Category Archives: Youth Leadership

A New Kind of Playground? What Happens When Young Children are Connected with Technology

The Wall Street Journal published an article today entitled “What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out With an iPad.” I fully expected this article to be a story lambasting parents for using an iPad as a way to get some valuable quiet time in houses that are rarely quiet. I expected that this article would highlight the horrors of letting your child use an iPad, but that is not what this story is about at all.

I love my iPad. Honestly, it has changed my life in ways I never thought possible. I was sold on an iPad, when one of my colleagues told me that I could listen to legislative committee hearings from any location, instead of being chained to the committee room. But I have come to use my iPad for so much more.

This is not a commercial for iPads. But I am not a techie gal and this device has raised my technological ambitions more than I ever could have imagined. I am addicted – which is why I was sure the research would show that we should not expose our children to such addictive substances.

It turns out that some research has shown that iPads can help children learn! In fact, the article points out:

“One study using an iPod Touch and sponsored by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop found children 4- to 7-years-old improved on a vocabulary test after using an educational app called “Martha Speaks.” The 13 5-year-olds tested averaged a 27% gain. A study using a different educational app had a similar result, with 3-year-olds exhibiting a 17% gain.”

While I am still unsure about the implications of small children using an iPad for extended periods of time, and this article does encourage moderation, how refreshing to learn that there may be a tool to entertain our children that we don’t have to feel guilty about using!

What do you think? Do you allow your kids to use an iPad or other type of similar device? Do you feel that these tools present opportunities for your kids to learn?  Have you felt guilt about using these tools to keep your child busy when necessary? Have you found any strategies that have helped ensure that your child does not become dependent on these tools? Does this article make you, like me, feel better for your own addictions?

Please share your thoughts! And thank you for reading.

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Filed under Education, Parenting, Relationships, Social Media, Youth Leadership

She Works Hard for the Money: Should Universities Do More to Prepare Students for the Workplace?

There is a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about a move by some universities and colleges to refocus their courses to better prepare students to enter the workforce.

Programs cited in the article have titles such as “Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship” at Wake Forest University and “Liberal Education and Effective Practice” at Clark University. This is an exciting trend, but as the article in the Wall Street Journal notes, there is some controversy about this approach within the education field.

Detractors will say that if Universities tailor their programs too much toward the current business environment, skills they develop may not serve them as markets change. I hear this concern and realize that there are likely many other challenges to implementing this model and I hope readers will share thoughts and concerns.

I was a Russian and International Relations double major in college. While I learned a lot and enjoyed my coursework, sometimes I wish I had also had the opportunity to receive more concrete training in critical analysis or in career-oriented skills such as project management and strategic planning.

Perhaps I chose the wrong major. While many students do not choose their majors based upon what they intend to pursue as a career, the vast majority of students are eventually forced into the harsh realities of the workplace. There are certain skills that could be beneficial for all students to learn to prepare.

I also wish I had been exposed to a wider variety of professional possibilities. Perhaps, if I had been taught to play jazz instead of classical music in school and gone to see professional jazz musicians in action, I would have been more motivated to learn about music. If I had understood that people can make a career as a marine biologist and spend time outside by the sea for their work, maybe I would have been more motivated to do better in science.

I am not advocating for schools to eliminate courses that are not applicable to any particular profession, but the idea of connecting the learning environment more with potential career opportunities is exciting.

What do you think? Do you think that Universities should offer more courses to help prepare kids to enter the workforce or do you think that one of the beauties of a college education is that it provides students with the opportunity to study and learn without those types of pressures? Did you go to a school where you learned these types of professional skills? Did you feel prepared to enter the workforce when you graduated? Do majors like computer science and engineering prepare kids more to enter the workforce than majors like English and philosophy? Or do the skills that students learn in English and philosophy translate into a wider range of potential careers? What else do you think about this new trend?

I hope you will share your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

What is the value of face-time with a Professor

Harvard and MIT Partner to Create Free Online Courses: The Great Equalizer?

