the teach tour uncovering how & why we've failed to educate children worldwide@theteachtour

the failure of education

At the genesis of Education, well versed society had three main purposes: to promote religion, to create leaders for government, and to enhance survival techniques. Education slowly moved from the tutor-apprentice based method to the industrialized necessity to create factory workers en masse- taking the classrooms from one to one into one to thirty. Tutors found more profits in increasing classroom sizes; their content was typically the same for most of their students and they could deploy information faster and simpler than by teaching one to one. At the start, being a teacher or guru was highly regarded as the most respected of professions. The content was ever changing and catered to the needs of the society- which was a difficult task for teachers but an undeniable necessity for progression. As the education system mutilated, teaching became a simple recipe to be followed- standardized curriculum created homogenized members of society, standardized testing created classes and castes within society, and year-long classrooms filled with various students who may or may not keep up created a pressurized system that required teachers to move onwards and upwards, excluding different learners from progressing with the rest of their peers while stunting those who might be ready to learn more.

In a beautifully animated RSA video on a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, he poses the concern, “We still educate children by batches, we put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are?” He discusses the differences between children and their learning styles. He clarifies that our education system is based on a production line system of conformity that is keeping our children from creativity and divergent thinking. Robinson claims that over time, due to education, students become less and less able to think divergently. Their ability to innovate and collaborate goes down because they are continuously competing against one another, being compared to one another, and being labeled as academically unintelligent or challenged. Our world has gone from one of communal support and shared societal gain to that of selfishness and dog eat dog competition. We’ve failed to create an educational system that truly educates our children for the future- a future in which we progress together and close the inequality gap such that suffering is minimized and our hierarchy of needs are met on the whole.

What I believe is the key to unlocking this ever-worrying Pandora’s box of societal decline is entrepreneurship. We were born learners, innovators, creators, and thinkers. We began with an innate interest in trying and doing and failing. We learned to walk by falling on our backsides multiple times, learning about gravity, stability and movement. Tom Wujec conducts an ongoing “Marshmallow Challenge” in which he asks various groups of people to construct a standing structure of spaghetti and tape with a marshmallow at the top. His findings show that kindergarten students consistently perform amongst the best of all groups due to their desire to try and fail and try again until they get it right. Over time we are taught that failure is not an option, and we make less and less space for it in our lives, making us less and less entrepreneurial and more and more robotic.

I met with Dennis Littky a while back in New York City. Dennis Littky runs a revolutionary program for high school students called Big Picture Learning. Dennis, when putting together his new schools, asked himself, “If we didn’t know there was such a thing as school, what would it be? Think about if you were teaching your own kid at home, you wouldn’t put them in the living room for 45 minutes then ring a bell then run them into the bathroom and say you’re going to do science now. You wouldn’t do it that way! It’s RIDICULOUS!” He asked thousands of kids what one word they think of when they think of high school and they said boring. So he decided to give students the screwdriver. He decided to ask THEM what they cared about, what they were passionate about, and then create the space for them to be the entrepreneurs of their own learning focused on their own interests. He winds education backwards hundreds of years to the wonderful apprenticeship based model in which a student gains her knowledge from a master of the art she cares about.

In Uganda, Eric Glustrom created a program called Educate! where high school students have the opportunity to take classes on entrepreneurship. His program, over the past 7 years, has been so successful in educare or “leading forth” students in creating their own enterprises that the Ugandan government has adopted his curriculum and implemented it at the country-wide level. What Eric’s program proves is that education can not only benefit society immediately, today, by creating local enterprises and jobs and opportunities, but it can bring forth the imperative skills of critical thinking, empathy, rapid prototyping, and making change in the world around us.

What if we began to innovate at earlier ages, allowing our students to be creative and think locally about making lemonade stands and clean water hubs and intelligent sewage processing? What if we allowed our children to become entrepreneurs and to fail in a safe space such that they would grow to learn how to embrace failure and find success by continuously trying?

Survival is predicated on the ability to adapt. If our education system cannot adapt to the growing needs of society, we will end up with “well-educated” mass of students lacking the skills required to truly progress. If we bring students’ innate desire to learn forth, making room for their creativity and uniqueness instead of shunning it, we will shine light on the beautiful solutions that could make a sustained impact on our world.