Why don’t we allow students to learn about entrepreneurism?
What is Missing from Education. Why are we not fixing it?
Recently I found myself at a dinner party where the discussion turned to education — especially to what schools are doing to encourage more kids to go to college. I chose to keep quiet, because I have strong opinions on this subject, and I’ve found that my ideas are definitely not mainstream.
Despite my good intentions, I was eventually asked point blank to share my thoughts. So I gave it to the dinner guests straight and said, “I don’t plan to pay for my kids to go to college, and I am not going to push them to go either.” You should have seen their faces.
What kind of blasphemy was I saying? They couldn’t seem to comprehend, because they had all been indoctrinated with the same “truth” I had growing up, that college is the singular gateway to a fulfilling and successful life. Why wouldn’t any decent parent do all he could to assure his kids went to college? You might be thinking that yourself.
Please allow me to explain why college is not the gateway to better opportunities it once was.
First, I recommend you read this blog post, Is College Necessary, or Even Desirable?, by a well-known real estate blogger named Rob Hahn. It has nothing to do with real estate, but rather it’s a personal discussion about college plans for his kids. Rob struggles with the same dilemma I have with education with regards to my children.
The root of the problem with education has nothing to do with the teachers or a lack of funding (the issues that get most media attention). The problem stems from how education is designed and administered, and what is mysteriously MISSING from the curriculum.
You can see a real life example of this idea at work in this TEDx Talk, Hack schooling makes me happy by Logan LaPlante, who at the time was 13 years old. But the solution that worked for him doesn’t necessarily help fix our outdated education system.
Our current school system was set up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, to meet the needs of the industrial economy.
Public schools supplied factories with a skilled labor force, and provided basic literacy to the masses. This was the education that the vast majority of the population received.
Secondary education supplied the managerial and professional leadership of the industrial economy. It provided more flexible and widely applicable skills that could be transferred across firms, industries, and occupations. While only a fraction of the population in America attended high school — about 40% in 1935 — no other nation in the world had such widespread coverage at the time.
Higher education supplied the engineers, doctors, and scientists which facilitated rapid urbanization and technological advancement for the economy. Still, less than 5% of the population attained this level of education by the 1940s.
Our school system was modeled after the factories of the industrial revolution. Schools and factories are similar even to the point where the bells at these schools were modeled on the shift-time sounds in factories.
Schools operate similarly to assembly lines. The school assembly line is segmented into years. Students enter the schools and are sorted by age. Each day during the year students receive instruction on particular subjects and skill sets. Every subject is taught during a fixed time period in the day. Students are then tested on each subject to see if they meet the standards, so they can move along the line. Finally they receive their stamp of approval (diploma) at the end of the line.
Then and Now
The schools believed in a model of education where one mold fits all, and turned learning into a dull, repetitive, and tedious process. Yet, our school system provided education for a large segment of the population that did not have the resources to be educated in any other way.
There was also a good rationale for children to want to go to school. Public schools effectively provided the skills necessary to succeed in the industrial economy. Public school graduates could expect to find a job with relative ease, and have job security for the rest of their lives.
Today we live in a post-industrial economy, and a rapidly globalizing world. The job security that previous generations enjoyed no longer exists. Today a person changes jobs every three years on average.
We can hardly anticipate what the economy would look like in a month, or what set of skills it would require. Our industrial age school system simply cannot keep up with such rapid changes.
There is no longer a good rationale for children to want to go to school. Rather, schools have become a significant burden on them, without much benefit. Going through the system can no longer guarantee success in the 21st century. A person who chooses to rely on the skill set he acquired at school may quickly discover that his skills are obsolete.
The Damage of Reform
So what have our leaders and government done to address the issues at the core of the problem?
Higher education standards were established by states. Student performance was measured more rigorously, requiring more student testing and holding educators responsible for the results.
