Thomas Friedman’s article – NYTimes – Need a job? Invent it!

This is mandatory reading for us parents who are looking for ways to give our kids a leg up in this new (and future) economy of ours. I apologize for the long windedness of this post and warn that it will take you more than a few minutes to get through it all – but please try.

The title of Friedman’s article in the NYTimes this past weekend is a little deceptive (here’s a link to the original article – It should be – “Why (public) School Sucks for Kids and the Future of this Country”. He’s quoting from and discussing ideas from a recent book by Tony Wagner called “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”. Here’s some of the juicy bits from Friedman’s article;

1.  K-12 and college tracks are not consistently “adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace.”

2. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried — made obsolete — faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready” — ready to add value to whatever they do.

3. “Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.

4. “Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course,” he said. “But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.”

5. “We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. “Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup’s recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”

6. “Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world,” he said, “and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of ‘reinvented’ colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the ‘D-school’ at Stanford where students learn to innovate.”

You can also watch Tony Wagner explain more about his ideas during last year’s TEDexNYED here – – here are some of my notes from his presentation;

1. Knowledge today is a commodity – the world no longer cares whether or not you are smarter than a 5th grader or good at Trivial Pursuit (just Google that shit) – what the world cares about is not what you know, but what you can do with what you know.

2. Do you have the skill and do you have the will to use what you know?

3. Wagner’s seven core competencies are;

a. critical thinking (the ability to ask the right questions) and problem solving

b. collaboration across networks and leading by influence

c. agility and adaptability

d. initiative and entrepreneurialism

e. effective oral and written communication skills

f. accessing and analyzing information

g. curiosity and imagination

4. half of all recent college grads are either underemployed or unemployed, a third are living at home

5. In 2007 the savings rate was minus two percent for all americans – we created an economy based on people spending money they do not have to buy things they do not need threatening the planet in the process.

6. Tony Wagner interviewed successul twenty year olds – their parents and their teachers – and found that every teacher or mentor whom the twenty year old mentioned as an influence on their careers was an outlier in his or her school setting.

7. The culture of schooling is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators

a. culturally we celebrate and reward individual achievement – but innovation is a team sport

b. the world of innovation is inter-disciplinary – for the past 105 years we have been using “Carnegie Units” to designate areas of specialization (chemistry, math, english, history)  – innovation is inter-disciplinary

c. the culture of schooling today is all about risk aversion and penalizing failure – the student’s job is figuring out what the teacher(or the test) needs – the world of innovation is all about taking risks, failing and learning from them – at Owen College (which Tony Wagner claims is now the best college in the US)  “we don’t talk about failure anymore, we talk about iteration” – learn that you can recover from a mistake (and you don’t want to learn that at 35 because it hurts a lot more then)

d. the culture of learning in school is about passive consumption – we “sit and get ” all day long (perfect for making us into little consumers and factory workers and totally not appropriate for the world today

e. we are extrinsically motivated to perform well in school – money for good grades – the innovators that he interviewed are far more intrinsically motivated because they want to make a difference in the world – so how do parents encourage this? play to passion to purpose – parents and teachers alike encouraging more exploratory play, with fewer toys and less screen time, more time that was unstructured, parents and teachers who encouraged a passion

Kids who had developed a passion had morphed into adults who had a deeper sense of purpose – parents and teachers alike said, “give back, make a difference” – and all of them (the successful innovators) shared this value.

Here’s his website with a link to his book and more –

Pass it on!