Pineapples, The Limits of Privatization and Corporate Influence in Education

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

What is the Value of Face Time with a Professor?

Thomas Friedman wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about a new online education company called Coursera, which will be offering online courses from a wide variety of Universities across the country. This is an important new trend in education and hopefully one that will help to equalize education opportunity in this country.

I wrote a blog piece earlier this year about the free MIT and Harvard online courses being offered through MITx. For the most part, the MITx courses will not offer a degree or certificate upon completion. The Coursera program appears to offer a little more, including certificates of completion and the option of linking students to potential job openings.

While I see a lot of potential in this new model, a brilliant fellow blogger Hugh, who was a philosophy professor for decades, commented on my blog post. He noted that a large part of an education comes from the interaction between students and their professor, and between students.

Hugh has a great point. We discussed that perhaps a hybrid model could be created with a mix of online and in-person learning. When an online program is offering courses for less than $100 a course and many institutions are currently charging about $40,000 per year, what is the true value of that face time with a professor and classmates?

What do you think? Do you think that schools will be able to continue to charge the exorbitant rates that they are charging now when faced with this new type of competition? Do you think that this type of online learning will take off in the United States? Do you have other ideas to make access to high quality education more affordable?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.   

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Income inequality, Youth Leadership

Race, Charter Schools and JP Morgan

In the same week we learned that JP Morgan lost $2 billion through risky trades, the New York Times published a story about a charter school called Explore Charter School in Brooklyn, New York, where the vast majority of the students are African American, the majority of the teachers are white and almost all of the children come from families living in poverty.

These two stories highlight two sides of what I believe to be one of the most destructive aspects of our modern culture – namely, the growth of income inequality. The fact that there is even any discussion about whether or not to require more regulation of the banking industry is unfathomable. It is clear that, while banks are capable of doing great things to support people in achieving their dreams, something is broken in this system.

As bankers make millions while taking huge risks with our money, income inequality continues to rise. There are so many implications for this complex problem. But what this means for the education of future generations is highly concerning. The way that schools are financed in our country appears to set some children up to fall behind from the start.

One response to the need to improve education has been the establishment of charter schools. No one can argue with the results of many of the charter schools in this country, but charter schools seem to be a band-aid approach, rather than a meaningful fix to the significant problems facing our public schools, which are primarily financed by income taxes.

Wouldn’t it be better to make investments in our public schools, to enable all children to have access to a high quality, affordable education that could set them up for success?

The article in the New York Times examined the pros and cons for children of being educated in a school with mostly black students. Some of the parents expressed belief that this is a strength of the program, and talked about their focus on the quality of the education alone. Other parents expressed concern about the low number of black teachers at the school and about whether this environment sets kids up with an unrealistic expectation of what they will face after school. I have heard similar debates about the benefits of all-girls or all-boys schools. But race is a much more complex issue in our country.

I am always struck when I hear kids talk about race – the responses seem to come from a much more innocent place than when you hear adults, who have been steeped in the complexities of this issue for so long talk about the same issue. It is refreshing to hear children say that discussions would be more interesting if you had more people from different backgrounds in the classroom. This is such a true, honest statement that is so clear – but adults, in many workplaces and in general society seem to forget this simple fact.

Racism is such a raw subject in our culture, surrounded by strong emotions, ranging from anger, to sadness, to guilt. What concerns me most is the general fear to talk about the issue. How do we move beyond something that people are afraid to talk about and that some even fail to acknowledge exists?

The Trayvon Martin case is one in a long line of incidents that have brought this issue squarely back into the public eye. While I cannot say with certainty whether Trayvon was murdered solely because he was black, this tragedy brought up a lot of emotions. Had the justice system responded as it should, by arresting George Zimmerman and letting the case work itself out through the courts, the outcry may have been significantly reduced, but that is not what transpired. The reaction from around the country was electric.

