I spent all day yesterday at Client #3’s office. If I were being paid for all these hours, I’d be sitting pretty this month. Instead, I just thought of all those hours I wasn’t spending working for someone else, promoting my site, or looking for more clients.

However, it was fun to work with someone else. I mean, we were both sitting in the office, working, at the same time. The closest I usually get to this is IM with Chanthaboune or The Computer Guy, or fusillades of emails back and forth to Australia, the Philippines, and Albuquerque. Good, but not the same.

So we were talking about all kinds of things, from our daughters’ beaus to Sarah Palin, and the conversation turned to the idea of 21st Century Skills.

Have you heard about this? The claim is that our kids need to learn critical thinking, creativity, communication, and entreprenuerial skills. And perhaps a little geography, too.

This is of course in direct conflict with No Child Left Behind.

“No Child Left Behind is my bread and butter,” Client #3 observed.
“Maybe the new administration can continue funding the worthwhile aspects of it, like yours, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” I suggested.

But I have been present at several conferences over the past few years, listening to someone speak stirringly about the importance of 21st Century Skills. I can pretty much also always hear all the teachers saying, “Yes, well, that’s all good, but it’s not on the test, so forget it.”

Or even, “How long has it been since this guy was in a classroom?”

I had recently also read a blog talking about the importance of teaching telecommuting skills, since that’ll be the future.

If that will indeed be the future, then Former Princess Designs should get going on a line of really stylish pajamas, the sort of thing that you can answer the door in if you forget to get dressed before you start working.  Maybe some version of scrubs, since that is the other kind of worker our aging nation will need.

I had also just read, as I tried to find inspiration for teaching forty-five minutes’ worth of literary analysis to a bunch of people who plan to go into fields like competitive fishing and forensic nursing, a blog saying the only reason anyone teaches literary analysis nowadays is because they like to talk about literature for fun. And then in yesterday’s study group we had the question, “How can we prepare our kids for the future?”

So all this was making me think about what skills will actually be useful in the future.

Friedman says that the people who will have work in the coming century will be those who are special, those who do their work in situ, and those who are adaptable. Massage therapists, hairdressers, housepainters, and domestic servants might be examples of the in situ kind. The rest of us have to strive to be either special or adaptable. Probably both.

We’ve raised a generation of children to believe that they’re special merely because they exist. Everyone, we’ve told them in song and story, is special.

That’s not what Friedman meant. He meant so special that it flat doesn’t matter where you live, people will find you and hire you. His examples, if I remember correctly, were Barbra Streisand and Michael Jordan. Our kids haven’t felt the need to aspire to that. They’re special just for being themselves.

We also haven’t taught them to be adaptable. They are supposed to stand on their rights, own their feelings, follow their bliss, and stuff like that. Not adapt.

Maybe we’ve been making a mistake.