The Hustle-and-Grind Tech Entrepreneur Mindset is Not a Good Replacement for the Industrial Model of Education
Fifteen years ago, the late Sir Ken Robinson sparked a conversation and a movement about creativity – or the lack thereof – in traditional classrooms. His now famous TED Talk and subsequent work were (and still are) significant and very much on-point: the design of traditional schools kills creativity.
Still, there is a related, but much deeper problem with education. Sir Ken did a wonderful job of pointing to the fact that our models of education were grounded in industrial paradigms, with students treated as products to be refined to the point that they were reliable workers in our organizations. He, and the movement his work launched, was so effective that we began, and are aggressively continuing, to dismantle industrial, factory-based approaches to education.
However, in their place, the far-too-common replacement seems to be a model of education grounded not in industrial-era mindsets, but digital-era mindsets.
The industrial model was based in the idea of uniformity of outcomes and outputs: a good program in Finance was one that graduated (manufactured) Finance professionals of competence level X with a certain amount of acceptable variance between individual graduates.
So a Finance degree from Harvard meant the graduate would have a higher level of competence/product quality than one from a small state school — and with the understanding that there would be some acceptable level of product quality variation from one Harvard Finance graduate to the next. We were willing to sacrifice individual creativity and expression in exchange for fairly consistent product quality on the output of the education process.
Certainly, this model seems worth dismantling. However, in the push to increase creativity and individual expression, we have rapidly adopted the mindsets of the tech industry.
Silicon Valley has replaced Detroit as the reference point for the workplace we are preparing students for: “move fast and break things,” “hustle and grind,” emphases on hyper-success, hyper-creativity, and hyper-performance.
In the rightful pursuit of freeing individual student’s creativity, we are rapidly adopting these background assumptions about what a career, and a life, should be grounded in.
And in the pursuit of no longer creating corporate careerists who burn out by the age of 50 because they never found and expressed their creativity, we are now starting to run the risk of creating a generation of entrepreneurialists who will burn out by the age of 35 because they never found and expressed a reason for being alive other than achievement.
There must be a better way.
At DAE, we have been applying what might be seen as neither an industrial nor a digital era approach to development, but something of an agrarian one. While the standards and the expectations are high, the environment and the psychological pace/pressure are low and highly communal.
The emphasis is not on the expression of creative individual voice for its own sake, or for the sake of becoming “successful,” but on the uncovering of individual creativity in the context of serving something greater than the individual’s self-interest. The objective is to develop human beings who are highly competent in software engineering, but whose competence is deeply grounded in commitment to communities and issues that they are willing to give their life to.
We have met with — and in one case partnered with for a short time — many of the new crop of learning institutions: bootcamps and alternative, post-secondary ed tech programs. The encounters were all very similar: a high-quality curriculum that assumed everyone should want to be a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur. And, perhaps more concerning, absent was any space for inquiry into and development of the human and humane.
We cannot afford this approach, as a society.
Brilliant technologists with zero grounding in the human and the humane, with exposure to community only as a vehicle for achievement, will not lead us out of the social, political, environmental, and human justice issues that are now existential threats for our democracy — and indeed for our entire planet.
Brilliant humans who understand how to use technology might, though.
A.M. Bhatt is founder and CEO of DAE, a nonprofit working to democratize access to 21st century digital career and life skills for high school students and young adults from communities that have been historically and systemically under-resourced. For more information, visit myDAE.org.