I was glad to see people finally talking about race and the criminal justice system. It became clear that most people, of all races, want to believe in a criminal justice system that is not racially biased and that most people will not accept a system that is perceived to be corrupt.

The President’s statement in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples this week was historic, courageous and widely applauded by people around the country. There are still some who disagree with the President’s position, as evidenced by the disappointing vote in North Carolina this week, but the country seems to be slowly moving forward on this issue.

I like to believe that my generation is more willing to examine the assumptions and biases of my grandparents and that my kids and grandkids will point out my blind spots – be they related to race or sexual orientation – or even to political party. We must stop being afraid to talk about the complex issues that make true progress in our country so difficult.

What do you think? Why can’t we see people as people, with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences that make each person unique, but still as people, just like ourselves? Why can’t we acknowledge that these conversations might be uncomfortable, but that we can’t move forward without them? Why does it feel so vulnerable to share our thoughts and beliefs on these core issues? Do you think that the next generation will be more willing to confront these issues? Do you think that some of these issues will lose their sting naturally with time? Or do you think that the biases and prejudices of prior generations will cloud their childrens’ judgment and make progress slower? How do you feel about all-girls schools or schools with kids of all the same race? Why do schools with all white kids rarely ask why there aren’t more kids of color in their classes?

Sorry this post was so long. It is a complex issue and I guess I have a lot of thoughts about it! I hope you do too. Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Education, equality, Income inequality, Parenting, Poverty, Stereotypes, Women, Youth Leadership

Beyond the Commencement Speech: Graduation Advice from Elders

The Wall Street Journal published an article earlier this week entitled “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You.”  While this list appears to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it would be interesting to gather ideas from people with years in the workforce about what they wish their commencement speaker had shared.

A few things I wish I had been told:

You will get much further in your career if you are able to work as a productive member of a team. Don’t feel the need to constantly be the best or to get credit for everything. In fact, share credit for great work widely whenever you can.

There will always be more work to do. Leave the office at a reasonable hour, so you can come back to the work the next day with a refreshed mind and outlook.

When you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks on your plate, just take them one step at a time. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Trust yourself. You are entering a workplace where young people’s perspectives are infrequently valued. Have faith in your abilities and eventually, people will realize what you can do.

You will make mistakes. Accept responsibility, find a way to avoid making the same mistake twice and move on.

Make time for interests outside work. This will make you more interesting, which will serve you well in your life and in your career.

Think hard before moving to another city for a job. There is much more to life than work. Make sure that you will like where you would live and the people who would surround you, as well as your work, before deciding to make a move.

If you notice small red flags during an interview, these will usually turn into large red flags once you are an employee. Listen to your instincts.

Try not to pigeon-hole yourself into one career path, unless you are sure that that is what you want to do for the rest of your career. It can be hard to change course mid-career.

And wear sunscreen. 🙂

Those are some of my pearls of wisdom. What do you wish you had been told at graduation?     

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Youth Leadership

Harvard and MIT Partner to Create Free Online Courses: The Great Education Equalizer?

This week, Harvard University and MIT announced plans to offer free, online courses. You can find articles about this project at the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Boston Herald and Yahoo News, among others.  They even plan to offer a certificate of completion for some of the courses.

This is a step in the right direction toward making education more affordable and available to people from a wider range of backgrounds. There are a number of students who have the smarts to get into a prestigious ivy-league school, but not the financial resources to enable them to attend for four years.

It is especially interesting to see that Universities are beginning to compete in this new arena. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of this model.

But, several questions remain for me: Will potential employers and graduate schools recognize these courses as a valuable addition to an applicant’s credentials? Will people who take these courses be seen as self-starters who take the initiative to further their education outside of the constraints of the traditional university system? Do you see this as a move toward making education generally more affordable and accessible?

And most importantly, do you think you will take advantage of this unique opportunity? What courses would you like to see offered?

