Much of this blog post is coming out of comments that grew out of a Twitter / Facebook update and turned into a deeper conversation in the Facebook comments… I started with this…
The ability and confidence to network is a soft-skill that, unless we explicity teach it in schools, is an SES inequity. Thoughts?
I wrote that because I was at a networking event that was tied to the 40 Under 40 Philadelphia award. It was a "networking" event, and I realized:
a) I am really bad at it. (Yes, I know folks who have met me may find that hard to believe, but put me outside of those spheres where I am most passionate, and I’m shy. Really. I’m good at talking about stuff I care about or talking with people I care about. I have never been good at small-talk. Even at these networking things, I tend to find a few folks who are interesting and get into in-depth conversations, which doesn’t exactly let you network much.)
b) Networking is a skill — and therefore it can be taught.
c) School doesn’t really teach networking — and by "doesn’t really," I mean, doesn’t at all. This means that you learn those skills in other places, and if you want to look at the achievement gap in terms of post-school achievement, I think we can look right here.
d) Teaching kids to do these things cannot just be done in the realm of after-school activities, team sports, and internships. We have to be sure to reinforce these skills in the academic classroom as well.
I have a very good friend who was raised among the power elite here in Philadelphia. He grew up having very powerful people at his parents’ table for dinner. As a result, there are very few conversations he does not feel comfortable joining.
I, as much as I had a solidly middle class upbringing, didn’t grow up around privilege in that sense, and despite what has been a reasonably successful career so far, am still very unsure of myself when I am in situations where I am outside of my comfort zone. Put me in a room of educators, sure… I can network with the best of them. Put me in a room of business folks, and I am terrible.
So as I was sitting there, dealing with my own discomfort with feeling like I "belonged" in the room, despite what has been a life that has given me exposure to people from all walks of life, I thought of how much more difficult it would be for students of mine whose life experiences and skill sets were very much defined by limitations, not possibilities.
In the end, what it served to do was reinforce how important the SLA core values of collaboration and presentation are, because I do believe that we can give kids the skill and confidence and ability be always believe that they belong in the room and as a part of any conversation. I am reminded that we chose to teach drama to all students in the 9th grade so that our kids can learn how to powerfully present their voice to the world.
I watch SLA kids interact at places like EduCon, with people like Jeff Han and Stephen Squyres, and I am in awe of their comfort. I listen to them lead people around SLA and speak with confidence and humility, and I am humbled by them. But I remember that it didn’t happen for them overnight. They’ve worked hard to earn their voice, and the teachers of SLA have created the spaces for them to do so.
But it also made me question (again) what we value in American education — especially urban education. As we work to close the achievement gap — what achievement are we talking about? Where does that achievement leave our kids? And are we teaching our students the skills they need to close the achievement gap that matters — the achievement that matters when our kids leave our walls and take their place as fully realized citizens of the world.
I want my kids to feel more comfortable in the room than I do.
I think we should want all kids to be able to take their place in the world — and I think we should want to help them learn what they need to do so.