Because teachers’ jobs depend on their students passing the test, they focused on teaching what will be on the test, instead of focusing on making the students proficient on the subject. The results show that students are passing the tests but are not competent in the subjects.
In other words, school became more rigorous and mechanical, but the scope or quality of education did not improve, and the assembly line model of education remained the same.
School no longer serves to expand students’ possibilities in life, or enrich their experience. Instead it focuses on passing meaningless standardized tests.
When I was at college, most students cared very little for the classes they were in, and they would simply binge study right before each test, and then binge party right after. Students likely did not retain 95% of the material taught in class.
If you went to college you might remember this behavior. Still, college has its value, especially for those preparing for careers in scientific, medical, and other specialized fields.
However, I have a cousin who has worked for 15 years as a computer programmer for Oracle. He told me anybody could learn to do his job through free information on the Internet. He said you don’t need to go to college to be good at programming, as long as you’re drawn to that type of work and have an aptitude for it.
If you have a 16-year-old kid with a talent and an interest in becoming a computer programmer, why not lead them down the free education path right away rather than pushing them to spend four years and $150k at college. Why not set him up with a mentor in that field to help guide him. Why not give her the freedom to teach herself the skills necessary to be valuable to an employer — or better yet, how to create her own business, and create her own jobs. THAT SHOULD BE THE AMERICAN WAY.
One of my best friends has a son named Garrett who barely graduated high school. When I say barely, I mean that it was a small miracle and a lot of hard work from his mom to get him over the finish line. The crazy part is, this kid will likely be the highest paid graduate of his class within two years. How is this possible?
Fortunately, Garrett pursued a hobby while going to school — welding. If there was ever a welding class offered at school he found a way to take it. He looked for opportunities outside of school to learn about welding as well. When he was a senior, he entered a statewide welding contest and took first place. He was awarded a scholarship to a two-year specialized welding school that boasts a 100% job placement rate. The average starting wage for welders is well over $100k a year — not bad for a guy who “barely” graduated high school.
Our country was founded by entrepreneurs and skilled trades people. We lost sight of that during the Industrial Age. We saw a resurgence of entrepreneurialism during and after the Great Depression, because people could no longer expect someone to hire them, even if they were well-trained and skilled. We soon fell back into our dependent ways relying on other people to hire us to make a living. Now we are coming out of another recession, and with all the under employed workers out there, my bet is you’ll start to see a whole new wave of entrepreneurs in the American workforce, but don’t expect those Entrepreneurs to get much of any help from our current education system.
As an employer in today’s new economy, I no longer care about someone’s level of education. Just because a student did well at school, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a good asset to my company. I care more about their ability to think creatively and respond to challenges “outside the box,” and their tenacity to learn.
In the real world the answer is typically not A,B,C, or D (like it is at school). Rather, the answer is often J or W. The quicker an employee can figure that out, the more valuable they are to me.
Why in heck do schools not offer more entrepreneurial education? I have a business degree, but all that taught me was how to climb the corporate ladder, and how to be an attractive prospect for a Fortune 500 company. Why don’t business schools focus at least 50% of their education on entrepreneurialism skills and business start up lessons. Check out these facts report by Forbes.com
1) There are almost 28 million small businesses in the US and over 22 million are self employed with no additional payroll or employees.
2) Over 50% of the working population (120 million individuals) works in a small business
3) Small businesses have generated over 65% of the net new jobs since 1995
Why doesn’t our education system — anywhere from kindergarten through college — include classes on how to create our own jobs?Luckily, many of us have learned this empowering skill on our own (the hard way).
In a recent blog post, I featured an article called “How Sucking at School Made Me A Better Entrepreneur.” The current education system wasn’t a good fit for me. I couldn’t wait to be done with school. It felt like a necessary evil. I was ready to go conquer the world but felt shackled by the education system. Looking back, I should have left it sooner — that certainly worked for these famous entrepreneurs:
Have you ever seen Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford in 2005? I highly recommend it for a number reasons. Did you know he never finished college? Did you know that during his speech he even says dropping out of college was the best decision he ever made? The most interesting part of the story is that after he dropped out of school, he stuck around campus and occasionally visited classes that interested him. He didn’t care about getting the “credit” for the class, he was interested in learning the subject matter.
Did you know that Bill Gates, the co-founder of software giant Microsoft and ranked the richest person in the world for a number of years, dropped out of Harvard in his junior year after reading an article about the Altair microcomputer in Popular Electronics magazine. He and his friend Paul Allen formed Micro Soft (later changed to Microsoft) to write software for the Altair.
Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson is a self-made billionaire businessman. He founded Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Records, Virgin Mobile, and most recently, a space tourism company to provide suborbital trips into space for anyone who can afford them. Suffering from dyslexia, Branson was a poor student, so he quit school at age 16 and moved to London, where he began his first successful entrepreneurial activity, publishing Student magazine.
John D. Rockefeller
I am sure you’ve heard of John D. Rockefeller. Well, two months before his high school graduation, history’s first recorded billionaire dropped out to take business courses at Folsom Mercantile College. He founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870, made his billions before the company was broken up by the government for being a monopoly, and spent his last 40 years giving away his riches, primarily to causes related to health and education. Ironically, this high school dropout helped millions get a good education.
Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Ray Kroc (founder of the McDonald’s Franchise), Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook). The list goes on and on.
The problem with education is NOT the teachers. The problem is NOT the lack of funding. The problem with education is what we are choosing NOT to teach students — or not allowing our youth to learn and explore areas that interest them.
The irony is that our kids have told us the solution but we are choosing not to listen because our education system has been a proven model for generations, therefore, we must have this blinded trust with it.
In a recent Gallup Poll of students in grades 5 through 12, nearly 8 in 10 students (77%) said they want to be their own boss, and 45% said they plan to start their own business. Yet schools offer almost no education on these topics — which is why so many of the greatest entrepreneurs in our country dropped out of school.
My goal is to share my knowledge as entrepreneur with my kids, to empower them with the skill set to be able to create their own job at will. If one of them chooses to become a scientist or a brain surgeon, then yes, I will help her find a way to attend college. But if either of my kids has an idea about a product or service that solves a problem or helps people, I will help her flush out that idea, figure out how to implement an action plan, and I may even invest in her business, even if I believe it is a risky investment, because I know that whether the business succeeds or fails, the entrepreneurial education she gains in the process is a valuable lesson they don’t teach in college. You only learn it by getting your hands dirty doing it with real life consequences at stake.
As a Realtor, I see the lack of entrepreneurial education everywhere I look. There are more than 1 million real estate agents in the U.S. 1 in every 200 people in Idaho, where I live, is a Realtor. Most agents don’t survive a year or two in business. Others who have been in business for decades still struggle to make a steady living. The core problem is not the lack of education opportunities in our industry, it’s the lack of the right kind of education.
In my office, I make it a priority to share with my agents how to run a business. We study other successful entrepreneurs and we bounce ideas off each other. From that practice we have not only discovered a better method of selling homes that helps ensure our clients net more money when they sell their home, but we also create happier work/life environments in the process. We are agent entrepreneurs., while most Realtors are just salesman. The training they get is limited to how to get the next sale. The training we focus on is how to outperform the rest of the market. There is a big difference.
Maybe if our education system was reconstructed to focus more on the trades and entrepreneurial skills, the job crisis we have in the U.S. right now wouldn’t exist. Maybe there wouldn’t be so many struggling real estate agents out there if they were taught in school how to think and operate like entrepreneurs.
Maybe we should stop thinking about what is wrong with education and just start fixing the things we know don’t work. I’m starting with my kids at home and the agents in my office — but I believe we all need to think bigger.
P.S. Please share any comments on this. I know this is a sensitive subject open discussion about it will only help bring more awareness and understanding to tough issues such as this.