Post-Apocalyptic Career Counseling, Part III

Dammit, Jim, I'm a librarian, not a labor economist.

III. Conclusion

If not even an Ivy League education is a guarantee of success, then what is? Well, the employment rate among neurosurgeons remains encouragingly high, if you have the hands for that kind of work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics generates lists of high-demand occupations, if we can still trust expert prognostication. Anyone willing to choose something off the BLS list may still manage to follow some version of the algorithm of success without too much difficulty, until the competition from everyone else trying to do it, too, spoils the game. 

No particular philosophy of K-12 education guarantees success, either, although every group with an educational theory, from the standards-driven reform crowd to the techno-utopians, traditionalists to constructivists, whether in public, private, charter or home schools, argues that their own methods best prepare students to meet the challenges of the future. But since the future is unknowable, how can anyone be confident that a particular pedagogy yields the desired effect? We don’t (and can’t) do the kinds of comparative longitudinal studies that would reveal which educational methods lead to success. We can’t even agree on a definition of “success.”

Trying to predict the skill-sets students will need to get a job in five, ten or twenty years is pointless¹. The only timeless skill is the ability to keep learning forever, combined with the wisdom to know that you must.

Additional capabilities may also be helpful. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization of business and educational leaders, has created a framework of skills and orientations they believe best prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. While some have criticized P21’s overall approach to curriculum, as well as its corporate origins and motives, the Life and Career Skills outlined really are necessary to survival in a post-apocalyptic economy in which those corporations refuse to hire anyone. Flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility are as useful in a garage-based start-up as they are in the mailroom of the World Wide Wicket Company.

A different, broader model of necessary attitudes and dispositions is Habits of Mind, created by Art Costa, which defines sixteen characteristics intelligent people display when approaching difficult problems. The Habits of Mind are:

  1. Persisting
  2. Communicating with clarity and precision
  3. Managing impulsivity
  4. Gathering data through all senses
  5. Listening with understanding and empathy
  6. Creating, imagining, innovating
  7. Thinking flexibly
  8. Responding with wonderment and awe
  9. Metacognition
  10. Taking responsible risks
  11. Striving for greater accuracy and precision
  12. Finding humor
  13. Questioning and problem posing
  14. Thinking interdependently
  15. Applying past knowledge to new situations
  16. Remaining open to continuous learning

Educators around the world are working with the Habits of Mind in the belief that the habits are teachable to students of any age and applicable to any challenge those students may face in their lives and careers.

The bright college graduates I discussed in Part II, shut out of the job market, but starting their own cooperative ventures, are applying the Habits of Mind, whether they know them by that name or not. I admire their willingness to think analytically, to work creatively and collaboratively, to imagine ways to survive and thrive in a world for which their education and upbringing did not prepare them.  With older adults unable to guide them, they are figuring the new rules out for themselves, which might be summarized like this:

The future is unknowable. Change is permanent. In the absence of that clear, predictable path to success, we have to make the road by walking–but never alone. Credentials are crucial, but they are only a foundation. People want to know what you can do, not where you went to school. Every job requires an entrepreneurial orientation, not just the job you create for yourself.  Band together–it’s too ugly out there for an individual to survive alone, and not much fun. Pool resources with like-minded friends. Expect less materially. Pursue your passions–if there ever was a reward for giving up the work that you were born to do, it’s certainly gone now. Don’t ever let the job market define your worth–you are not your job. Learn forever.

High school students deep in the weeds of SAT prep, application essays and College Prowler might want to look up for a few minutes to see what people just a few years older, who have already collected their shiny college prizes, are doing on the other side.  It is that older cohort, rather than parents or teachers, who possess the best available wisdom for coming of age during hard times. If you need some real post-apocalyptic career counseling, ask the experts.


¹Every time I’m at an education conference and a presenter assures the audience that using Wordle or Moodle or Prezi or Glogster constitutes 21st century learning and prepares  students for their high-tech future jobs, I have to bite my tongue to keep from asking why learning Latin, martial arts, music, art or woodworking wouldn’t better teach perseverance, concentration, creativity and cooperation than the flavor of the month.  I try not to get myself thrown out of edtech conferences.

