In the Beginning, there was Family...
Today in Alberta, and four other Canadian provinces, we are celebrating Family Day. The label sort of says it all. It's meant to be a day to reflect, appreciate and engage in family activities. It serves as a reminder, like Mother's Day and Father's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day and so on, of things we take for granted the other 364 days of the year.
In the social media era, it ranks right up there with any other opportunity to broadcast a highlight reel of wonderful activities in which families are participating. Being the dead of winter in Canada, there will be no end of pictures portraying family merriment set against a backdrop of pond-skating, powder-skiing, mountain-hiking, snow-shoeing or any other visual evidence of the perfect family. Some, less than perfect families, such as my own, will drag our butts out of bed at various times, engage in small talk over pancakes, and eventually muster a spontaneous walk somewhere with our dog Leo. Nothing 'Gram-worthy' but a small act of togetherness nonetheless.
It's not that I'm cynical of anyone who posts beautiful pictures of themselves and their families on social. Honestly, I'm probably jealous of the way these people seem to have their shit together on a regular basis, not to mention the available disposable income to hit the slopes for a day, where the all-in cost for a family of four can easily hit $500 before you've left your house! Nor is it that I'm against the sharing of personal lives on social. This is how we live now. Lives on display. I'm always fascinated as to how we got here, where the need to share some version of how our lives should look to others, became so important. But it did. And it is. So, go ahead. Post away! Us? We'll probably keep a lower profile, largely because we lack either that level of an interesting life, or that level of interest in broadcasting our life.
But my post today attempts to go beyond societal norms in the social media era - despite the gigantic target it may be as a subject for discussion. Instead, I'm going to shift to the importance of the concept of family as a vessel of, and for human evolution and survival. If you'd rather a rant on something a little more "ripe", you are forgiven for stopping here, and checking your feeds...
The Daily Undoing has evolved over three years. First as a pseudo-current events "flash briefing" - a term used by Amazon in its Alexa ecosystem, to describe mini-podcasts played through their platform - then into a more theme-based daily communique on competency based learning (CBL) for all of last year. This year, I committed to completing my vision of releasing a workbook, basically providing a tool for people to ritualize what I call the "8 Pillar Competencies" (Curiosity, Character, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Problem Solving and Citizenship) into a way of thinking. My journey as an educator had exposed me to formal education's dirty little secret. That it wasn't teaching these things. And the other shoe was dropping once graduates were hired into the work world.
"College graduates can do all the technical things they're trained to do, because they've memorized those things", quipped industry folks I'd meet at conferences and open houses. "But present them with a situation where they have to think on their feet, or solve a problem in a crucial situation, or communicate articulately with a CEO, and they're lost." Knowing this, and running into former students of mine, who had settled for jobs as baristas or retail associates, began to grate on me, as if I was somehow complicit in this process. Because I was. As mentioned in a previous blog, one of the guiding principles of "Mindtap for Marketing", a digital textbook I co-wrote with Marc Boivin, was to introduce and integrate core workplace competencies into a theoretically grounded publication. To that end, the activities in the book were designed to ensure that students who did them, would not only grasp the theory, but would be doing so while stimulating competencies like decision making, critical thinking, communications and so on. This was not going to move the needle on bringing competencies to into the spotlight, nor was it cleansing my conscience entirely, but it was a start. The purpose of my new book, the one for which this website and blog is based, is in the subtitle, "Being better at Being Human". Though still destined to fly several thousand feet under the radar, it is my attempt to move the need for competency awareness closer to the centre of conversation. But as I journeyed through the one-year daily practice of podcasting about competencies, I realized that I too needed to be more aware of them within myself, and practice them daily. I began to get feedback from listeners that they also felt the same. This seemed to push the need for a workbook even further.
In a recent conversation with a like-minded colleague we pondered, "who is actually responsible for 'teaching' competencies?" If schools aren't, and companies aren't, then who should be doing this? And my answer to this question, brings us full circle back to the topic of Family Day. Nope, I do not feel that families should be huddled together today in some sort of competency boot camp. What I am suggesting is that the responsibility for honing competencies begins at home. Parents must own this, as a part of raising their children. The good news is, for the most part, this has always been the way it has been done, right? There aren't many parents who do not attempt to bring up little humans who are aware of and develop such competencies as collaboration, creativity, curiosity and so on. The problem is that we (I'm accountable too as a parent) do not work on these things enough. We celebrate all of these wonderful attributes as we see them emerge from our children when they are infants and toddlers, but it seems after we hand them off to the school system, we 'assume' the cultivation of these competencies now lies in the hands of someone else.
Listen, I have a higher than average respect for primary and secondary school teachers. My children have both been blessed with excellent educators, and my wife was an incredible primary school teacher, prior to resigning herself to commit to raising our kids full time. But why teachers at any level should be left with the sole responsibility of growing competencies within our children is beyond me. It's kind of like asking your mechanic to teach you how to drive better. You chose to obtain a driver's license and a vehicle, it is up to you to update and maintain your skills in this regard.
In the same way it is up to parents to nurture, grow and maintain pillar competencies within their children. To challenge critical thinking; to continue to sharpen communication skills; to help build healthy, strong moral character etc.
While this is going to sound like a wildly egregious plug for my book, it is not. Sure, I'd love families to cozy up around the fireplace, and go through my workbook, day by day, week by week under the mantra of "the family that practices competencies together, stays together", but that's not my motive at all. Use whatever means, system, platform, knowledge base, information repository you want. Just recognize the utility of competencies in your child's life and spend a little more time working with them. Nobody, not school systems, not post-secondary systems, not employers are going to carry that torch. It starts with families. It starts with parenting. As I've said in previous posts, I make no claims of superiority, or even expertise in this. Like you, I'm simply doing my best, being better at being human - and being a parent. So this family day and beyond, let's begin filling the void no one will fill for us. Stimulating and exercising human competencies.