So what do today’s students—whether they’re in K-12 or in college—need to know to be prepared for the world they’ll graduate into?
That question has only become more complicated during the uncertainty of a pandemic.
And it’s the topic of a new book by Stephanie Krauss, called “Making It: What Today’s Kids Need for Tomorrow’s World.”
Krauss brings a unique mix of perspectives to the topic. She started her career as a fifth grade teacher in Phoenix. She later founded a college-prep charter high school in St. Louis, and was president of an educational foundation working for disengaged nontraditional students. And today she’s a senior advisor to Jobs for the Future and a staff consultant for the Youth Transition Funders Group.
Her book doesn’t dive into what academic curriculum is better, or whether or not kids need to learn to code. Instead, the author takes a step back to outline four cultural “currencies”—“community, competencies, connections and credentials”—that she says people need to learn for their future jobs and just to live happy lives.
EdSurge connected with Krauss to ask her about her framework, and how it was shaped by her own educational journey.
EdSurge: You talk a lot in your book about the currencies and competencies that kids need, but not so much about academics. What is the goal of your framework?
Krauss: I’ve had the opportunity in the last eight years to be really deeply involved in competency-based education, in the K-12 space and in higher ed. The competencies tackled in “Making It” are a little different than you might see in the competencies that we come up with when we’re thinking about curriculum, because they’re not tied to predetermined academic standards. Instead, it was actually stepping back and saying content knowledge aside, what are the things that young people must be able to do in order to navigate learning and work and adult life as they move forward?
They’re things like the ability to focus and organize, or to think critically and creatively. But they’re also things like personal health, including cognitive health—our ability to unplug and plug into technology at will. For instance, if I’m on Zoom for more than three hours, I get a migraine.
One of the things I was trying to really push for in “Making It” is that we have our body systems that we put into play without even realizing it, but we know when something is wrong. So I know there’s a relationship between how I’m breathing and my heart, and I’m more aware of it when I go for a run or for some reason my heart is racing and I’m holding my breath and notice that connection. That’s our way of functioning in the world. These competencies are our ways of being in the world and they are as interdependent as your heart and your lungs or your heartbeat and your breath.
And so what I wanted to call out for folks [is the importance of] not relegating it to this [holistic approach] to just lessons in SEL (social-emotional learning), or to competency based education, or this lives in health and wellness classes. Instead I want to say, we have these ways of being that are super interdependent, that we can actually learn and develop and strengthen. And we have to, as parents, as educators with young people, but as adults, we also have to tend to these.
What’s a specific example of this?
So let’s stick with the ability to focus and organize since I used it earlier. I connected with an old friend, Cal Newport, who has written a lot about “deep work” and our digital lives. It’s even harder to focus and pay attention because we have information coming at us and the demands are everywhere. And the part of the brain responsible for that, the front of the brain,doesn’t develop until your mid-twenties. So kids need help. They actually need bumpers for the bowling alley of life to help them. They need some hacks.
We can understand young people are going to struggle with the ability to focus and stay organized, particularly if they’re differently wired—if they have ADHD or anxiety. And some of the strategies are things like playing board games or watching a movie from start to finish. Think about young kids today and the number of video clips or tech talks that they listen to—that actually rewires the brain and the ability to pay attention for a prolonged period of time, which is so critical. They actually have to practice by watching a movie. In our house, my son likes baseball and we got him a transistor radio. So he doesn’t have the visual of it. And he listens to the baseball game from start to finish.
Technology was not designed to support [kids’] growth and development. It was designed for people to keep using it.
You wrote much of this book before the pandemic. Is there any advice in there you’d alter now in light of the current moment?
I have a chapter dedicated to cash, which has implications for educators. We don’t talk about the relationship between how much cash and financial stability a student has and how well they can do in school and our responsibility in that as an education community. [We need to] do much better in everything from completely overhauling and changing how we do financial aid to reflect real life, to direct cash assistance to students who need it and families—in K-12 and higher ed.
When the pandemic happened, suddenly everyone was primed to think more about cash because the struggle was real. And they were seeing the connection between how whoever the adults were in the household, their economic reality, and how that played out into the learning experience of the students in the home, or if there were multiple generations of students and workers, what that looked like.
For me the question is not what I’d do differently, it’s what’s next. I’m thinking really strongly about what is the book for young people themselves on what actually is the picture of college and career and life after high school? And what do you need to know that you may not be getting from an advisor or counselor, or yet that your parents aren’t aware is something to think about everything from an 80 year career to what would it look like if you had a colleague that was AI or robot to, what do you do during periods when you’re poor? So the same kinds of ideas, but not just for adults—for the young people.
Hear the entire interview on this week’s EdSurge Podcast.