Ask Jen! Education

Welcome to Ask Jen, a Q&A with the “career doctor” herself Jennifer Kushell! Every Wednesday, Jen will answer one of your burning career questions so start sending them in!

If you would like to submit a question, please e-mail and she’ll do her best to get to them all. Oh, and don’t forget to register on – Your Success Network and fill out your profile so we can link back to it!

YSN member vtran31 asks:How can we fix America’s public education system? I’m a sophomore in college, and have spent most of my high school and college career tutoring, setting up some volunteer programs, and trying to find ways to help kids learn. There seem to be a lot of problems that are simply not addressed in our education system- grades K-12. Students who don’t care about school, large classroom and few resources, teachers who are poor communicators and don’t teach kids anything, and a culture of low expectations, low critical thinking, and little to no learning or preparation for life. It seems to be failing at every imaginable level – elementary kids cant read or multiply, junior high kids are more concerned about fashion and sports, and high school kids are so jaded and disconnected to education school is the last thing they want to do.

Jen responds: I may not be an expert on the public school system but, like you, I share many of the same frustrations about the ever-mounting challenges, and consequently have spent years working on solutions.

It sounds like you’re already on a wonderful path in making a difference in your community. If you’re looking for what more you can do, consider scaling your efforts or broadening your scope. Think about engaging others in your work, or getting involved in activities that help kids in your state, or throughout the entire nation. The scope of the problems are so large, sometimes some of the best local solutions just need to be scaled to cause a real ripple. Another thing to think about is picking your battles. You know that saying, “You can’t eat an elephant in one bite?” One of my favorites for sure, but so true when situations or circumstances seem overwhelming.

Let me share a quick personal story that’s closely related. I got my first taste of what kids weren’t learning (about the real world, business, their careers) when I taught my first class for Junior Achievement at 18. I was blown away with how engaged the students were and how little time they had actually spent looking at the practical application of the things they studied and the decisions they made outside of the classroom. I kept teaching (and getting better and better trained) for about 5 years, then realized that that wasn’t enough (for me). I wasn’t affecting enough people. I started writing a book that could be read by young people around the country, then worked with a really great nonprofit and wrote an advanced curriculum for teaching entrepreneurship to high school kids so that other teachers could offer more practical knowledge.

From there I went online, started building online resources, communities and tools – and targeted my messaging directly to the people I wanted to affect most. To be honest, working with the government and the school system was far too clunky and inefficient of a process for me. I decided to work directly with young people and some of the best youth organizations that worked with them both in and out of schools. My quest ever since has been about helping young people find their passions early so they can approach their education, extracurricular activities and subsequent careers with more context and focus.

In my experience, when you help them set their own goals, encourage them to think big, arm them with the right knowledge and tools, then help set them on a path to realize how much potential they truly do have, they take everything else a lot more seriously. Complacency withers away, personal expectations rise, entitlement starts to disappear as they see what success really takes, and the assumption of control and ownership over their lives drives personal responsibility. It’s really beautiful how that all works! 🙂

It took a long time to figure out the best way to attack the problems that I saw, but eventually I was forced to narrow my focus to actually make any substantive progress. I focused on not only how I reached students (and young professionals) but also the subject matter where I could offer the most real value…and a unique spin. That helped me build some real expertise and a platform too. (Great for building a career around.) And for whatever it’s worth, even when I work tirelessly, day and night for this cause, I still feel like it’s not enough. There’s always so much more to do. But I also accept that there’s only so much we as human beings can do. That doesn’t mean that we can’t constantly be raising the bar, pushing the limits and challenging the way things are done.

Keep up all that passion of yours and continue to do good with it. How can we fix our education system… well, it definitely starts with people like you! Jen