by Sara Breetzke, TCA Head of School
In 2015, while still a 10th grade English teacher, I went to a citywide teacher training. The speaker showed several minutes of a video with this message: robots are replacing the low skill jobs that provide a livelihood for many Americans. In 10-20 years those low-skill jobs will be gone, leaving a large percentage of adults unemployed.
Despite all of the content distributed that day, I only remember this: as a teacher, it was my job to shape students into workers capable of doing jobs that robots can’t. Students must be able to solve complex problems in unique ways, create and innovate in the face of roadblocks, and interact with others in thoughtful and productive ways.
The certainty of the prophecy was alarming. The weight of the responsibility for teachers was crushing.
I returned to my classroom the next day with this charge fresh in my mind. But each year my lesson plans were built around required assessments – districtwide tests with scores posted and evaluated, benchmarks of student success. In the next weeks I would take extensive time to prepare students for a writing assessment that held no value for them and did little to improve their writing. I was a part of a system teaching students to work in ways that suppressed their individual beliefs and limited their skills.
I was teaching them to be robots.
The concerns represented in the training seminar are not the only indicator that our students' careers are in jeopardy. A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute looked at seven categories of high-end knowledge workers – doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, teachers, etcetera – and found large portions of their roles susceptible to replacement by machines.
As educators and parents preparing the next generation for viable employment, we indeed have a lofty charge – especially from within a system of limiting assessments and practices.
That is why we must educate our children in a way that recaptures their humanity. We must instruct them in the types of thinking that only humans can achieve.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport describes two qualities of workers increasingly in demand:
- Those with the ability to master difficult things quickly.
- Those with the ability to produce at an elite level in terms of quality or speed.
These two skills make humans competitive in a tech-heavy workforce. And luckily, these two skills are natural outcomes of a classical education.
Classically educated students are taught how to learn, giving them the ability to master things quickly. They are consistently repeating the cycles of grammar, logic, and rhetoric in each subject: learning a new vocabulary, making connections between terms, and expressing their learning effectively. This is the process of learning.
Classically educated students are taught to master content. To do this, the student must have virtue, what Aristotle defined at the ability to act in accordance to what one knows to be right even when it runs against his baser inclinations. Classical education asks a student to work against his desires in order to reach a goal – mastery of a subject – until he learns to desire this end on his own.
When I left that teacher training years ago, I was discouraged about the future of young adults entering the workforce – even those who came from my classroom. How could they compete in a world of ideas? The constraints of my public school classroom felt binding.
By the grace of God, the work being done toward learning and mastery at Trinity Classical Academy provides hope. Here, students are learning to embrace their humanity as they study God and His World. They are learning to pursue ideas and engage their imagination. They are learning to be much, much more than robots.