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Yong Zhao: College Ready vs. Out-of-Basement Ready: Shifting the Education Paradigm

Last year when my son graduated from college, I asked the question “can you stay out of my basement?” as I believe an important outcome of education is the ability to live out of one’s parent’s basement, that is, the ability to be an independent and contributing member of a society.

The Common Core and most education reforms around the world define the outcome of schooling as readiness for college and career readiness. But as recent statistics suggest, college-readiness, even college-graduation-readiness, does not lead to out-basement-readiness. Over 50% of recent college graduates in the US are unemployed or underemployed. The numbers are not much better in other parts of the world.

They are the “boomerang kids,” writes a New York Times magazine article last week. These were good students. They were ready for college. They paid for college (many with borrowed money). They completed all college requirements. They did not drop out. And they graduated from college. But they are back in their parents’ basement for there is no career for them, ready or not.

The reason is simpler than many would like to accept: education has been preparing our students for an economy that no longer exists. Technology and globalization have transformed our society. Machines and off-shoring have led to the disappearance of traditional middle class jobs—jobs our education have been making our children ready for.

The “boomerang kids” are not poorly educated, but miseducated. They were prepared to look for jobs, but not to create jobs. They were prepared to solve problems, but not to identify problems or ask questions. They were prepared to follow instructions, but machines can follow instructions more precisely and more important, with less cost.

Technological changes always disrupt the existing social and economic order, forcing us to redefine the value of talents, knowledge, and skills. What used to be valuable may become obsolete. What was undervalued may become more valuable. We know that in the “second machine age” and “flat world,” we need creative, entrepreneurial, and globally competent workers to compete with machines and less expensive workers who do not have access to the same resources as students in developed countries. But policy makers and other “reformers” today remain dedicated to instilling in our children the outdate knowledge and skills following an outdated education paradigm. As a result, the more successful these reform efforts become, the more “boomerang kids” we will have.

What we need is to shift the education paradigm from preparing job seekers to job creators, from imposing upon children what a small group people defines as valuable knowledge and skills to supporting children to follow their own passion, and from fixing our children “deficits” defined by standardized testing to enhance their strengths. But the dominant reform efforts keep fixing the obsolete paradigm instead of inventing a new one. Worse yet, they discourage and penalize attempts to create a new paradigm.

The Common Core wants your kids to develop career readiness, but ask the question: who is equipped to create the careers they will become ready for?

So my 4th of July suggestion: Stop the Common Core or ready your basement for your college graduates. By the way, I am proud to say that my son does not live in my basement.

(Read more about why the Common Core won’t result in out-of-basement readiness and what needs to be done in my book World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students).

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Yong Zhao

Dr. Yong Zhao is an internationally known scholar, author, and speaker. His works focus on the implications of globalization and technology on education. He ...