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February 21, 2007

Richard Florida

Creativity and Schools

« The More Things Change... | Main | Hobsbawm on America »

Over at his always interesting, Notes from the Lounge, Julian Sanchez, notes Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and futurist Alvin Toffler concern that the current "factory model" of education is broke beyond repair. Here's Toffler:

You've been writing about our educational system for decades. What's the most pressing need in public education right now?  "Shut down the public education system."

That's pretty radical. "I'm roughly quoting (Microsoft chairman) Bill Gates, who said, "We don't need to reform the system; we need to replace the system."

Read the whole Toffler interview here or download here.  And read the comments by high-school students here (pointer: Angela Stevens). Trust me it's worth it.

Ignore the stuff in Julian's post about Steve Jobs bashing teachers.  Unionization and tenure are symptoms not the cause.  Gallup's latest studies show that teachers perform extraordinarily well when they are engaged. The problem lies deep in this structure.

Our backs and forth this week on various education issues, plus my doctoral seminar  Monday evening got me thinking, (always dangerous). The school system we have now will not survive the transition to the Creative Age. Peter Drucker said essentially the same thing about the research university. That does not mean people will cease to learn, do research and invent. Here's why.

The Industrial Age because of its underlying logic (Marx) gave rise to large-scale vertical bureaucracy (Weber). It also suppressed human self-expression and initiative in favor of control (Freud). Our school systems, like our factories, large scale organizations, and governments are in effect structures ("prisons?)" for bureaucratic control.

The Creative Age logic requires something very different - self-expression, flexibility, and individual initiative. Most people understand that  advances in technology and communication allow for complex coordination without  having to be in the same building, factory or office.  What they forget is what Robert Lucas taught us about external economies, Jane Jacobs taught us about diversity and  cities, and most of all what modern psychology says about self-expression and creativity (the latter depends on the former).

Put that all together and you can see the need for a very different system for learning, one that optimizes flexibility over control, intrinsic reward over extrinsic (grading), lets talent thrive instead of squelching it, allows self-expression to flourish, challenges students, and lets them learn asynchronously, on their own time-scale and work flexibly.    The excuse is that schools are a place for "socialization" is just that - an excuse.  Most people can socialize in much more effective ways than pep rallies, ball games, the prom committee, or yearbook planning (but I digress). The community, broadly defined, can do that much better anyway ala Jane Jacobs.  It already does, as parents seek to supplement what their kids aren't getting from schools with all sorts of extra-curricular interactions from play-dates and tutors to rock school. Most of the good stuff already happens at the margins.  Gates and Dell both dropped out of college to build their companies in their dorm rooms.  Wonder why. 

Our schools are the opposite of what is needed:  hierarchical, mind-numbing, creativity-squelching machines.  So the need for transformation: But, what exactly comes next? Toffler is right.  We need to shut the whole thing down. Let's no longer confuse real estate, our current education factories/warehouses with learning. 

It's hard to sketch the system out in advance, but the core principles to build around are readily apparent: a shared curriculum on a technology platform that enables flexible and asynchronous learning anywhere, anyplace, anytime;  challenge and intrinsic reward over grades (and ridiculous standardized tests); community based engagement and socialization;  and a wide range of ala carte instructional offerings. This kind of system is one that simultaneously empowers and enriches students, parents and teachers.

And here's the kicker, people,  whatever place gets this right has enormous first-mover advantage. They will.  The underlying economic logic of the Creative Age demands it.  It's only a matter of time. 

Care to weigh in?


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» Will Our School System Survive Transition to the Creative Age? from Ben Casnocha: The Blog
I'm fairly radical when it comes to education reform. I just think formal education as it's known today is massively screwed up. I'm fortunate I made it out of four years of intensely rigorous and formal high school education without [Read More]



I wrote last night about Toffler's interview in the newest issue of Edutopia and I received several comments from students at a different school than mine. I thought you might like to read (and respond to) the perspectives of some high school students.



Angela-Thank you. Those comments are incredible. I'll now be a regular to your blog!

Kyle Stevens

Hello all:

Thanks for allowing are class to be a part of the discussion. The publishing of this article came at an opportune time for our class. We have spent the first part of this semester reading selections from Plato's Republic. Our discussions of justice, the role of the state and education let to the outlining of Utopia High. The student outlines of Utopia High included the following points:

Categories of people at your high school (e.g. Students, teachers, etc.)
School schedule
Extracurricular activities
Facilities (e.g. Libraries, labs, etc.)
Admission requirements
Causes for expulsion

I thought it would be interesting to see the thoughts of students in relation to the thoughts of education professionals and recognized national thinkers. Thanks again for allowing us to enter the discussion and if you are curious about the entire plans created by our class, feel free to visit our Blogmeister site and select any of the student names under English I Pre-AP.

Enjoy your day,

Kyle Stevens


Kyle - Thank you. Can't wait to hear from more students - and parents of students - too.

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