It’s great to be alive today! I don’t mean today specifically, but today in general. If you don’t like today or don’t find today particularly pleasing, don’t worry, it will be different tomorrow. I mean that both specifically and generally. Not only will the calendar be +1, but some amazing, forward-thinking, edgy entrepreneur will change the way we live, demonstrating our mercurial existence.

Whenever I feel particular pride in America, I always give a tip of the hat to our soldiers overseas who are doing the thankless, difficult job of guarding our freedom. Having patrolled Anbar Province in Iraq during Desert Storm, I often wondered what people were doing back home, in hopes that someone was “earning” some of this freedomizing. It turns out that the people were up to a lot of good, and some of the people were just teens who were about to change the world with unfathomable internet and technology jobs that no one at the time could dream of.

Flash forward twenty years to today: that’s when I discovered the “Internet’s National Anthem.”

Here’s what’s so awesome about the GAG Quartet’s meme filled video . . . if you want to secure an internship with Boxee, you have to be able to identify 30 of the 40 memes in the video.

Boxee is a device that connects TVs to various entertainment platforms on the internet, like Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify.  Boxee’s CEO, Idan Cohen (just 13 years old back in the Desert Storm era), regularly employs high schools students to intern at their New York office. Cohen states:

What we discovered was that we can actually learn a lot from the presence of a 14-year-old kid in the office. We learned how, when and where he consumes media and on TV and his computer, which was an unexpected benefit.

Cohen is the poster child for how things work best in our modern world. He’s an immigrant who works in a job that did not exist when he was a teenager. As an entrepreneur himself, he enlists teens to intern at his company, which in turn helps develop the entrepreneurial spirit in the students.

You can tell from Boxee’s job page that they are looking for applicants who are wired, current, and connected, which one doesn’t typically get at a public school. Notice also that Boxee’s applications are not the 1990s resume style. They are looking for portfolios. Like most companies, they want to know what applicants have done and what projects they have worked on, and not the quintile performance on a standardized test.

Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn cofounder, says this about entrepreneurship:

You throw yourself off a cliff and you assemble an airplane on the way down.

That’s seriously not how we are preparing students. If we were to measure the fostering of entrepreneurship in our students, it would make our standardized test scores appear glowing.  Schools and districts are generally so dysfunctional in fostering entrepreneurship or connecting to the community where entrepreneurs are, that an intervention is in.

We have a fine line to tow as educators. Nothing new there, but the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. We need to make sure our students are employable without squashing their dreams. We only get “one go around,” so to speak, on this planet, and there are many things that can spoil our existence here. Waking up fifteen years into a dead-end, soulless job and having never pursued our dreams is one of them.

So where do we start? We’re in a scary recession with dysfunctional political leadership and an educational system that is detached from the work sector.

STARTING WITH EMPLOYMENT

Business degrees are the most employable, but they include many basic, generic jobs. STEM jobs are obviously employable, as well. For the best paying jobs, math and engineering majors fill spots one through ten in the top ten. (No mention of education and bloggers.) For basic employment, though, the Wall Street Journal lists six majors that have a 0% unemployment rate, two of which are education jobs. (No mention of bloggers.)

But what good do those statistics do for our young students? Just like Idan Choen, 65% of todays grade school students will work in a job that doesn’t exist today. As an educator, it’s easy to use the fallback argument that we must rely on teaching the basics if we don’t know what the future holds. That’s seemingly true, but if your method of teaching is standing and delivering content, well, there’s an app for that.

At laugh-cry-cringe at the local TV weathermen who keep teasing his audience with weather previews. “Stick around and see what’s in store for this weekend.” Sorry man, there’s an app that delivers that content. If fact, your station has its own app. The weather sage on the TV stage needs a new act pronto.

ROOM FOR DREAMERS

What about the crowd that marches to the beat of a different drummer? Remember Sir Ken Robinson’s warning.

Frankly, I’m not sure how we would exist in this world without the poets, artists, musicians, actors, and filmmakers who lift our spirits and challenge our perceptions. That’s why I love startups likes Upstart and Kickstarter that help entrepreneurs and artists pursue their dreams with crowdsourced funding.

WHAT WE NEED

First, we need internships for high schoolers. These should be paid internships. Too many high schoolers already need to work, and between school itself, school work, and a regular job for income, it isn’t feasible to take on another intern job that doesn’t pay. We don’t need to create characters fit for a Dickens’ novel.

Next we need serious dialogue between education and the work community. School boards are capable of facilitating community ties. They are the nexus.  Boards are often made up of community leaders and are in most cases answerable to them. The same grand challenges that face us on a global level can almost always be brought down to a community level. Let businesses work with schools and students in identifying those challenges and finding solutions in real-world community settings.

Lastly, we need a new emphasis on entrepreneurship. Some schools are meeting this entrepreneurial challenge. Check out what they’re doing at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City. Mike Zamansky, a computer teacher at Stuyvesant, has this underlying principle for the program:

If high school students can meet entrepreneurs and tech whizzes, they might find inspiration. They might meet a mentor. They might meet their future selves.

Entrepreneurship is taking root at more than just the prestigious schools, too. Check out Chicago’s Tech Academy, which is doing something similar with a student body that comes from predominantly lower-income families. By partnering with over 100 companies, the academy conducts regular fields trips into the community where they establish internships and mentorships. Nicole Carter, at Inc.com, sums it up this way:

With only 450 total students, the extra-curricular activities make a big impact. For example, they provide a special brainstorming session at a local incubator, in which students are charged with coming up with a viable tech start-up and then presenting it to tech start-ups for feedback. It brings them from classroom to “real world.”

I like Co.Exist.com’s Jennifer Medbery’s way of framing it:

The primary purpose of teaching can now shift away from “stand and deliver” and becomes this: to be relentless about making sure every student graduates ready to tinker, create, and take initiative.

For me, I just need to identify 17 more memes before I can apply for the internship at Boxee!

2 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting insights! I am a young Zimbabwean passionate about educational reform. Its outrageous that in Africa we continue to “invest” in the static education system when it could be cheaper to nurture entrepreneurs because there are limitless problems that need solution- practical exposure for students!

  2. Couldn’t agree more. I would also add that the role college’s play in young lives has to shift radically. I recently wrote: “The era in which college is an appropriate time and place to “figure out who your are and what you want to be” has passed. The diversification of college matriculants and economic challenges of today have made this $100-200,000 investment highly problematic for all college-going kids, and particularly for those from low-income backgrounds. Undergraduate years should operate more like graduate school by being a place where students can develop practical, targeted, and applicable skills and mindsets toward their long-term path. For that to happen, students need more time to get clear on what that path could or should be before they even enter the post-secondary marketplace”

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