Childhood and What Ifs: When will we really embrace a new way to educate our kids?

This is insane. After interviewing families these are the stories of kids in suburbia. What they love doesn’t always matter; time is limited, they don’t love school, and parents are concerned. So what will break first: our bank accounts, the spirit of our kids, or our faith in our schools? According to these kids, it’s a toss up.

Meet Cruz. 7 year old. Lover of bugs. Before leaving for work, his dad wakes him up at 6:45 every day of the week. After his dad gets on the road, he and his mom hang out, get his lunch made, eat breakfast and get his younger twin sisters up before he has to get on the bus at 8:20. Once at school he does morning meeting with his class, goes to gym, reads for 30 minutes, goes to recess, does math, has lunch (6 hours after his breakfast), then writing, then team meetings with his groups, then free time, then group reading, then heads to the bus. He gets home at 4:00pm. His mom gets him off the bus and he hangs out until his sisters wake up from nap at 4:45 (sometimes he watches television, plays with neighbors, or plays video games or legos). Dad is home at 5, they have activities for church or sports two days a week, and worksheets every night for homework (the teachers say it is optional but Cruz feels it is required). He’s off to bed by 7:30 whenever possible. His parents number one concern is that he hates going to school and seems so much less curious.

Recent research suggests that curiosity is critical to generating opportunity. In a time when 47%+ of jobs today will be retired due to advancements in AI; well, his parents have a right to be concerned. How can you advance curiosity in your kids? Don’t push more extra curricular, demand that schools give open ended, student drive work that isn’t derived from teacher questions or guidance but students and the communities in which they live. You engage and empower or you drive curiosity to the back and pull compliance to the front.

Meet Livvy. 9 year old. Lover of books. Has three older brothers. Dropped off at school by her brothers at 7:15, because high school starts at 7:30. She starts her day with morning work, then goes to a different room for math. She eats lunch at 11am (it’s been nearly 5 hours since her last meal). She has music and art then recess. After recess her class has reading and writing. She gets on the bus at 3:30 and goes to her mom’s preschool where she stays until 6pm. Once her brothers are home they eat dinner and take showers and do homework. All her extra curricular activities are on Saturday. Her parents hate that she has to be at school early then at preschool late, but financially they have no choice. Their biggest worry is her lack of time to be with friends outside of school.

Economic stressors at home are economic stressors for kids. Generally speaking, there will never be a time when the majority of our citizens won’t have to worry about money. That said, how can we create a community of support so that parents can opt into different opportunities for their kids. What if we had flex start times for kids, four day and five day options for schooling, and developed our kids as people first in systems of education and communities that are not beholden to the industrial model we currently follow? Educational leaders, do you know how many parents could benefit from your system being more flexible?

Meet Jeremiah. Age 12. Lover of art. Wakes up at 7:45, eats, dresses, and is on the bus at 8:10. His parents have to be at work at 9am. He starts his day with gym and health. Then foreign language. Then math and language arts. He has lunch at 1:20. He goes to social studies and science and is back on the bus. He goes home to an empty house. He has snack and watches television until his mom calls at 4:30 to tell him to get started on homework. Dad picks him up at 5:15 for gymnastics practice (which he has 3 days a week). They leave gymnastics at 7:30, eat in a drive thru or at home. He showers and gets help on his homework, he’s in bed as soon as possible (usually 10pm after homework is done). His parents are concerned that he’s disengaged at school, hyper engaged in gymnastics, and has little free time for art (which he loves). They are considering home school since he doesn’t get much out of being at school and could do more with those hours to directly benefit their son.

Today’s kids are smart, and they have access to loads of information and high quality resources for learning. Public education is the great equalizer, but what if digital tools and mobile devices get better results? We are headed towards that big question. Are our systems of education going to meet the demand to provide learning experiences that matter? Can we deliver stellar experiences that aren’t solely based on skill attainment and knowledge delivery? If not, get ready teachers because your jobs will be among the 47%+ that will be taken over by AI in the next thirty years.

Meet Kylie. Age 14. Lover of volunteering. Leaves the house at 7am to get dropped off at school. She’s there (after classes, a lunch break, and after school clubs) until 6pm. She has to wait for her mom to get done with her shift at the hospital so she does her homework in the breezeway at school after the janitors lock the doors. Once she gets home around 7pm she does homework and helps her mom. She talks to friends on the phone for no more than 30 minutes, and goes to bed at 10:30pm if she’s ready to return to school the next day. Her mom loves that she’s involved at school but she’s exhausted by the time the weekend rolls around, and she’s getting concerned that at 14 her daughter has two or more hours of homework a night. If a teacher doesn’t let her weave volunteering into a project she doesn’t have time to do what she loves.

Meet Waylen. Age 16. Lover of computers and music. Leaves the house at 6:30am for band practice, eats lunch after 1pm when he has a break in his performing arts block schedule. Gets done with school at 2:30pm and goes to teach guitar lessons at a local business. He’s there until his own private lesson at 7pm. Gets home at 8pm, eats leftovers, does his homework and tries to be in bed by 11pm. If he wants to work on audition tapes or his own production stuff he has to do that in the middle of the night or on Sunday after church. His parents love that he’s driven but they never see him, except when he’s at the kitchen table doing homework. They are thinking of putting him in a private arts school next year so that he doesn’t feel so much pressure to balance academics and his passion.

We are driven by our passions. Experiences help us to identify what we care about. When we work for passion we are happier, more productive, and have more sustainable trajectory in our career paths. What are we doing in every school to cultivate experience, ignite passion, and nurture interest? Are we too beholden to standards as the ultimate knowledge (or do we use those standards as the mere skeleton of educational experience)? Are we creating experiences where all kids can use their individual passions in every class? Our are we still in the mindset that there is one way to demonstrate mastery and understanding and ability to apply? Our kids’ passions are a goldmine to engagement; if we leave those outside of their 14,000 hours of k-12 schooling we are failing.

Time is running out for our public schools to change the way they do business. Innovators are rethinking the laundry list of “must dos” for public education and taking back ownership of their schools. But if they go too slow, don’t understand how, and are generally locked into the mindset that “the federal government owns them,” will public education survive? I am just not sure; and saying that sucks beyond words. Look at the stories of these kids and their days, we can’t sustain this much longer. Our bodies weren’t made for this and our kids are going to be left to suffer.

So will the adults stand up and lead us to change and sustainability or will we just keep doing business as it has been done for the past 150 years? Take our schools back. Empower our kids. Develop a community for our parents. Rethink and recreate our systems of education, address the craziness of parenting and learning, and develop curious and passionate citizens.

Better start today, time Is most assuredly running out.