A letter from a frustrated four-year-old to a future employer


Dear Future Boss,

I’m writing to you because I’m confused and need some advice. I don’t know what industry you work in, or what my job with you will be. Of course, it’s quite possible that my job doesn’t exist yet (when you were four who wanted to grow up to be a web designer?)

I get to watch a lot of television, because both Mum and Dad work, and there aren’t enough places in pre-school. I really like the cartoons, but I must admit that after watching them for hours I do feel as though another bit of my brain has gone numb. Anyway, recently the TV was left on the news channel, and I heard someone talking about what employers (like you) will be looking for in future employees (like me). She said that the important qualities will be things like curiosity, imagination, adaptability, a ‘can-do’ approach to solving problems, persistence in the face of difficulty, the ability to communicate and collaborate with others, and a willingness to take risks and to learn.

I got very excited when I heard this, because I’m really good at all of these things (and I mean really, really, REALLY good at them.) I learned to talk just by listening to other people, and I learned to walk by constantly falling down, I love playing and exploring with other kids, and I am always poking around looking for new experiences and new things to try out. (I used to be even better, before the cartoons). An educator on the TV said that it’s because my brain has evolved as a machine designed just for communication, collaboration, curiosity and learning. (But he also said that I have to keep using these skills or I will lose them. Cartoons don’t help, apparently.)

But Mum only lets me go to playgrounds that have been officially approved as completely safe and risk-free, because she says I’m too adventurous, and I can’t have a tree house, let alone help my Dad build one, because I might hurt myself, and I’m not allowed to explore because I might get lost. So how I am supposed to practise my curiosity and risk-taking?

I’ve really been looking forward to going to school, but my sister says that school is boring, because you’re not allowed to talk, but have to just listen to what the teacher tells you, not learn whatever it is you want to find out, and you have to memorise lots of stuff for tests (which my sister says is pointless because all of the stuff is on her smart phone anyway, but she’s not allowed to use that in school), and you’re not allowed to work together much or help each other, because that’s called cheating. So how will I practise my imagination, communication and collaboration?

And my brother tells me that a lot of the fun stuff that he used to enjoy after school – clubs, sports, music and camping trips– don’t happen anymore because of liability issues and teacher contract disputes. But he also says it doesn’t really matter, because he wouldn’t have time for them now anyway, because Mum makes him take extra lessons after school to make sure he gets good enough grades to get into university. So how will I practice my adaptability, persistence and imagination?

This is why I’m confused. It sounds as though the educators know what I’m good at, and how to make the most of my capabilities, and it sounds as though those capabilities are exactly what you employers say you need. And yet my parents and the politicians who decide what happens in school seem not to be listening, but act as though they think that curiosity and imagination and collaboration and risk-taking and independent thought are all bad things. So here’s my real question: are you employers, educators, politicians and parents ever going to get together and do something to feed the insatiable appetite I still have for learning all about this exciting and fascinating world in which we live, or should I just sit back and enjoy the cartoons?

6 thoughts on “A letter from a frustrated four-year-old to a future employer

  1. I appreciate the focus on allowing curiosity to have its way, as we wrestle with demands for accountability notions that often seem to lead towards focus on standardised tests and the dry, basic (though no doubt useful) skills that they cover.

    I think you’re being a bit hard on cartoons though: Phineas and Ferb beats the kinds of trash that I grew up with in 1970s UK.

    • I reveal my age by having no clue who Phineas and Ferb are!
      Unfortunately, you’re right that accountability seems to run counter to the spirit of inquiry and fun in learning. Too often we end up teaching what can be measured, which by definition rules out the complexity of unscripted and individualised learning.

  2. This four year old would have loved my KG class this week when on Tuesday we went out to the forest for two hours in the snow. After discovering a paw print the children were convinced there was a bear and we spent an enjoyable 30 minutes following these paw prints through trees, under bushes and around streams to find the bear!! Then on Wednesday we set up three experiment stations-one for mixing all kinds of flour, cornmeal and water; one with vinegar and baking soda; and a third station with frames, ramps and a variety of wheeled and non-non wheeled objects. The excitement in the room was fantastic as children explored, experimented and came up with their own conclusions. I am so grateful that I work in a school that values these experiences for children and supports me to provide them everyday !!!

    • I’ve seen the excitement in your classes, Michelle, and I’ve seen the real learning that happens as a result. Somehow we have to persuade schools and school systems to encourage that same sense of adventure, excitement and slightly anarchic discovery all the way through to graduation!

  3. Another excellent, thought provoking article Michael. The way things are going, one wonders what kind of an education our grandchildren will have foisted upon them!

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