Friday, November 5, 2010

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

A couple days ago, Dean Dad blogged about his elementary school-aged children and their recent Back to School night (akin to an Open House). An excerpt: "In [my son's] class – he's in the fourth grade – the kids had done essays on what they want to be in fifty years. The essays were left out on the tables for parents to read. As an exercise in shoe-leather sociology, it was striking."

He continues: "Out of a class of a little over twenty, only two kids mentioned college, and only one – TB [the blogger's son] – had any recognizable professional aspiration. (He declared that he will get his doctorate in civil engineering at MIT, so he can build bridges and highways. About a year ago he asked me what the best place was to study civil engineering, so with my layman's knowledge of engineering, I suggested MIT, and that was that.) One other boy mentioned the state university, though he seemed more interested in the sports than in anything else. Every other kid wrote some variation on “I will finish high school, get a job, and get rich.” The teacher mentioned that she had to push some of them to mention finishing high school."

It's interesting indeed to consider how children are supposed to ascertain their futures; I would agree that parents and teachers are the first step in guiding children in encouraging the children's skills and talents, and introduce them to interesting ideas, etc. The comments below the article are also interesting, insofar as there's a real divide between those who seemed to have a career in mind when they were children (even if that chosen career changed). I question, though, how necessary it is at the tender age of eight (for example) to have a coherent idea of what kind of life one wants as an adult. Obviously, there are kids who will tell you right off the bat that they want to be fill-in-the-blank, and then proceed to accomplish that exact career. Other kids will tell you that what they want to be, or where they want to go...and then change their minds a few dozen times before they even finish high school. I don't know how realistic it is to expect children of that age to have their maps planned out in detail, or even in generalities. At least in part, at that age kids simply don't know how to plan at that level, nor can they be expected to be. That's why parents and teachers model that kind of behavior.

Throughout the post, I was reminded that adults can forget that young kids do not always (or even usually) have a definitive, linear plan, or even an idea of what to do with their lives, let alone be able to articulate how to get there, appreciate the work that gets to that career (ascertaining the method by which one accomplishes that career goal), or even understand all the work that's in the desired field. Until one is actively pursuing a career, you simply can't know the entirety of necessary involvement. To expect that of small children isn't exactly reasonable. Even if one (like I had) two parents with advanced degrees, one still isn't necessarily cognizant of the steps needed, especially not as a small child - unless, as some of those who left comments stated, you are physically taken to a university and shown.

For the longest time I wanted to be an archaeologist because I wanted to be a forensic anthropologist; I didn't quite realize until I was older that they were related but different fields, nor did I grok the grunt work (or science) needed to excel in that particular field. I saw it as digging in the dirt, consistently finding cool stuff, and being able to tell things by looking at skeletal remains. I had to minor in physical anthropology as an undergrad to realize that I may not be (scientifically) able to do the work that I still find fascinating.

I'm sure, of course, there are some children who know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, what they want to be in 50 years, be perfectly suited to that job, know enough of how to go get it, and follow through. I suspect the number of kids in that position would be very small. And it's quite possible that these particular kids had never been asked to consider their future before, either.

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