Education from scratch

I spent the day working on tech/ed mashups and surveying the space, and two things are painfully true.

First, far too many companies are focused on supporting an educational system that is crumbling.  If it isn’t abundantly clear at this point, the classroom model of education isn’t going to be around for all that incredibly much longer.  So why are we just taking existing educational processes and making them electronic?  There is no long term business model in remaking the same mistakes.

Second, change is not going to happen at the institutional level, so stop trying to sell to them.  The sales cycle is way, way too long to be able to effectively do anything but really big startups, and what we need right now is small change.  We need to demonstrate other ways of learning that are so much more immersive and powerful that they can grow to popularity to outside the classroom and institution.  At which points institutions themselves will change or be eliminated by new institutions that form around the new paradigms.

Education is one of those truly frustrating spaces for me.  In part because, like anything truly frustrating, I care far too much about it – it is hard for me to create the distance that building good product often entails.  It is also one of those broken products that is actively fucked up every minute you don’t fix it.  We can survive without the next social media network and if it takes an extra day for us to create it, it will not be an actual problem.  But every single day that goes by where kids aren’t able to live up to their full potential is a real problem.  This isn’t something we can fix – it is something we have to fix.

That statement feels a bit hypocritical, given that I have had such fortunate educational luck.  I went to a great high school (given that it was public and in a rural state, I could have done considerably worse), attended a bizarre but excellent international school, and finished up at possibly the best college in the US.  I came out with around $20K of debt, which thanks to government grants was actually at a very low interest rate, and I paid that debt off within 12 months by working two jobs provided by the very college to which I had just paid so much money.  It was actually a bit like indentured servitude, now that I think about it, but I’m still a free man at the end of it, so it is hard to complain.

It is probably true that even in today’s job market, my path would have looked more or less the same; people are big on me as this incredibly driven guy and while it is hard to see myself that way, I certainly recognize it is what others perceive.  But good lord do I feel bad for current college graduates.  More than half of college graduates were unemployed or underemployed last year and that is seriously fucked up.

It isn’t like we have no problems that need solving – as anyone at TED will tell you, there are lots of global issues that need work (just don’t ask them to solve them, they’re “just a media company”).  So why aren’t we employing our young people to do so?  Start an Innovation Corp with a small (very small) living stipend and start forgiving student loans.  How’s this for an educational innovation: take those 1.5 million college grads with no jobs and put them in the schools!  There are about 100,000 public schools in America and I’m pretty sure all of them could use an extra fifteen teachers.  And yes, given my teaching degree, I recognize that is sacrilege and that we really need teachers who have at least some pedagogical background.  But even if they are completely hopelessly lost, these are the kids who learned delay of gratification well enough to go to college.  They do have lessons to teach and I’d rather have them than not have them.

This wandered away from ed tech but I’m pissed and I didn’t get enough sleep.  I’m not apologizing – I’m pissed for a damn good reason.  And the next kid that tries to pitch me a Pinterest-clone is going to get an ass chewing.  Fix a real problem, asshole.

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