Urban Experiences We Take for Granted

A recent Brookings article highlights some of the details underneath the hooplah that was this years election. The article talks about some concepts and inequalities that social scientists and education researchers have known for years: folks who live in rural America are not receiving basic education about how the economy works, this is something urbanites take for granted.

The article begins by describing how isolated children and families are in rural towns across America. These are the same towns, the article points out, who overwhelmingly voted for Trump. When the teachers who flock to these rural towns are explicitly escaping big city life, and job fairs highlight local jobs, there is little to no mechanism for students to move up and out of their isolation.

So, it’s up to the teachers and schools to directly teach how economies work, how to make money, how to get the proper job training, and how to maintain skills to stay successful.

They need explicit teaching: about the difference between dead-end jobs and multi-step careers, about how people make a living in their own towns and in big cities, and about how successful people constantly upgrade their skills.

There are so many things that city-dwelling folks take for granted, myself included. The fact that I can leave my house, walk two blocks, and hear 3 different languages and see people who look different from myself, is something I never thought twice about. It is my normal. But, for much of our country this isn’t the case. For many students in America, it’s not unusual to go many years before seeing someone who looks different from them.

So, what do we do about it? Well, this article points to the age-old “internship/externship model” to expose young students to other careers outside their immediate communities. Setting kids up with mentors and jobs in bigger neighboring cities can open their world to possible careers and vocations they never thought possible.

But, as with any policy change, there are clear barriers.

It will take time and investment for rural schools to develop the necessary school and experiential curricula. And that’s not the only challenge. Teachers who choose to work in rural and small-town areas often want the isolation.

Public school funds are tight, and teachers have to push for this investment in their students in order for this to even be a possibility. Helping children across the country engage with our workforce and understand how they can contribute to our growing economy, should be priority #1.

What do you think? Should we focus our efforts on internships and experience-based learning? Have you ever had an internship or work experience in high school that changed your life?

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