How change starts by rewording one simple question

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Ready for me to beat a dead horse?

This world has a lot of problems. Poverty, racial and economic prejudice, disparities in wealth, education, and resources. We have deforestation, food chains dying in mass amount, and a lot of displaced refugees with nowhere to go; oh and a show called House Wives of (enter region) actually exists. I could keep going, but you get the point.

I know, I sound like the typical pessimist. And let’s be real, the pessimistic writer has a short career in front of them.

These however, are not our biggest problems.  The way we educate our students is. 

Most children attend school, follow a system that rarely universally works for every students learning style, and then are asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Well, let’s see, growing up I wanted to be Celine Dion. Then I think at one point I considered becoming an EMT. I know I considered becoming a coach at some point, until I realized the only form of running I am any good at is running late, and then a teacher until I remembered I couldn’t stand kids that age even when I was that age. And then somehow in my twisted little journey of breaking up with my future every time the channel changed and I was inspired by something new, I fell on becoming a writer and a business owner.

The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” honestly never resonated with me. When I grew up I wanted to be a nice person who helped people accomplish their dreams, and could simulataneously hug people who needed a hug, write about things that inspired me (or lit a fire under my a**), actively create change with and among people rather than from behind a desk, and travel.

I told a teacher that one time. They told me to enjoy unemployment.

See the problem wasn’t that there wasn’t a need for me and my big ideas. It’s that there wasn’t a title for my dream yet. And dreaming things that can’t be labeled scares people. It doesn’t  fit into our systematic way of thinking where we will fit into society, as opposed to changing our thought process to think about the space we will create for ourselves and others.

It is time to change the conversation from, “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” to “How do you want to affect this world?” It changes the conversation from talking about who we want to work for, to what we need to learn in order to be who we want to become.

I asked a child recently what they wanted to be when they grew up. The child told me “astronaut.” When I asked the child what they wanted to change about the world, the child said, “I want to eat three meals a day.”

This child lives in a poor neighborhood, in a place with no jobs, in a part of town commonly referred to as a food desert.

Now I fully support this child becoming an astronaut, and that is awesome the child has big dreams and people telling them they can do it; but what this child wants from life, is not that of an astronauts job description. This child has described that first and foremost, they want to eat. This desire to eat, and talking to students about how they can use education to make their desires (such as eating) happen, creates a space for students to think about combating hunger, and other issues in terms of solutions.

Thinking about who we want to work for, rather than what we want to accomplish while here in this life, is the same mentality that perpetuates this broken system. There is a huge need for people who think outside the system, because most of our issues are created by a short-sighted and failing system.

By teaching our students to think about their education in the context of their hopes for the future, we begin to redirect education from being the means to employment, instead to a solution to the problems students see in the world. By changing the conversation we are inspiring students to think about today’s problems in tomorrow’s context. By changing the conversation we are asking others to think about what they can, will, and want to accomplish, instead of where they want to fit in. By changing the way we talk about our future, we invite others to dream about their futures as well.

We invite students whose dream is eat three meals a day instead of becoming famous into the conversation. We invite future entrepreneurs whose ideas don’t have a position yet, to plan. We invite the students who dream, who go hungry, who haven’t been told they can, who have been limited by their social, racial, or economic position, those who want a simple existence, and the ones who want what still seems impossible to take part in determining their own future.

Taylor Schwartz

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