How can we ensure that young people, who enthusiastically embrace innovation, creating, and coding, also associate their work with the fundamental concepts of empathy, humility, and conscience?
As we adults thrill to help children learn, imagine, ideate, explore, and make things, we also need to define a compelling mission for each of our innovation and maker spaces — a mission that emphasizes the significant values that young people should apply to the problems they identify and try to solve. An innovation mission provides a foundation for children, illuminating important issues and providing benchmarks that help them to consider and choose problems. It should also help young learners differentiate between the significant problems that need to be solved from those that are insignificant.
A recent New York Times Sunday Review article addressed this problem. In her editorial piece, Solving All the Wrong Problems, design writer, Allison Arieff, asks, “Every day innovative companies promise to make the world a better place. Are they succeeding?” She goes on to decry a wide range of designs (the list is hilarious) — apps, many inventions with questionable goals, and innovations intended to make life easier by disrupting one thing or another. Most have little or no effect on when it comes to significant change and problem-solving.
If the most fundamental definition of design is to solve problems, why are so many people devoting so much energy to solving problems that don’t really exist? How can we get more people to look beyond their own lived experience?
Ariel also highlights a new book, Design: The Invention of Desire, by Jessica Helfand. Reading this book I’ve learned that while innovation, making, creating, and yes, probably coding are the processes for inventing new things, these design activities must always include a focus on developing, strengthening each person’s moral compass.
It won’t do just to help kids learn the technical skills. It’s up to those of us who raise, teach, and work with 21st Century children to be sure that, as they go about innovating and creating new things, these young people never lose track of humility, empathy, and making the world a better place.