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Dealing With the Lack of Life Skills - Part 2

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas

In part 1 we discussed the way the education system in the United States was forever changed in the late 19th century by the Committee of 10. The goal of this committee was to divide students by age and class rooms by subject matter so as to teach them all the same subject matter one subject at a time through their school day. Industrial production was the primary motivating factor and the committee felt that workers should possess basic reading and math skills so they could understand basic instructions about how to run various machines and do various processes. There was not much, if any, thought about preparation for life skills outside of working in the factories. In that era the country was still recovering, less than 30 years after the end of the Civil War. “Making a living” was a challenge so many people settled in for the factory work and it kind of made sense for schools to give students just enough knowledge to do their work efficiently.

Fast forward to the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and pretty much the same subjects were being taught in schools, however, wood shop and auto shop classes offered some hands-on knowledge that could translate into life skills. Girls rarely took these classes. For girls, there was home economics, home-ec, teaching life skills of the household. In the 1980’s, 90’s and 2000’s many of these classes started to disappear from high schools yielding to budget pressure to keep the traditional academic and athletic programs going. Today, we’re nearing two or three generations that lack basic life skills to “participate fully and independently in everyday life.”

Film Explores the Deficiencies of Conventional Education

Many would say that not only are these generations without life skills but also lacking the career skills needed for our current and future society with automation, computers and artificial intelligence able to do many things previously requiring humans. A 2018 documentary by Greg Whitely provides an excellent commentary. Here is the Amazon description.  “Most Likely to Succeed examines the growing shortcomings of conventional education methods in today's innovative world and explores compelling new approaches aimed at inspiring communities to reimagine what students and teachers are capable of doing.” The film is centered around an entirely project-based high school called “High Tech High” and chronicles students’ journeys through this very different school and the skills it gives them to better deal with the future both in their professional and personal lives. It is worth the five-dollar rental.

Adding Hands-On Through Fab Labs and Maker Spaces

So, what do we do in the meantime, while we’re waiting for a version of High Tech High to become available in our area? We engage our youth in Fab Labs and Maker Spaces to gain hands on experience making physical manifestations of their ideas. When kids are making something they are interested in, they will learn whatever is necessary to make it work. We should also lobby for shop and home economics (now they are called Family and Consumer Sciences) classes to return to our high schools. When we do have the kids gathered in the Fab Labs and Maker Spaces for hand on activities, we also take time out to give them some practical information about other life topics.

REALity Fair Adds Sample of Life Skills to STEM Camp

In the Verizon STEM camp—for middle school girls-- recently completed in the Fab Lab and on the ICC campus, camp leaders did just that. They had what they called a REALity Fair. Girls “chose” a career from a list provided, noting the income that could be expected. They then spent a couple of hours making the rounds to various stations that had information about various topics, financial planning, clothing and wardrobe, cellular and data services, entertainment, banking, transportation, utilities, life surprises, housing and charity. The information included how much these things in life cost. They had to try to make the income from their “chosen” career stretch to buy the things they wanted/needed. Adult volunteers from the community came to be at the booths to help disseminate the information.

The girls were asked to list a point or two about their experience with the REALity Fair.

“Today I learned that money isn’t endless and that I should start saving for the future.”

“I thought it was really fun to walk around with friends and learn how to help each other with finances and real-life problems. This gave me a bigger understanding of the world and how things work with dealing with finances, which I didn’t think much about when I was choosing a career.”

“Phones and Internet are expensive! Melissa talked to us about getting the most with our money and choosing plans wisely.”

“I learned at the grocery station that eating at home and cooking healthy is much cheaper than eating out all the time. It’s important to budget for eating out and entertainment too.”

“Jim and Lori talked about ways I could save money buying/renting a home and getting an affordable vehicle. I found out I might not need such a big car after all.”

“I am thankful for the people that came in and helped us plan for our future. I learned that it is important to save money. All the people that were there were very informative. The people were soooo nice, especially Gavin, they really helped me.”

Young people want to learn life skills. All we need to do is work out ways they can learn them. It’s time to incorporate more hands-on, project-based and practical learning into our education system even if it means reducing the time and resources spent in preparing these kids for the next round of standardized tests.

Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Fab Lab ICC or Independence Community College. Archive columns and podcasts at

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