Personally, I am excited to check this out and take advantage of this new resource! What do you think? Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Income inequality, Youth Leadership

The Global Corporate Do-Gooder

I have been called a bleeding heart liberal before, and I will likely be called one again. But I want to make it very clear that I hope to have a meaningful dialogue through this blog which is not polarized. And I realize that I have much room to open my mind to different perspectives. This is why the article in Foreign Policy Magazine entitled “Get an MBA, Save the World,” written by Charles Kenny was intriguing for me.

I was an International Relations and Russian major in college. I have not used this degree in my work since graduating, despite the fact that International Development and Human Rights work remains one of my primary passions and interests. My dream job was – in fact  continues to be – to work in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. But I can honestly say that it never entered my mind to work for a multinational corporation in order to further development efforts and reduce poverty around the world.

But perhaps I have been terribly short-sighted. Or perhaps, corporate ethics and social responsibility have become key components which better enable corporations to compete in an increasingly globalized society. I don’t know.

I do know that the theory that multinational organizations can create a path to prosperity in the developing world is a fairly new concept to me and a complex issue. I, like all idealistic progressives, have boycotted Walmart and Nike for their working conditions and union-busting over the years. But when I started doing more statewide work outside of urban centers and travelling to small towns throughout Texas and Colorado, I began to better understand the myriad perspectives on the harms and benefits of these corporations.

While I am a strong supporter of local mom-and-pop shops and still share my grandmother’s concern that Walmart and other box stores threaten the existence of small family-owned stores, I began to hear a different side of the story in my travels. Many of the people who lived in the small towns where I was working talked to me extensively about the importance of the jobs that were created for their community and the value of the investment that the company made in their town.

I only share this story because I believe that this is an interesting topic for debate. The truth is that a socially and environmentally responsible company can completely jump-start a local economy. And so many talented young people want to make a difference to end hunger and poverty around the globe. This article suggests that there might be a way to combine these assets to make a difference in developing countries.

What do you think? If you are someone who has dreamed of doing international development work, does this story make you think about a different potential career path? Have you struggled with the concept of taking a job that is available versus holding out for your true passion? How have you reconciled those competing interests? If you are someone with a dream of working international development, would you have a challenge in choosing this work instead? Or do you believe that corporations are doing some of the most effective poverty-reduction work around the globe right now? Do you see a way to combine the two efforts more effectively?

Please add your own topics for discussion and questions. And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, International, Youth Leadership

Forget them! What Do YOU Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Today’s article is entitled “The Creative Monopoly.” It was written by David Brooks and published in the New York Times on April 23rd and can be found here.

This article talks about Peter Thiel, who founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook. In the article, Mr. Brooks explains that Peter Thiel was a highly successful student when he was younger, working his way through Stanford and Stanford Law School, only failing to meet his ambitions when he applied to be a Supreme Court clerk.

Mr. Brooks posits that this failure to succeed in one, traditional, competitive endeavor, led Thiel to think more creatively about what he might be able to accomplish in life. Obviously, as the founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel went on to become a highly successful businessman after overcoming that initial disappointment.

This opinion piece questions the value of societal pressures to pursue traditional professions encouraged by the US educational system and American culture. I like Mr. Brook’s hypothesis that we need more people to think outside the traditional “box” portrayed by most Universities in this country.

Students should be encouraged to think critically and creatively about their personal interests and how they would like to contribute to society, without feeling the need to bow to the immense pressure to conform to other’s expectations. And I agree that people who find a way to do this tend to be more successful and can make a significant contribution to society, sometimes in completely unexpected ways.

I do think, however, that the financial barriers are prohibitively high for most people to be able to even consider doing such a thing. How many of us could really denounce the traditional paths laid out for us throughout our education, to do something completely different and unique?

I admire the people in my life who have done this – the people in my high school who went on to become actors or to produce tv shows and movies or to conduct on Broadway. And one friend from my conservative college started his own gourmet peanut butter and jelly stand in a mall. It can take real courage to take a risk to do what truly inspires you. It is not the easy path. Sometimes I regret the fact that I have barely considered taking a risk like that. Do you?

