Social media applications like Twitter provide us with a positive example of how outside business can impact education. As finely attuned to education’s needs as Edmodo is, we don’t go there for #edchat or to advertise our latest blog posts. While in many ways it’s right for us educators to resist running our schools like industrial-era businesses, we have to be careful not to dismiss out of hand what information-age companies offer us: useful products and a vision of the present and future that we can use to design relevant learning opportunities for our students. There is good leadership and vision for learning out there in the business world that is not the same thing as leadership for the further standardization of schools. Indeed, if we want our schools to be more relevant to students and more responsive to their inquiries, we need to better distinguish for ourselves what makes a business good or bad for our people – all of us – and our planet. If we don’t examine our disdain for business, we’ll nourish it to the point that we cut off lines of student learning because of adult prejudice. We can see where such adult control has gotten us – let’s not participate in it more fully by refusing to consider how business and education can learn from one another. How would we respond if Twitter – or any other privately held business – limited teachers’ participation in democracy or said, “We don’t serve educators here?”
At this point, I think we begin with a lop-sided relationship between business and education. I think we have a lot more to learn from business than business has to learn from us right now. When I look at an app like Gowalla, I see more benefit for education in adopting a similar model than I see for Gowalla in becoming more school-like. When I see an information-age workplace, I see more benefit for schools and class rooms in creating similar spaces than I see for those campuses in becoming more school- or classroom-like. When I look at programs like the Google Teaching Academy, I see companies that know more about educational technology (especially regarding inquiry and feedback) than educators know about those companies.
I think our contributions to business right now will have to be more abstract. I think progressive educators should engage with business people to help them see that there are educators, students, parents, schools, and classrooms out there pursuing teaching and learning that are completely different from those portrayed in pop media and on the nightly news, as well as from those kinds of teaching and learning currently privileged by the fed. If we could better educate information age businesses about how we progressives see education, perhaps they could more thoughtfully innovate communications and learning applications with us and our students in mind.
Eventually, I would love to see a proliferation of partnerships between progressive education and businesses looking to do some good and to commingle and gift innovations in teaching and learning with one another and the world. I would love to see a Google Labs school rather than more Kaplan centers or Bigbox schools. I’m convinced that as the privatization of school becomes more profitable, we’ll see corporate schools run by some mix of assessment, curriculum, and venture capital partners, in addition to the public schools we now see coöpted by the same groups. I hope we’ll see just as many entrepreneurial schools founded by progressive educators and corporate visionaries who know that they’re next generation of leaders will come from schools that foster innovation and motivating discontent, rather than from those that demand compliance and blithe consumerism. I know there are leaders in both business and education who see public schooling as something far greater and more important than an opportunity to profit. We have to connect the progressives on both sides to one another to do more than reshuffle the deck.
I don’t know how to make this happen from inside public education, let alone from inside a classroom. I don’t think public education has created or even acknowledged the need for positions like those I envision as necessary for creating the partnerships and schools I see and want. To be fair, who has the FTEs or political capital to justify a new producer/programmer/teacher/coaching/community engagement hybrid position in charge of undoing school? I can hear school boards’ media- and government-fed incredulity now: our schools don’t even work and you want to do what?!
I want to slink around in a classroom and see what I can do to graduate students with a bigger idea of what school and business can be than I had both when I graduated and when I started teaching. It sucks that I think of this as slinking, but I really don’t want to spend more time justifying what is right to people who remain staunchly convinced that what we know about learning, motivation, innovation, and the future is wrong.
So here’s my plan:
- Learn more about how businesses that do good and about how they work.
- Teach the economics portion of our civics & economics class with more real-world examples and hands-on business development work than the curriculum suggests.
- Learn how to write a business plan.
- Come up with a useful progressive idea, product, and/or service and business plan to gift to educators.
- Do some kind of case-study on the Coöp and examine how it can broaden its impact in transforming education without becoming primarily concerned with itself as a brand.
- Invite a business mentor to critique my classroom set-up, work-flow, and communications against best practice in information age workplaces and share the feedback.
I’m up for collaboration. Let me know what you see. It would be awesome for business and education to become one another’s NASAs of the information-age.