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Dealing With the Lack of Life Skills Part 1

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

Patriot Story

One of my favorite movies, released in 2000, is “The Patriot.” Mel Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a widower and past war hero with a remaining family of three or four kids. The story starts just before and runs through the end of the Revolutionary War. He struggles with the decision of whether to leave his family and join the war effort. For him, making a living consisted of growing crops and livestock and attempting to perfect a rocking chair design so that he could make and sell chairs, adding cash to his agrarian “income” to use to purchase food and supplies that he and his family couldn’t make for themselves. At that time, the economy was mostly agrarian, with people growing, raising, and making much of what they needed for everyday living, although there were artisans and crafts people that made things to sell. There were no assembly lines or economies of scale as would come with the industrial revolution in the late 19th century. Everyone had life skills and young people learned them while growing up, required to do so by the realities of everyday life.

Young People (and Many Old) Lack Life Skills

A recent news story talked about the fact that young people don’t have “life skills.” I’m not sure about the exact definition of life skills but according to a source on Google, and we all know we can trust Google, a life skill is “A skill that is necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life.” So, generally, participation in everyday life can mean having and maintaining a home as well as some sort of transportation mode. It also means being gainfully employed (the gainful part means taking in more money than you spend) or owning a profitable business. It also means knowing how to manage one’s finances (i.e. checking account) with a savings plan to build a nest egg and have an emergency fund available. In my mind, maintaining a home would mean having some knowledge about and basic tools on hand to fix a lot of the little things that break or need maintenance. Finally, knowing how to cook is a life skill. Knowing how to shop to have food in the house and how to prepare it is certainly essential to “participation in everyday life.” Knowing how to grow food, i.e., gardening is also a plus.

How We Got To This Point

Somehow, somewhere along the line, our young people—maybe not just the young people—have gotten the idea to specialize in some kind of career, thus, not to worry about learning skills beyond what is needed for the career. If you picked the right career, you could make enough money not to worry too much about life skills. You would be able to afford a nice home and car and you could hire people to fix anything that broke. You wouldn’t have to worry much about keeping food in the house or knowing how to prepare it. There would be supermarkets readily available and there would be nice restaurants.

Committee of 10 Story

As the industrial revolution developed in the 19th century, machines were used to speed up production and provide a consistency not possible with hand made products. After the Civil War, factories wanted higher production and workers that knew how to run machines, not really caring if they knew much else. In 1892 the “committee of 10”, mostly Ivy League university representatives but also including a couple of high school principals and what was called the “commissioner of education” from Washington DC convened to restructure the education system. This committee changed the face of public education in America forever.

Schools were divided into classes based on the age of the student. The need for basic math, reading and writing skills was recognized but the main goal for the rank-and-file students were to teach them enough that they could follow instructions to produce items in America’s factories. Everything back then was about production, more of it and faster. The emphasis was on providing efficient labor for industry not so much on making the individual flourish.

Much of this legacy culture remains in academia today even though it does not well suit our current economy or the young people coming up through our education system. We now have a couple of generations not interested in the kinds of repetitive assembly line work of the past. They want to do something that matters, and many want to be their own boss, even while not possessing the skills to “fully participate in everyday life.”

Pandemic Story About Supply Chain Frailty

The shortages experienced in last year’s pandemic demonstrate that our supply chain is not nearly as robust as we may have believed. The idea that we can concentrate on our jobs and count on enough money to buy the food we need at the supermarkets and restaurants may prove to be fallacy the next time something happens to disrupt our supply chain; supermarket shelves empty and restaurants closed. It would behoove us all to gain some more life skills and become more self-sufficient in the event of disruptions in the future.

How to Inspire and Teach People to have Life Skills

In part 2, we’ll look at how we can greatly improve the life skills of our young people. In involves more project-based learning and, you guessed it, activities in a Fab Lab or maker space.

Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. 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 www.fablabicc.org.


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