Monthly Archives: May 2012

How much does your dream cost?

Has anyone ever asked you the price of one of your dreams? Seems like a ridiculous question, eh? Want to be a rock star? Want to find a cure for cancer? It’ll cost. Truthfully, it will cost but who wants to strip away them inspiration from some one else’s dream?

For many high school students (a recent study called Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report on the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement) indicated that over 80% of high school students expect to go to college. Our education system, schools, families and our culture has done a good job of messaging the importance of attending college. It is a very reliable way to improve one’s lot in life. College students earn an average of $1M more over the course of their lifetimes than those who do not attend college.

While this is still true, the dream of college has a hefty price tag. This year, the average college graduate will carry the largest student loan debt in history: an average of $22,0000 per student.  Many students have gargantuan loans, more than the cost of a home. A recent story in the NYTimes (5/13/12) described students with loans of $70,000 who are working at restaurants making $260 a week, living at home, and facing a lifetime of daunting loan repayments.

Many quoted in the article mentioned the confusing financial aid process or the ambiguous language to explain the “affordability” of a college education.

How can we better prepare young people and their families–many of whom have not attended college–to navigate the cost of college? What skills might students have before attending college that might arm students with strong marketable skills in a part-time job market? How can we best prepare students for the best ROI on their college experience? Especially, those students who do not have the luxury of family support but are still expected to go to college, earn, and fully support their families.

Start early with exposure to all kinds of jobs and the related skills so that students have a good idea of the kind of work they like–and don’t like.  Begin education about the world of work at an early age so students can understand the meaning of a good job and job satisfaction.

Work experience comes from working. And doing a variety of interesting and uninteresting jobs–some that pay and some that are done for the value of doing for others. College will seem like part of the larger plan, not only a dream.


New Wealth

That’s the name of Juliet Schor’s new book. Juliet was the guest speaker at the Boston Building Coop’s annual meeting held on May 3. An economist and sociology professor at Boston College, Juliet is one of the leading proponents of the (old) idea of rediscovering the balance between work and leisure.  It’s becoming challenging, especially given the climate crisis and shrinking resources. Well, maybe challenging is the wrong word. Urgent.

Technology has created enormous labor and time-saving resources. I like Juliet’s revisiting of the DIY label into “high-tech self-provisioning”.  One might cast off this DIY stuff as a leisure class activity until you understand the economics in her argument.

  • In year three of our ‘recovery’, unemployment is still very high. Currently 25 million workers are unemployed or under-employed. And the figures for 18-25 ears olds are truly staggering–40% under- or unemployed.
  • The latest news is even worse: jobs in the US are just plain disappearing–or it seems workers are giving up on looking.  See the NYTimes article on our shrinking job market.
  • Food stamp use is at a historic high. This past year, 44 million Americans used food stamps.
  • Job creation is still lagging: our economy requires that 3-4 million jobs be created each year just to keep pace with the growing number of people aging into the workforce.
  • Last year, of the 2.5 million jobs created, 1.5 million went overseas.

What are the jobs in our future?  What are the skills that will help young people have satisfying, meaningful work?  In her earlier book, Plenitude, Schor describes two types of jobs, those that will be heavily reliant on technology and performed remotely; and jobs that have face-to-face engagement. Technology is having an increasingly large impact on all of our work and the belief is that jobs creation is strong in this sector. I am always surprised at the ways this manifests. Recently, Stanford University offered a free on-line course on Artificial Intelligence and 200,000 students signed up!  Teaching, information management, even many aspects of the medical world will be increasingly reliant on technology skills. As technology and users become more advanced, this can increase the reach of certain services, create job opportunities, and, on the down side, possibly shrink existing jobs.

And the face-to-face jobs? Those friendly service people in the neighborhood? Fixing your plumbing,  rebuilding a stone wall, painting, cooking, fine craftsmanship: these jobs will need equally skilled people who can provide vital services in a community.

Creating equal access to the types of skills, knowledge and training in the manual arts is no longer just for those who didn’t do well on the English test. By elevating these skills to a place of value in our economy we can help tip the balance in favor of job creation in areas that need craftsmanship, intelligence, problems solving skills, and strong habits of work. This new wealth of skills and experience offers opportunities for collaboration and cooperation within communities.

Juliet offered some examples of the new wealth initiatives:

  • A children’s clothing exchange that uses the “Netflix” model of mail exchange called ThredUp (

Take a look at some of the fabulous ideas and initiatives at The Center for the New  American Dream (

To read more from Juliet Schor:

“Understanding derives from activity.” –John Dewey

I was reading Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, when I saw this quote by John Dewey that I used in the blog title. In the book, Jonah visits NOCCA, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a performing arts program for high school students in NOLA.  Students at NOCCA arrive after attending a full day of traditional academic classes and spend hours at the school learning and practicing their craft. All of the teachers are professional artists and great attention toward helping students learn to perfect their art. Interestingly, although the teaches performing arts, the school is not interested in producing only professional artists.

The teaching methodology is experienced-based. Practice is a vital part of the learning process. So is feedback. Students at NOCCA understand the critique is an essential part of their getting better. And learning how to accept and make use of feedback, helps create a learning experience of higher quality. At NOCCA, artist/teachers provide feedback and  other students learn the art of helpful criticism.  It also can be a mirror in a dance studio, or a recording studio outtake.

John Dewey’s pedagogy of learning by doing has been the structural scaffold for nearly all of the educational work I have done over the years. Beginning with Outward Bound and into progressive schooling, community service learning, and now my latest venture, Apprenticeship Learning. These program are linked together by the sheer power of engagement they offer to participants. Dewey reminds us in Experience & Education, that, ” It is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even  of activity in experience. Everything depends upon the quality of the experience which is had.”

As I consider the types of apprentice experiences that will introduce students to the world of work as well as a satisfying work life, how do I create the same sort of feedback  methods?  Both authentic feedback as well as receptive learners? It is one proven way to ensure that an experience grows to be a high quality one. What are other ways to ensure ‘quality’ in learning experiences?