Today the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the Iowa Business Council held a summit to discuss what the voice of business should be in education reform in Iowa. The premise of the summit was that the needs of business are not being properly represented to the educational community, so therefore a summit is required to provide these requirements to the powers-that-be in the State. The absence at the summit of a number of key thought-leaders from the State educational community resulted in much gnashing of teeth and vitriol-spewing on Twitter.
I have been fortunate enough to engage at a deep level with many key educators in the state, and once even had the opportunity to sit on a panel with Trace Pickering, Jason Glass (Director of Education, Iowa), and Debi Durham (Director of Economic Development, Iowa) to discuss the challenges ahead.
(Humorous aside, and one of my highlights from the last ten years in Iowa, was when a teacher at the event directed a question to Debi, "How do we get more involvement from business in education?", to which Debi responded in typical Debi-fashion, "Bullshit! You don't want business more involved. You want us to come in, give you money and our opinions, and then leave!"
I would have kissed her, but she could beat me up.)
There are some very very innovative people trying to affect real change in education in this state. As a broader group, Iowa educators have a long tradition of debating change to the educational system.
I've also spent nearly a decade engaging with the statewide business community, large and small. They are revenue focused (aka 'coin-operated') and want educational organizations to give them exactly the workforce they need exactly when they need it. They also consistently malign the perceived decline in educational 'product' year over year.
In my opinion, like any other statistically-significant population of people, there are good and bad actors in both groups. I have personally spoken with those that want to change and experiment, and those who will fight any change to their dying breath.
There are a couple of flawed assumptions that I've identified in my interactions with both 'tribes'.
The first flawed assumption is that business is the 'customer' of the educational system. This presupposes that schools are minting future cubicle dwellers off of a human assembly line. It also assumes that there is a fixed skill set, or sets, that define a future cube-minion, that the schools are failing at imprinting upon these human cattle. It presumes that everyone is going to be a 'job-taker' and not a 'job-maker' (entrepreneur), and that the school is exclusively responsible for 'making' them.
The second flawed assumption is the educators belief that they can self-identify the necessary changes to the decades of pedagogical detritus and execute the drastic measures required to update our industrial-age educational model. Given the deep and entrenched bureaucracy in education, self-induced revolutionary change is about as likely as the entire cohort of incumbent Congresscritters being voted out en-masse in the next election.
The presumption that this discussion should be framed as some sort of Fiscal Cliff showdown between businesspeople and educators is misguided.
They are forgetting that the 'product' they are debating are actually human beings with their own unique goals, ambitions, and free will. They are a generation that will continue the current trend of 'occasional employment', as their jobs will not define them in the information and imagination age. They are a generation that will receive less and less of their 'education' in a formal school setting.
They, the student, the 'customer', should be in the driver's seat of this entire discussion, yet they seem to be the only one without their own summit. Perhaps we should have a student summit and let them, the actual people who are going to be living in the future, define their preferred model of future education. Of course we will need to have academic theorists, business representatives, and all of the other stakeholders present to provide insights and feedback, but ultimately the customer decides what the customer wants (with the active help of their parents hopefully).
I described this on Twitter today as akin to a conversation between Microsoft and Apple on what products I should buy. Ummmm, don't I get a vote, since it's my life and my money?
The same logic applies here. As a human being, I reserve the right to decide if I take a job or make one, and if I pursue (my lifelong) education through public/private institutions or autodidactically, or some combination of both. Structuring a business/education conveyor belt, such as the near-public school monopoly we are pushed into by law in the United States, to perpetuate the belief that you should be an 'exclusively institutionally-educated future employee' is more tragic than my anguished English grammar above.