What lessons do you take from a story about two best friends graduating from Stillwater High School this week -- one of them an artist with autism who seldom speaks, the other headed for a local community college? Their steady and unwavering lifelong friendship across their differences bridged them through childhood to their walk across the graduation stage this month.
This story by Mary Divine of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press centers on two young men who formed a bond that has seen them through the years and over many successful "outcomes".
Youth-serving professionals wanting to make a difference by advancing "21st century learning" can take a lesson directly from young people like these boys. According to Robert Sternberg of Cornell University,
"Successful individuals are those who have "creative skills to produce a vision for how they intend to make the world a better place for everyone; analytical intellectual skills, to assess their vision and those of others; practical intellectual skills, to carry out their vision and persuade people of its value; and wisdom, to ensure that their vision is not a selfish one."What can we as youth development professionals learn from these two young men? No single achievement or benchmark of success distinguishes either boy's life to this point. Neither mentions a program or experience or mentor that helped carve their path .... except, perhaps, the other. They both have parents who had the vision for that first play date. But even so, there was a second play date, and a twentieth, and so on. Perhaps this is a path that could be taken by any young person, provided someone has the vision to see it.
What place do youth programs play in supporting youth to make choices to commit their time and hearts for true collaboration and a commitment to others? In youth development buzzwords, the ability to navigate in one's family, community and, yes, the world is known as a collection of "21st century learning skills." We measure them with survey items like "I can make positive choices." Or "I am able to communicate my ideas to others."
But are we missing something essential in our understanding about what leads young people to be prepared? To be capable of changing the world? Our current "collective impact" largesse and our "soft skill" narrowing of what the world most needs for and from our youngest members may just have set the bar too low.
Take time to read this story if you want a gentle reminder of what youth are doing to change the world. Every young person has the potential and right to be remarkable and to do amazing things.
These stories make the buzzwords real. Do you have a story of 21st century learning in your program? I want to hear it!
-- Pamela Larson Nippolt, evaluation and research specialist
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