American kids are dreaming big, and that’s good news. The bad news is that we’re not equipping them to realize those dreams.
A new Gallup poll finds that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in America’s youth. Here are some of the more startling findings. Seventy-seven percent of students in grades 5 through 7 want to be their own bosses. Forty-five percent plan to start their own businesses. Forty-two percent say they will invent something that changes the world. (Yes, they can’t all be right—there can be only so many Steve Jobses and Bill Gateses—but you have to admire their spirit.)
Ninety one percent say they’re not afraid to take risks, even if they might fail, and 85 percent say they never give up. Gallup did not field this poll outside of the U.S., so we don’t know how students in other countries would have responded. Still, it’s tempting to see this poll as evidence that the uniquely American spirit of invention, enterprise and self-reliance is undimmed, even in these gloomy times.
But a stiff dose of reality may well overpower that youthful spirit. Altogether too few students are on a path to realize their dreams. The Gallup poll finds that fewer than 60 percent of students have a bank account, almost half don't learn about money or banking in school, and a scant five percent are interning with a local business.
The fact that so many kids have little or no exposure to money management or business may well stand in the way of their plans. But their anemic performance in subjects like math and science is at least as big a barrier to their success. Yet there, too, students are confident. An Intel survey in 2010 found that a whopping 85 percent of high school students think they're good at math and science. National and international tests tell a very different story, of course. There's a big difference between constructive confidence and blind bravado.
We have ample evidence that students' hopes are already being dashed. Overwhelming majorities think they'll finish college--91 percent by last count--but fewer than 7 in ten are even graduating from high school in four years. The graduation rates at two- and four-year colleges are much lower still.
Still, we should see our glass as half full. The Gallup poll shows that our students have pluck, that they want to make it on their own. We have a lot to work with, but if we don't get them more engaged in learning more challenging math and science, we'll squander our most precious national resource.
Gallup plans to keep giving this poll for the next 100 years. (How's that for pluck?) If our young people keep getting their hopes dashed, we may well see those poll numbers drop.