Uncertain: The Future of Work

About 30 years ago, there was a crisis in education: a shortage of science and math teachers in our nation.  As a young father at the time, working as a program director for an NPR affiliate station, it resonated with me.  A couple of years before that, I left my position as a teacher to take on my first “transformation project,” and things were very difficult.  There were many times I contemplated returning to complete my last semester of studies – only two classes – to be a certified teacher in a time where schools were begging for math and science instructors.  But since that would mean no income for 6 to 8 months, a mortgage to pay and a newborn at home, the timing wasn’t right.

In hindsight, it never is.

Fast forward to about 15 years ago, as schools placed a renewed emphasis on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – and the interaction between those subjects to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist at this point in history.  What kind of teachers were necessary for those positions?  Science and Math teachers!  Were there now enough Science and Math teachers to make this new initiative successful?


So let’s look at what’s going on today.  Some news sources say the Science and Math teacher shortage still exists.  On August 21, 2017, CNN reported there there is still a significant need for Science and Math teachers, as well as Special Education teachers: (Source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/21/health/teacher-shortage-data-trnd/index.html)

The article goes on to say that Math and Science teachers aren’t paid enough (since those adept in these field can earn more income in research, medicine and other fields that require their expertise), and that more and more incoming college freshmen aren’t interested in teaching.

Interestingly, an op/ed article in The Washington Post by Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, says that the national teacher shortage is a myth (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-national-teacher-shortage-is-a-myth-heres-whats-really-happening/2016/12/02/58fac7d0-b4e5-11e6-a677-b608fbb3aaf6_story.html).  But this is an exercise in the danger in just reading the headline, and thinking you know the content of article.  It’s not “fake news:” it’s “spun news.”  In the 8th paragraph of the article, Walsh states:

What I find so frustrating about all of this is that we do actually have a huge, long-standing problem with teacher supply and demand. For 30 years, most districts in the nation have struggled to find enough certified secondary science and math teachers. And rural and urban districts have been unable to tap into a reliable and stable source of new teachers.

Well how about that!  Corroborating commentary in articles with two completely different headlines!

So how do we handle the problem?  Do we hire more teachers?  Do we train them better?  Do we pay them more to attract them to these important positions which will be vital to our workforce in the future?

No.  We change the problem.

Now, STEM is passe.  More and more schools are focusing on STEAM, adding “arts” in to the mix, since arts education stimulates both sides of the brain, and brings the focus of creativity an innovation into a mindset that is focused on concrete, logical data and processes.  Faith-based schools add their own take on it, adding an “R” for Religion to make it STREAM.  Some public school districts have adopted the “R” to stand for Reading as a nod to the importance of Language Arts, encompassing the need for effective communication in this new discipline.

Guess what?  If you add and “S” for Social Studies, it become STREAMS, which then encompasses the whole curriculum of the school – and social studies deals with the interactions of people.  Isn’t that important too?  Indeed – it’s all important.

So is STEM still important? Are we focusing on getting more teachers to train students for jobs that don’t exist today?  If you don’t look at the mainstream media, and look to professional publications in the field of education, the new concern is that jobs won’t be different than they are today.  At the start of this article, the text reads, “Prepare students for jobs that don’t exist at this point in history.”  Simply remove “At this point in history” for a chilling insight.  We might be preparing students for jobs that just don’t exist due to artificial intelligence and the continuing development and evolution of robotics.  Check out http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/09/27/the-future-of-work-is-uncertain-schools.html, and then evaluate what’s being taught in the classroom today.

For instance, want a Web site?  It was a chore to design a Web page 20 years ago, and multiple pages created a Web site.  And, it was expensive.  Today, while there are still wonderfully designed sites that are responsive in nature, work on multiple browsers, can change just by installing a new template, and can be created in a budget-friendly manner, there are now companies that will create a Web site for you or your organization through the use of artificial intelligence, saving hours of coding time as well as content development and curation.

Realizing this, the STEM/STEAM/STREAM debate now does indeed move toward STREAMS, since we’ll need to discuss and come to grips with how society will be affected by AI and robotic advancement.