I’m grateful to our wise and hardworking EIC team member and recent college graduate, Michelle Alber, for sharing her compelling story in a video-letter to education innovation advocates. (See letter/transcript here).
As Michelle says, young people have for too long been disempowered and disengaged in their learning experiences. Even privileged students like her have felt the imposed stress of the current education system to conform to an outdated definition of success; get all As in courses, strive for a competitive college, compete for high paying jobs, earn enough to own a car, home, and raise a family. But the education rat race has left young people feeling unsuccessful, under-prepared for the workforce, unmotivated, in debt, and struggling to make ends meet in unsatisfying jobs. Michelle spent a year searching for a job that leveraged her expensive out of state BA in political science and anthropology, and then settled for an office manager position that taps into a fraction of her abilities and interests. Michelle’s brother will be graduating from college in June to a likely still-COVID-ravaged economy that will be challenging for ALL graduates - whether high school or college - but even more so for a passionate philosophy major. It seems that both of my children feel the best and only path is to pursue yet another expensive degree - to take on more education debt for a business or law degree that will eventually, hopefully help them make ends meet.
For less advantaged students, which are the bulk of our population, higher degrees are seen as impractical and out of reach. Even if they get scholarships and Pell grants, today’s young adults know how many of their peers have failed to earn any degree (on average, only 55% of freshmen complete a degree at a Nevada university - and community colleges are even lower). The bulk of education debt is carried by incompleters who also struggle to access jobs that can pay it off. Clearly it’s not our young people who are failing. It’s our non-adapting system of schooling that is failing to meet new needs. The system must update criteria of “readiness” and “success” in today’s world. Instead of diploma factories for yesterday’s jobs, schools need to start fulfilling their core role in serving a rapidly changing society.
I hope we can all agree that that role, simply put, is to prepare every learner to thrive for life.
I hope we can also agree that today’s systems are not designed to develop and uplift each and every learner to thrive - to honor their glorious uniqueness, unleash their strengths and full genius, or empower their highest contribution to a better world.
While shifting our education system to serve this higher purpose is a daunting challenge, COVID-19 is forcing us to action. Education is the slowest social system to innovate - to integrate new technologies to optimize efficiency and effectiveness - to adapt to the new reality of what citizens need to be successful in our increasingly complex world. As education is the most foundational system to society, its products - high performing self-directed lifelong learners - are crucial to enabling the high functioning of all other social systems;
The education system has been the most bureaucratic of all social systems - slow to leverage new technologies to empower the end-users; to enable learners to be in charge of their own learning. If we act quickly and collaboratively, Nevada has a unique opportunity to leapfrog and transcend the outdated goals, assessments, policies, politics, methodologies, inequitable funding, entrenched politics, and misguided promotion criteria. How? By adopting the EIC mission: to reimagine education to empower every learner to thrive to their potential.
After years of seeking pathways to realize this essential and urgent mission, the fog is slowly lifting, and we are seeing the bridge to our brightest future. EIC’s team is now working with innovators in several Nevada counties, including Churchill, Washoe, and Pershing, to host student Design Clubs. These small teams of forward-looking students and coaches will work on two key PROJECTS to envision the future:
In this great video by master teacher John Spencer, Why Journalism is the Subject of the Future, investigative story-telling in and with the community is revealed as a profound and powerful learning methodology. Please visit our website to learn about our vision and plans for nurturing community-based Thrive Lab Ecosystems based on the common principles behind journalism, scientific inquiry, and entrepreneurialism to solve community needs.
As student Design Club members guide us in re-imagining education, we’ll necessarily need some re-languaging:
1. Moving from student to learner to Self-Preneur; designer and creator of one’s best life;
2. Moving from teacher-instructors to coach-cheerleader teams who guide Self-Preneur teams through “collaborative action research and design” project investigations in the real world.
Does this paradigm shift sound scary, essential, and fun at the same time?
Please join us to unleash ALL young people to explore their world - to discover their gifts and passions on their hero’s quest to their most fulfilling place and contribution to their community and world.
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Mary Alber, PhD, MBA
Founding Director of Education Innovation Collaborative