Are We Preparing Developers or Producers?

In many cases, companies that are based in the US can’t survive on the global market because they don’t have innovative products or the qualified workforce required to develop them. -Rolf Langhammer, German Economist

The above quote is noteworthy for two reasons:

First, the workforce diss wasn’t uttered in the same tired “ed reform” rhetoric we hear each day. In fact, U.S. public education issues weren’t even on the radar. It appeared in an international publication where Langhammer, vice president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, was being interviewed about the currency war and the revaluation of the Chinese yuan. Important context.

Second, he’s right—we don’t have the qualified workforce, and won’t, because our schools simply aren’t designed to teach kids how to develop anything—they were designed, a century ago, to create a population of product producers (more here). What’s worse, many of the current popular reforms will not only perpetuate, but actually exacerbate this serious problem.

The video below does a beautiful job explaining and framing this issue. I strongly encourage watching the whole thing.

We know we’re shifting from globalization toward “globality”. We know soft skills are critical for success. We know there is a looming higher education gap. We know almost all of the nation’s net new jobs come from entrepreneurs.

Yet, most public schools can only offer scant exposure to world languages, the arts, cultural studies, entrepreneurialism, technology infusion, project-based learning and other activities that clearly contribute to needs of the new knowledge economy.

In addition to the “three R’s” and STEM, we should be graduating kids who—at minimum—have learned to play a musical instrument, have experienced a robust arts curriculum, can speak a second language, have some college credit, are financially literate, have participated on a team, can manage the ever-increasing volume and velocity of information, have taken a course online, and have an appreciation for other cultures inside our borders and across the globe.

Yes, I’m suggesting “at minimum”.

And that’s not pie-in-the-sky eduspeak. That’s an economic reality.

We simply don’t value, in terms of policy and funding, the very things that are imperative to our economic future. But one thing’s for sure—we’ll be incredibly prepared for a bygone industrial age.

Update: ASCD reminds me to revisit Yong Zhao’s work on this topic.

Comments 5

  1. Ira Socol October 19, 2010

    If the goal is to produce a good life for most in America, we need fundamentally different educational and societal systems. If the goal is to preserve America’s aristocracy – Bill Gates Sr to Bill Gates Jr to Bill Gates No. 3-12, or the lineage to which Davis Guggenheim belongs, we will follow the reform plans set out by what Diane Ravitch calls “The Billionaire Boys’ Club.” In other words, the kind of education you describe above for the children of the elite, and the KIPP, Rhee, Klein model for those we plan on leaving behind.

    Why not just schools? Because America’s social system is fundamentally anti-family and anti-child, which is why so many American kids begin school so far behind their European counterparts in all the things which matter.

    Unlike every European nation the US refuses to support parenting time from birth. No maternity/paternity paid leave requirements. No minimum vacation requirements. No leave for school activities. No limits on the length of the work week and few “living wage” laws. All of this contributes to children much less supported by their parents than the children of other nations.

    We also lack the early education/socialization supports which come with universal free or affordable childcare in those other nations. Thus, our “schooling” must begin earlier than it should, and it begins already in “repair mode.”

    We lack the Universal National Health Care which supports the healthy lives of children and parents. We live in segregated communities which deny children access to other languages. We do not have the community-based athletic clubs where everyone in the family participates. We even lack participatory democracy structures which teach people to work together (I like to point out that though the Republic of Ireland and Chicago have roughly the same amount of people, Ireland’s Dail has 166 members, but there are only 50 Chicago Aldermen).

    And when kids get to school – well, the fewer resources you have at home – music, arts, literature, the fewer you will have at school – a fact guaranteed by a bizarre educational funding scheme based in 18th century concepts of wealth.

    People at MSU ask me all the time, are British or Irish kids smarter than ours? Why do they know history, literature, music, why are their vocabularies larger? And we, as a nation, might ask, how come a fully unionized, high wage, high tax, high social service nation like Germany goes toe-to-toe with China for the status of world’s leading exporter, and the US just imports?

    The answer to both questions lies in social commitments to children. Commitments which, yes, cost. But which most definitely pay off.


  2. October 19, 2010

    Great post, Chad, and great comment, Ira.

    A few hours after I saw the RSA education video last week, I found this SXSW talk by Douglass Rushkoff – “Program or be Programmed.”

    My biggest concern about #edReform at present is that I suspect the folks leading it at the national level are telling themselves that they are programmers, while, in fact, they are the principals of the programmed.

    How do we promote the cheaters and writers?



  3. Douglas November 3, 2010

    Totally agree that ed reform rhetoric can seem tired. Trying to change that, and I agree with Ira that a completely different educational system is needed. Where I think we have a “disconnect” is that nobody is actually trying to discuss together — no matter what camp they reside in — on how to collaborate to create that.

    I’m disappointed by knee-jerk anti-reform responses to ideas about technology that don’t seem to understand the role technology can play in helping really great teachers do the outstanding work that they do. And I’m frustrated with ed reformers who just roll out talking points as if the rhetoric alone can heal a very damaged system.


  4. Crudbasher November 3, 2010

    Very well put Chad. If you look back at the people who were the most innovative in this country, I think a great many of them did not go to college, and many of them did not even have much formal schooling. By no means am I not advocating no school, I instead think this push to standardization is a big mistake. We need more individualized instruction to help nurture each student’s gifts.


  5. Pingback: You Want Ideas? We Have Ideas! « Cooperative Catalyst

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