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Stop asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
As Michelle Obama often says, there is no point in asking a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We have all dealt with this question multiple times in our own childhood from adults looking for amusement in our answers of “Princess!” “Firefighter!” “Mommy!” or “President!” Even they realized the futility of asking such a question when we are barely old enough to understand the weight of it. Do you remember if you felt uncomfortable uncertainty or naive nonchalance when giving your response? Either way, children in the present still do not know what they are saying. They are simply eager to provide an answer, whether possible answers nowadays are “YouTube star!” or “Instagram model!” and they feel bad if they do not have anything to say. The reason Michelle Obama says to stop asking children this is that there is no room for growth when the emphasis is on a career as the end goal, “[a]s if growing up is finite. As if you become something and that is all there is.” It is a limiting, unrealistic way of viewing life as if who a child becomes is really what profession s/he takes on. S/he will be a teacher, and that is that. There is no room for growth or exploration beyond taking a role in society; however, rarely does life and growth stop once someone accepts her/his first job. Apart from that, this interrogation puts undue pressure on children to already start thinking about a career, as if they have to decide at this very minute and stick to it no matter what. They are so busy learning basic concepts, everything from numbers and letters to feelings and expression, in order to build a strong foundation for the rest of their life. At such an early stage, how are they to know what interests, skills, and proclivities they have that are more suitable for one career than another? Right now is the time to explore these interests, skills, and proclivities, which is how JEI Learning Center comes into play. JEI is all about setting up a foundation for children starting from a young age so they can learn about themselves and foster healthy creativity, emotional quotient (EQ), and communication skills. JEI also explores the concepts of vocational vs. academic routes, as most children are more suitable for one than the other, without pushing ideas prematurely onto malleable minds. Going off that, career theorist Linda Gottfredson also points out that children are too easily influenced by their surroundings. They end up choosing careers based on what they see around them or through the power of suggestion--and these are usually dependent on class and gender. For example, if a parent is a plumber and often dressed around the house as one, the child will think of becoming a plumber. If a child is often taken to fancy parties by his/her lawyer parents, s/he may think of lofty goals like becoming a fellow lawyer or a politician. Additionally, children may often see female nurses and male police officers, and limit themselves by these gender roles. All of this serves to only confuse them because they have yet to figure out what they like, who they are, and what careers are out there. As an adult, you need to provide children with room to grow and time for them to make the right decisions for themselves. Asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is not the right way to do it--save that for high school at the earliest! If you want to learn about a child’s interests, ask about what they like to do, what hobbies they have, or what books they like to read. Asking questions like these or simply observing are other ways to learn about children than asking right off the bat what career they want for the rest of their lives when they are just getting started. All children need right now is guidance. They do not need to have the answers to everything. To help your child develop the basic skills to learn and grow into curious, decision-making intellectuals, find a JEI Learning Center near you, and start from there.
Virginia Estelle Randolph: pioneer of black education
JEI Learning Center is proud to celebrate Black History Month and the great Black trailblazers who pioneered new opportunities in education. Today, we are highlighting Virginia Estelle Randolph whose commitment to Black education led to breakthroughs in the way vocational training was globally conducted. Randolph was born in 1874, only nine years after enslaved people, including her parents, were emancipated in the United States. She graduated from school in 1889 and began her career as a school teacher at the age of 16. Randolph’s vision for education was revolutionary. The curriculum she designed was predicated on practicality and creativity. Education was cast as an endeavor involving parents and the entire community. In order to garner support for such endeavors, Randolph organized some unusual activities. On Arbor Day, she gathered parents and students to plant 12 sycamore trees which came to be cared for by parents of students and other community members. In 1908, she was honored with the first Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teacher award which employed black supervisors to upgrade vocational programs for black students. Given this honor, Randolph was given the task of improving the schools in Henrico County, Virginia. The curriculum she developed, known as the Henrico Plan, focused on using school beautification projects to teach vocational and academic skills. This plan was later replicated in Britain’s African colonies. At JEI Learning Center, we are proud to continue the tradition of hands-on learning and parental involvement that Virginia Randolph pioneered. At our centers, students are challenged not through rote memorization drills, but actually applying what they have learned to practical tasks. JEI prides itself on helping students connect the things they learn in school to problems they encounter in everyday life. To get started with a JEI education, find a center near you!
