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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Betting on the future, pt 1: Career guidance is more valuable than Huck Finn

In this two-part post I'll argue for why it isn't sufficient to just prepare kids for college. We also must guide them toward careers that have some hope of surviving and thriving in the 21st-century.

When my seniors wrapped up their college application essays I figured it would be a good time to talk to them about the realities of 21st-century careers. Which careers will survive? Which will die out in the next 10-15 years? Not the typical lesson plan for an English teacher, but most English teachers don't have nine years of experience in high-tech startups.

To get their thought processes started I argued that pharmacists won't survive. Awkwardly, a number of my students were planning on pursuing pharmacy in college. They were not pleased.

Should we even have these conversations with students?
Can you imagine the heat I could have taken if those aspiring pharmacists went home and complained to their parents about what I'd said? I'm no expert in career planning. It's way outside the bounds of my responsibilities and duties as an English teacher. I have no solid footing for trashing their future careers.

Even worse: I suspect many of the future pharmacists had "decided" to become pharmacists on their parents' insistence. If I recommend against pursuing pharmacy, I'm interfering with their parents' wishes.

Dangerous territory for a teacher. Kind of immensely stupid for a nontenured public school teacher. Picture the angry administrator growling, "Stick to English!" through gritted teeth.

Risks be damned
I think the justification for having this conversation with my students comes down to a simple fact: I care about my students' futures. My commitment to them does not end (and has not ended) simply because they completed my class and graduated from high school.

I care about them too much to stay quiet when I think they're walking down a dead-end alley.

I did an outcome analysis for them to demonstrate my thinking. It's pretty simple. There are four possible outcomes:
  • I didn't become a pharmacist and Mukai was wrong: Darn. I could've had a good career.
  • I didn't become a pharmacist and Mukai was right: Whew! Thanks!
  • I became a pharmacist and Mukai was wrong: Ha! Toldya! Cha-ching!
  • I became a pharmacist and Mukai was right: Holy crap. I just wasted all that time and money on school.
The worst possible outcome is obvious: the last one. I don't think I changed any of their minds about pharmacy, but at least I let them know that there is a risk. It's just one guy's opinion, but they need to think about these risks and decide if they're comfortable with them. Ignorance is not bliss when you consider that worst-possible outcome.

I focused the discussion on making them aware of the risks. I did not flat out tell them to avoid Pharmacy. Aside from contradicting parents, it would have been hypocritical of me to give them an order like that when I was preaching independent analysis and decision-making all year. But I said, "I think it's risky. Think about these risks and decide for yourself if you're comfortable with them."

I think it's a shame that this kind of discussion was a risk for me and that it was wholly outside of my official duties as a high school teacher. That conversation had more tangible, life-long value than most--if not all--of the more traditional English-y things we did last year.

So what is it about Pharmacy that makes it so risky?
Read on to see the hows and whys that will bring about the end of pharmacists in the United States.

Next: Part 2: Pharmacists are doomed