The Ultimate Education System

“Let’s start at the very beginning.  That’s a very good place to start.” (As sung by Julie Andrews as Maria in “The Sound of Music.”)

Unfortunately, Maria, you’re wrong.  The best place to start is at the end.  As Stephen Covey wrote in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” habit #2 is “Begin with the end in mind.”  Scripture supports this in Proverbs 29:18:  “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

But just for perspective, let’s start at the beginning of the previous century.

My mother brought some papers to our house a couple of weeks ago.  Perhaps fueled by advertisements for finding out about one’s lineage, they contained a history of her side of family.  I discovered that my grandfather had come to this country from Poland when he was a child in the early 1900’s, and attended school up to the 8th grade.  In fact, many relatives from that generation only attended school to 8th grade.  It was my parents’ generation that were the first to graduate from high school, receiving an additional four years of schooling.

Since these folks were part of the huge contingency of students which received their education in Catholic schools, I dug back a little to discover why an 8th grade education was considered acceptable at that time, why elementary schools ended at 8th grade.

In 1852, the Plenary Council of Baltimore mandated that new parishes in the United States build a Catholic school before they built a church. In the 1880’s in the United States, the age of consent was 10 years of age. In the early 1900s, life expectancy was less than 50 years of age, and by 1920’s the age of consent was increased to 16 years of age for most states.

When children graduated 8th grade at age 14 from a Catholic school, young men entered the seminary to become priests, and young women entered the convent.  Those who did not receive a call to religious life continued working in the fields, or started working in the mills and mines.  Perhaps they became an apprentice.  Perhaps they were married and began their families, and work was necessary to support the young family.  Perhaps a woman in the 1900’s had a child at age 16.  When the child was perhaps a little older (say, 18 years of age), she could have had a child.  It the 1950’s, married 20-year olds were having children.  Therefore, during the first half of the 1900’s, it wasn’t uncommon for 3 generations to be living within the same household.

As for education, high school was for those who were capable of doing higher-level work, and were encouraged to enter the business world in the growing fields of banking, finance and insurance.  College was only for those with higher intellectual acumen, aspirations and talent for specialized fields like medicine and law.

My how things have changed!  Today, one needs a Master’s degree just to get a job that might pay the bills.

And that’s why the phrase “side hustle” has made its way into our social lexicon.  The mindset is no longer, “I’ll get a job that’s a stepping stone to a career to support my family;” it’s “What can I do to generate the necessary revenue I need to support the lifestyle I wish to have?”

It’s clear that the our nation’s educational system isn’t performing well, even though money is being poured into it, and new programs and initiative that are developed and deployed cause upheaval rather than improvement.  Further, what is it measure of that improvement?  Higher test scores?  What do higher test scores in the K-12 system relate to?  The ability to get a job?  No.  The potential to be accepted to college?  Perhaps.

The real goal of our current educational environment, which is a goal that no one seems to talk about, is to prepare students to enter a workforce and be able to solve problems that haven’t been created yet.  That skillset requires the ability to think critcally, to analyze deeply, and to generate creative and innovative solutions that are economically possible.

And that doesn’t require a K-12 system.  It requires a K-16+ system. The answer is not charter schools run by private organizations; it’s schools mentored by the local universities.  Public school districts that align themselves with community colleges and public universities; Catholic elementary schools that align themselves with Catholic high schools and Catholic colleges and universities; Christian schools that align themselves with Christian colleges and universities.  These systems don’t have to be in “lock step” with each other, since those in one elementary school environment may choose a different high school environment and may then choose a different college experience based on their aspirations.  The point is that it’s time for the disjointedness to cease, and systems thinking be embrace to transform the educational experience in our nation.

One recent example is that of STEM education.  In our neck of the woods, educators are still looking at the importance of incorporating STEM into the curriculum, emphasizing the interrelation between science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  Local public school districts recently attempted to get grants to build a STEM building, but have been unsuccessful in securing funding, causing the building projects to be scrapped.  Why?  STEM was five years ago.  You can’t take that kind of time today to mold the thinking of individuals to get to the point that they agree that something should move forward.  And, if school board personnel configuration changes every two years, then it’s no wonder that nothing gets done.  No one wants their taxes raised, but if they aren’t, education in the community doesn’t just suffer, it’s put into a perilous position.

So what kind of projects are being funded?  STEAM – adding arts to the mix, because it’s the arts that engage the creative side of the brain, that is required for an understanding of architecture and design, and to allow for beauty to be comingled with the functional.

A recent conversation with an elementary school revealed that their finance council believes they should incorporate a STEM program by building a structure, which will cause more parents to be excited about enrolling their students at the school.  After all, Google has an office right down the street, and those engage in STEM education would have the opportunity to be employed there.

Anyone see the missing steps?  It reminds me of this cartoon:STEM education in the elementary school needs to be aligned with the STEM programs in place at the local high schools which should be aligned with STEM education at the local university level since Google is probably connected with the folks at that university to recruit their brightest and best.  It’s interesting to note that one of the universities in the catchment area of this system was bringing all kinds of talent together to work on AI (Artificial Intelligence), and is building a building to house these forward-thinking research activities.  It’s taking YEARS for this building to be built.  What’s happened?  A major player in the AI space buys an old warehouse and vacant mill site, renovates it, and recruits all the scientists to come and work for them since they’re already in the product testing phase, rather than waiting for a building to be completed.  Construction, with all it’s safety and code requirements, union contracts, and labor needs collided with technology’s ability to move forward at blinding speed and blindsided a prestigious university that’s a pioneer in forward-thinking technology development.

And that’s where the + comes in.  The last element of the alignment is for the local colleges and universities to be connected to the businesses that support the work of today.

But that’s just four elements – elementary, high school, college, and business – and every complete system has at least five elements.  What’s the fifth?

Incubation funding.

It’s Shark Tank.  It’s The Innovation Hub.  It’s Venture Capital.  While there are businesses engaged in innovation, there are some individual whose ideas are so revolutionary they’re beyond what a university or an innovative technology company can offer them.  Gates.  Jobs.  Zuckerberg.  In a recent news item (June 29, 2017), Fox News reported that Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg wants his social network to fill the role that churches and social clubs once filled in communities.  So the question becomes, “Is that a vision you want your children’s educational experience to support?”

If not, then what’s your vision, and how does education need to change to support it?