Just last week at Winooski High School we wrapped up the first semester with our 4th annual JanPo. JanPo, short for January Exposition, is a week-long event where students showcase their practice, and in select cases mastery, of our six graduation expectations: Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Culture & Community, Persistence, and Wellbeing. JanPo, and the second semester’s JunePo, are Winooski’s evolution of “Finals Week”. Where once we had students hunched over desks scribbling upon what amassed to hundreds of sheets of paper, we now bear witness to students giving speeches, performing dance and musical recitals, expressing vulnerability and resolve, extrapolating on their strengths and weaknesses to expert panels, and providing feedback to one another in the pursuit of becoming proficient in the use of transferable skills.
In a later post I will tell the tale of our transition from Finals to Expositions (and the dashed dream of trimesters – oh, how some of us yearned to see OctoPo become part of the lexicon!). But for now, I hope to impart the necessity of Expositions when we consider what education looks like in the twenty-first century.
I believe it’s taken at face-value today that our economy is no longer majorly supported by manufacturing jobs and that the fastest growing industries are service-based. I’ll try to avoid some armchair economics here by simply saying that try as we might, manufacturing as we have known it to be in the United States will continue to diminish as emergent technologies increase automation and efficiency well into the future. This is not to say that manufacturing will be less important. Rather, those who hold manufacturing jobs, as well as everyone else, will need to know how to work with, fix, adapt, share knowledge of, and ultimately create emergent technologies at a rapid pace. As jobs are lost and created in the upheavals of efficiency, the next generation’s workers will need to know how to fluidly move between what we perceive right now to be “different” sectors of the workforce. How soon we will see that a builder of homes could make a career change to app developer practically overnight. The link that will allow those brave souls to cross what are now perceived as rigid boundaries is a mastery of common traits valued in all positions of a 21st century economy: transferable skills.
Adages remain because they hold universal truth, and so it is with “actions speak louder than words.” As more and more people become flexible in their careers, I can only imagine that our traditional document-based, buzz-word laden job application process will become swamped with a deluge of resumes, and ultimately switch to one that cuts through the fluff and straight to the matter: show me what you can bring to the table. Performance will become, and in our most emergent of fields already is, the crucial factor in securing a job or support for a brave new idea. The ability to express passion, purpose, experience, and self-knowledge is the true currency of leverage.
And that’s only the “jobs of the future” argument. Lest we forget, a vast majority of our workforce won’t even be able to access those jobs if we continue to approach the challenges of global climate change with a procedural mindset. A Final Test leads students astray – it indicates, over and over again, that solving problems is delegated to the pen and paper (or whatever device these days), and that those who can hack it are problem solvers, and those who can’t, well, let’s help you out. Performance demands that all students face those challenges head on, create something with mind and body, and share it with their community. Performance puts mistakes front and center, provides ample opportunity to fail, and from that failure, the chance to grow in the eyes of others. Performance breeds comfort in the unknown – the type of experience our next generation will undoubtedly need.
“Know thyself”. Is this not the deepest, most vexing challenge of a life? I would say it is not attained through detachment and routine, but rather in those moments of struggle, discomfort, and vulnerability in front of others. Give your students, your children, your community members a chance to go there. We will all be better off for it.