About Julie Goldberg

Julie Goldberg has lived a life entirely too entangled with books. She is a school librarian, former English teacher, compulsive reader, occasional jazz singer and the author of Lily in the Light of Halfmoon and In the Meat Department: A Novel, one of which may even be published someday! She is a former candidate for New York State Senate and Rockland County Legislature, and would be only too happy to tell you all about it. You could at one time follow her on Twitter, but she's done with that all that now. Please connect with her on Mastodon instead: Mastodon
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12 Responses to Post-Apocalyptic Career Counseling, Part III

  1. Brian Hanson-Harding says:

    Come on, why not get thrown out of just one? It could be fun!

    • I can imagine being dragged out by security, yelling at the top of my lungs, “I’ve been thrown out of better conferences than this!”

      Though I have not done that, I did come out as a Waldorf mom at an event where I had been invited to speak about reimagining curricula in light of all the cool new technology. That was awkward. And shocking. And REALLY fun.

  2. RanDomino says:

    You’d ‘enjoy’ (in a crushingly depressing way) this site:
    It’s buy Dmitry Orlov, a Russian-American who witnessed the USSR’s collapse and writes about the similarities and differences between their collapse and our impending one.
    Some of the better ones:
    “Closing the Collapse Gap” is required reading:
    “You Don’t Have To Go To School”
    “How Not to Organize a Community”
    “Boondoggles To the Rescue”
    “The Five Stages of Collapse”

  3. Lynda St. Clair says:

    I really appreciated this series of posts. The Habits of Mind skills and dispositions are great. To balance the depressing vision of an unknowable future where college graduates are unable to succeed, I have found reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor helpful. His key point is that we have it backwards when we assume that we must first be “successful” in some socially defined way before we can be happy. Instead, if we cultivate habits that increase our happiness, we are more likely to see opportunities that will help us in the future.

    • I think the positive psychology people are really onto something: let’s find out what happy people do and see if it’s teachable! Good idea! This generation, forced to create their own careers, may make much greater progress on the work/life balance problem than did those of us who went straight from high school to college to career ladder. Glad you liked the series.

  4. Pingback: Post-Apocalyptic Career Counseling, Part II | Perfect Whole

  5. Claudia Escareno-Clark says:

    I really enjoyed your posts, especially considering that I just got accepted into grad school. There’s a lot of food for thought here.

    • Thanks! I wouldn’t want to talk anyone out of grad school, but I think prospective students need to ask the directors of any grad program about what the students who graduated from the program over recent years are doing, whether they found work in a related field or not, whether they are earning enough money to pay back their student loans. If the leaders of the program say they have no idea, well, that’s the wrong answer. I wish you success.

  6. Schwerpunkt International says:

    I enjoyed your thoughtful posts (I found them from a friend who linked them on FB). I also enjoyed that you ended the three posts with the Habits of Mind, which while as you said no approach is guaranteed to work, it is one thing to point out the problems these days (not hard because there’s so many) and quite another to give a resource or some other solution. I do agree that attitudes about achievement are out-of-date. We have run out of things to make, so we have built an industry (public and/or private) on educating children according to the last factory process we maintain. These products are either high performing – we spend so much public money in order to send *every* one to a college (either private or profit it benefits an industry) or we continue to make money on the backs of poor performing products as we launch one expensive boondoggle after another at primarily urban children and yet wind up with another illiterate generation (perpetual market). I am very glad I am not young today. However, I see that my generation while a step up from the coming one, remains in the shadow of the Babyboomers and their privileges, which they can’t take with them but will ensure we (my generation) doesn’t get. However, I don’t think you are talking about collapse (Orlov, JHK, me) per se, but a revision of the current system to one that is inherently unfair, but continues to function in appearance to what we have today. What I, and a few others see, is even more radical a shift and a need to prepare our children, and that is not one where a college degree is no longer useful to obtaining a job in a given field, but where knowing how to till an actual field is essential to survival. Anyway, I’ll enjoy future posts about this subject.

  7. Peter says:

    I am a college professor and worked for two large companies prior plus ran a small landscaping company in junior high and high school. My recommendation for young people is to attend a “good” 2 year community college and transfer to a “good” state school. Use the saved money
    to double major preferably business and a science in college (take classes through summer to expedite graduation) and minor in a foreign language and following graduation live abroad with a family (volunteering, etc.) for 6 months to master language (read: Mormon strategy). Following this, work for a company for a few years to learn as much as possible and then start your own business and don’t focus on material items as times have changed.

  8. Pingback: An Angel Packs a Suitcase | NJECC

  9. Pingback: An Angel Packs a Suitcase | Perfect Whole

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