As I get further into the business community, I realize more and more how important networks of personal connections are. Knowing a principal gets us a meeting with a superintendent, and having lunch with a former legislator gets my email a second look from a current legislator. At ActiveGrade we have degrees in design, computer science, education, and math, a collective 20 years of experience working with kids in education, and still our biggest breakthroughs come from our networking skills.
Being an excellent programmer is a helpful attribute. Having a good idea and working hard on it: important, sure. But it’s indispensable to have friends in high places – we couldn’t succeed without the connections we’re building.
Teachers are paid to help students learn, giving them an important resource to draw from after school, but sometimes schools’ social responsibilities are overlooked. Schools are our society’s way of starting everyone off in a network – every kid comes out of school knowing some adults that are more powerful than themselves. Every kid comes out of school having learned rules of networking from the social norms set forth in school. And yet some kids start networks, and some don’t.
I think we should shift focus away from “just try hard and you can make success for yourself.” It’s not fair to play down the fact that you have to meet the right people, too. Kids with wealthy and/or powerful parents learn networking skills outside of schools, and start out with bigger networks, and know from early on that it takes help to establish yourself. We should be teaching this to our students in school. It’s way more important to their future than, say, finding prime factors. Even if you know calculus, there’s very little success to be had by yourself.
I’d like to see professional programs in schools, like apprenticeships, in which professionals from various trades take kids through not only the hard skills they need (math, writing, welding, wiring) but also the social skills (networking, bargaining, advertising). I’d like to see a national fervor about our childrens’ social education alongside the fervor about their test scores. I’d like to see post-secondary institutions dedicated to finding apprenticeships, helping young people find their networks, supporting people in learning the skills they need to succeed in a professional community.
A lot of our education reform is about helping kids be stronger and more creative problem solvers. Hands-on inquiry project-based lessons, standards-based specific formative feedback, product-driven assessment, etc. But everything I read is about academic subjects. There’s a lot more to financial success than individual creativity in this country, and there’s a lot more to happiness. I say, if we’re going to provide education to every kid, we ought to do an all-around job of it. We can’t just teach them seven technical subjects and call it a day.