Despite my increasing commitments to learning and writing about education, I have found myself spending less and less time participating in education. At first I thought it was just because I was spending so much time learning to code, starting up my company, keeping up with classes, and writing about tech for Infospace, but then I realized this new schedule really isn’t keeping me from participating fully. The real problem is that education is estranging me, and there was entrepreneurship with open arms. It’s not to say that I’m jumping ship, or abandoning education, quite the opposite. Now I’m just taking the lessons that I’ve learned from entrepreneurship to change my outlook on education and vice versa. I think that there are a lot of things that they could learn from one another.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned? Attitude is everything.
To put it bluntly, education is depressing. The entire sector is filled with people who are tired, do thankless work, battle red tape and apathy, and incessantly bicker. There’s an economy of schadenfreude and an incessant cynicism for those who do well. Don’t believe me? Just look at Diane Ravitch.
There’s also (in tech terms) a disparity between the consumers and the customers of education. I’m not interested in appealing to the customers. They’re too invested in passing state tests and keeping their tenure and unions. In my time in Silicon Valley and working on my startup, I’ve learned that passion and an idea can take people far places. This concept has pushed me to keep learning new things and keep working, despite the difficulty. Sadly, that’s not the case with education right now, not on a system wide level. Right now, I don’t have the idea to help the consumers, especially on a grander scale.
I’m not abandoning education by any means. I can’t dedicate my life to something that doesn’t have a grander vision. Entrepreneurs lack the same kind of cohesion that education has. There’s a collective vision that happens in education because, at the end of the day, it is (or at least should be) about kids’ education and changing their lives for the better. With entrepreneurs, it can be about making money, changing norms, building value, becoming a better designer/developer/entrepreneur, just doing your own thing, or some combination of all of the above. Their vision can become a collective vision for their company, but what it is exactly that entrepreneurs are supposed to accomplish is designed to be a question mark. I’m creating an online dating site because I care about changing the way that people interact with one another for the better, and if I can help a few people fall in love that would be pretty cool, too. But it doesn’t quite compare to changing a broken system.
So when it comes to dealing with the status quo, dealing with red tape, and fighting off the cynics, I’m going to go in the direction that is encouraging, appreciates experimentation, and doesn’t called failed attempts failures. For now that means that I’ll be spending more time in tech and working on my non-edtech startup (youshoulddate.me). It’s giving me a chance to become non-jaded again, look at things from a new perspective, and learn a few lessons about change that can be applied to education. I’d rather be the continual newcomer with fresh input than a jaded pundit with the same input. So for the moment, I’ll be mostly removing myself from the education space. I need to not burn out on something that I care about.
I’ll still be posting on here from time to time whenever I read something of interest or have some new thoughts, but I won’t be as prolific a writer as before.
Our open, publicly-funded public school system, deeply woven into the fabric of our open, freedom- and innovation-loving society, is the gem in the crown of America that people from around the world for decades have tried to replicate…
Poverty, hunger, homelessness, parents who are ineffective or unable to parent – these are all analog problems kids have that need the help of other people, not only computers, to solve. What Gene Marks and other Silicon Valley “edupreneurs” forget is that we live in a complicated three-dimensional world that doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet or a computer screen. Digital bootstraps aren’t enough; to help all the nation’s kids we need lifelines offered face to face to real kids, from a person who cares in their neighborhood schools.
Am I the only one who catches the irony of a tradition-laden school system in an innovation-loving society?
Education technology is not supposed to be the magic cure all for all of society’s ills, or even education’s. But if students aren’t getting what they need from the traditional method, don’t they deserve to have a chance to digitally bootstrap? Support is the most powerful thing that someone can give a student, and if a teacher, counselor, parent, or administrator isn’t there to give it to them, why should we criticize those who are digitally offering support? Besides, there’s more to education technology than AV technology and learning management systems, something that is often ignored in #pencilchat-type debates. Most importantly, people forget that there are people behind these products. People who care about students and education. From experience in trying to build a technology startup, one simply cannot start a tech company just for fun. They have to be committed to the idea, or else their hours, blood, sweat, and tears, and minimal income (especially in the education sector) are going to waste because lack of passion will kill them and their company.
Digital bootstrapping may not be sufficient for many, but why should we be angry at edupreneurs for trying? They’re the ones trying the hardest to innovate our public schools, and they’re moving faster than policy makers and individual teachers can. Maybe we should let them go full speed ahead, and let the rest of us focus on solving “analog problems.”