We need to establish our American identity in our system of education. Our youth are Americans who want to participate in meaningful ways. They want to explore the world and connect with others, they want voice. American youth want to create meaningful change, and know they are capable. As older Americans, we may seek their engagement in the classroom, but they seek engagement in the real world. Our youth are ready, eager, emerging pioneers; and we have a host of unsolved, real-world problems in need of fresh perspective and sustainable solutions.
In developing areas of the world we can see the central role of education in creating change. We see youth – very small children – with strong motivation to learn and they succeed with immediacy and strength in academics. It is easy to see the source of motivation for these children: improved living conditions. As children they bear similarity to our own: they want to help, they want to take action. Relevance is the key that links their energy with education; relevance and purpose are the foundation for motivated learning.
Our youth need real world challenges and problem solving to become excited about their education. American youth need opportunity to give, and create change; to find their place in the community and the world. They need real world relevance to kick-start the gears and ignite their enthusiasm to learn and find purpose in education. We need to listen to our youth because they tell us what they need. In student surveys our youth typically request:
- Learning by doing
- Hands-on project learning
- Relationships with the outside world
- Interaction with people beyond the classroom
- Using technology to interact and communicate
- Opportunity to solve real-life challenges
The ability of our youth to learn and produce quantifiable results is no different than youth in other countries. American youth are eager to learn and have perspective on how they learn best. We need to call forth our entrepreneurial strength and create a new avenue of education that resonates with our American identity: our desire to engage and create, our humanitarian outreach, our ability to problem solve with wide berth of perspective and embrace.
The inclusion of a service initiative – a service curriculum that starts in kindergarten and runs through high school – will provide the opportunity for this needful inclusion of real world problem solving in real world time that our youth need to thrive. It will incorporate the missing puzzle piece of relevance that will connect the energy of our youth with education. It will allow young Americans to use technology to communicate with their peers nationwide, to find real world leadership roles in creating needed change, to create relationships worldwide. We need to recognize what makes us tick – what makes us unique. We need to play to our strengths.