Teaching for Purpose

Education in the 20th century primed students for the workforce. We taught skills and ways of thinking that could translate in the “real world.” Modern universities get scored by their ability to match graduates with careers. As early as we can, we ask children what they want to be when they grow up. We’ve been teaching students for careers.

The thing is, a lot of jobs will go away at the hands of automation. More urgently, entire new categories of jobs that never existed before increasingly flood the market. We’re wasting our time and resources priming tomorrow’s students for today’s workforce given how dramatically tomorrow’s job market will change. We owe it to the next generation to stop asking what they want to be when they grow up, since over half of the jobs they’ll be working don’t exist yet. Instead, we need to ask them how they want to change the world. How they want to make the world a better place. And we need to show them how to teach themselves the tools to get them there. We need to start teaching students how to learn how to learn. And we need to teach students to find their purpose.

Careers and purpose are not the same thing and cannot be confused. Careers change and end all the time. We need to teach younger generations when to hold tight and when to jump ship. While careers may evolve, purpose can stay the same and continue to guide individuals like a compass through everything that they do. Purpose can stand the test of time. If we continue to deem it worthwhile to keep students in school for the first 18–22 years of their lives, then we better find a way to make that time invested count for the longterm well into an unknown future.