Several years ago, I worked with some fellow propellerheads to launch a nanotechnology initiative in my state. That is, engineering devices at the atomic and molecular level. There were several local companies already working peripheral technologies like MEMS (Micro-electro-mechanical systems) and plenty of interest in taking machines to their ultimate, small incarnations.
A natural component to our new society of industry, economic development groups and chambers of commerce was partnership with higher education. So we teamed up with local universities to encourage their offering related majors, with requirements in physics and chemistry. Industry envisioned expanding revenue, communities saw economic expansion, and educators saw funding opportunities.
But the lovefest among the dreamers came to an abrupt pause during one planning session. The state university was hosting a session of about 100 enthusiastic entrepreneurial spirits when one elbow-patched professor suggested that private industry require that all their new-hire engineers hold a new degree in nanotechnology.
Require? The response from one business operator went something like, “We like the idea of having higher-ed partners. But why would we limit ourselves to only hiring specialists with a particular degree?” The immediate and earnest response from the professor was, “How else will you know if they are qualified to perform the work?” The hushed reaction from everyone in the room was quieter than if Professor Patches had just farted in church. The small business CEO eventually broke the silence with, “This is our area of expertise. I think we will be able to assess whether an applicant knows the work.”
That awkward exchange provides a glimpse into the incestuous culture of education. And let me pause here to illuminate my support and enthusiasm for the business of education. I deeply value the quality of teaching that I personally received both in high school (at the prestigious Colegio San Antonio Abad – Go Hermits!) and my college alma mater where I am honored to serve on the Board of Trustees (Columbia College – Go Cougars!). But I will suggest in a most assertive way that teachers need to get out more.
I took a gander at teach.org to confirm my suspicions about the career path that is laid out for unworldly, aspiring educators.The instructions generally read as, “Get your bachelor’s degree, get your certification, pick a focus area, join the union and commence teaching.” The site encourages social studies teachers with, “you can expand students’ understanding of the entire world around them. You can cover more than a dozen major topics like civics, history, geography, philosophy, economics, and psychology.”
Or if the would-be teacher’s preferred subject area is science, teach.org’s promise is to, “help kids develop their problem-solving, exploratory, and critical-thinking skills. In middle school and high school you can lead students through imaginative projects to help develop a deeper understanding of specific subjects including biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, and engineering.”
The established life path for teachers is the K-12 campus, then the college campus, and back to the K-12 campus until retirement. Imagine being qualified to provide emerging adults with the tools to thrive in the harsh yet rewarding world of free enterprise without ever having worked in a competitive, non-union environment. Imagine being able to convey an appreciation for liberty when your only adult employer has been a government agency.
There is plenty that all of us can do to remedy this predicament. Get involved in your local K-12 school district. Support your neighborhood schools with an active and genuine relationship with your industry. If you are an IT professional, demonstrate how mobile devices and cloud computing are accelerating information sharing and employee effectiveness. If you are an aerospace engineer, explain how chemistry relates to propulsion and how geography relates to orbits.
Spoil your local teachers with VIP tours of your companies and show them how the knowledge that they give students is valued in very practical deployments on the job. Develop open lines of respectful communication with the Superintendent and the teachers. And if you are one of the fortunate professionals to have retired early, consider a second career in the classroom. Your wisdom will give rich meaning to the required basics.