The Long Game

by Krishna on January 13, 2011

To follow up on yesterday’s post about pushy parents, one key problem with the micro-managing is that parents make many important micro-level decisions about their children’s future and that doesn’t make much sense in a changing world.

One example of this was a relative of mine who, over 40 years ago, got a Ph. D. in botany and landed a great job (at that time) in a government lab. Because she had a good career and a comfortable life, she wanted her children to follow in her footsteps and forced them to go into botany after high school. Alas, the world had changed a lot in the meantime — fewer government jobs, more jobs for computers/electronics and the children faced a tough time gaining employment.

Professions that you may think are great today may be terrible prospects in a few years. Think lawyers earn a lot? Well, now, even the American Bar Association is issuing a warning telling college students not to go to law school. What about medicine? So far, the insurers have been getting all the blame, but it won’t be too long before the public (angered by skyrocketing costs) turn on doctors and hospitals and reduce their compensation via cost controls or greater competition.

Many of the skills that we think are important could be completely obsolete in the future. I remember my teachers having us spend hours trying to “improve” our handwriting. I suppose my handwriting is legible today because of their efforts, but to what purpose? 99.9% of the time today, I type. Knowing the spelling of obscure words and intricate grammar rules would have been useful in the past, but not in the world of Google, Wikipedia and iPhones.

The world of the future will be fundamentally different, but not in the way we imagine. If you look at predictions from the middle of the last century, some of them were highly optimistic (space travel) and others pessimistic (1984). Many of them did not come to pass, but things are still quite different today. See this video of obsolete things that existed just a few years ago. Watch some old movies (particularly action movies) and imagine them happening in the present. Difficult, isn’t it? Things have become so much better in some ways (health, education, peace, poverty reduction) and dangerous in others (climate change, terrorism, aging populations).

The challenges of the future cannot be addressed by children being proficient in some subjects, especially those beaten in them by rote learning. They will need to have “meta skills” that will help them navigate that world. That would include exploring new things, loving the process of learning, gaining wider breadth of knowledge (not just in some “important” subjects) even at the risk of having less depth, having good inter-personal skills, being well-adjusted and handling setbacks, learning to deal with all types of personalities, and so on. These are skills that cannot be taught via books. They have to be learnt through numerous experiences and interactions with people.

When you control every waking moment of a child, you deny those experiences and force them into learning the skills that you think will matter. If you are wrong about the future, and you most likely will be, you will be doing that child a grave injustice.

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