Monday, March 21, 2011

What is meaningful to you at work?

Overhead from an 8th grader's mom: I can't get my son to do any schoolwork. "Why bother, mom", he tells his mother, "I already got into the high school I want to go to."

Well what did she think? Clearly she's taught him that the goal of middle school is to get into a competitive high school. Does she not know that the goal of high school will be to get into a competitive college, then a competitive graduate school. Gee mom, I wonder what he'll do the last semester of high school and college? Learn? Doubt it.

My 7th grader said to me, "I'd rather be in an incredibly difficult chemistry class, working really heard to earn a C but actually learning something, than sitting in this easy class taking my A for doing nothing."

And I felt both pride and a little prickle of fear: if he goes for those high-level classes taught by the self-described "tough graders" maybe he won't get into the top colleges when all the other kids are grabbing the easy A's. On the other hand, he won't feel like a fraud when he does get in: he'll know how hard he worked and he'll know what he learned.

What happens at work? Do we work for the next promotion? Then what? At some point in the vast majority of careers, there is no higher place on that org chart we're going to reach. We either need to start our own business or decide that the work itself is meaningful.

What is meaningful and important to you at work? What do you think is meaningful and important to your children in school?


  1. Though I don't have any children of my own, I totally understand where you are coming from. Yet, to be honest, I think that the "standard path" is nothing more than a societal norm that is based in tradition. It is certainly beneficial to show that you can demonstrate that you were willing to learn and took the necessary measures to do so, but at the same time it's important to have a passion and understanding for the learning that you have done.

    A hiring company will put emphasis on what you've done in the past and what you can show simply because they cannot judge your ability and character in a short amount of time. But every single person on this planet is completely different. I would guess that 80% of the people who enter higher education programs just go through the motions to get the degree and don't completely grasp the concepts. Does that mean that they should be more qualified than someone who decided that academia isn't their cup of tea and decided to learn on their own? Even if they are more qualified to speak on the topics? I've found that people in my line of education (EE) basically do just that because the material is too difficult to stuff into a semester, or a 4-year program, and often isn't taught well or even pertinent nor timely.

    I suppose the bottom line here is that individuals learn differently, and teachers teach differently, and that most of the time they are not matched well. So what is the solution?

    If your son is passionate about learning despite what he is being taught that is a good thing. Grades be damned!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Scott. I also teach engineers and I see many students working to "get through" the program rather than fully experience the program, and I see many instructors facilitating that by failing to demonstrate enthusiasm for their topic. I'm glad there are some EE teachers out there (as I assume you are) who see this as a challenge to overcome.

    Best regards,