Kickstart in the Classroom

March 20, 2008

We went to a good school, the type of place that encourages its students to be well-rounded, globally-aware, and socially responsible. We were lucky. The instruction in everything from the sciences to computers and history and languages was pretty high. The one thing that they never seemed to talk much about, though, was what we were going to do when we left.

They hinted at it. Teachers would say things like ‘one day you should make a real effort to give back to your community’ and ‘to those much is given, much is expected.’ We absorbed messages like that the way teenagers respond to pretty much everything the world directs their way – with a disdainful shrug of the shoulders. What-ever. That was our failing, because the message was a good one.

What the school didn’t do, though, was get us thinking about precisely what we wanted to do in the future. They let us know what types of careers existed, but the goal was always university or college. The aim was to get into one, hopefully one with a name that made other people’s parents jealous. To what aim beyond acceptance itself, we were largely unsure. Life seemed very far away at that point.

In many ways, keeping life far away from young people is a good thing: it ensures that they develop their interests in a safe vacuum. But, at the same time, it prevents young people from being forced to ask larger questions. The end result of that is the long line of BA and BScs emerging from our university system wholly unsure of what to do next. Like us, they have gone through the post-secondary education process without a handle what awaited them.

As more people go into university programs to get bachelors degrees, those same degrees lose their value. BAs line up to take Masters degrees or specialized college programs just so they can get jobs. No one regrets their BA in philosophy (just ask Kickstart participants Margot Franssen and David Pecault, who actually got a Phd in the Philosophy of Music) or their BSc in Math, but why do we feel the academic realm needs to remain wholly uncorrupted by the practical concerns that life demands?

Really, this conversation should be occurring in high schools. Teenagers (ever existential anyway as a result of all the insane hormones pulsing through them) should be forced to take a real look at how people piece together their own personal definitions of success and work towards life goals. They should be presented with inspiring stories from both their local, national, and international communities – the kinds of stories that make them think about the types of people they want to be, and precisely what is involved in achieving their goals.

Obviously, this isn’t easy. Not every class can have Peter Munk or Roberta Bondar or Deepa Mehta or Bruce Poon-Tip come into their classrooms. But students should be encouraged to look around for the stories closest to them, the stories that speak to them.

That’s why we want to push forward the Kickstart project. We want teachers to encourage their students to collect stories from those in their neighbourhoods – to find out how you do it and what’s involved.

Careers courses need to invest questions of the future with personal meaning. If they don’t, they’ll end up being just another class to sleep through.

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