Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Take your kid to work: Why bother?

My daughter starts junior high this week. A friend was joking with me about working from home and “take your daughter to work day” (usually the first Wednesday in November).

“Daddy, do we have to wear our bathrobes all day? How long do we have to keep yelling at the computer? Here, let me show you how that actually works.” It could be worse, I suppose…

Anyhow…. The idea of take your kid to school is to help students plan “their future career by helping them better understand a profession or workplace environment.” Yet it strikes me how “band-aid-y” the whole undertaking is, given the structure of school.

The K-12 system segregates kids by age, which is completely unlike the “real world” and isolates them from contact with work or mentors (excepting hyper-dangerous early apprenticeship programming). If the point of schooling is to help students prepare for a career (and I’m not sure it is), then one day of following a parent around is unlikely to meaningfully counteract the structure of schooling.

The K-12 system also subjects students to a profound amount of control and surveillance. While surveillance is endemic in the workplace, the hyper-structuring of time no longer exists except in the worst jobs (e.g., fast food). While my job is unusually unstructured, no job that I’ve held (and there have been a lot!) have exhibited anywhere near the degree of arbitrary time blocking we see in school. Again, one day in a workplace can’t teach students to be responsible for their own time.

Finally, while I have lots of teacher friends and quite like teachers, I’m skeptical that we should rely on teachers (who mostly made one career choice at age 22) to help students either make a career choice or develop job-search skills. As a group, they are profoundly unqualified to speak about the realities of work and working.

The point of this was not to bash teachers or the school system, both of which do a good job of teaching literacy, numeracy and the knowledge of science and society necessary to be an engaged system. Instead, the point is to question what real value students derive from a one-off exposure to a random (although, I suspect, skewed towards white-collar) job? It seems to be more about generating positive media photo-ops than any real educational outcomes.

-- Bob Barnetson

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