The Essential Skills Craze: Can We Start the New Year by Being an Example for Young People?

Prompted by concerns of employers about the basic skills of new workers, a campaign to teach “essential skills” in public schools was born.

There is such an outcry for mastery of essential skills that they will soon be part of state testing in Kentucky, and laws are being passed across the country requiring they be included in schools’ curricula.

It is completely understandable that we are seeking legislative solutions requiring that kids be taught these skills. But I wonder whether lessons in school will be as compelling as the contrary behaviors students see in adults.

What Are Essential Skills?

Googling the words will give you an idea of what’s on essential skills lists. You will find things like, “The Five Most Important,” “The 17 Essential Skills,” the seven, the nine and other combinations of essential attributes deemed the most important. Essentially they are the “soft skills” like being on time, problem solving, oral communications and working well with others.

Working well with others. Think about what you have observed in adults working together this year.

Kids see what adults do and say through social and other media. Too often, we observe smart people tearing each other down – the opposite of working together.

Here’s a bit of language about interacting with others from a proposal on essential skills offered during last year’s Kentucky General Assembly:

“Working well with others, including effective communication skills, respect for different points of view and diversity of co-workers, the ability to cooperate and collaborate, enthusiasm, and the ability to provide appropriate leadership to or support for colleagues.”

Boy, wouldn’t we love to see more of that when we settle in to watch the news, or scroll through social media. It might seem boring, but it wouldn’t be so brutal to our psyche. Embracing those skills ourselves would go a long way in supporting teachers who will be expected to fix it all by teaching students how to act, when those same students don’t always observe it in the adults around them.

Too often we adults effectively say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

We ALL play a major role in teaching essential skills to young people. As the writer, teacher and activist Maya Angelou once said, “We are all teachers whether we know it or not.”

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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2 Responses to The Essential Skills Craze: Can We Start the New Year by Being an Example for Young People?

  1. Brad Matthews says:

    Well said, Debbie. I long to see this behavior modeled by our all adults, especially or leaders!!!

  2. Brad Matthews says:

    Well said, Debbie. I long to see these skills modeled by all adults but especially our leaders.

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