“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” – Mark Twain
Do grades matter anymore? According to one of the most influential companies on the planet today: not really. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Thomas Friedman interviews the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google Inc., Laszlo Bock. The interview is a fascinating window into the work culture of the internet’s leading search engine, as Bock discusses the traits that the company seeks in its new employees. The bottom line: we are no longer living in the employment market of the 20thcentury. A college degree –once an assumed necessity for professional advancement- is simply not what it used to be. On some teams in Google, nearly 14% of the members have received no college education.
Among the most important traits for an employee at Google, Bock mentions: the ability to think quickly and to process lots of different pieces of information, leadership, and humility. Bock points out that when he says “leadership,” he means leadership of a particular variety. A leader is someone who knows how to step up and take charge when the moment calls for it, but then also knows how to recede from center stage when the moment has passed. As for humility, that is manifest in the employee being more concerned with the group achieving its goals than with his or her personal accomplishments. Humility also refers to a person’s willingness to learn from others and to be open to different perspectives.
As I read this fascinating piece, I was reminded of the famous presentation by Sir Ken Robinson on “Changing Paradigms.” Robinson argues that the world is now a fundamentally different place than it was one generation ago, and that our educational system must adapt accordingly. In the past, transmitting pure book knowledge was the goal of education, thereby marginalizing all the children who weren’t adept at the particular skill of absorbing content and regurgitating it. But that was the way to get into college, which was the way to assure one’s future professional success.
Today, the world is different. An impressive college degree alone doesn’t ensure that one will achieve professional success. The skills required in today’s economy are of a completely different nature: the ability to think critically and creatively, to maintain a sense of intellectual curiosity, to work in collaboration with fellow team members, and to be problem-solving oriented. Moreover, with the internet just a click away for so many of our students, school really is a waste of time if it is merely the place where information is transmitted from teacher to student. Anybody with access to a computer has the world at his or her fingertips – just Google it!
In fact, a major critique of the controversial Common Core is that its push towards standardization leads schools towards the older, obsolete model of schooling. Establishing across the board curricular standards inevitably compels teachers to “teach for the test,” an impulse which quite clearly runs in opposition to the goals of critical thinking, collaboration, and creative problem-solving.
So, if Google doesn’t really care about one’s success in school, and Sir Ken Robinson is right about the changing paradigm, where does that leave us teachers? What should we be doing?
Our duty as educators is to ensure that our teaching cultivates the skills that our students need in 2014. Are students learning the values of humility and leadership – life skills for a successful and productive professional life? Do we push our students to use their minds in ways that promote problem-solving? Do we structure class time so that a majority of their time is dedicated to collaborative work?
Is school important? Of course. But the school of the twentieth century just won’t cut it in 2014.