He worked hard at it. He worked so hard that his store manager once told him that if he kept up with the same work ethic, then one day he might be president of a company. He never forgot the advice.
"If you are trying to work on today’s or tomorrow’s problems, you are too late,” Duncan said in a recent interview with Success. “You have to read and anticipate trends.”
That seems to be what Jack Andraka did last year. He is the teenager who developed a fast, non-intrusive, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer. He was 15.
Some people call him a prodigy for his discovery. Others just consider him tenacious for thinking it through and then requesting laboratory space from more than 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health. He was rejected 199 times.
"You don't have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued," Andraka said during his guest appearance on TED. "Regardless of your gender, age, or ethnicity, your ideas can count."
He reminded of me of Eden Full. She was the 19-year-old student at Princeton who designed a motor-free tracker for solar panels that improved efficiency by 40 percent. Incidentally, she didn't come up with the idea at Princeton. She invented the technology while still in high school.
Like Andraka, who made low cost part of his criteria, Full improved solar efficiency without electricity. She initially used temperature sensitive bimetallic strips that cost $10 to $20 each. And then, after testing, improved her design by using gravity power generated by water displacement.
And then there is Austin Gutwein from Arizona. While he didn't necessarily have the same medical or scientific prowess that Andraka or Full had, he fulfilled his sense of purpose by starting a free throw fundraiser when he was only nine years old. Today, Hoops of Hope is an international effort.
And then there is Oren Rosenbaum. He was only 17 years old when he dreamed up what would become P'Tones Records. It's a record label that helps youth explore their musical, professional, and artistic talents in ways no one else thought possible. Today, his educational label is strategically aligned with Warner Music Group.
How are these kids managing to change the world without a full education?
Every now and again, I have to remind people that not all students are failing at the same pace as public expectation. There are plenty of exceptions out there. There might even be more if we looked to lift these exceptions up instead of proving community fears that lead to Common Core standards.
While I'm not going to debate Common Core standards today, there does seem to be an emphasis on holding all students to a certain standard of knowledge. On the surface, that seems fine. But in reality, someone forgot that measuring knowledge is not a measure of intelligence. Why is that important?
As Albert Einstein once put it, "the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination."
And when you look at any of the students I mentioned above, all of them seem to bear this out. Their successes weren't based on what they knew but instead on their tenacity in finding out what nobody else knew.
Who's going to teach them that? Based on some feedback from early adopters in education, it won't be taught by Common Core. While problem solving is claimed to be a criteria, creativity and imagination cannot be accurately measured — as they tend to manifest themselves in the least likely ways.
Andraka in medicine. Full in engineering. Gutwein in charity. Rosenbaum in music. Before any of them, Sam Duncan, the clerk who would become a chief operating officer. How do we test for this?
We can't test for it because there is no benchmark for innovation, which requires thinking, creativity, tenacity, and self-motivation. It's precisely the kind of stuff that employers have found to be lacking in recent college graduates. And it's precisely the reason that Mark Cuban might have a point.
meltdown in college education (hat tip: Ruthie). His reasoning feels right as the return on investment for tuition increases has become unmanageable. Ergo, the student-debt ratio has outpaced graduate earning potential. And without the infusion of easy money in the form of government grants and loans, the university system as we know it will likely face a collapse.
He might be right. The university system has adopted economics that aren't sustainable (with fewer and fewer full-time professors in exchange for underpaid ad hoc instructors) without a considerable infusion of easy money. At the same time, there is a segment of students that are becoming less empowered and more entitled — people who expect a free education in the field of their choice with guaranteed employment to do the status quo work that they learned was permissible in middle school.
This is never going to work. And worse, trying to fix what exists now harkens back to the opening of the article. It's always too late to fix today's problems; and online classrooms are tomorrow's problem.
The classroom of the future won't be "online" exclusively.
If we really want to develop an education system for the future, we need to start with a blank slate and establish a vision and values that are important such as a program that is affordable, flexible, applicable, and with post-program opportunities. And then we need to ask how those qualities might be realized in programs across a variety of fields.
This kind of thinking doesn't necessarily have to preclude the liberal education experience, which can prove useful when combined for a maximum effect. But before we even consider what might be worth salvaging, we might establish a new format — taught partly online, partly in person (as workshops to augment online instruction), partly on independent projects/study, and partly on group projects/labs with peers that produce something with a tangible value like any of the outcomes developed by the aforementioned students.
Even in my 10-week truncated Writing for Public Relations class, I offer students the same opportunity. One of several optional assignments asks them to develop a physical media kit for the nonprofit organization of their choice (with the permission of the organization). They can create an online version too, but the physical model helps them produce something tangible.
Naturally, my example is small scale for anything students might do in pursuit of a bachelor's degree. Much like master's and doctorate programs sometimes require a thesis, students deserve more hands-on opportunities that carry real world consequences. At least, that is what I think. What do you think?