Chess or Checkers: Which game are we teaching our kids to play?

Turn on any news outlet or scroll through social media and it doesn’t take long to hear something along the lines of: 

  • “Capitalism is failing us”
  • “Capitalism only serves the rich”
  • “Cancel student debt”
  • “We can’t afford the things our parents could at our age”

I am going to save the capitalism vs. socialism discussion for another day. But for the sake of discussion, can we agree that currently the US has a mixed economy that is predominantly free-market capitalism? This is the system we currently have and one that has served many countries well but it requires a certain skill set.

Problem: One of our biggest problems is that we are not teaching the skill sets and tools for our kids to thrive in our current economy.

“The American education system is outdated. We are creating test takers instead of pathfinders.” – Ken Coleman

Illustration (Paraphrasing from a few)

Imagine you walk into a room and I say, ”Let’s play a game. Go!”

We stand there awkwardly staring at each other.

You think to yourself, ”What an idiot. What does he think I am supposed to do with that? Are we playing tag, candyland, checkers?”

I say, “Okay let’s play chess.” And I pull out a chess board.

The only problem is that you have never played chess. You don’t know the rules. You were only taught to play checkers.

But I expect you to be able to fend for yourself in a game of chess against someone who has played for years.

How do you think you would do? Better yet how would you feel?

Would you be angry? Have self doubt? Have any hope?

This is similar to what we are doing with our kids in our education system. The illustration is extreme, I know. But can’t you see self doubt and a lack of hope in so much of the problems and actions of our nation’s youth and inner cities?

Note. I admire teachers. My mom, sister, sisters-in-law, and mother-in-law are all teachers. They are some of the brightest, most hard working people I know. I don’t fault teachers. I don’t pretend to know all of the intricacies and nuances of our education system. I do believe the system needs change to serve our kids well.

What is the point of an education system?

Practical and Economic: to develop skill sets so that you can provide for yourself and your family by contributing to the productivity of the country, as well as paying taxes.

Intrinsic Purpose: Education helps fully develop a person to be able to learn, think critically, be creative and confident, and be active and informed citizens.

This explanation may be lacking but it isn’t the main point I am trying to make.

My Point: If one of the main goals of our education system is to develop skill sets so that our kids can contribute to the economy and provide for themselves and yet they are lacking those skills upon graduation, should we change our education system or change our entire economy? Which system is serving our needs less?

Our Education Needs Have Changed.

Our modern education system is a product of the industrial revolution circa 1890.

  • Monday – Friday 
  • 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM
  • Kids sitting in rows stationary all day long
  • Standardization is the goal (hello standardized testing)

It is easy to see the resemblance of an industrial age factory and it hasn’t changed a whole lot in 100 years. We have been in the digital information age for decades. Our needs have changed dramatically. 

We have a system that was designed to make good factory employees who stayed put for decades.

What does the US manufacture today? We have outsourced all of our manufacturing overseas to the lowest bidder. To suggest bringing those jobs back to the US is viewed at best as nationalism and at worse as racist. 

Who stays in the same career much less the same role for an entire career? It was much more common to have a company pension plan decades ago. You would work for one company your entire career and then retire with a strong pension for the rest of your days. That doesn’t exist for the most part any more. If you want to retire at any point, you better be pretty well versed in investing.

What does today’s workforce need more today than 100 years ago?

  • Computer programming
  • Engineering
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Fail fast and reiterate

What skill sets do today’s workers need?

  • Personal Responsibility
  • Personal Finance (How to set a budget, saving, debt strategy, saving for investing)
  • Investing
  • Goal Setting
  • Project Management
  • Ability to learn new subjects, strategies, and tactics
  • How to buy a home, car, life insurance
  • How to file your taxes, follow the incentives in the tax code

So What’s The Point?

Our younger generations don’t feel that a capitalistic economy is serving them well. They aren’t wrong. They have never seen it thrive.

A big problem is that we, as parents and our school systems, are not teaching them skills to thrive in a capitalistic economy.

Our economy and job market’s needs are changing faster and faster but our education system is not.

What do we do about it?

  • Lifelong self study?
  • Talk to educators and administrators about a more pragmatic curriculum?
  • Support legislators pushing for more pragmatic education?
  • Support trade schools?
  • Mentor younger generations?
  • Seek guidance from older generations?


That is one of the problems I would like to dive into and understand better. What are the needs of today’s workers? 

I would like to understand that better and compare that to what our current K-12 education system is teaching.

Much of what I read addresses the needs that are non-industry specific. I would like to do a series over practical worker skill sets.

What practical adult worker skill sets am I missing above?

Next Actions:

  • List out the needed skill sets for the Adult American Worker.
  • Compare this to the curriculum of the American K-12 Education System.
  • Read and provide content for the unaddressed areas.

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