It is quite easy to quantify whether kids are developing academically. We have constant tests, there’s grades every semester, and homework to practice with. Developing “book smarts” or the ability to excel academically is easily measurable. Yet, time and again, many professionals can point to high school graduates/college graduates/Ph.D.s etc that, while very capable intellectually, have no ability whatsoever in determining when someone’s trying to trick them or take advantage of them. “Street smarts” or the ability to survive intellectually on the streets isn’t taught in classrooms. The ability to understand subtle nuances in voice, body language, and expressions, to determine informal power structures, and to network with clients, customers, and other professionals are all valuable skills. Street smart skills are sometimes as or more valuable than actual book smart skills.
I should know. I spent the better part of 20 years developing strong book smart skills while completely ignoring the soft skills necessary in life. My parents would refer to me as “Johnnie head in the air” and wonder on a regular basis what the heck was I thinking? My relational abilities were so weak, that I got taken advantage of on a regular basis. My parents packed me lunches instead of giving me money, because I would get conned out of it and end up with no lunch for the day. (In my defense, I think they exaggerate about the whole situation. I don’t think I was ever swindled more than once or twice…) Even when I started my first ever job I had some smart people saying that I should be getting $30 an hour but when the company offered $20 an hour I ended up dumbly accepting it. I didn’t do an ounce of negotiating nor a single counter offer. I got low-balled and accepted it. I know how much I ended up getting swindled when after a year the company was willing to offer me a 10% raise with very little resistance. Heck, I didn’t even create that big of an issue over the raise. That was when I realized, that I had gotten swindled and had basically left $10 an hour on the table. With a little bit of negotiation and “street smarts,” I could have saved myself nearly 10 years of raises and actually had that pay at the start of the job, not when I became an old man.
Towards that end, I really want to make sure that Ravi develops both types of abilities. I may not be capable enough in the “street smarts” category, but if I start early I can steer him towards activities that might actually give him a better chance to develop those skills. I’ve outlined what I think are necessary hard/book skills and soft/street skills any young child should be working on and developing to help them grow into a competent adult.
Math (Algebra/Trigonometry/Calculus/Probability and Statistics)
Reading Comprehension/Qualitative Assessment
Writing (focused 3 page essays and excellent grammar)
Basic Financial Management Analysis (NPV, Annuity, Perpetuity, etc.)
Basic Economic Analysis (Supply vs. Demand, Profit)
Basic Accounting Skills (Debit/Credit, Checkbook Balancing, etc.)
Negotiating and Public Speaking Ability
Relational and Social Psychology
Leadership/Team Building skills
You’ll notice that there are more soft skills than there are hard skills. The hard skills are there to develop competency in multiple interfacing formats so that Ravi doesn’t have issues with context and can instead focus on substance. You’ll also might notice that in what I laid out in the soft skills section, there seems to be a bit of math or hard skills included. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that way. The first three skills don’t involve much more than basic algebra and are necessary to be a good judge of options. (Quick Question: would you take $5 million today renegotiate the contract in a year, or a fixed $22 million for four years? Answer: The $5 million). In fact, the first three skills are so basic that they used to be taught to high schoolers regularly. They would form part of a home econ class. Today, you might have to wait till college (or adult community college) to pick these skills up. The last three skills represent the crux of what people today consider soft skills- can I get along and lead others, can I maneuver within and into/out of an existing power structure, and can I figure out when someone is trying to cheat me?
These last three skills have very few academic opportunities to be trained in. One has to find alternate and informal methods of developing and acquiring these skills. I’m not positive yet what activities will lend to the development of them, but I will assess the value in engaging in extracurricular activities within this initial context. If the activity helps develop any of these skills, they’re probably a good choice. If not, it means I’ll need to find a better hobby for Ravi.