High School ——> Gap Year ——> College —-> Life
Gen-Z students, those who are in high school or college have considerably more challenges, now and into the future than their parents or grand-parents ever had. They are more stressed out after 20 years of continual economic trauma and social and political fracturing, and a heavy dose of misinformation, distrust and disintegrating belief in their future opportunities. With 40+% of students struggling with their mental health, these young individuals will not be prepared to take on the profound transformations happening in the World today.
Edward O.Wilson believed that “The real problem of humanity is … We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology” and so “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.” Impacts from inevitable Climate Change, expansion and contraction of global systems, rapid fusing of novel technologies evolving faster than humans can keep up with, and shifting career tracks that schools do not prepare them for; all of this will be simply overwhelming.
The school system must adapt to the needs of these and future students. But creating such a novel and truly effective institution of “learning” will take a great deal of time and experimentation. So how do today’s students gain some advantage in managing their futures?
By taking time away from the school track to discover oneself, to take a walkabout, and experience the “rite of passage” of blooming into adulthood, and personal responsibility.
Young humans, adolescents balanced between dependent child and independent adult, learn best by doing and living the experience, by reflecting with their peers “around the campfire”, and being closely mentored by experiential experts who guide and direct and socratically engage students to think for themselves, to learn to trust their instincts, and build balanced confidence in their abilities to grow, learn and intelligently adapt and create. For millennia before the modern era, the rite of passage was practiced by all cultures as a means of assuring the next generation of adults would prepared to take on the responsibility and leadership of the community. It is only in the past 80 years or so, that this passage has been blunted by an over-weaned protectiveness, leaving several generations of young Americans incapable of managing their world with skill, in the interest of the community.
The embraced concept of individual liberty founded in the spirit of the American movement of the 18th century has been warped with the disconnection and abandonment of the concomitant obligation to community (noblesse-oblige”), by the embrace of the neoliberal “self-made man” meme. The American cowboy meme for the rugged individual, has been the abiding myth of the American culture. The self-man man has only obligation to himself, and none to the community or the greater good. This then is fertile territory for greed and self-interest to embed itself in social identity and individual purpose, that of self-engrandizement with little ethical regard to the social fall-out and erosion of societal purpose. And so here we are in 2022, faced with profound transformation, with limited experience and eroding social cohesion and fractaled future purpose.
The Gap Year(s) can go a long way to reconstitute mechanisms for threading the disparate parts and binding essential social elements together, enough to drive the future at least in the general direction of a healthy future.
This opens up a new mindset for these budding leaders, that cracks the status quo of cocooned thinking, which only leads to re-cycling the failed patterns of the past. And so the Gap Year(s) are an integral transitioning foundation to gift rising young adults to magnify and amplify their intellectual and social growth far beyond that experienced by former generations. And having a chance at directing a healthy future for humans will depend on all Gen-Z students growing as a cohort of thinking, capable individuals all focussed as a social movement on actively managing comprehensive paths to mitigate the worst of the future transformative pulses and spasms in the next 50 years or more.
College is a powerful environment for growth and personal transformation, but only if one is ready and primed to get the absolute most out of the experience. Especially liberal arts schools that can best offer students the exposure and practice developing solid capability in future skills essential to thrive in a shifting, morphing world. Developing: a growth mindset, discovering self-agency, truth-based critical thinking, expanding their world-view and cultural perspectives, honing creative frames of mind, exploring lateral and divergent thinking, and getting good at persistence and adapting to the rapid mutations in every aspect of life, in their future; all of these skills and more can be pre-set before going to college. If students have a chance to practice these skills before college, they will be much more capable of tapping deeply into the unique conversations and transformative thinking that the expansive liberal arts education can offer.
It is of singular importance that students choose to go to college to transform their perspective and ways of thinking and problem solving. To go to college to get a future job of high status and significant financial opportunity is simply foolish, because it is the chimera of a past American Dream for virtually everyone. The future, opaque as it is, can still be felt as a place of shifting need, unexpected hardship, profound opportunity, and multiple possible threads each with different outcomes for individuals and the World.
So the question is: how does anyone develop the essential skills that position the individual and as a result society, in the best position to make best decisions in the future interests of humanity? Before the essential transformations of the educational system occur in the next decade or two, taking a year or more to immerse oneself first hand in the profound variety of human experience in all of its glory and travails, in breathing in the spectacular wonder of the natural world, in living life and practicing life as an independent individual, breaking out of our of the placidity and default to our status quo comfort Zone.
In light of the rapid, transformative disruptions (tech, it is morally indefensible to continue with a process of mass schooling that is indifferent to and ignorant of, the scope of these disruptions, and which promotes a value system (competition, growth, efficiency, homogeneity) that steers us towards the darker of the potential paths ahead. So until that day happens when education and social need are actually aligned and education becomes first and foremost a transformative experience, taking a Gap Year or more, is the best way to accelerate a growth mindset that has a chance of giving students a chance at a necessary level of future planning skills.