Challenge is a challenging word.
We in education most often use the singular noun to mean a task that demands special effort or dedication, but which is within the ability of the person who accepts the challenge.
We like kids who accept a challenge.
By contrast, we typically use the plural form, challenges, to mean things that require more ability than an individual has, as in “that kid has serious challenges.”
We prefer kids with challenges be in another teacher’s classroom.
I ran across two items today on Twitter that made me think about those two opposing usages.
The first is a National Skills Coalition report showing roughly 20 million Americans employed in key service-sector industries lack basic skills in literacy, numeracy, or digital problem-solving.
These are people that we educators would probably say “have challenges.”
A large proportion of these people work in just three areas: retail, health care and social assistance, and in food services and accommodations. Surprisingly, 58 percent of them have been with their current employer at least three years, and 23 percent of them are supervisors.
Here’s the most astonishing fact about these workers:
More than one in three (39%) participated in a learning activity over the past 12 months, including 27% who are pursuing a formal degree or certificate.
Ignore for the moment the question of how all those people get into post-secondary education when they trouble with reading, writing, arithmetic, and problem solving: Think about how someone with challenges becomes someone who accepts a challenge.
Workers who take on challenges
There may be many factors the lead to someone accepting a challenge, but they certainly include:
- Having a personal reason for accepting the challenge of learning.
- Sensing that doing nothing will produce a bad outcome.
- Believing the desired outcome is worth the effort it requires.
At some point, we educators have to start figuring out how to get those “kids with challenges” to accept the challenge of learning how to learn what they will need to know in their work and in their lives. It’s particularly important for us to do that for the students who aren’t natural, book-learning scholars: the hands-on, vocational, CTE students.
They crave a challenge, too, and they deserve it.
What else could we be doing to see that all students have opportunities to take on challenges?