In post-industrial era, students need collaboration over competition

It may be tough to swallow, especially if you grew up in an area like Camas-Washougal, where 20th century paper and woolen mills once dominated the local economy, but America is now firmly in her post-industrial era.

The former manufacturing king has been toppled by industries that can’t easily replace humans with automated machines: especially the service, information and research sectors; and today’s high school and college graduates are far more likely to find a career in the healthcare or social assistance fields — now the biggest employment sectors in about 35 states.

The problem is that, in most of the country, our schools haven’t yet caught up with what’s happening in the real-world employment market. Most are still training our children to sit still, memorize facts and then spit them back out on quizzes and standardized tests.

That kind of education may have produced great factory workers, who were expected to concentrate on the task at hand and not question the bigger picture, but today’s economy demands so much more.

In a post-industrial society, the ones who thrive will be creative, inventive, communicative and curious. Employers won’t care if their new hire aced all of their state tests if he or she can’t problem-solve with the rest of the team or show enthusiasm when tackling a new, groundbreaking project.

A 2014 article in The Atlantic magazine, exploring why Germany is better than the U.S. when it comes to training workers for today’s job market, found that even in classic “industrial” jobs, employers are looking for more than just a person to do a mechanical task: “In the future, there will be robots to turn the screws,” one source said. “We don’t need workers for that. What we need are people who can solve problems.”

We all want our children to thrive. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more apparent that our society’s emphasis on getting the best grades, joining the most clubs, being the best athlete and getting into the best colleges is taking its toll: A recent National Institute of Mental Health study found that more than one-third of American teens age 13-18 experience high levels of anxiety on a regular basis. Abuse of prescription anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax, is on the rise among teenagers — as evidenced by the recent arrest of three Camas teens associated with a Xanax drug deal turned robbery and assault.

Instead of pushing this industrial-era competition model, where only a few rise to the top while the rest go off to work in the factory, we must shift our thinking and realize that our children’s future employers — not to mention future spouses, friends and family members — will value collaboration, communication and curiosity over the constant stress of having to be “the best.”

Moving away from the traditional industrial-era education model doesn’t have to be painful. In fact, it’s already being done in many classrooms throughout Camas-Washougal. Teachers are helping students understand the value of working together, of collaborating on projects and of figuring out how the things they learn today might apply to their world tomorrow.

In talking to Camas educators about the new Discovery High School and its counterpart, Odyssey Middle School, the one thing they stressed was that these new “project-based learning” schools value a love of learning over busy work and a collaborative environment over a competitive one.

This is exactly the type of education model we need in the post-industrial era.

We hope parents in the Camas School District will open their minds to Discovery High School and see the value in their child becoming not just “college ready” but also “world ready,” thanks to the school’s focus on communication, collaboration and lessons based on real-world problems.

To learn more about the new project-based high school opening in Camas this fall, read our story on Page A1 of this week’s Post-Record.