I never liked playing with Barbie dolls. In fact, as a child, I preferred taking apart rotary telephones and playing with Hello Kitty pencils until I stumbled upon my first Radio Shack catalog. Full of remote controlled gadgets, and later, floppy disk games for my Tandy home computer, the only thing that would ever come close to a trip to Radio Shack was an uninterrupted four hour block in which to make a mix tape on my Sony boom box.
Today, as I watch my daughter choose amid isles full of Barbie dolls, Disney Princesses, Lalaloopsys, creepy Monster High dolls and the like, I can't help but wonder: If I had been provided with a myriad of doll options, would I have missed out on Radio Shack and its 1980s tech?
And while it's been a decade since Barry Schwartz published The Paradox of Choice -- Why More Is Less, everyday it seems we are asking more questions about the effect of so many choices. So much so, that the very marketing agencies that told us for decades that we needed more options (or, as Starbucks so brilliantly put it: "Happiness is in your choices,") now recognize that we are simply overwhelmed and have thus created, for our benefit, voluntary simplicity or as my barista gently puts it: "The usual."
Meanwhile, in the realm of education, some of us are talking more about value and less about choice; about our duty to provide students with options that are economically viable and educational paths that have longevity. And while we still believe that autonomy and freedom of choice are important, we also recognize that, at certain levels, they might be an earned privilege, not an innate right.
Furthermore, with the average person making over 600 choices a day, studies are finding that a key marker of modern success is the ability to set boundaries, organize choices and create a framework for eliminating poor options. And yet, when it comes to our children, we continue to focus on more choices as a means of providing more happiness, and we feel the obligation to constantly entertain them, forgetting that ingenuity is often born of old fashioned boredom and necessity. Which leads me to wonder if all these options based on our childhoods are depriving them of the opportunities to learn the skills they will need to succeed in a future that will be shaped by technology.
In Florida, for example, we are currently obsessed with access to technology and job creation, but have yet to make a statewide commitment to computer science as a necessary component to student success. Thankfully, while our legislators campaign about education instead of investing in it, there are national initiatives like Code.org and Girls Who Code (application deadline is midnight February 27) who are providing free resources and training in the hopes of giving the "touch screen generation" the necessary skills to one day program the technology that is shaping their childhood.
But time isn't on Florida's side. Since every year we fail to make this a priority, we lose more jobs to other states and nations that are exposing their children to computer science. In fact, by 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings in the United States, and that in the decades to come, knowledge of computer science will be necessary in almost every field.
So in the next few months, as you make choices for Spring Break, summer and weekend activities, take a moment to consider what choices are really important and which are not. Think about our obligation to teach our children how to excel at the experience of choosing, to provide them with guidance and expose them to options that they may not have chosen.
Because if we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that there is such a thing as too many choices, that more can be less and there is nothing wrong with ordering "the usual" for certain things and focusing our attention on the choices that really matter, the choices that will shape our children's and state's future.