My wife Katherine, who teaches preschool, overheard the following question raised by a 4-year-old during lunch last week, “Does your mommy let you download apps?” During the rest of the conversation, the 4 and 5-year-olds compared technology access policies in their homes. On a separate occasion, Katherine told me about a student who was baffled by what was once a staple for early readers: the lift-the-flap book. The student could not fathom why simply touching the designated spot on the page didn’t reveal what was behind the flap. Note to collectors, you may want to start hording mint condition lift-the-flap books.
I love getting these glimpses into the nascent worldviews of future generations. Perhaps organizational strategists should stop reading reports from the World Economic Forum and start hanging out with preschool teachers. At first, I felt a sense of optimism for our future. Imagine how kids growing up around touch screen tablet devices will compel us to rethink learning and work. My next thought was less optimistic. Imagine the widening gap between 4-year-olds who regularly use iPads and 4-year-olds who won’t access the Internet until they get to elementary school.
The New York Times has been running a series on inequality in their op-ed pages called “The Great Divide.” In last Sunday’s installment, Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate economist and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, referred to the idea that America is a land of opportunity as our “national myth,” nothing that “the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity.”
The opinion piece ran in last Sunday’s New York Times because the previous week, President Barack Obama called for a national program of early childhood education in his State of the Union Address. Since the speech, pundits and columnists have been debating the costs and benefits of preschool. To me, ethics trumps economics when it comes to educating our children. After promoting health and safety, what is a society for if not for creating opportunities for its citizens to develop so that they in turn can form a society that ensures future generations will thrive?
Katherine spends much of her day teaching 4-year-olds to share, to be kind to their friends, and to listen. I spend many of my days with 40 and 50-year-olds teaching them pretty much the same thing. The adults I work with often bemoan the lack of diversity at the most senior levels of their organizations. Senior leaders don’t just look like one another, they think like one another too. Katherine’s preschool serves a middle-class, moderately affluent community. Her 4-year-olds are already on their way to becoming tech-savvy, well educated, healthy adults equipped for the jobs we can’t yet imagine.
Access to transportation used to be the primary determinant of where a young person gets his or her first job, which in turn had a significant impact on how that person moved through a career path. As technology creates opportunities for work that no longer depends on showing up at a workplace, transportation becomes less important while facility with various devices becomes more important. In 1928, “Republican prosperity” was connected with the slogan “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” Prosperity today seems much more dependent on touchscreens per child than cars per garage.