Food for Thought

Why Our Future Leaders Need Inventive Resilience:

A Reflection on Alison Berman’s Article: “Automation is Eating Jobs”

The garage door flung open just as the oven timer buzzed; it was dinnertime at the Raskin house. As my family settled in around the kitchen table and bowls of food were passed from hand to hand, the conversation began to flow. Being the “nosy” mom that I am, I couldn’t wait to hear all about Ella’s first day of sixth grade. After the usual exchange of questions like, “How was your day?” and “What did you learn?”-to which I typically receive one-word responses like “fine” and “not much,” Ella expressed her concern over whether or not she received a good score on the math placement test she took during the day. Worried that my daughter was already under stress after one day of school, I reassured her that giving her best effort is what matters and that the rest will take care of itself. With a roll of her eyes, Ella brushed off my motherly wisdom and melodramatically proclaimed, “If I don’t do well on that test, I won’t be placed in the ‘top’ math class, then I won’t get into Honors Math in middle school, and there goes Stanford.”

Tempted to laugh, but being very aware of how real “pre-teen-o-centria” really is, I passed the baton to my husband. Nate, who typically uses humor to maneuver around such hurdles, pragmatically added, “Strong math and science skills are important.” Excellent, we are almost there, I thought to myself. With Ella listening intently, Nate elaborated, “After all, you will need those skills for your career as a doctor. You really should be a doctor. Right?” And there it was, the epic FAIL!

While this sounded like a typical conversation from my childhood with a caring Dad reinforcing skills learned in school and directly correlating these skills to a valued career that will provide for a lifetime of prosperity, we must recognize that the times have changed! We know that the pace of change is accelerating at a rate that we can’t even imagine. Data collected in a 2013 study by two researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27% of college graduates will have a job that relates to their major and that on average these graduates will have seven different careers, not jobs, but careers during their lifetime. It’s like moving from the Stone age to Starbucks in ten years! With the advancement of technology, automation, and artificial intelligence, we can anticipate disruption in such traditionally stable career industries as accountancy, pharmaceutical, and the medical field. So, this begs the question, while our students will always need a strong foundation in such core competencies as literacy and numeracy, what additional skills will our children need to remain relevant in a world of rapid change?

To answer this question, we must realize that we are entering an age of inventive resilience. Durable skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, collaborate with others, think critically, demonstrate cultural intelligence, problem-solve effectively, and demonstrate empathy for others are every bit as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. In fact, they are the skills that matter most! Providing opportunities for students to solve human-centered, interdisciplinary, and real-world problems will support them in becoming flexible thinkers and engaged citizens. Perhaps, we need to reframe our question from, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” to “What is your unique contribution that you can give the world, and how will it adapt over time?” After all, once we understand our value to society, we can imagine our probable and possible futures and bridge the gap between.

In an effort to demonstrate my own inventive resilience as a parent, I shifted my paradigm from viewing our previous conversation with Ella as an epic “FAIL” to our “First Attempt In Learning” and committed to try again. After redirecting how I confronted the math class drama, and reframing the questions I asked, the discussion sounded much different.

I began by asking Ella, “How do you add value to the world?” She responded with a list of durable traits, “I am kind, responsible, strong, and confident.” I then asked, “If you had to describe your purpose in this world in one word, what would it be?” She shared, “Empathetic.” Finally, I questioned, “How will being empathetic add value to the world now and in the future?” In my proud mama moment, she quoted a famous line from Dr. Seuss’ book, The Lorax, and shared, “It is like the line from the book, The Lorax, 'Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.'”

    Something tells me that no matter what career field Ella will enter one day, her ability to demonstrate empathy, will not only allow her to adapt with the times, but also contribute to making our world better. Isn’t that our greatest hope as parents?