“in the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today. . . .[b]eing average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius.”
If Friedman is right, and I think he is, the wave of STEM, Common Core, and 21st Century skills washing over education in the past few years are part of a much needed upgrade. Yet in 2014, as my fellow teachers and I attempt to equip our students with a new type of, well, more expensive genius, I am reminded of the advice I sometimes give my high school students on the very first a day of class. I stand up in front of the room and tell them with genuine sincerity that the type of genius that will make them most successful in my class and in life is not IQ, but EQ. The sense of disappointment among academic all-stars is palpable when I go on to quote directly the words of psychologist and EQ creator, Howard Gardner: “Your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.” The all-stars recover, knowing full well that it is EQ (translation “people skills” and “street smarts”) that allow IQ to reach its highest potential.
I readily concede that Friedman’s prediction about the end of average is correct; yet his claim that workers in the 21st century “need more and better education” takes me in a different direction. I find myself looking at EQ in a fresh and perhaps expanded way. If my students need a different academic education to succeed, what then, do they need in the way of EQ? In other words, what are the “people skills” and “street smarts” of a globalized marketplace flooded with genius, both cheap and expensive?
I like to think of the expanded version of EQ as, well, GQ. No, I’m not talking here about men’s fashion. I speak here of “Global Intelligence”—the measurement of a student’s “global competence,” or better yet, his/her “global versatility.” Unlike academic genius, which is a kind of universal language of globalization, GQ is not universal at all. In fact, it is at least as diverse as the 195 or so countries that make up our world today. Unlike basic programming or the scientific method, GQ cannot be taught as a set of absolute skills that apply everywhere with every country or every business connection. It is, rather, a flexible set of skills that allow a person to access deep cultural values while at the same time bridging the inevitable gaps that emerge between cultures and between people.
If the solution to the problem of cheap genius is to ratchet up technical and scientific education through 21st Century Skills and STEM education, then we must also ratchet up GQ. This requires a similar fusion of disciplines. That is to say, if building a more “expensive genius” means fusing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math into an education product called STEM, then attaining “street smarts” in a globalized world means we must fuse together disciplines that actively employ a global perspective.
The American education system already has the tools in place to bring about this new global GQ. In addition to the biological and environmental sciences which are equipped to address globally-significant problems such as resource depletion and climate change, a curriculum built around global competence should include disciplines that are equipped to access individual and cultural values. This means that world literature, music and the arts are no longer simply about making students more aware and well-rounded. These disciplines are access points into the everyday lives of the world’s people. To appreciate another culture’s art, literature and music is valuable not only aesthetically, it is also valuable practically, providing American students with a set of tools to understand a person (i.e. - a partner, a client, a supplier, or a customer) in a distant part of the world much better.
A rich social studies education is also a crucial component of 21st Century GQ. Understanding how history, religion, geography and politics impact a people and a place is crucial to global perspective and versatility. Not to be forgotten in this suite of new global “people skills,” is the ability to speak the world’s languages. Though language’s communicative potential is obvious, one will no doubt argue that it is impossible to know all the language of the world and they would be correct on this point. But GQ, like EQ, is not a static body of knowledge universally applicable. Global competence is an orientation or an approach: a set of skills and questions one gains only by consciously engaging and learning and experiencing several examples of language, art, literature or history. The “people skills” we are familiar with today are not mastered by talking to every person. They are mastered by acquiring an orientation to engage people. This is also the case of 21st Century people skills—i.e. GQ. One does not need to know every language, or every history or every geography, but one must be schooled enough to have acquired an orientation to engage every culture.
So if “average is over,” we must, as a nation, prioritize something like global competence, global versatility or GQ in our curriculums. If teachers avoid having students embrace global competence and focus only on STEM education, then we risk being unable to unlock and use the new type of genius for which we are striving. In reality, it is not one or the other that students need. Our students need the academic genius implicit in STEM but they also need to know how to best plant STEM in the increasingly tangled and competitive garden called globalization. Only by planting STEM with GQ will our students take root and grow into what teachers, parents, and citizens really want and what students ultimately need: the entire flower—graduates who will make full use of their unique genius and who will tell Mr. Friedman—respectfully, of course—that “average isn’t over until it’s over.”