Thanks to all those who posted their ideas about what an ideal graduate might look like. As promised, I’m providing my profile and thinking here as well.
My profile of an ideal graduate considers what I think our students will need to be equipped to survive and thrive in a lightning fast-paced, increasingly automated, and global economy. It also considers what they will need to live fulfilled and happy lives.
Basing some of my thinking from a study by the Fordham Institute a few years ago called “What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-Offs” and Tony Wagner’s “7 Survival Skills,” which we re-branded in Eagle County as “Global-Ready Skills,” I will lay out some of my thinking on where I believe we need to be headed if our education system is to deliver on what our kids will really need for their future.
In my opinion, an ideal graduate possesses the following:
1. Solid Employable Skills. A major purpose of education is to provide people with the skills they need to earn a decent living, provide for their families, and contribute to their communities. In order to do this, they need specific and targeted skills which can be acquired from a variety of different sources, depending heavily upon the field in which they wish to work. These include (but are not limited to) skills acquired in elementary and secondary education, college or graduate-school, career-technical education, or experienced-based learning which will allow them to compete and earn a living. Going beyond this, they need to be able to continue to learn throughout their lives, and adapt to changing conditions and circumstances which are almost a certainty in a shifting economy.
2. Civic Responsibility. As the founding fathers believed, for our way of life to succeed, we need engaged and capable citizens who can participate in our democratic republic. They will understand the concept of balanced power present in our Constitution, and the importance of the human rights identified within it. Beyond this, the ideal graduate will not only understand how to navigate within our system of government, but also will understand that they have a civic responsibility to engage, to collaborate with others, and be part of something larger than just themselves.
3. Scientific Reasoning and Critical Thinking. The ideal graduate will understand the concepts central to scientific reasoning and critical thinking. This should include understanding and evaluating evidence, detecting bias, having a strong grasp of logic, and working to identify and uproot dogmatic thinking. It also comes with a strong sense of curiosity – a childlike quality of asking “how” and “why” that we can (sadly) lose as we grow older.
4. An Entrepreneurial Spirit. My ideal graduate would also have an entrepreneurial spirit. This comes with a desire to start things, to pioneer, to do things previously held as impossible. There are no sectors within our society (education included) which cannot benefit from a willingness to innovate and try something different. It also comes with the toughness to recover from failure, and learn to adapt and try again.
5. A Love of Humanity’s Beauty. While we are certainly earning and thinking machines, our species is also capable of creating incredible beauty in the forms of art, dance, music, writing, and other forms of aesthetic expression. My ideal graduate will be able to understand, appreciate, and even contribute to these forms of beauty, and others we have not even imagined.
6. Empathy and the Moral Core. My ideal graduate would have a strong moral compass based on values including honesty, human kindness, generosity, and responsibility. While it is not (in my professional opinion) the role of public education to impose this moral core on a student, it is our responsibility to awaken it within each student, and each ideal graduate should have a set of foundational principles or values by which they live their lives and make decisions.
7. An Understanding of Themselves & a Passion for the Future. Human beings possess a wonderful variety of talents and abilities. Regrettably, school has a habit of narrowly focusing on just a few of these instead of being expansive in trying to help each student identify their strengths and gifts and how to capitalize on those. We have millions upon millions of past graduates who were taught by school that they were not very smart – only to then go on and lead wonderfully successful lives, proving school wrong. My ideal graduate would leave our schools knowing themselves, appreciating their gifts, and have a clear-eyed plan for where they want to go next.
So, the next question. In looking at the profiles of an ideal graduate from the last post, as well as my list above, are our schools configured and ready to deliver students with these kinds of skills? What do you think?