Some Questions for Discussion: How do you think young people could be encouraged to think more about untraditional professions? How could we expose students to a wider variety of career paths? Do you feel that you were encouraged to walk away from traditional expectations and forge your own path? And did you learn any lessons from taking the path less travelled? Do you have any suggestions for people who are looking for financial support to pursue their dreams? Why do you think that people so easily give in to societal pressures when establishing their professional goals? Is there a role that parents or the government can play to help reduce the pressures to conform to traditional expectations? Are you a parent that has tried to expose your children to a number of different potential life paths? Do you have any suggestions for other parents trying to do the same?

What would you like to be or do if you could walk away from your current work? And do you think you will ever do that?

Please join the conversation. And thank so much for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership

Sam Spade at Starbucks

Today’s article is entitled “Sam Spade at Starbucks.” It is an opinion piece published in the New York Times, written by David Brooks and can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/brooks-sam-spade-at-starbucks.html?src=me&ref=general

In the article, the author appears to question the idealism of youth and suggests that young people who are imbued with this idealism should be more practical and realistic. As a 40 year old who has yet to grow completely out of this youthful idealism, while I see where Mr. Brooks is going with his hypothesis, I also have to question the need for young people to proactively seek out opportunities to be more practical.

When I think back to when I started doing public policy work, I remember feeling extremely frustrated that people placed such limitations on what they would allow me to do. I felt like I had so much to offer, but it seemed that people were unwilling to listen to my ideas because of my age. I was bursting with energy and passion and ideas, some of which were lofty goals, but some of which were absolutely achievable. But it was hard to find adults who were willing to give me a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.

When I did finally find a mentor who encouraged me to aim high and go after what I believed was right, I did just that. I remember, perhaps naively, believing that I could almost single-handedly pass legislation  to give battered immigrant women in Texas access to public benefits like Medicaid and cash assistance before they had been in the country for five years. Federal law bars most immigrants from accessing these benefits for their first five years in the United States, but states can choose to create exceptions to this law. That is what I intended to do – in Texas.

I think I still have a copy of that draft legislation, with mark-ups from people who I worked with to try and get the bill passed; in the end, the bill failed by one vote. I have often thought that I should frame that draft legislation and hang it next to my desk as a reminder of what I once believed was possible.

For good or ill, my sights at the state legislature have been recalibrated to a much more achievable level than they were then. But sometimes I mourn the loss of the belief that anything could be done if you tried hard enough. Besides, history has repeatedly shown us that true social change only comes about when someone  is willing to believe that change is possible.

Life experience forces all of us to become more pragmatic as we get older. We are faced with harsh realities that remind us that everything does not always work out for the best and that some people do have bad intentions. But do young people really need to go out and seek that type of education, or is that simply the education that comes with age and experience? Doesn’t that education come to us all eventually anyway?

I think of the idealism of youth as a precious resource that we can only benefit from nurturing and encouraging. Who knows – the young person who one person dismisses as too young to know anything could turn out to be the next great leader or inventor?

As usual, this article raises some interesting questions for me: Doesn’t this article really just portray the natural tensions between generations that happens periodically as one generation ages and another prepares to enter adulthood? How does this idealism that David Brooks refers to differ from the activism of people from my parent’s generation in the 60’s and 70’s? Are we living a in a different time that enables young people to look outside their borders more for their activism rather than within the United States? Are young people disconnected from local political issues? The last presidential election certainly questioned this assumption. Do you think that young people will be as energized in November and will make their way to the polls?

What is it that makes older people so afraid of the idealism of youth or of acknowledging what young people are capable of?

Do people have to lose their idealism as they age or are there strategies and tactics to keep those dreams and values and philosophies alive? Doesn’t society benefit from young people pushing and encouraging their elders to think about things in a new way? Doesn’t being faced with young idealism help people reconnect to their own youth in some way? Or is David Brooks right that young people just need to be more practical?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Career Planning, Education, Parenting, Youth Leadership