A New World Order?

February 10, 2011
Lydia Dobyns

Lydia Dobyns

Are we ready to embrace ‘swimmers’ and ‘treaders’ as the new world order?

At first I was resistant to more jargon to describe the journey from high school to adulthood. And then I started to appreciate what I was reading in the thought-provoking new book entitled Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path, by Barbara E. Ray and Richard Settersten. Based on eight years of research, this book provides a comprehensive look at the many cultural, social and economic hurdles contributing to a slower path to adulthood; a much slower path. “Today, one-half of those between 18 and 24 have not left their childhood bedrooms, let alone landed a job, married or had children of their own.” (Settersten, Richard)

Here’s the foundational theme for this research-driven book. Think about our high school students as either swimmers or treaders. The authors describe swimmers as deliberately taking their time transitioning into adulthood …” but doing so in a careful and calculated way. They are gaining a good education, getting building blocks in place for a successful career, and putting off marriage and children until they get their lives in order.” When schools (with significant contributions from parents and support from the local community) produce swimmers, data shows that a successful, high quality life is attainable.

Opportunities for the other group of students – the treaders – are severely limited. A high-school dropout often maps to a life dropout. And a traditional high school degree no longer prepares anyone for a successful career path. “Treaders may try to go on for some additional schooling, but lacking the skills or direction, their stuttering course through higher education takes much longer than normal or ends in failure. With few credentials, they quickly find that the workforce has little to offer them… While nearly everyone today aspires to a college degree, nearly half of those who do manage to enroll drop out within six years.” These treaders are thrust into the role of adulthood without being adequately prepared for today’s competitive marketplace of jobs and careers. Treaders significantly outnumber swimmers. One of the most sobering statistics in Not Quite Adults… is the 2005 estimate that in the U.S., approximately 70% of those ages 18 through 34 had less than an associate’s degree.

So how do we create more swimmers? Effective education is THE primary path for preparation to adulthood. At New Tech Network, our schools achieve this by establishing a curriculum and culture aimed at providing our students with the skills necessary to succeed in their post-secondary paths. NTN realizes lives are in the balance; it is the source of our passion and dedication. We use our knowledge to re-imagine teaching and learning in our working partnerships with students, administrators, teachers and districts. We foster deeper learning skills like collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. We help create young people headed in the right direction with the skills they will need to be productive citizens.

Not Quite Adults… brings the often overlooked majority of young adults into focus. It raises awareness about starkly diverging destinies for those who are adequately prepared to enter adulthood (a successful post-secondary path) and shows us the consequences for the youth we fail to prepare. It is not surprising that transforming education takes center stage. Now that’s a new world order worth creating.

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