In 1947, Martin Luther King Jr. was already worried about the education system.
“We must remember that intelligence is not enough,” he warned in a Stanford newspaper article titled The Purpose of Education. “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
He closed with a haunting prediction: “If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, brethren! Be careful, teachers!”
Seventy-six years later, King’s distress call has yet to be heeded.
Although college was the focus of his Stanford article, his urgency applies from kindergarten on. Instead of cultivating an invigorating cocktail of intelligence, character, and “worthy objectives upon which to concentrate,” our schooling system is hyper-focused on producing the perfect employee.
The system rewards silence, obedience, and compliance. Life skills like how to manage a budget or handle a negotiation, buy a house, or start a business are nowhere to be found in today’s curriculum (surveys show us that parents wish things were different).
How can we ensure our kids are soaking up all three pillars of King’s ideal education: intelligence, character, and worthy objectives upon which to concentrate?
Exposing them to (and actively teaching them!) these four life skills is a great place to start.
Being your own boss may be the new American Dream, but the life skills of an entrepreneur extend far beyond the nuts and bolts of running a business.
Problem solving. Creativity. Mental fortitude. Confidence and self-esteem. Knowing when to take risks, and when to exercise caution. Building something from nothing. Intrinsic motivators.
If learned at an early age, these life skills can lead to dynamic young adults who are not only fearless in pursuing their curiosity, but equipped with all the right tools to do so. Unfortunately, schools don’t prioritize curiosity; they prioritize test scores. This trains students to rely on external motivation.
Building an ecosystem of external motivation for kids hardwires them to slog away for a salary instead of pursuing what lights them up inside. When grades are valued more highly than passion and comprehension, kids resort to just going through the motions. They lose their fire.
A+ students land great jobs, but C students are often the ones hiring them.
It doesn’t matter if your kid wants to be a successful entrepreneur, a digital nomad freelancer, or the head chef at your local restaurant – there are infinite paths to success. It’s not effective to shuffle everyone down the same one – yet this is exactly what traditional schools are doing.
Teaching kids entrepreneurship as a life skill will help them harness their individuality, offer their passions in service to others, and create value that’s unique to them.
Schools operate on a paradigm that kills creativity, connection, and collaboration:
“Do as I say.”
Negotiation is seen as an act of rebellion within the school system. Not only is it not taught in the classroom, but it’s deemed a hostile act. When authority is the only arbiter, kids who want a say in the choices made for them are seen as trouble-makers and subversive pot-stirrers.
How can we expect adults to think for themselves when they’re taught unwavering conformity as children? Are we handicapping kids by squashing their ability to engage in the conversation?
While it’s imperative children know how and when to listen, it’s unhealthy for them to stay locked in the iron grip of authority all day long.
Rather than seeing negotiation as an act of rebellion, it’s time our schools start helping our kids practice negotiation for what it truly is – a springboard for their success. Negotiation is an immensely valuable craft many adults wish they’d learned sooner.
There’s an art to persuasion and a dance to unique positioning (not to mention compassion, active listening, and other basic social skills) that if learned early enough, can massively influence a child’s adult life in the best way. Whether negotiating a pay raise or a deal on their dream car, this is a highly rewarding set of life skills that takes practice.
Check out this article from Harvard Business Review on more ways to practice negotiation with your kids.
3. Sales and Pitching
Almost everything in life is sales.
Interviewing for a job?
Pitching that novel you worked on for five years?
Convincing your wife to take a fly-fishing trip with you to Montana?
You guessed it.
Although schools spend decades helping our kids master certain skills, they’re rarely taught how to sell these skills the right way – with empathy. Selling is all about answering the question, “How can I help you in ways that no one else can?” Unfortunately, many of us still associate “selling” with sleazy car salesmen and sketchy gym owners. Skillful students, having no idea how to market their skills, struggle to fulfill their potential.
Imagine a recent college graduate sitting in a job interview, interviewing for a project management position. She’s everything the company is looking for – a highly organized critical thinker, a tech whiz, and a logistical expert. But she’s stuck in the feedback loop of “selling is sleazy.” She has no idea how to market herself with empathy. While her skills are highly proficient, her ability to communicate this to a potential employer is lackluster. Consequently, the hiring manager is unimpressed. He thanks her for her time and goes back to sifting through resumes.
In this situation, not only do both parties lose out on tremendous value, but this could be easily avoided. Helping kids learn how to sell and pitch with empathy will set them up for tremendous success down the road.
How many times have you said (or heard someone say), “I wish I’d learned finances in school”?
We expect young adults to magically understand the inner workings of the financial world, but schools don’t even touch the basics: taxes, mortgages, down payments, insurance…on and on. As soon as kids graduate, they’re expected to make huge financial decisions (first credit card, first car, first rent payment, college debt) that significantly influence their future financial wellbeing. Without a fundamental understanding of finances, this “significant influence” is rarely positive.
Let’s say a 22-year-old first-time credit card owner lacks a robust understanding of the importance of credit. His knowledge screeches to a halt at “I just have to pay this card off every month – sweet!” Perhaps he has no inkling of credit-utilization ratio, nor the massive impact of credit score. This will negatively affect him for years to come. Not only will he unknowingly shell out money on monthly interest; but all of a sudden, he’s 26 and can’t get pre-approved for the house he’s been diligently saving up for. What started as a small misunderstanding has morphed into something much larger (and much more difficult to fix).
Just like our college graduate who struggled to market her impressive skills in a job interview, this situation is completely avoidable.
Financial literacy should be fun, not burdensome – and it begins through conversation with our kids. Whether it’s showing them how to set up a bank account, how to manage their financial statements each month, or playing budgeting games (for instance, exploring the lifestyle they want to live, then how much money they need to make it happen), it’s important to overcome the taboo of money talk as early as possible.
Now, you don’t have to make your kids balance a checkbook or pay taxes at 12 years old, but a basic understanding of how money changes hands is a fundamental stepping stone to helping our kids become adults who financially thrive.
So, What Should You Do About It?
Not sure if your kids are getting enough of these life skills at school?
Don’t worry – there are plenty of actionable steps you can take.
As a parent, double down on teaching these life skills at home. Make it fun. Come up with real-world scenarios your kids find exciting – like pitching their favorite candy to you, or picking a future apartment in a city of their choosing, or budgeting how much money they can spend on video games each month. Encourage your kids to play in educational ways that fascinate them. This will pay off big time.
If you want your kids soaking up these life skills at school, here are 11 alternative schooling options we love. If pulling your kid from public school just doesn’t feel possible, here are 57 things you can do today to enrich and enhance their education. There’s something out there to help every child thrive. We’re committed to helping you find what works for your family.