the work you do as a grownup

From Real Simple’s 5 Things Every Intern Needs to Know:

Q: Do I really need a college degree to do this?
A: In fact, you do not need a college degree to do much of the work you will do as a “grownup.” However, you do need “life wisdom,” “E.Q.” and, depending on your job, the ability to sit still for extended periods of time—all skills you tend to hone while you are also going to college.

How I wish we could better develop “life wisdom”, “E.Q.”, and the ability to sit still in our students. I’ve realized now what a lovely gift it is to have students who are willing to challenge the status quo and speak up. However, that quality often gets perceived as rudeness if the students don’t have the ability to, for lack of a better term, code-switch for different social situations. Last week I helped chaperone a field trip to a local museum. The bulk of the trip consisted of a presentation before a short tour of the museum. During the presentation, the museum educator seemed visibly perturbed when many students in our school group weren’t attentive and engaged. A few stepped up to answer questions, but there were a lot of awkward silences. I hope that the educator didn’t take away only that the lecture fell flat, but took the opportunity to refine the presentation.

The ability to sit still and put on an “I’m interested” face when bored would have served them well there. That would have made them seem like “good” kids in the museum’s eyes. I wish they could have code-switched there, but not just to appear “good.” Simply sitting there and answering the “right” way to closed-ended questions doesn’t develop the ability to channel that urge to challenge into analytical discourse. Their execution of that urge is still quite unrefined, much like that of novice debaters who are mostly argumentative before they figure out how to win with evidence.

On a related note, the other school groups had scavenger hunt worksheets to fill out while circulating through the exhibits. The humanities teacher in charge of our trip commented that he didn’t want to stoop to that, which to him reduced the material to fill-in-the-blanks that must be found to get a grade rather than letting the students experience the museum and use the exhibits as evidence to answer the question “what makes a good president?” and to examine how that evidence was presented. I’m curious about what combination of factors will get our kids to that mindset of being ready to experience a field trip and ask good questions rather than revert to the “this is boring” mode.

EDIT (6/23/14):
From my friend Jess, who found some commonalities between children not speaking up and workers not speaking up in a LEAN article. I find it interesting for examining how to get fellow teachers to feel more comfortable speaking up in meetings.

“The authors propose there are two prevalent explanations for why people don’t speak up. People are afraid or they are resigned. Fear might be well-grounded. People have been punished for speaking something unpopular or they have seen others punished for speaking up. Or, the fear might be brought to the organizational setting. In a prior organizational setting someone was punished. Or maybe there was no punishment. There was only not listening to what was spoken or no action taken as the result of the issues raised. In any case, a choice is made by a potential speaker not to speak. Eventually, that choice is replaced by a resignation that speaking up doesn’t make a difference. And speaking can only risk negative consequences.

Children are culturally conditioned to not speak. Many of us heard lessons like the following from a parent or grandparent:
If you can’t say good things of others, keep your mouth shut.
Silence is prudence.
Nobody ever repented holding his tongue.
Be silent or speak something worth listening.

Often times people don’t speak for fear of being judged for not speaking well, not looking good, being characterized a whiner…(add you own reason here). And people will characterize us that way. However, people who speak with good purpose — with a care for the well-being of a greater purpose — are rarely judged that way. Skillful speaking comes with frequency of speaking.”

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