What is education for?

by Elaheh Khazi | February 5, 2023 | 0 Comments
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More than tests and grades

For many students, education can feel like a pointless slog. The work is clear enough: do homework, take tests, get grades. But in a world where Google has the answers and robots can write increasingly coherent essays, what’s the point? What’s it for? Is it working?

Tech investor and education commentator Ted Dintersmith has a provocative point of view about these questions. In conversation with Alvin Lee, the student host of the conference of the Ed100 Academy for Student Leaders, Dintersmith argued that much of the time spent in schools is wasted, or worse, and that students need to play a bigger role in their own destiny.

Dintersmith earned his fortune as an investor in tech companies, but for many years he has focused on advocating for change in the education system, ringing alarm bells that change isn't optional. He has published several books, made movies and documentaries, and visited hundreds of schools and conferences to speak about reform.

The purpose of education

The education system is in charge of preparing students for the real world and adulthood. In his talk with Alvin, Dintersmith argued that the education system urgently needs to be reinvented for a changing world.

“I never thought I would get involved in the world of education… This was not something I woke up thinking about. But, when my own kids were in school, probably around middle school…, I went through a process of going from trusting to questioning to being concerned to being flat out alarmed.”

“If it’s routine, it is done by machine.”

What alarmed Dintersmith was how schools have focused on teaching routine skills and facts. The problem is that routines can easily be replaced by technology. What machines cannot do as readily is to be creative.

“Leverage available resources and be creatively bold and audacious,” he advised. “That’s what’s needed to enter adulthood.”

Unfortunately, Dintersmith argued, the existing system pushes students to succeed in ways that are narrow, constrained, easily measured, and misdirected. College, he says, should not be the singular shining goal. To get into “good” colleges, students face tremendous pressure to hyper-focus on grades and academic knowledge rather than on learning skills that are authentically useful. Dintersmith called this “a whole bunch of push with good intentions that lead to many unhappy kids and kids who are not prepared for their careers.”

Change isn’t easy, he acknowledged. “It’s slow, because the system has all these interlocking parts, and they all make it difficult if you try to change it. All the other elements pull you back.”

DIY Education

Students have more opportunities than they think, Dintersmith argued, but they usually aren’t valuing the opportunities that they can make for themselves. The skills that the market values most are often not taught in high school, he points out. “I’ll ask them this question: if the career service office evaporated tomorrow, what career would you create for yourself? Most young adults look at me like wait a minute nobody told me that is an option.”

“You mean I can create my own career path?”

“The thing you need to do is to wake up every day and ask ‘am I good enough at something that I could market my skills and have people pay me dramatically more than the minimum wage?'”

Students as changemakers

Finally, Dintersmith urged student leaders to stand up and fight for causes they believe in.

“Who changed the world from 1968 to 1973? It wasn’t the adults. It was the students in high school and college who mobilized. They said ‘we are not taking this anymore and we are changing the world’ — and they did.”

Elaheh Khazi is a senior at Mission San Jose High School. She has been part of Ed100 team since her sophomore year in high school. She joined the Academy in 2020 and ever since has been inspired to be a part of the change she looks for in the education system. At Ed100, she has served as an outreach leader, a discussion leader, and social media contributor. She is also a part of multiple student organizations dedicated to student advocacy such as Bay Area Student Activists (BAStA) and GENup. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry, watching movies, and learning languages.

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