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About Will Fitzhugh
Mr. Fitzhugh is Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review and Founder of the National History Club and the National Writing Board. He has an A.B. from Harvard College and an Ed.M. from Harvard Education School.
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Will Fitzhugh

Critical Likability
June 29, 2009

As we approach the end of the first decade of the first century of the third millennium of the Christian Era, the corporate members of the new and influential Partnership for 21st Century Skills have begun to look beyond and behind and beneath their earlier commitment to the education of our students in critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, and global awareness.


It has become obvious to industry leaders that more fundamental than all these new student skills for success in the business world is really Critical Likability. While it may be useful for new employees to know that the world is round, and that solving problems is sometimes easier if others provide help, and that real thinking is superior to not thinking at all, these all pale in importance to whether other people like you or not.


Being a great communicator is important, and reading and writing have received some support from the 21st Century leaders, but those are not of much value if no one likes you and no one wants to hear what you have to say, whether oral or written. 


Critical Likability, it must be understood, goes far beyond mere popularity in school, although they share some essential tools and characteristics. Future employees must learn, while they are in school, the basic lessons of smiling, personal hygiene (including the control of bad breath and the release of hydrogen sulfide gas), grooming, table manners, the correct handshake, and at least the basics of dressing for success. 


At a more advanced level students should be taught to listen, empathize, seem to agree, laugh, hug (only where clearly appropriate), tell jokes, drink (where and when culturally appropriate), play a social sport (like golf), and generally to be likable in the most efficient and effective senses of that word. 


Everyone knows that while space in the curriculum must be arranged for instruction in these Critical Likability skills, that will take some time, and, at least for the immediate future, there will still be courses in history, literature, math, science, languages and all that. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that at least math and science can make a contribution to Critical Employability in our modern economy.


Some of this work is still in the planning stages, as the Seven Techniques of Critical Likability are being developed and forged into new curricula. But the work is underway. 


As always there will be rearguard efforts to retard progress in teaching these Critical Likability skills to students. Teachers and conservatives educators will fight to defend the sciences and humanities as necessary to leading the good life, and to preparing students for success in college. But if a person is truly likable, "with a shoeshine and a smile,” as Willy Loman used to say, they can make at least part of their way in the business world, no matter how ignorant they are of anything beyond the work of their employer. Cultural literacy may be fine for some people, but Critical Likability is what we want for all of America’s future 21st Century employees.


Academic subjects and intellectual work will still be provided in our education system of course, but this is a new century, and new ideas are needed in this Post-Recession economy. Some students will probably always be willing to read nonfiction books and to write serious academic research papers, and some teachers will want to help them with that, and surely room can be found somewhere in our economy, and even in our government, for people who do that sort of thing. 


Nevertheless, Americans have always been noted for their high likability skills. People in other countries have often noted that while Americans may be ignorant and thoughtless, they are at least likable, and we should be sure not to give up that important advantage, even as other countries like China, India, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan (CHIKSAT) gradually bury us economically, by means of the complete and rigorous academic schooling they are now requiring millions of their students to complete.


If the 20th century proves to be the last and only American Century, and even if other countries stop lending us their money to prop us up, at least we will slide back behind other nations and other cultures with a nice (likable) smile on our faces...
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