning model, rather than one of defined education. Sure, there will still be professions like mine which will require training and licensure; but if someone can perform well on the MCAT, and knock the medicine boards out of the park, do we really care as a consuming public if they have a degree? Or are we more interested in how they perform as a doctor during their training and beyond?

If you’re having a hard time grasping this concept, imagine a scenario in which, about five years after your child finishes college  (at a $100,000 pricetag) employers start widely accepting certificate degrees from MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) sites. The prospective employees who’ve earned those certificates are willing to take a lower salary, because they didn’t just shell out for an expensive degree, and the employers are happy to pay them less as long as they can demonstrate the same level of competence. I’m not saying this will happen, but it’s a definite possibility in our kids’ lifetimes. Let’s say you knew this scenario had an 80% chance of occurring; how might this change your current thinking on what’s important?

I believe the answer is the familiar advice of encouraging your children to do what they love, and preparing them to have more than one career in a lifetime. What they love might involve attending college and graduate school, or it might involve using the money to start a business, and learning the skills in online classes for free.  Currently, we present options to our kids as sort of an anything-you-want buffet, with the caveat that we have the final approval on the plan. And, just like taking our kids to a restaurant, the choices can sometimes seem overwhelming to them. If so, we step in and guide them along, letting them know that if they want cheesecake, they should get some salad, too.

I don’t know what the future holds, and I certainly don’t have the necessary stainless-steel car and flux capacitor to find out. I do have faith that if we follow our passions, and do what we love, we’ll enjoy the adventure.

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