Gen-Y Curiosity: Ending Apathy in the Classroom and Grooming the Next Generation for Success
President Obama recently implored governors to not cut state funding to higher education and job training. Senator and presidential candidate Santorum responded by calling him a “snob” for thinking that every student should get a classical education and suggested that many would be better served in an alternative classroom.
As a college student in the middle of the mess we call our higher education crisis, the problem I see is not the breadth of education and career pathways laid before us students. Many students now have plenty of choices.
The main problem I see is that by the time those students come across the fork in the road, they no longer possess the curiosity to explore the different pathways out there. They stick to the familiar, traditional pathway that thousands (maybe millions?) have walked before them. For example, some college students get so absorbed in getting good grades for their “education”, they forget to learn.
I have seen this time and time again with my peers who study “safe” majors and pursue guaranteed prestigious and well-compensated jobs without exploring other options. This risk-averse behavior breeds the apathy that leads many people down unsatisfying career paths.
Agency holds the keys to lifelong learning
I believe the problems of lack of curiosity and misdirection stems from one of agency.
Why agency? Without taking responsibility for their own learning, students have no incentive for curiosity and exploration. They pursue education as a gateway to a credential and prestige as opposed to looking at it as an investment in their lifelong learning — which in turn unlocks many opportunities down the road.
In light of the tough conditions of the job market today, it is essential that young adults adopt self-directed learning as a mainstream pedagogical model in order to better adapt to changing circumstances.
Enter the hypercompetitive job market
The statistics are astounding. In 2010, over 30 percent of college graduates moved back into the parent’s homes and the average debt from student loans was $27,000. U.S. youth unemployment captured over a period from January 2010 and October 2011 averaged at 18%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With so much flux in the hypercompetitive job market, the only constant is ourselves. Youth must be more entrepreneurial than ever before and take responsibility for the direction of their lives.
Youth must also realize their role in the context of the bigger picture. There are so many global challenges, and it is imperative that they identity what their role is in addressing these global challenges. It is no longer ok to be a bystander.
What is in store for the next generation
My hope is to see youth everywhere who create their own pathways, not pathways dictated by their teachers, parents, and others. Youth who want to learn things that fascinate and excite them, find mentors who care about the things they care about, and create opportunities that match their own skillsets and interests.
Students do not have to drop out to be curious, but they do have to learn outside of the traditional classroom. Students must take initiative, ask the question “why?”, explore various pathways, and get creative about ways they can realize their mission.
This is an important time for the next generation. There will undoubtedly be some great leaders and entrepreneurs here and there. But what will it take to make sure that we, as humanity, have enough to deal with the world’s greatest challenges? That unsettling thought is what sometimes keeps me up at night.
If we are going to really make some changes in the 21st century, let’s make sure that our youth are willing and capable of rising to the challenge.