Vocational training or higher education: the Washington-DuBois debate
One of the more famous debates in Black history was the battle between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. In the United States at the turn of the 20th century, the Black community was still in the process of getting its footing following the abolition of slavery. Washington and DuBois represented two very different visions for Black advancement in a segregated and stratified America. This debate has echoes today as politicians and educators debate whether vocational training or liberal arts education is the key to advancement into the American middle class. Booker T. Washington Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in Virginia in 1856. Following emancipation, his family moved to West Virginia where he taught himself to read. He saved money from working in salt furnaces and coal mines to fund his education at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University). At the age of 25, Washington was recommended to lead the newly founded Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). After a year of holding classes at a local church, Washington purchased former plantation land and had the students literally build the campus of the school. Men and women at Tuskegee were provided an education in academics as well as trades. Students were not merely training to be tradesfolk but to teach trades to others. The education provided to students at Tuskegee during its early years reflected Washington’s general philosophy of education. Washington believed that social equality would come not from political agitation but from social integration. It was by making themselves socially necessary with business and trades that Black people would achieve equal civil rights. W.E.B. DuBois W.E.B. DuBois was born in Massachusetts in 1868. He grew up going to integrated schools where his intellectual ability was recognized and encouraged. With money donated from neighbors, DuBois attended Fisk University in Tennessee. His time in the south around the experience of Jim Crow, lynchings, and bigotry was formative in his political development. He returned to Massachusetts to complete a second bachelor’s degree from Harvard College as Harvard University did not accept credits from Fisk. In 1895, DuBois became the first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard University, writing his dissertation in sociology on the history of the transatlantic slave trade. DuBois’ experience in the south made him a fierce proponent of Black civil rights, initially inducing him to join the ranks of Booker T. Washington. When Washington gave a speech at the Atlanta Exposition that came to be known as the “Atlanta Compromise,” DuBois and a number of other noted Black leaders broke ranks as radical critics. The Atlanta Compromise & the Talented Tenth The Atlanta Compromise outlined Booker T. Washington’s vision for the path to Black equality. He called the draw towards political representation over industrial achievement during Reconstruction a misguided mistake. Emphasis on legislative equality, Booker reasoned, was “artificial forcing” bound for increased animosity rather than integration. Rather, the Black community ought to invest in its own economic prosperity, earning the respect of southern whites through industriousness. DuBois argued in a reply to Washington that not only was the plan destined for failure, but that the negative effects of such a conciliatory attitude on civil rights had already been felt by the Black community. In exchange for giving up political representation, redress of grievance, and higher education, the post-Reconstruction era rewarded the Black community with voting disenfranchisement, Jim Crow, and drained resources for Black institutions. Contrary to Washington, DuBois fiercely advocated for the right of Black folks to pursue a liberal arts education to develop what he called the “Talented Tenth.” DuBois argued that every nation drew its success from an enlightened tenth of the population responsible for its cultural and moral development. For true Black emancipation, DuBois argued that this Talented Tenth should occupy positions of political and social power in order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the rest of the Black nation. To DuBois, Washington’s vision of an industrious and prosperous Black community was impossible without political power in place to safeguard their place in commerce and civic life. Debate into the Present In the end, neither side of the Washington-DuBois debate can be said to have won. The Black civil-rights movement that DuBois helped found, led by scholars and clergy, would eventually see an end to segregation and disenfranchisement. Simultaneously, the vocational institutions Washington’s programme inspired gave millions of southern Black folks the trades skills necessary to make a decent life for themselves. Echoes of this debate can still be heard today as policymakers debate over whether liberal arts education or vocational training is the key to bringing low-income Americans into the American middle class. Over time, political priorities have vacillated between these two poles largely reflecting the arguments of Washington and DuBois. At JEI however, we do not believe that these two positions are so opposed as might meet the eye. Our approach at JEI embraces hands-on learning, encouraging our students to connect their academic pursuits to their practical application. Our newest program, Brain Safari, embodies this philosophy exercising our students’ creative thinking and problem-solving skills. JEI provides students A Better Life Through Better Education, no matter where their life path takes them. Like Washington, JEI emphasizes self-learning, instilling a discipline allowing students to create their own opportunities through their own creative thinking. However, like DuBois, JEI touts a program that is tailored to cultivating each student’s abilities in the pursuit of academic excellence. At JEI, we give students skills they can apply to anywhere their life takes them. To learn more about JEI programs, find a center near you!