In Civilization, his breakthrough book about the ascent and fall of Western civilization, Niall Ferguson makes the case that four hundred years of Western dominance was primarily due to six institutions that were built over time — not great men, or accidents of weather or geography, but long-lasting, highly leveraged institutional advantages that permitted us to grow and prosper. Competition, the scientific method, property rights, medicine, consumption, and jobs were all brand new ideas, put into place and then polished over time.
The result of this infrastructure was the alignment of institutions and outputs that enabled us to live in the world we take for granted today.
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The industrial age is the most obvious example. Once the template was set for productivity-enhancing, profit-creating factories, the work of millions could be coordinated and wealth would be created. The six foundational elements are taken for granted as we build a new economy and a new world on top of them. Amplified by the Web and the connection revolution, human beings are no longer rewarded most for work as compliant cogs. Instead, our chaotic world is open to the work of passionate individuals, intent on carving their own paths. Not to hand a map to those willing to follow it, but to inculcate leadership and restlessness into a new generation.
The first one is sad, selfish, and infuriating. I often see it on late-model, expensive cars near my town. None of these points of view fill me with optimism about our future. The other bumper sticker is the one I never see.
I think if we followed the advice of the second, non-existent bumper sticker, we might be onto something. School belongs to parents and their kids, the ones who are paying for it, the ones it was designed for. It belongs to the community, too, the adults who are going to be living and working beside the graduates the school churns out. Too often, all these constituents are told to treat school like an autonomous organism, a pre-programmed automaton, too big to change and too important to mess with. Well, the world changed first.
It sells the moment short to call this the Internet revolution. In fact, the era that marks the end of the industrial age and the beginning of something new is ultimately about connection.
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Connecting people to one another. Connecting businesses to each other. Connecting tribes of similarly minded individuals into larger, more effective organizations. Connecting machines to each other and creating value as a result. In the connection revolution, value is not created by increasing the productivity of those manufacturing a good or a service. Value is created by connecting buyers to sellers, producers to consumers, and the passionate to each other.
In fact, though, connection leads to an extraordinary boost in productivity, efficiency, and impact.
In the connected world, reputation is worth more than test scores. Most of all, the connected world rewards those with an uncontrollable itch to make and lead and matter. In the pre-connected world, information was scarce, and hoarding it was smart.
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Information needed to be processed in isolation, by individuals. After school, you were on your own. In the connected world, all of that scarcity is replaced by abundance — an abundance of information, networks, and interactions. Virtually every academic activity in school is done solo. The lectures might take place in a crowded room, but they too are primarily one-way. How is this focus on the isolated individual going to match up with what actually happens in every field of endeavor? Group projects are the exception in school, but they should be the norm.
Figuring out how to leverage the power of the group — whether it is students in the same room or a quick connection to a graphic designer across the sea in Wales — is at the heart of how we are productive today. Walking through the Harlem Village Academy, the first thing most people notice is the noise. If the casual visitor walks away thinking that Dr. Beginning with the foundation of a respectful and respected student body, Deborah Kenny has added something exciting: she lets the teachers teach.
No, this is handmade education. At HVA, teachers who care teach students who care. Is it any surprise that this is revolutionary?
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Transparency in the traditional school might destroy it. If we told the truth about the irrelevance of various courses, about the relative quality of some teachers, about the power of choice and free speech — could the school as we know it survive? What happens when the connection revolution collides with the school?
Unlike just about every other institution and product line in our economy, transparency is missing from education.
Students are lied to and so are parents. At some point, teenagers realize that most of school is a game, but the system never acknowledges it. In search of power, control and independence, administrators hide information from teachers, and vice versa. The very texture of the traditional school matches the organization and culture of the industrial economy.duathjocalenu.cf
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The bottom of the pyramid stores the students, with teachers middle managers following instructions from their bosses. As in the traditional industrial organization, the folks at the bottom of the school are ignored, mistreated, and lied to. They are kept in the dark about anything outside of what they need to know to do their job being a student , and put to work to satisfy the needs of the people in charge.
Us and them. The connection economy destroys the illusion of control. Students have the ability to find out which colleges are a good value, which courses make no sense, and how people in the real world are actually making a living. They have the ability to easily do outside research, even in fifth grade, and to discover that the teacher or her textbook is just plain wrong. When students can take entire courses outside of the traditional school, how does the school prevent that?
When passionate students can start their own political movements, profitable companies, or worthwhile community projects without the aegis of a school, how are obedience and fealty enforced? Friedrich Kessler, writing in in the Columbia Law Review , articulated a new kind of contract, one for the industrial age.
Rather than being individually negotiated with each party, a contract of adhesion is a take-it-or-leave-it mass deal. The industrialist says, use this car or this software or this telephone, and merely by using it, you are agreeing to our terms and conditions. The development of large scale enterprise with its mass production and mass distribution made a new type of contract inevitable — the standardized mass contract. A standardized contract, once its contents have been formulated by a business firm, is used in every bargain dealing with the same product or service. The individuality of the parties which so frequently gave color to the old type of contract has disappeared.
The stereotyped contract of today reflects the impersonality of the market…. Once the usefulness of these contracts was discovered and perfected in the transportation, insurance, and banking business, their use spread into all other fields of large scale enterprise, into international as well as national trade, and into labor relations. School offers the same contract.
Every student walking through the doors of the public school is by default entering into a contract of adhesion and so are her guardians or parents. Beyond the draconian, barbaric frontier schooling techniques in Texas, though, we see a consistent thread running through most of what goes on in school. Too many kids, too many things on the agenda. My way or the highway, son. Precisely what a foreman would say to a troublesome employee on the assembly line.
Not what a patron would say to a talented artist, though. We assume the contract of adhesion, and relentlessly put information in front of them, with homework to do and tests to take. Entirely skipped: commitment. Do you want to learn this? Will you decide to become good at this? The universal truth is beyond question — the only people who excel are those who have decided to do so. Great doctors or speakers or skiers or writers or musicians are great because somewhere along the way, they made the choice.
Why have we completely denied the importance of this choice? Human beings have, like all animals, a great ability to hide from the things they fear. In the name of comportment and compliance and the processing of millions, school uses that instinct to its advantage. At the heart of the industrial system is power — the power of bosses over workers, the power of buyers over suppliers, and the power of marketers over consumers. Given the assignment of indoctrinating a thousand kids at a time, the embattled school administrator reaches for the most effective tool available.
Given that the assigned output of school is compliant citizens, the shortcut for achieving this output was fear. The amygdala, sometimes called the lizard brain, is the fear center of the brain. It is on high alert during moments of stress.
It is afraid of snakes. It causes our heart to race during a scary movie and our eyes to avoid direct contact with someone in authority. No, the shortcut is to induce fear, to activate the amygdala. Do this or you will get a bad grade, be suspended, never amount to anything. Do this or you are in trouble.
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