My seatmate on a plane to Chicago the other day was Frank, and as you can imagine, we talked about schooling and education. After a while he said, a little timidly: “Well, I don’t think school is for everyone, do you?”
I had to think.
My first reaction was that school should be for everyone. But then I thought, why? People go into a wide variety of endeavors and the straight academic fare of school was often not very helpful. Not only was it not very helpful, but it also made some feel valueless, stupid–like losers. Frank had just said so. He was a real estate investor, and had learned all the mathematics, the problem solving skills and the creative genius one needs for his business after school. In fact, he had to overcome what school had taught him.
To be successful what does Frank need to do? Analyze and synthesize market data. Read market signals. What is the mood? What do people want? How are people reacting to national socio-political economic conditions? He must hear what his seller says and understand what he really wants and why, in order to arrive at a price that is both profitable and fair.
He has to be able to evaluate his investments over time. He needs to see value and potential where others don’t see it, because if he only invests in what is obviously a good investment he will never create the opportunities that bring the big return. He has to calculate the cost of getting the capital from different sources—investor equity, bank borrowing, cashflow from operations–each source has a different cost. Then he has to have returns that exceed this cost. He needs to calculate this not just once, but repeatedly as the environment changes. He not only has to be really, really good at mathematics, but also to understand the human side of economics.
To be a good real estate investor Frank has to be learning all the time, he has to think creatively every day. This is actually what Frank likes about his job, but he learned it out of school, because school was not about learning and creative thinking, but about getting right answers, boredom and failure. His schools hadn’t taught any of the disciplines mentioned above as creative endeavors. When schools are failing, this is how they are failing.
So I said: “The way some schools are, I agree, school is not for everyone, and I think it is regrettable. I think school should be for everyone.”
In August, I visited three independent schools. These schools were alive with learning. They were running Horizons National summer programs for inner city kids. I saw kindergartners, elementary school kids, middle schoolers (some looked almost like adults), all doing academics—and loving it. Huh? Doing school in the summer and loving it?
All kids could love school if we did it right. Independent schools are successfully charging more than $20,000 for the education they deliver for students during the school year. There is practically an inelastic demand for these schools because the educators in them send the students home every day loving learning. Horizons National is proving that these delivery systems work for everyone, not just the chosen.
When prospective parents visit, wondering if they should spring for as much as $30,000 a year to send their little loved one to school, they see happy children who have their noses in academics and loving it. This is all they need to see to decide to spend the money. This kind of education is being provided for about one percent of the 50 million children in school this year. Why not everyone?
Some might answer immediately: “Obviously. It costs too much and therefore is not for everyone.” Surely, poor public schools need more money, and yes, Americans should invest more in education, but all the money in the world won’t change anything unless we engage children’s innate love of learning.
Ken Robinson is right that our schools are designed by academics as a training ground for academic behavior. Those who do well go on; those who thrive go on to get PhD’s; so school becomes a social sorting device. But how many PhD’s does the world need? Robinson is right: we need a revolution.
But what about accountability? Right, let’s talk accountability. Here’s what I would hold schools accountable for: all kids love to go to school. Sure, maybe it is impossible for kids to love every minute of every day, but couldn’t every day include lots of minutes that they love? Let’s start talking about what it would take for every student to love to go to school.