Should parenting and education focus more on soft skills?

2015-12-02-1449081000-3827409-MindfulnessandWellBeingatWork.jpg, happy boy learning, educationRaising kids is a minefield of rights and wrongs, hills and valleys, and mistakes and victories. Most parents can relate to feeling confounded by the daunting task of finding the right combination of discipline and acceptance in order to produce a successful adult.

But what of the skills that children are learning in schools? Are we teaching the correct balance of hard skills vs. soft skills?

What the research says

Alison Gopnik is an internationally recognized developmental scientist and author of The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.

Gopnik posits that because families are smaller and many of today’s parents do not have experience with younger children before they become parents, they often approach raising their children like they have their work lives: read a book, apply learning, wait for successful outcomes.

This isn’t really the way children develop, Gopnik says. The intense exploration and questioning of early childhood and the risk-taking and rebellion of adolescence are intrinsic to the success of an innovative human race.

Channeling the gardner in children

2015-12-02-1449081000-3827409-MindfulnessandWellBeingatWork.jpg, girls in education

In order to foster these traits in children, parents should take a gardener approach – providing a safe, nutritive environment in which to grow and think for themselves. This approach provides “a rich, stable, safe environment that allows many different kinds of flowers to bloom,” Gopnik says.

However, schools often take a carpenter approach, where hard skills and high-stakes testing are paramount, which results in the precise shaping of children through a hammer and nail approach. Policies like No Child Left Behind and standards like Common Core emphasize carpenter-like knowledge skills, rather than skills that might be used for success as an adult, regardless of the path a child takes.

In Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek make a case for a transformation of education that aligns neatly with Gopnik’s thesis. They suggest six core competencies that will create the “thinkers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow:” collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creativity, and confidence.

What are soft skills?

Evidence suggests that Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek are correct in that children and schools are more successful when soft skills are emphasized, such as social and emotional learning (SEL). The World Economic Forum has defined soft skills as ten competencies needed for success in today’s economy, including critical thinking and creative problem solving. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning defines SEL as five soft skills, including self-awareness and relationship skills.

Further research is needed to define which of these qualities is most foundational.

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