I was listening to a fascinating interview recently with Seth Godin, the author of "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable". He offered an anecdote that was riveting.
He describes himself sitting in a room with five children, aged ten to twelve, showing them a Taiwanese water dipping bird toy -- the little chotchke that tips back and forth into a well of water as though it's drinking.
Seth asked the kids to explain how they thought the thing worked. One girl responded by saying, "It tips back and forth like it's drinking water."
"I know that's what it's doing, but how? What questions could you ask to help you figure out how it works?"
"After a few moments of silence, one of the kids said, "Tell us how." They were unable to not only explain how the toy worked, but to even generate useful questions that might help them figure it out, with a willing adult's help!
Seth went on to talk about how schools were designed, at the onset of the Industrial Age, to do two things well: Create an endless supply of factory workers, and foster a desire for "stuff", which would keep manufacturers in business. They have done both well.
But we don't need factory workers anymore (and by factory, he refers to any company that does the same thing each day, which includes a newspaper or Aetna Insurance.) We need to train our children to solve problems creatively.
In his book, "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future" Daniel Pink makes a compelling case for the fact that creativity and empathy are the tools to have in the upcoming economy, arguing that business and daily life will soon be dominated by right-brain thinkers.
While it may not be time to toss out the Math books, we have clearly come to a precipice in our culture. Will we fall over ourselves -- and the cliff -- in our fascination and dependence on using Google to solve our problems? Or is there a chance that we can weave technology creatively into our lives, still maintaining the curiousity and perseverance required to tackle issues our children may face that we are not yet be able to imagine.
So how about this? Instead of turning the kids loose on the TV or computer after dinner, see if you can challenge them to spend a half an hour (or even an hour!) researching things online. Help them identify the key words that might solve a problem, or explain how something works. (Like the Taiwanese water bird.)
Talk about interesting problems at dinner. Invite them to bring a conundrum to the table, and hash it out.
By fostering outside-the-box thinking in our children today, we'll position them to truly succeed in the lives they live tomorrow and ever after, in a world that will reward them far more for their creativity and problem solving ability, than for simply being an obedient worker bee.