Beyond Working For The Man

I remember being at a university Open Day once and walking past some girls, obviously in their final year of high school, trying to decide what course they should enroll in at uni. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation about how they planned to choose… one was considering study based on the likelihood of getting a job from it, and her friend was considering her future choices based on which career paid the most. While I suppose these are both somewhat relevant factors, the idea that young people would be making choices about their life direction based on which had the shorter job queue or which helped them buy their first car quicker made me a little sad.

I often think that the conventional wisdom we give kids amounts to “go to school, get a good education, get a good job and work real hard”, and it’s something that has always bothered me. As adults, parents, and especially educators, we talk a lot to our older kids about the idea of “getting a job”, and we prepare kids really well to be employees. We teach them at school how to write a job application letter, and how to prepare for an interview, and about the expectations that employers might have of them. We tell them to be careful about what information they put online about themselves because it may one day be Googled by a potential employer. We build a paradigm in kids’ heads that we are preparing them to be outstanding employees. And whether we talk to our kids about having a job, or a career, or a vocation, so often it’s still couched in the general idea that they will be working for someone else, operating on someone else’s goals and priorities, relying on a paycheck from someone else. In most schools we manage to build “good employee” mentality really well.

What I think we don’t do so well it to build entrepreneurial thinking. We often don’t do a terribly good job of preparing kids to follow their dreams in any sort of independent, entrepreneurial way. We focus so heavily on teaching them to be good employees that we almost never teach them to be business owners. We teach them how to write a resumé, but not a business plan. We teach them how to sit for an interview but not how to create a start-up. I’ve never heard a careers adviser tell a kid to start their own company. Despite the fact that we educators talk a lot about developing “independent thinkers with a love of life long learning”, it’s quite amazing how well we train them to be compliant rule-followers that are good at fitting in to the expectations of the system.

For many students, the $20,000 it costs them to get a undergraduate degree would be better spent as startup capital in a venture that allowed them to follow their passions. But most of them never even consider that option… we do a pretty good job of educating that out of them.

I’d love to see kids leaving school with a greater understanding of the real options that lie before them and more of a sense that they should be following their dreams and their passions, and that doing that might not always mean further study or going to work for “the man”.

PS: This post started out as a comment on a blog that my principal recently started writing. Pop over and take a look at the post that triggered this one at  I thought I’d repost my comment here, but do check out Paul’s original thread and help create some traffic over there. Ta!

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