01 April 2011

A bit of a brag and a request for advice

Reach For The Top is a Canadian quiz show for teams of high school students that has been around in one form or another since 1961 (And Alex Trebek was Quizmaster from 1969-1973!). The teams are composed of the best and brightest from participating schools. I'll admit that back in the day I was not one of the best or brightest from my school. My daughter Madeleine, on the other hand, is in grade 9 and is already competing with senior students on her school's Reach team. Not that I needed more evidence, but I take this as proof that she's a real smarty pants. I'm not a huge fan of the public education system, so Madeleine and I unschooled (a fancy word for not doing almost nothing that looks like school) for what would have been her middle school years, but she felt very strongly that she wanted to go to high school and so she did. Academically, she's thriving there, which is pretty good for a grade 6 dropout, but it makes me wonder what the other kids were doing while Madeleine was watching The Simpsons for two years. All this to say that I think, like most parents, that my kid is pretty special.

Quite often, Miss Smarty Pants and I will talk about life after high school and beyond. Miss Pants is interested in pursuing a PhD in some kind of science and that makes perfect sense given her interests and intelligence. As long as things remain sort of the same as they have been for the last couple of decades it seems like a good plan. The problem is, I don't really see the next decades playing out that way. Instead of increasing prosperity and consumption, I see society bumping up against hard limits of energy, climate and economics and a resulting overall decrease in wealth. I don't even know if it makes any difference, as people have sought higher education during all kinds of turmoil. I am concerned that being in school for many years will result in high levels of student debt that will sentence her to wage slavery for many more years afterward.

There's a bit of a theme in doomer circles to suggest that the only careers that have any future are organic farming and emergency medical technicians. I'm certain this isn't true, but there are jobs that don't make sense in a lower energy world. I wouldn't suggest commissioned SeaDoo sales, for example. Dmitry Orlov makes a good point in his blog today. He says that most of us are stuck thinking we will have financial security by having or keeping more money, when what we really ought to be doing is needing less. Voluntary poverty will be a lot easier than involuntary. Given that, probably the best advice I can come up with is to do whatever you would do for free, and keep your needs simple so you can do it even if there are hard times. Unfortunately, student debt is a great way to ensure that your income requirements remain high for a long time.

What would you tell Madeleine on the subject of preparing for life in an uncertain future? I'm interested to know what other peak aware folks tell their kids.

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