Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let's Not Blame the World...Let's tap into one of our best resources: TEENS

"We bet on American ingenuity," Obama said when he addressed the nation in the State of the Union Address last month. "We bet on American workers."

He was talking about decreasing unemployment by creating more jobs in American manufacturing and getting people trained in areas like science and technology (in which, Obama said, there are twice as many openings as positions) so that people can go directly into jobs. Unemployment magically solved? I really wish.

Obama is betting on select groups of Americans already in the work force to be trained quickly so they can be innovative and resourceful in areas like cancer research and clean energy, but I wonder if we can start younger. We need to prep our teens in advocacy.

Every day I work with young people as a college advisor and director of Merit Academy, an alternative high school, that serves as a "think tank" for emerging minds. I know well the next generation of workers Obama is betting on. This group is a force to be reckoned with. We have a line of young thinkers ready to take on their communities and the world at large. Not every teen is wired to design a car engine that runs on hydrogen, but I have teens who have drafted artful petitions for peace and created their own community-minded businesses and donation drives for causes that matter to them. Every young person has a gift to offer this world.

Can you imagine if every teen was required to come up with their own project before graduation from high school? In the State of the Union Address, Obama was talking about making it a state requirement that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18. Grad students must complete a thesis. Medical students must complete a rotation. How about giving high school students something bigger to do?

While they are tapping their pencils in their desks for four years, shouldn't these students be making the most of their time? The teen years are a ripe and passionate time. There is no need for our youth to sit on the couch and play video games all day. I encourage all my college-bound students to start a project by the end of 8th grade, just before they enter high school, to continue until the end of high school. I show them a list of community projects that they can choose from. They may also come up with their own vision. I find out what they are all about- what interests them- what concerns them about the world.

They are asked to answer some questions such as:

What political issues upset you?
What social issues would you like to change?
What research needs to be conducted for public education?

Then there are timelines, tasks, and mentors set up to help them develop their project.

In the meantime, a teenager becomes a citizen. A young person becomes a caring community member. A kid on the couch becomes a "doer."

The kids at Merit are required to "Do a Project." But we need more of these young people. We need to change the way high schools educate our promising youth.

My students have started non-profits and businesses, published articles and books on subjects they believe in, produced films, conducted experiments. I have one student who spend her high school project creating Kids for Hydrogen, demanding an environmentally-friendly fuel. These are not students who sit around and blame the world for our problems. The reason for this is because they were given the responsibility to think for themselves and the right tools to keep good study habits. With the right mentorship, our youth will be the advocates for change.

Obama said:

...with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

I have a student who is upset about Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who is spreading lies and disregarding advisors in his own department who say hydrogen fuel stations are ready to be marketed, and has cut almost half the federal funding for hydrogen-powered cars.

A major car manufacturer is calling me to tell me they want one of my students to get out there and rally for the hydrogen car. If my student keeps going on her promise to make the world a better place, her efforts will be the kind of resourcefulness Obama is calling for.

In my book, Beat the College Admissions Game: Do a Project! I outline viable ideas for projects with time lines and budgets. Most importantly, I give advice on how to empower your teen to do this project himself.

The echo of John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address seems to be the soundtrack of my train of thought. JFK is said to be one of Obama's presidential influences. Remember JFK's famous words:

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your Country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizen of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

What if JFK were to be addressing your teenager sitting on the couch? Yes, the teen over there- texting his friends about how annoying it is that he has a paper to turn in tomorrow but wants to go see a movie with his friends.

I am involved in a movement that gives no power to the "Blame Game." It rallies the two million teens entering high school as the "American Ingenuity" that our president is hoping to dredge up. They are the untapped resource Obama and the Congress has been hoping for. These young people are at the very age when they have developed a take on the world. Do they like the laws in place? Do they agree with the money spent on war and their peers going to fight and die in other countries? Do they see our attitudes as just and fair? Do they wish things were different? Do they feel a part of the community?

I believe in your teen's potential to change the world. Now is the time to get him going on something. He may be just entering high school or perhaps a sophomore or junior, and he is going to need something to make his college application stand out from the 80 percent of high school students applying for colleges. It is the classic win-win. This is precisely the kind of motivation our young people need and they will prove to be great- if we only give them a chance.

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