By: David J. Smith, August 5, 2016
For over 25 years, the World Affairs Council of Washington, DC has hosted a summer program for high school teachers. This year’s Summer Institute on International Affairs was held August 1-5. The theme this year was “TECHnically Speaking: Technology’s Impact on our Global World.” The program brought together nearly 30 educators, from the District, Maryland, and Virginia region (often called the “DMV”).
As a member of the Global Education Advisory Committee, I am always glad to meet with educators and support their efforts in promoting global affairs and peacebuilding. When I was at the U.S. Institute of Peace, I frequently spoke at the program.
I was invited this year to talk about my work in career development, and in particular my book Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace. I presented yesterday. In keeping with the program theme, I incorporated technology in looking at the profile of Jerry Doran from my book who works in the tech field.
The push for career readiness with high school students is a big emphasis today. Though many educators and parents might argue that it is premature (and in fact might be harmful) to place too much emphasis on careers, the reality is that the U.S. lags behind other industrial countries in preparing youth for the workforce. The need to explore careers is important not only with students expecting to go on to college, but possibly even more important with students, often from marginalized environments, where college (even community college) might not be an option after high school.
I argue for a broad strategy in exploring peacebuilding and international careers. Too often, we limit our thinking about these careers to students who might enroll in prestigious colleges and universities and parlay that into high-profile careers. This need not be the case. Students from more humble and limited environments can also engage in meaningful work that advances peace, human rights, and justice. I contrasted for the teachers “direct-action” jobs with “indirect-action” jobs, with the former being more limited in openings and often restricted to those with elite backgrounds. The latter – “indirect-action” careers – are more plentiful, and arguably limitless. It is in these fields, often thought of as mainstream, where students can pursue important work that provides them with meaningful careers. Careers in health care as nurses, in law as paralegals, in criminal justice as police officers, and in technology as web-designers, can all be peacebuilding careers achieved without an Ivy League education.
As part of my presentation, I introduced the teachers to Jerry Doran (as mentioned before), who works for the Open Society Foundations; and Lauren Spaulding, who teaches 8th grade history. Both are profiles in my book. We talked about how students can model their own expected journeys by reading about the experiences of young professionals like Jerry and Lauren. I also shared with them two fictional students I created for my book: Stacey and Kurt, both representing college students at the crossroads looking at career options.
My view is that students best learn and explore career pathways by looking at the experiences of others, especially those who come from similar means and circumstances.