On Wednesday, I had the privilege of attending the OC Career Pathways Showcase at the Marconi Automotive Museum. Who can turn down an opportunity to see vintage vehicles, talk to brilliant students, and listen to top executives from SpaceX and Virgin Orbit? Not me!
I have to admit – the programs these students had access to, both in high school and community college (and a couple junior highs) was amazing. I kept thinking, “What would my adult life had looked like if I had been exposed to these hands-on STEM programs when I was 14 years old?” Students displayed projects completed in the areas of engineering; computer science; biotechnology; fabrication; robotics; and more. One student told me he had almost completed his private pilot’s license. Another discussed designing a robotic, prosthetic arm for a peer. Community College partners displayed their pathways to degrees and technical certificates within those fields, and their internship opportunities for the students present.
During this showcase, Gwynne Shotwell, COO and President of SpaceX, along with Tim Buzza, Vice President of Launch for Virgin Orbit, discussed their career pathways. Gwynne stressed the importance of project-based learning so that students “apply what they learn” and Tim shared the moment he switched from being concerned more about his grades in college to focusing on mastering the content being taught. When a student asked them both about how they deal with failure, Gwynne pointed out that people tend to learn more from failure than success, because it requires adaptation and another attempt. Tim expanded on that, reminding students that “failure means you put yourself out there more than most people would” and should not be a sign of defeat.
In this entire conversation, however, I realized that one voice was missing, and that was the voice of the elementary student. If we are to truly prepare students for the opportunities these students are accessing, we need to start from day one in kindergarten. Here’s why:
Linda Gottfredson (2002) describes how career choice in young people develops through a process of circumscription and compromise. During circumscription, which begins at ages 3-5, students rule out unacceptable options based on their perceived fit with the child’s self-concept. Between ages 3-5, children understand that adults have roles in the world, and that they, too, will one day have a role. By age 8, children start to assign job roles to particular sexes. If a job doesn’t align with their gender, it becomes unacceptable. By age 13, children have seen more job types and start to categorize them by income, education level, lifestyle, etc. in addition to sex type. They may exclude jobs that require a lot of education because they don’t have college role models in their family, or they may portray a job as being too much manual labor. Starting at age 14, children begin the conscious process of choosing jobs that align with their interests and perceived abilities.
After excluding so many options during the circumscription stage, children then being compromising, which involves “sacrificing roles they see as more compatible with their self-concept in favour of those that are perceived to be more easily accessible” (Winter, nd). Their lack of knowledge about the job, their abilities, and the future of the field begins to compromise their career choices.
Crazy to think this huge life decision… picking a career … starts to flesh itself out before a child even enters school. And for most, the decision is molded with no active modeling or involvement by adults until high school, if the child is lucky enough to have a pathway option, or upon graduation, when facing the daunting prospect of self reliance.
So what can we do to open those doors that students may be subconsciously closing at such an early age? How do we bring elementary education to the table with secondary and post-secondary education so that these amazing experiences aren’t limited to only some students? In our district, we’re bridging that divide through design thinking challenges that include industry experts; field trips that focus on the world of work community; and time for students to explore passion projects and Genius Hour. I’m hopeful that we’ll soon incorporate Gallop strengths-finder tools and local mentorships as well, both with community industry leaders and high school pathways programs. What are you doing?
Gottfredson, L.S. (2002). Gottfredson’s theory of circumscription, compromise, and self creation. In D. Brown (Ed.), Career Choice and
Development (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 85–148.