I was twenty-two when I entered my first classroom. It was Economics and my students were twelfth graders who were only four or five years younger than me. I remember the sense of excitement and anxiety I felt the moment the bell rang to begin the class. At that moment I realized the task before me. I was about to begin a journey fulfilling a very small, but significant, part in my community.
Since that day, I have worked hard to be prepared for the difficult tasks of motivating and strengthening young minds. I have worked hard because of the realization that those whom I engage will, one day, serve as our future innovators and leaders. I attended every conference, ready to apply what I learned. I bought and read every book recommended to me and tried any method someone, with greater experience, testified would make me a better educator.
During my twenty-year journey, the greatest lesson I have learned is that the capacity of the human mind, combined with the desire to discover and the freedom to explore, results in an unforgettable experience. As a teacher and administrator, I have enjoyed working to create environments that nurture the development of this combination. I have matriculated through public, private, and independent schools, seeking to impact lives. I cherish environments that are efficient education systems that do not limit opportunities for learning. One of the keys to these environments is the realization that there is a difference between education and learning.
The System of Education
Education is a system of standards and processes outlined by a society’s leaders, to accomplish specific objectives. These include the socialization of members to common norms, as well as the preparation of those members for the labor force, the entrepreneurial arena, and for civic leadership. Once an individual has been socialized and prepared for society, their actions help build and maintain that society, through their participation in the economy and their conformity to social norms. This participation is the lifeblood of the society.
A society develops a method for managing its resources in such a way that it can produce a product or service at less economic cost than others, creating comparative advantage. To keep this comparative advantage, the society creates an education system that prepares a specialized labor force.
The students I engage will one day contribute to the strength of this labor force, because of their education or they would detract from it because of the lack thereof. A strong education system is critical to the success of a local economy. It is a designed and controlled mechanism, focused on the development of a specific set of skills needed by industries to maintain comparative advantage. However, we are living in a world where comparative advantage is being replaced by innovative advantage. In this emerging world, sole focus on education, or a strict set of standards, may not fuel the innovation needed to maintain a prolific economy. However, an effective educational system that does not limit learning produces those who change the world.
The Power of Learning
Learning is the acquisition of applicable knowledge and skills, through a transformative experience. Education is an experience, but it may not be transformative. Learning can come as a result of education, but it may also come as the result of some other catalyst. I create transformative environments that have academic standards, yet also provide continuous opportunities to explore the world in ways I may not have planned.
The key to preparation for the labor force is not merely the content one knows; but, what one can do with that content to shape the world. Innovation consists of the novel and creative ways one employs to bring new products, services, ideas, or processes to the world. Frequently, people go beyond societal frameworks and structures to accomplish this. Understanding this, I wanted to go beyond traditional methods and find a way to inspire and fuel innovation, as my students applied what they learned in the classroom to the solutions of problems in the world.
Much of the developed world has evolved through an agrarian-based economic system; a manufacturing-based one, during the Industrial Age; a post-industrial and mass production economy; and a knowledge economy. The challenge facing educational systems is that their present structures still resemble that of education systems during the agrarian and industrial ages. This is true even though we know we need a paradigm and structural shift.
The paradigm under which social systems previously operated prepared students for the labor force of a region according to that region’s comparative advantage. The combination of a knowledge economy and globalization is changing this reality. According to Tony Waggoner, in his book The Global Achievement Gap, the paradigm that views local labor markets as marginalized and specialized is obsolete. The idea that mastering just one skill in an era where technological advances shift how and where people produce goods and services is just as obsolete.
Comparative advantage is becoming less relevant than innovative advantage. Innovative advantage is based on the idea that making more productive and global use of inputs requires continual innovation. STEAM-focused careers that lend themselves to innovation will see greater demand in the future. Economic clusters that link people of different technological skills will be vital to a thriving global economy. At one time economic clusters were geographically-based. In this highly technological age of Internet of Things, Blockchain technology, and high speed travel networks, economic clusters can be linked electronically through diverse regions and countries. Cultural, regional, and national boundaries are disappearing. The skills a person develops can now be exported with ease. One who lives abroad can now compete for many jobs locally, without ever migrating.
Knowledge capitalism, the drive to generate new ideas and turn them into desired commercial products and services, forms the foundation of a capitalist economy and the key to the future. The challenge of today’s educational system is to develop methods to restructure their pedagogies, processes, and curriculums to effectively and efficiently prepare students for this present age. Education can no longer be limited to well-framed boxes designed for current industries. We are now preparing children for jobs and even industries that don’t exist yet. Education systems can no longer hinder the power of learning. This belief forms the basis for my approach to when I enter a classroom.
For those of you who are interested, I would like to explore this approach with you. I would love to hear your thoughts as I apply what I do to the programs I create for schools, governments, and communities.