By Maria English, Marketing Officer and WISS parent
When I heard that I had the opportunity to talk about education with Governor Peter Shumlin (81st Governor of the state of Vermont, USA, I knew immediately what I wanted to ask. Governor Shumlin has shared the world stage with foreign dignitaries and has first hand experience in top level political engagement-I want to know-What are we educating for?
The pace of this world is frenetic-my newsfeed is populated with snippets of the effects of global consumption-environmental, political and social implications to the first world desire to consume more of everything. Maybe it’s middle-age but I think this world is a mess. And I wonder, is this the legacy of my generation? What am I leaving for the next generation to clean up?
Governor Shumlin, and his infectious optimism, states it this way, “This generation realizes, they have this burden, in many ways dumped on them by previous generations. However, there is no generation that is more up to the challenge, if they can, in addition to grade and scores, develop world understanding, language skills and most importantly learning how to cooperate and interact with each other. It’s never been more important.” As we continue our conversation, two things he discusses are strikingly powerful and transformative for me as a parent. He emphasizes that parents must be willing to invest in “developing the soul” and allowing children the “freedom to make errors.”
Developing the Soul
In my generation, the roadmap to a worldly view of success was so simple- get a university degree. The application process to get into university became increasingly prescribed—take these
courses, be involved in these activities, engage tutors, etc. “If you look at the mistake that was made by American parents when they had huge prosperity it was in over indulging their kids and thinking that by somehow prescribing their lives very carefully they can somehow guarantee them the kind of future parents wants their kids to have,” states Governor Shumlin. There is no sense of identity formulation about “who I am” when someone is telling you who and how to be. Now more than ever, the independent voice, self-awareness, creativity and collaboration and commitment to development are coveted in university admissions and by employers. According to Governor Shumlin, “Universities now want to know, have they any experience in their lives that have allowed them to exert independence, experiment and explore and give to other people or have some cause that is bigger than their academic and structured life? What is in their soul?”
The Freedom to Make Errors
“If this generation doesn’t get it right on just energy alone, they know, that their future is not a happy one. But the opportunity in that is extraordinary… It’s not just economic but the entire globe depends upon this generation in order to move the world forward with new technology,” states Governor Shumlin. As parents, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that if we plan out our children’s lives, somehow, we can control the transfer of knowledge. Contrastingly, Governor Shumlin believes that, “Kids have to learn it themselves, make their own discoveries. They will make mistakes just like we did. If you overindulge at the expense of curiosity, creativity and some freedom to make errors, you deprive your child, the one you love the most, the opportunity to learn how to innovate, explore and find happiness.” We make mistakes, we carry forward, we pivot, we reflect–the crux of successful innovation is actually found in error.
And according to Governor Shumlin, there is no better place to be right now than China. “When you think of the values of this school and what this school is doing it’s the perfect place to be at the perfect time in history,” says the Governor.
As a parent, his statements are simultaneously hopeful and daunting. It’s daunting because of the burden we are leaving our children having grown up in an age of prosperity and wealth which has left a residual of our consumption waste and ensuing political and social implications. However, the hope that if we commit as parents to “develop the soul” and allow creativity to flow through a “freedom of errors” we will actually leave this world in the capable, compassionate hands of our children to make real and lasting change. This is a future I can live with.