A recent network world article brought up the disconnect between students, employers and colleges. Realistically education is a tri-parte agreement between students who want to generally learn something useful for their future, educators who need to stay up on top of the technology so that they can teach it to students, and employers who will hire the students who are a product of our education systems.
We all know about students who are allowed to graduate but had no meaningful learning experience or learning throughout their college career.
We all know about teachers, professors, and educational leaders who are more interested in their next paper or next promotion than they are with the students who it is their charge to teach.
We all know about corporations who have moved to a more agile lean employment system where legions of contractors without benefits are swapped in and swapped out of jobs in the IT Industry at will.
This is a problem that needs to be addressed at multiple levels, firing instructors is not an answer, having corporations “deal with it” is not an answer, students being “slackers” is not an answer. There is no point in playing a “blame game” here, rather we need to address the reality of what students want against what instructors need to do to survive the educational system against what corporations want as employers.
Structurally the education is broken.
There I said it, and even though I love to teach and believe that it is one of the coolest things I can do, the pressures of the field I work in, which means I am working as an adjunct rather than a full time professor at some college also drive me. Adjuncting is more rewarding as all I have to do is teach, but I have to teach what the college systems tell me to teach, even if what they want taught is Firewall NG that was old in 2001.
I have also been at meetings that have dragged on for hours over grammatical minutia on the use of “they” versus “his or her”. While good grammar is good for everyone, time could have been better spent actually addressing a problem than grammatical minutia.
Students are truly stuck in the middle, dependent upon two systems that are meant to guide their future. College is the time to be inspired and try new ideas, new politics, new thoughts, but often we reward those who can parrot back the instructor better. Corporations are generally profit driven and depend on a steady supply of young employees who will work for 80-120 hours a week and only get paid for 40. For students it will not be until they are in their 30’s when they start having kids, homes, and expenses that they cannot work more than 40, often family takes away from the corporate world’s incessant need for uncompensated overtime to make up their productivity statistics.
Which leaves people burned out or buried deeply in the corporate system by the time they are 40 praying that they go unnoticed so they will not get fired. They exist in a world of conformity, and it is impossible to dislodge them from a company, a school, a government, or other institution. In some cases like my own we go start our own companies because there are better things to do with my time than live in a corporate or educational gerbil cage.
Systematically we reward conformity to the norms of where we are. This goes well beyond education, but we teach conformity in most of our educational systems. We rarely reward our truly best thinkers; rather we reward those that can conform the best. We also teach the rewards of conformity in our corporations, boat rockers are often fired first. That lesson cannot fail to be learned and learned quickly by people who just want to pay bills.
Within Education and Corporations the rewards to conformity are too many to pass up. The politics too deeply entrenched to fight against, and thus the banality of conformity is what we teach, it is our children’s first experience outside the home after a brutal 12 years of teaching conformity and standardized testing in the K-12 system. Corporations capitalize on that conformity because it means a steady stable of workers who will not rock the boat.
But herein lies the rub; conformity cannot deliver the next generation of leaders. Conformity cannot deliver the next innovation; conformity cannot deliver the next generation of thinkers, philosophers, explorers, innovators, or problem solvers.
We have been at the cusp and now firmly on the ramp to a massive social change from industrial based economies to a technology/knowledge based economy. Many will be left behind because technology and knowledge require critical thinking and require rejection of conformity. They require questioning of the status quo to find new and unique ways of solving difficult problems. The education system that rewards conformity cannot deliver truly independent thinkers. The corporate hierarchy that rewards conformity cannot truly innovate or come up with awesome new products that solve problems that we have today.
If we truly want to have the society of thinkers and creators then we have to reward that. Xerox Park is a prime example of that philosophy. DARPA when they are not working on anything top secret is another example that risks pay off. If not for DARPA, we would not have the Internet. For at time there, Edison labs, or even AT&T Labs were doing wonderfully cool stuff. You can see this in the various skunk works funded by government or industry. We can see the payoffs in this process every time we encourage risk taking and non-conformity.
The disconnect is societal, and requires a complete rewiring of what is important to have an impact on the future – with students as the ultimate product. Fortunately there are people and education systems that are quietly and diligently trying to undo the damage of conformity; unfortunately they do not reach enough people to be meaningful to the mass society yet. Some of the students that are now in independent K-12 systems are exactly what we need, and they will go to independent colleges where they can continue to learn to think, explore, and learn that there are few if any limits.
If we can rewire the public education system from stem to stern, from K-12 through college in all its forms then employers and students will have what they need to make a meaningful impact on the 21rst and 22end century. If we continue on the path we are on now, then we should not be surprised by what we get. Students ill prepared to be leaders, thinkers and creators, companies that will complain that they are not getting what they need out of students, and educational systems that cannot teach what really matters because they are mired in their own systems of conformity.
- Is The Decline Of IT Employment The Fault Of The Educational System? (lockergnome.com)
- Bill Gates: Education Budget Cuts Don’t Have To Hurt Learning (huffingtonpost.com)
- What Finland Tells Us About Teaching, Curricula, and Testing [Mike the Mad Biologist] (scienceblogs.com)
- “Harvard report calls for education system reform” and related posts (cavalierdaily.com)