Why being “college-ready” isn’t enough

If you thought getting your kids “college-ready” was the key to a bright future, think again. Though business leaders, educators and policy makers stress loading up on math and science classes and getting good grades, it’s no longer enough, says Tony Wagner, Ed.D., the first Innovation Education fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, and author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Wagner says kids today need to be “innovation-ready” and strive to create their own jobs for the future.

Why should parents care if their kids are innovative or not, and what mistakes do parents make when it comes to how they push their kids to succeed?

Tony Wagner: Routine work is rapidly disappearing in this country. It is being either outsourced or automated. What this means for our children is that in order to earn a decent living in the future, they must have new skills. They must learn to be creative problem solvers — innovators — in whatever work they do. They must learn to take risks, learn from mistakes and persevere. When parents are overly protective of their children, they learn none of these things. And when parents pressure their children to “succeed,” intrinsic motivation for learning and for work is often undermined.

Good grades — old school?

In your newest book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, you write that getting into the "right" schools and getting good grades are no longer guarantees of success — why?

Wagner: Knowledge today has become a free commodity — like air or water. Just because you get As and go to good schools doesn’t mean that you have the skills needed to innovate — to think both critically and creatively. The world simply no longer cares how much you know. What matters most is what you can do with what you know.

Does a future with financial security for our kids mean loading them up on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes?

Wagner: What I learned in researching my book, Creating Innovators, is that more-of-the-same STEM education does not necessarily produce students who are more innovative. Students need a different education, not merely more classes in science and math. They need to learn to understand and solve problems, using multiple disciplines. They need to learn to take risks and learn from their mistakes. They need to learn to work collaboratively. These skills and dispositions — more than any particular set of courses — are likely to result in our students having a more secure, successful and productive future.

Parenting innovators

Can parents make a difference in fostering creative and entrepreneurial skills in kids, or is it up to the schools?

Wagner: Parents can — and do — make a huge difference by encouraging nurturing play, passion, and purpose.

What specific things can parents do to raise innovative kids?

Wagner: Encourage more discovery-based, unstructured play. Limit screen time and give fewer toys that children can use to make something or create with: Blocks, sand, clay, paint, and when they are older — Legos. Encourage children to be curious and to find and pursue a passion. Finally, encourage children to have a sense of purpose: To make a difference or give back in some way.

Hey, moms

What do you do to encourage innovative and creative thinking? Share your thoughts and stories in Comments below.

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Comments on "Parenting Guru: Want to raise a future innovator?"

Wayne October 15, 2012 | 9:30 AM

Great article I am a Technology Education teacher and teaching students how to be innovative is what I have been doing for 10 years. I just picked up a book called "How to Get Ideas" by Jack Foster. Great read! The author dissects his 5 method for producing ideas. What is really useful is what he says must be done BEFORE applying his 5 methods: He calls it Ten Ways to Idea-Condition Your Mind (i.e. have fun, be more like a child, become idea prone, etc.) There are so many great resources on the subject of innovation. As a parent myself, I am passionate about my children being innovative thinkers. To help reach this goal (and my goal of being a good teacher), I spend time reading and learning. I then have something to pass on. We can't give away what we don't first own. It doesn't take much research to find some good resources to help parent and raise future innovators. Good lucK! :)

Jessica October 09, 2012 | 4:46 PM

This article makes a ton of valid points - especially regarding what the world is coming to in terms of work. Our future adults need to be creative and think outside the box if they want to make it. I'm definitely doing to be encouraging this in my young ones.

Joel October 09, 2012 | 10:27 AM

In today's world it's definitely important to be well-rounded, have knowledge in many areas, and be capable of divergent thinking. These traits will no doubt become even more essential over the next several decades. With the current state of education students simply won't get everything they need from mindlessly sitting through classes. Learning needs to be a life-long pursuit and there are many valuable skills and lessons that children simply are not exposed to in school.

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