Monday, March 25, 2013

World Class Education: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students

On three occasions in recent months I have had the pleasure to see Dr. Yong Zhao speak about creativity and education.  Dr. Zhao is a professor at The University of Oregon and director of Zhao Learning and ObaWorld Global Education.  His new book is World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.   Zhao was a great speaker, filling his presentations with self-deprecating humor, gentle teasing, and incredible research on creativity and learning.   He is also delightfully charismatic.  If you have a chance to see him speak, do so.

Here are my many take-ways:
1.       We need to first consider what the purpose of an education is.  Until we can decide on that, we will be hard-pressed to change anything.  Furthermore, comparing ourselves to other countries with different purposes is to compare apples and oranges.  As Dr. Zhao put it…We are racing to the top of what?  We have a Common Core for what?
2.       We also need to define success.  By virtue of having a college-age son, he now defines educational success as that which keeps you from living in your parents’ basement.  To put it more academically, that means you know how to do something that others wish to pay you for, you’re psychologically independent, and you are socialized and nice enough to become part of a community.  Sure sounds different than a test score!
3.       There are certain “known knowns” – Human nature is diverse, curious and creative.  The economy has changed.  Information is everywhere.  The world is more globalized than ever.
4.       Schools as we know them are like sausage makers…we do our best to take diverse and disparate inputs and grind them down into a standardized product.  We take individual differences, multiple intelligences, cultural diversity, curiosity, passion, and creativity and squeeze them through schooling to spit out employable people.  We are in essence, in the business of channeling and narrowing creativity.  I am sure this sounds cynical or depressing, but seriously consider how much room we allow for individualization and celebration of unique talents, interests and skills.  To what degree are our evaluations focused on individuality?  Do we celebrate rebelliousness?
5.       At the age of 5 most kids measure in the genius levels for creativity through tests of divergent thinking.  Then we give them some formal education and these levels plummet.  They recover after people retire. 
6.       The total value of manufactured goods produced in the US has been increasing while the number of manufacturing jobs has been decreasing.
7.       We are in the midst of a re-setting of the economy, not a recession.  We are dealing with a hollowing out of the middle class, but have growth at the ends – high income and low income jobs are growing, while middle class jobs are being lost.
8.       So who will be a new middle class?  The Creative class – Entrepreneurs – Business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, Intrepreneurs, and Policy entrepreneurs.
9.       Somebody at Google or Apple apparently said, “If you want to be managed you are not employable.”  We are entering an economy demanding creativity, flexibility and fast learning.  Row with us or get off the boat.
10.   Entrepreneurs are those with creative solutions and abilities to see them through to fruition.
11.   Good entrepreneurs are confident, passionate, have global competency, have friends, are creative, unique, risk-taking, empathetic and are alert to opportunity.
12.   Schools should come with warning labels – sausage making has side-effects!  Great test scores do not equal creativity.  Consider the following…
a.       China was #1 on all three areas of the most recent PISA test
b.      60 US independent schools took the test also
c.       Arne Duncan found the results appalling.  Obama called it our Sputnik moment.
d.      These test results also gave rise to a book, Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems. 
e.      But….if George Washington had used an existing international model he would have never envisioned America!
f.        The Chinese actually are not happy about these results….see below.
13.   Historically, the US is not getting worse based on achievement test scores – it has always been bad…since the 1950s.  Why?  American kids are confident and enjoy school but don’t test well, whereas Asian kids lack confidence, don’t enjoy school, test better than anyone else – and are not creative.  As one Chinese Premier apparently said, the next Steve Jobs will not be Chinese.  
14.   There is a direct negative correlation between math scores and entrepreneurialism.  The greater our focus on math and science (and their test scores), the more we are sacrificing confidence and talent – the key elements of entrepreneurialism.
15.   The new paradigm in education must be a new sausage maker – one that enhances human capacity rather than diminishing it, as our current system does.  Though it is to be pointed out, US schools clearly are not as successful as sausage-making as we continue to turn out entrepreneurs and inventors at far greater rates than the rest of the world.
16.   In other words, we are not as effective at killing creativity as other countries. 
17.   We have local control and that allows for variety, creativity, some individualization and ultimately a variety of students with wide ranging talents.  The Common Core and a growing obsession with testing is only going to stifle what we do well.
18.   58% of Apple’s revenues go to US-based employees even though the vast majority of their employees are in China.  The creative class is in the US.
19.   Pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is the wrong way to go, particularly if it is at the expense of creativity and questioning.
20.   The best education trains you to ask questions.
21.   This new Age of Abundance has finally made the right side of the brain useful.  In prior times, survival was key, therefore a limited numbers of skills.  But creativity is needed now.
22.   We must shift from training future employees to training future entrepreneurs.
23.   I really need to read a few more books, The Rise of the Creative Class, The Innovator’s Classroom and The Disruptive Classroom, and Loren Katz’s The Race Between Education and Technology.
24.   Dyslexia is not a problem, it is just different brain wiring yielding different visual perception and a great ability to be creative, artistic and to see patterns.
25.   The quicker you give kids answers the more you kill curiosity.
26.   Schools and grades discourage risk-taking.
27.   US Schools are good because we are local, decentralized and open.  We are forgiving, gender neutral, separated from church and state and publically funded.

Throw any of these ideas into conversation with teachers, administrators, human resources professionals, or parents and I assure you, you will start a conversation.  I found his points validating, inspiring and provocative.  If you do too, make it a point to grab Dr. Zhao’s book and find a place to see him speak.


Shashank Srivastav said...

Relevant points to ponder.

Debbie Ruston said...

Excellent points Mark! I totally agree, our education system needs transforming. Over 50% of young people are graduating with degrees and can't find work despite their degree and have tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding student loans. Many are moving back in with families in their mid twenties just to survive.

Recently the U.S. Dept. of Labour stated that over 65% of the work that will be done by today's youth hasn't been invented yet. Why then, are we continuing to teach the same things because that is what we have always done.

We cannot continue to teach based on what worked for the industrial age. We absolutely must provide the knowledge for our youth to envision,innovate and create self reliant futures through entrepreneurship.

Tonya Simmons said...

The only way we can begin to rebuild education is to first make education a priority in this country. The reason why other countries excell is because they don't tolerate severe disipline issues that is tolerated in our schools. Parents need to be held accountable for their children. More and more of the resonsibility is being shifted away from them. It starts at home. Teachers spend a huge amount of time with disipline. This is unacceptable. If a child is being disruptive and preventing other students from learning that parent needs to be held accountable. I agree with the comments about Finland. Teachers need to have more freedom to teach and not be forced to place so much emphasis on standardized testing. Many of these individuals who have developed these tests have never taught in a classroom. As a matter a fact if they had to teach for a day in some of these schools they probably wouldn't make it through the day. With all that aside another major issue that America has yet to address is our society. The schools are a direct reflection of what is really going on in our society. It is scary, the amount of violence, anger, and lack of respect for human life that some of these kids have. It is impossible for a school system to combat these problems alone. They need the help of parents, and the community.

Tonya Simmons

Anonymous said...

Point 14 is offensive the way it's worded. No offense. (No pun intended...)

Math and science do use creativity. A lot of it. There are high school-age students who are inventing and discovering new math, and that takes a lot of creativity. However, currently math and science education de-emphasize creativity, which is another issue in itself. I feel that the issue is not focusing too much on math and science, but rather focusing on them in the wrong way.

This comment was highly influenced by Lockhart's Lament, if that happens to interest you.