How to Reinvent Education

Elementary through graduate school.

Posted Jul 14, 2020

Yesterday, I offered thoughts on reinventing work. Today, I turn to education.

If education is our future, it would be brighter if reinvented. While most parents like their kids' school (if not perhaps COVID-forced distance learning), student learning has been disappointing, not just in international comparisons but in insufficiently preparing our next generation for the ever more demanding world they will inherit.

Here are my favorite ideas for how, not to reform education, but reinvent it.

Curriculum. It’s elitist to require students to take, for example, algebra, chemistry, and history while allowing them to graduate without core life skills such as conflict resolution, financial literacy, and real-world ethics. Our heavily academic curriculum also makes it harder to motivate students.

There’s plenty of time in college for students with interest or career-need for academics to take those courses then, but think of the percentage of high school and even college graduates who never used a bit of stochastic processes, simultaneous equations, nor facts on the War of 1812? When did you? Yet we require mountains of such arcana. Here, for example, is the Common Core math curriculum, widely adopted in the nation’s public schools.

Ultracourses. Imagine you were to take algebra and could choose between a traditional course or one taught online by a dream team of the world’s most transformational, beloved algebra teachers, with a live teacher or paraprofessional onsite to answer questions and maintain classroom discipline. Most people, even teachers, would choose the second option, what I call UltraCourses. Creating UItraCourses would enable all students, rich and poor, from Abyssinia to Zululand to get world-class instruction.  

College. The campus should be much smaller and thus less expensive: UltraCourses eliminates the need for many classrooms, and extracurriculars such as pools, parks, and gyms could be shared with community resources. Students would live at home or off-campus. Cramming students who are away from home for the first time, two to three to a room, dozens to a floor, with minimal supervision, is often not hospitable to studying but is a hothouse for behaviors that let’s just say may not be the most beneficial.

Professional education.  As at prestigious undergraduate universities, graduate training for doctors, lawyers, architects, MBAs, etc are heavily taught by academics rather than, as I would urge, master practitioners, who understand not just the facts but the nuance of excellent practice.

The takeaway

If you like any of these ideas, is there anything you want to do to help bring them about?

And what are your ideas for reinventing what you think warrants reinvention? I write about reinventing institutions, from the legal system to the election system, in What's the Big Idea?: 39 Reinventions for a Better America.

I expand a bit on this post's ideas in a YouTube video.