GenEd: The Roads Not Taken

For the most part, educational common sense in our Dearborn community dictates the following: if you want to be successful in this world, become a doctor. Doctors make money, retain job security, and hold a title of prestige within the community.

If you can’t become a doctor, then a lawyer or pharmacist will suffice. We’ll pass a few engineers for good measure. If all else fails, just become a teacher. 

This advice is often given with good intentions. After all, parents want their children to be successful. To their knowledge, these are the best options available for their children.

But this approach can be quite harmful. Despite our sincere intentions, we may not realize the negative and potentially harmful implications of this approach. 

Successful communities thrive not by narrowing their classifications of success, but by expanding them.

I’ll call it “funneling,” for sake of argument. I’ll define “funneling” as a community’s narrowing of options–in this case, career options for the youth. In short, this is a pretty bad idea.

For starters, it is simply incorrect. It contradicts everything we know about how success is measured and achieved.

We know, for instance, that successful communities thrive not by narrowing their classifications of success, but by expanding them.

We know that individuals who strive for their own expectations regularly outperform those who pursue the expectations of others.

We know that what drives the best and brightest is passion and perseverance, not social pressure, material pursuit, or the fear of public disgrace.

We know that those who pursue what they’re best at average higher incomes.

In short, the greatest research on success, from Ferriss to Gladwell to Duckworth and beyond, confirm that the most successful people are those who push themselves and pursue their talents and passions.

This goes to show that our approach of siphoning our youth’s potential into two channels of “medicine” and “law” is both crippling and unwise.

What drives the best and brightest is passion and perseverance, not social pressure, material pursuit, or the fear of public disgrace.

At its core, funneling is fundamentally at odds with modern studies about intelligence. Dr. Howard Gardner’s research on Multiple Intelligences demonstrates that our traditional measures of success–IQ and academics–are limited. The span of human capability is greater than we previously understood.

Those who can detect patterns in language and numbers are indeed intelligent. But so are those who can run a mile in under four minutes, kick a field goal from thirty yards away, play the piano, match colors and textures, bench-press double their body weight, sing both contralto and soprano, navigate their way home without directions, speak multiple languages, assemble a computer, and memorize a song after just one hearing.

These folks shouldn’t be advised to become “doctors.” Or even worse, they shouldn’t be told that they’ll be failures if they don’t.

Nisreen*, a sophomore at Fordson High School, shouldn’t feel pressured to become a doctor. At just fifteen years of age, she is already a competitive cheerleader, dancer, and varsity athlete.

Let’s encourage her to do that instead.

Zaman is also fifteen. He invents things. He creates robots, tools, and electronics out of piles of metal and wire in his home basement. He carves maps out of blocks of wood. Let’s not tell him to become a doctor either.

Ahmed digitally remixes Japanese theme songs. Ali can turn a page upside-down and, writing backwards, compose an intelligible paragraph. Lama and Lisa have the next great American novel flowing through their veins. Mahmoud can develop tens of puns per minute on the spot based on objects lying around the room. Adnan is formulating algorithms that will mathematically calculate the greatest athletes of all time. Jenna is digitally reconstructing Fordson High School on her laptop, to scale. Maya is designing her own fashion line. And Ismail, if left to his own devices, will direct and produce the next great show on Adult Swim.

There are thousands of ways to make a decent living doing what you’re good at and what you love.

In this land of opportunity, in this century of infinite possibility, there are literally thousands of ways to make a decent living doing what you’re good at and what you love. Hundreds of high-paying career tracks remain untapped in our community, yet our collective common sense takes each of these gifted local geniuses and tells them that they have nothing to offer. Rather than nurturing these future-builders, we shuffle them into swamps of normalcy and mediocrity. We dismiss their brilliance as merely “hobby.” And we press them to explain how they can “make money” out of their life passions.

There is a heavy cost to this. If some of our youth should pursue medicine and law, we cannot conversely shove our painters, pianists, authors, athletes, comedians, and musicians into white coats and courtrooms too. This approach is misguided at best. At worst, it can be collectively devastating. We must change our common sense to favor individual talent, not stifle it.

So as our youth grow and approach the thousands of roads diverged in the yellow wood, let’s encourage them to take the ones less traveled by. That will make all the difference.

*For sake of confidentiality, student names have been changed.

  1. I so agree with you on this topic!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. A very much needed piece! I am so thankful that I was able to take a road less traveled (anthropology) and I will make sure my children have the same opportunities as well. I’ve been teaching my toddler that when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he should respond “an adventurer.” No matter what path he chooses, adventures will always be part of his journey.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. I’m so glad you weren’t stuffed into that box, Mr. Alqamoussi. For more than anything, we need voices from our community to speak truth, to inspire, and to move.

    Thanks for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person


  4. It is time that our parents and community shift their definition of success, encouraging our youth to venture into roads “less traveled by”!

    Liked by 1 person


  5. A bright vistas to a unicultural stereotypical society

    Liked by 1 person


  6. Very much needed as well as it is written!

    It is an ignorant person, he who narrows the focus of his/her children to one of these two careers.

    Liked by 2 people


Please, leave a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: