Education for a Post-Baby Boomer World
Over the decades, Baby Boomers have McKinseyed the educational system to prepare students prepare for a middle class that no longer exists. And it has come close to destroying society.
by Clark Aldrich
Clark Aldrich, wearing all Made-in-USA clothing and accessories.
Aldrich and his work have appeared widely including in New York Times, CNN, and CBS.
Aldrich, who received his degree in Cognitive Science from Brown University and has held a top secret clearance level, balances hands-on, practical work with strategic engagements.
What would an educational system look like that was designed for today's world? How can a new educational system feed new domestic manufacturing, clean energy start-ups, and other entrepreneurial ventures? How can an educational system teach leadership and innovation? How can an educational system both support and learn from parents and children looking for non-standardized offerings?
Today's expensive schools are designed to feed the middle class and the corporate jobs that don't exist anymore. They have become an edifice of Baby Boomer nostalgia.
Today's youths are entrepreneurial, mission driven, and suspicious of institutions. They want an education that speaks their language, and helps them with their challenges. They want to learn to do, not learn to analyze. And they want their paychecks to fund their vision not their student loans.
Baby Boomer Nostalgia
The current approach to education has evolved based on the Baby Boomer's view of well-valued businesses. Theirs is a Jack Welch/McKinsey world, where everything is measured except what is most important.
The current approach to education rewards those students that display the Baby Boomer values of doggedness, conformity, sharp-elbowed competitiveness, and willingness to sacrifice personal life.
The Baby Boomer perfect teacher is the smug, cool, humble-bragging B-school professor imparting inspirational stories into eager little minds, and then assigning more homework reading than is possible to finish.
The students that rise in their educational system are those best suited for the Baby Boomer's view of the natural order, where analysists accumulate power and profit by squeezing (and then outsourcing) the people who do anything.
Why can't books and lectures teach leadership? Or innovation?
The educational system has increasingly relied on lectures, textbooks, repetitive drills, term papers, and standardized tests as repositories of knowledge and measures of worth.
The role of passive media as lingua franca—the common language of the realm—has hijacked our schools and restricted our curricula away from leadership and innovation and into analytical skills. (No one has learned how to be a leader from a book.)
Schools may be sold as some brutally efficient Darwinian meritocracy for preparing future leaders, but the truth is that even the best graduates have a shock transitioning to the productive world.
In very real ways, the curricula of schools limits the options of the "A" students. The best career paths for "A" students is not entrepreneurship but working for well funded organizations as analysts/researchers. They cannot own, nor even control the use of, their own insights.
And the curricula of schools even hurts those few organizations that schools feed. Organizations that use prestigious schools as filters tend to have leadership vacuums, to over-analyze, and to be weak at execution. It is predictable in a late-stage academic hegemony that averagely talented people with a knack for writing term or research papers would, upon graduation from an Ivy League school, evolve all of their subsequent jobs into paper writing activities.
The tragedy of linear content goes well beyond undermining many of our largest institutions and best students.
This current lingua franca of passive content is why natural leaders and experiential learners accurately feel that schools are rigged against them. For many, perhaps even most, schools are taught in a foreign language. People of action find sitting in a classroom painful. We set up our most energetic children to fail, and extort them to accept their subservient position in a classroom's pecking order.
And the "losers" in this system are right to buck; more businesses speak in sports metaphors and simple algebra than literature and calculus.
A rigorous analysis of 1980-2020 (if done by non-academics) may just show that schools were the root cause of devastating societal fragmentation.
This limitation is baked into the system. Schools measure the ability to conjugate a verb or bisect an angle not because it is important to children or communities, but because they can. Schools don't worry about life skills because they are unteachable and unmeasurable using current textbooks and online drills. When an institution in the education industry uses metrics to support their claims of being "research-driven" they are talking about success in schools, not success outside of schools.
A New Mission
Education needs a new mission.
And there is only one option. The new mission of education must be to connect each person's individual talents to their individual passions to enable growth.
That's it. Everything else gets in the way.
A student who is great at chemistry and obsesses on world hunger should use their education to connect the two, ultimately through a career or start-up.
That is the only metric that matters.
This common sense idea requires new thinking, and a rejection of many of our past approaches to education. My fifth book Unschooling Rules outlines just how big that shift ultimately needs to be.
Educational media is to schools what pharmaceuticals are to medicine.
The single greatest leverage point in education is educational media. Educational media is to schools what pharmaceuticals are to medicine. Without pharmaceuticals, the most dedicated doctors are put in impossible situations, and every action risks more harm than good.
This opportunity of media is to what I had decided to spend a few decades addressing directly.
I work across military, corporate, and academic clients on some of their more interesting issues, and I have over the last decade made a series of breakthroughs in educational media.
I call the overarching pedagogy Short Sims. Completely compatible with both today's institutional schools and radical new experiments, Short Sims puts all education on a new path. They are a trojan horse to undermine the phalanx of linear media.
Short Sims—platform-independent, non-proprietary, and easily shared—speak the language of experiential learning, not of traditional teaching [Examples].
Short Sims directly develop needed skills.
They don't need passionate instructors, or any interlopers, interpreters, or budgets to bring them to life. They are ready to serve. So they also support learners outside of educational institutions.
And Short Sims can be created by individuals, not heavily funded research teams. One person can create one Short Sim in a week or two and help the world learn how to be a leader. Short Sims can be easily understood, edited, updated, and improved.
Because I work with such a variety of clients, Short Sims have the influence of practically every industry and sector in their DNA. And now that more people are building Short Sims, the expressive range of all Short Sims is growing.
This is how we will begin to teach leadership, innovation, stewardship, project management, and other business and life skills. Programs can now be shared between schools, corporations, start-ups, and the military.
Now we build.
I followed up my book Unschooling Rules with the technical manual of Short Sims because Short Sims (or something with their same attributes) are necessary for the next model of education.
The timing happened to be perfect. Students and schools have experimented with the other critical piece of the puzzle: virtual classrooms. Any school can now coach people anywhere in the world.
Now, with educational media finally able to nurture personal agency, is the time to:
Nurture a hotbed of innovation in the area of education. The more approaches and choices, the better. The role of the Department of Education is to increase options for everyone. Virtual school programs must mean that any learner can choose between a variety of different approaches. The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
Use "learning to do" media (such as Short Sims) to capture innovative processes in self-contained content that develops leadership, innovation, and other life and professional schools.
Create open source tools and repositories, open to schools, but also corporations and other institutions. Learners all over the word should be able to, for example, gain competence and conviction in leadership or cyber-security from IBM or the U.S. military, if both sides want. Encourage Red Hat style consultancies.
Change the role of teachers from judges to coaches. Essentially, have students pick their teachers. The best coaches will know just which Short Sim suite to hand us next to support our current experiments.
Short Sims can be the vectors to align the efforts between traditional education programs, innovative education programs, corporations, military, governments, and non-profits.
This is how we finally define education as the system that connects people's individual passion and individual missions to careers or start-ups.
This is how we grow past where we are now.