Whitefield Academy Blog
How to Train Students for the Economy of 2050
The sentiment is as common as the color red in Kansas City during the playoffs: “We need to offer more practical training for our students so that they can get good jobs.”
The first response to this statement is that if we do “practical” education at the expense of studying the liberal arts, we fail to educate good humans. We may make good cogs in the machine of society. However, we won’t be preparing our students to be faithful if they experience debilitating illness, to be good moms and dads, to be contributing members of their churches, or to be active members of their cities. There is far more to life than a job or career! When my son’s first-grade teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, “A good dad.” I’d leave the “job training” to one side any day in exchange for my boy cherishing such a noble ambition and achieving it!
Granting that job training only has relative importance, we still want our children to grow up to be able to provide for themselves. Indeed, Scripture commends this goal to us. Proverbs 12:11 says, “Those who till their land will have plenty of food, but those who follow worthless pursuits have no sense.”
How can we put our students in a position to “till the land” in our modern context? It’s not easy! Our technologically driven economy constantly changes. Some economists predict 40% of today’s current jobs will be automated by 2050. One think tank expresses a common opinion in a 2019 paper, noting that the economy will look quite different in 30 years’ time, requiring many workers to adapt their skills or be faced with unemployment. An executive at an aerospace engineering firm recently told me that the new engineers he hires can expect to learn four different computer programming languages during their careers. Another friend of mine, who is literally a rocket scientist, told me that whenever he has down time at work, he accesses online forums to learn new ways to do his job well. He knows that he will have to learn new skills and applications of those skills if he wants to keep his well-paying and highly interesting job in the next decade. And he has been at work in the field for 20 years!
It is a pretty safe conclusion that applying “tilling the land” to our current context will mean inventing new plows, managing automated farm machinery, and understanding advanced logistics to get “plenty of food.”
One of the worst things we could do for students is to train them for the exact jobs that we adults have right now. In our rapidly changing economy, we cannot expect our kids to do the same things that we did for training and succeed.
I learned to fish by catching trout recently released from fish hatcheries. If you use PowerBait dough, you can’t fail to haul in trout after trout. But when the hatchery fish acclimate to the new lake environment, they won’t eat dough anymore. Unless the fisherman switches to some new bait that appeals to the more mature trout, he will fail over and over. If we keep sending our kids into the economy without learning how to adapt, we will be stuck giving them fish rather than teaching them how to feed themselves for a lifetime.
The tried-and-true way to prepare students for the economy of any future is to teach them the liberal arts. As you might recall from an earlier blog post, the liberal arts are the heart of classical education. They train students to create new knowledge for themselves. They yield life-long learning.
A person educated in the liberal arts can think about what kind of work he is suited to and what the community needs to get done. He can then go out and learn what he needs to learn.
A friend of mine exhibited just this pattern for me a few years ago. He and his wife were expecting a child, and it became apparent to him that he needed to earn more money. So he quit his job. He identified that there was great demand for people like him who had strong math skills and natural intelligence in the burgeoning new field of machine learning. Then, he spent the next six months getting training in machine learning and networking. He landed a wonderful job and has experienced success after success since that time.
By the way, he experienced classical education.
Please notice that I’m not saying that practical skills are useless. Quite the contrary. My friend had to acquire the skills necessary to become a machine learning programmer. He could not have succeeded otherwise. Our students, too, will need to learn all sorts of skills to excel in their chosen careers. The questions are these: Will they have the courage to jump into a new field with minimal knowledge? Will they have the perseverance to pick up new skills that are difficult to learn? Will they be able to communicate effectively with their co-workers and authorities?
They will have courage if they have learned to do difficult, new things like write in cursive with Mrs. Arbuckle and Mrs. Dodd, read Adam of the Road with Mr. Chace, study Thomas Aquinas’ Summa with Dr. McIntosh, engage in algebraic reasoning with Mr. Peng or Mr. Castro, or present in front of the class in any classroom at Whitefield!
They will have perseverance if they memorize the entire Sermon on the Mount with Mrs. Mercer or write a junior and a senior thesis with Mr. Selby.
They will communicate effectively after having discussions about the Bible, history, science, and literature from PK through 12th grade.
Returning to Prov. 12:11, let’s avoid the “worthless pursuits” of utilitarian, so-called practical job training. If you want your student to be prepared to “till the fields” in 2050, give them a classical Christian education. They will not merely have “plenty of food” for their bodies, but also for their souls. It wouldn’t hurt us adults to join them as much as we are able!
Want to learn more about classical Christian education? Watch this video about how Whitefield Academy is here for the long haul.
Wondering how athletics fit into a classical Christian education? Watch this webinar.