The US education system is a mess, and many of the key stakeholders seem unable to or uninterested in changing much. Teachers unions are focused on maintaining big money perks for union administrators and throwing around political influence. The same-old publishing houses sell $8 billion worth of warmed-over textbooks each year. And, between the years 2009 and 2014, various testing companies collectively spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill.
Clearly these special interest groups are more invested in maintaining the failing status quo than fixing a broken system. So when we read the data that shows year after year America is falling behind other countries in test scores across a broad range of subjects and grade levels, are we really shocked?
But in the news, I’m afraid, it gets worse. Having our young people fall behind on test scores is bad enough. But recognizing these young people will grow into adults completely unequipped to lead American society and the economy fills many with a sense of impending doom.
The Education System is Not Supporting an Entrepreneurial Spirit
The current model of education in this country is not conducive to creating generations of entrepreneurs. The creative spirit of children is stifled on a daily basis, and intellectual curiosity is discouraged.
While we should be concerned over plummeting test scores, we should be downright vigilant against the significant economic consequences resulting from a shrinking pool of enthusiastic and confident entrepreneurs. After all, this country’s unique history was built on ingenuity, innovation, and a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit.
Yet over the last few decades, we have witnessed both a steady decline in the number of startups, as well as an increasing number of studies that suggest America’s education model fails to promote the kind of creativity, risk-taking, and problem solving skills necessary for entrepreneurship.
Consider a study conducted by Kyung Hee Kim, Professor of Education at the College of William and Mary, which took a look at all aspects of student creativity for grades K through 12 and found a significant decline over the past few decades.
Based on scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, her study reveals “that children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
That’s a bit disheartening.
Entrepreneurs to the Rescue, Please
At a very basic level, our education model rewards kids for coloring within the lines and doing well on standardized tests and assessments. Memorize enough facts and you may get that B your parents are praying for.
While the model clearly needs revamping (or a complete overhaul), that project will be so daunting and expensive that it may be “put off” for quite some time.
But, as long as there are entrepreneurs, there is hope. Sure, these spirited men and women have their hands tied when it comes to forcing educational reform, but there are other ways they can help young people gain access to the skills needed to make their lives and society as a whole, better.
In the last decade or so, many entrepreneurs have started special afterschool programs and summer camps dedicated to introducing young minds to the possibilities of entrepreneurialism. Perhaps these smaller programs could one day even be expanded into complete curriculums at private charter schools, completely funded and developed by the brightest entrepreneurs in America.
This is the kind of direction we need to go if we want to ensure a thriving economic future for our country.
In 1995. Steve Jobs sat down for an interview and discussed the importance of teaching children how to shape their destinies. He said:
“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your job is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
In an effort to combat the dual trend of decreasing student creativity and startup decline, America’s entrepreneurs need to put their innovations to work at finding newer and better ways of empowering the next generations.