The New Age of Education: We Need It
For most of Gen-Y, education is not something that is truly adding value to our lives. We all know that we need the experience, need to put in the time, and most of all, need the degree. But less and less of the educational journey itself is applicable to the way that we will live our lives and make our money. We are running around the track, clearing the hurdles, and most of us are looking good doing it, but we know that it is not taking us anywhere.
That’s why the truly motivated of our generation are looking outside the classroom, getting experience either in a workplace, or just throwing themselves into life with gusto, trying things out, making mistakes, and learning by doing. Whether they are getting a good job, starting a business, running a blog, volunteering, or just writing an article, they are working their way outside the classroom.
That is a good thing. Michigan should be welcoming the explorations of students, and giving them a helping hand, or a word of advice. For the most part, I feel that the communities are doing a good job of this. All I can do is speak of my personal experience, which has been stellar in East Lansing. I could not imagine being more welcomed and supported as an enterprising, curious student than I have been in East Lansing. The mere fact that I am writing this column and having it published is evidence of this. You are reading these very words because I am supported wholeheartedly by the community I live and work in. Most importantly, I’m not the only one; much of my generation has a similar viewpoint.
I think this is because we are a capable, ambitious, and eager generation. We are not content to have our papers graded; we want to get published, get our word out, and see tangible results of our efforts. We want to learn by giving the world a push, and seeing which dominoes fall, which doors open.
There is simply more value in the empirical side of education. As most Gen-Y students would tell you, we learn more in a day at work, than we do in a week or longer in a classroom. Whatever the outlet is, you can bet that any truly driven Gen-Yer has something that they do outside of their education, some source of experience, which is where they really gain the skills that will make them successful in their future endeavors.
The question is why are our Universities not encouraging that connection? All of the reaching is being done on the part of the community, or the students themselves. From what I see, the Universities are doing nothing to facilitate cooperation and sharing of students’ time and talent with the surrounding areas. They simply assume that students will find their way, and will fit in their real education in the spare time between their formal educations. This is the speed bump, the factor that complicates the ambitious college student’s life.
It has been predicted that we may have dozens of different positions throughout our working lives. Though we all specialize to one degree or another, the most valuable skill we can have is basic, simple, and yet deceivingly difficult to teach.
The only word I can use to describe it is fluidity. We need to understand many different aspects of all of the tasks that we may be asked to accomplish. We need to be able to learn how to do a job, do it, and then move on to another. We need to acquire skills on the go, quickly and effectively. We need to understand the big picture, see how we fit in, understand how all the parts around us are moving, and use our experience to judge how we individually contribute best to the situation. We need to learn this, and quickly. We need an education system that accommodates this need.
This fluidity is not something that can be acquired in a classroom, this comes from experience, from participating in numerous roles, being actively involved in projects with others. With all of the technological capability, and all the opportunities for change, and all the initiative of students, why are communities not encouraging students to participate, beckoning to them, welcoming their youthful vigor, fresh point of view and boundless creativity? Instead students are buried in papers and worksheets, halls full of intellectual horsepower replicate the same meaningless work, instead of having real opportunities to stretch their potential, make community connections, and do meaningful work with observable, tangible results.
On the other side, why should the community have to beckon? Why is the university not opening its doors, shoving students out into the community, validating their experiences with credit, recognition, or applause? They selfishly hoard students’ time, creating obstacles to the students trying to become truly “well-rounded”, rather than encouraging and incentivizing students’ broadening experiences.
Solutions, short of a revamp of our entire curriculum and the assumptions our educational system is banked on, are simple. On the student’s side, realize that life does not begin and end in the classroom, and that at the end of the day, that grade really is not all that important. Realize that you can likely learn far more by foraging out into the world, talking to people, taking on work, and dealing with real situations and challenges. On the community side, continue to extend the gracious and patient hospitality that you have been. Encourage and share with students, offer them the gift of the experience you worked so hard to earn, introduce them to others, sew them into the web of this community, show them how much we have to offer, I guarantee the “retention rate” will increase. Be vocal about your inclusion of students into your community, and inspire others to do so as well. Don’t treat them like intrusive tourists in your town, but visiting relatives, who, if they like what they see might just move in themselves. This is the truth behind “talent invigoration”.
Community-student connections will be valuable to Michigan, as we struggle to keep our recent grads around, earning and spending money in our state, if not our local economy. What could be better for this than students who have been building up friends and contacts in the local business scene for the past four years? These are the real principles of “talent retention” or, if you’ve been reading earlier posts “talent invigoration”. We need to give students reasons to stay in Michigan, not just opportunities. Job creation is not enough. We need to enable and inspire our students, give them a proving ground, not just a classroom.
Eric Jorgenson is currently a junior at Michigan State University, double-majoring in Economics and Business, with specializations in Entrepreneurship and Connected Learning. He is an intern at East Lansing’s Technology Innovation Center, and the upcoming student business incubator, The Hatch. He also owns his own company supplying bamboo T-shirts, GoBoo Clothing.
- A Convergence of Higher Education and Quality of Life (May 17, 2010)
- Rethinking ‘Talent Retention’ (December 7, 2009)
- My Fulfilling Life in Michigan (November 30, 2009)
- Why I Left Michigan, But Will (Probably) Come Back (January 20, 2010)
- You Come and Go, Michigan Stays With You (November 10, 2009)