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It seemed like yesterday when educators were introduced to the concept of “21st Century Skills” during professional development sessions and conferences. The message was clear, teachers need to teach differently to prepare students for the industries of the future. Now, it is not uncommon for educators to see the need to prepare students to contribute and shape the society they will inherit. But, starting with the early 2000s, teachers were fed a heavy diet of the frequently updated futuristic ‘Did You Know’ videos.

Each video highlighted how the speed of change in technology was going to transform everything we understood about how we need to prepare our students for careers and the skills required to navigate the new world. Like many other educators, I was convinced that the career opportunities of the future were going to be filled with wonder for my students. I was also sure that mind-boggling innovations would bring much need solutions to the world’s vast problems.

Fast forward 10 years and I am at a loss for words to see that one of those new industries that young people are now preparing for is…wait for it… the cannabis industry. That’s right, we now have students studying to be professional weed experts at Northern Michigan University. Is this what we have been preparing our students for? I know there is substantial debate around issues like medical marijuana, the legalization of marijuana, and their moral implications. However, the fact that the higher education community appears to be embracing the cannabis industry causes me to wonder what led them to the decision to offer that program of study. Were the implications for primary and secondary schools considered. What about the consequences for the family?

After my initial shock, I started to really think more deeply about how offering cannabis studies at a university directly impacts the health and vitality of the family. After all, it is no secret that strong families are the building blocks of healthy communities, and healthy communities are the building blocks of strong nations. It is also well understood that our public education systems serve students and their family, not the other way around. When we forget this truism, we are forced to witness the breakdown of our society.  

This is evidenced by our country’s addiction epidemic. Just look at the frequency in which we use the word addiction to describe many modern American social behaviors, i.e. smartphone addiction, porn addiction, food addiction, opioid addiction, etc. Some could even say that we have an emotional addiction if you consider how our current social and political climate is driven by emotional arguments that are void of logic and reason. It is very common to see individuals or groups quickly attack one another and their character when faced with a mere disagreement of position or opinion.  Somehow we have forgotten that our indulgence in material pleasures is connected to a lack of self-control, which is a learned behavior that is developed within the family.  As an educator, this changing trend forces me to see how the drive for innovation has overpowered the family.  I also wonder why more educators are not advocating for the family before embracing every “new thing.”

Consequently, this internal weakness in our society is exacerbated when our education system promotes policies, practices, and social messages that harm the wellbeing of the family. Regardless of your position on the use of cannabis, I see the need for K-12 public schools systems and universities to go beyond engaging industry  to consider the voices of families regarding the implications of new education aims, especially controversial university course offerings. We need to have more focused debate on how will our actions strengthen the family and improve our society’s ability to function and thrive, and not just in terms of economics. We can no longer afford to proceed with what we are told the future will be like or what skills students will need for new industries without rigorously contemplating the health of our nation’s families.

So, if we continue in this pattern, what will the next 10 years of ‘Did You Know’ videos highlight?

Satisfying the demand for highly skilled workers is the key to maintaining competitiveness and prosperity in the global economy.  For this reason, many educational policymakers strive to craft policies that assist educators in developing a stronger workforce.  This was the intended aim of the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act put forth by the Bush administration. However well intended the NCLB Act was, the consequences of several key requirements have turned out to be counterproductive.

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