Have you ever thought about what kind of superhero you would be?
Like, if you assembled with the Avengers or Justice League or Guardians of the Galaxy, what would be your talent … your thing?
I think about this a lot — and not because I’m a huge fan of spandex or superhero movies.
It’s just a fun way to explain my philosophy of life and approach to being a parent … which means, I keep asking:
What are your superpower(s), and how will you use them to help others?
My mission as a parent is to raise an empowered, creative soul who can recognize her strengths while also seeing beyond herself and her own needs. To help her develop a careful balance of confidence and empathy so she can work effectively in a team (think “Avengers”) … ideally in a life of service.
Now, how might my family — and countless hours of schooling — help my daughter do this?
By nurturing a sense of agency and purpose, which author/filmmaker/entrepreneur Ted Dintersmith thinks is lacking in most schools.
After reading his 2018 book, “What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America,” I watched Dintersmith’s short TEDxFargo talk …. and then this longer presentation, where he explains why he became alarmed as a parent. He noticed his children’s conventional school emphasized and rewarded four things:
- Memorizing content
- Replicating low-level procedures
- Writing formulaically
- Following instructions
Which describes most of my own K-12 schooling.
Dintersmith is alarmed because this skillset — designed for the industrial age more than a century ago — is exactly what machine intelligence is good at. Which means we’re preparing our kids to excel at jobs that will soon be replaced by robots. (I’ve explored this topic before in “How might we design a ‘robot-proof’ education?”).
He also woke me up as a parent who started saving for my daughter’s college education shortly after she was born.
“Children should be encouraged to shoot for the stars, to dream big, to be supported by adults who believe in them. But college in America isn’t a means to a dream. College is the dream. We don’t tell kids to shoot for a star. We tell them to be a star student, to get good grades so they can get into the right college. And pity the child whose plans don’t involve college. They’ll get discouraging feedback from school, family, random adults, and prospective employers. Education should prepare our children for life, but we have it backward. We prepare children’s lives for education.”
While the book focuses on innovations at K-12 schools across the country, Dintersmith did address community colleges in this passage:
“Our country’s community colleges are a powerful potential resource. Currently, they’re viewed as a consolation prize for kids who can’t make it to four-year college. Many are traditional in structure — subjects, lectures, two years of seat time to get an associate’s degree, and “weeder-outer” prerequisites. Completion rates are abysmal. But these community colleges could reinvent themselves. Call themselves Career and Learning Accelerators. Award digital certificates for shorter-term immersive programs tied to career-elevating skills (e.g., graphic design, compelling writing, welding, computer programming), capabilities (e.g., sales, marketing, leadership, project management), or intellectual pursuits (e.g., Victorian literature, humanity’s great philosophers). Train faculty in state-of-the-art pedagogy. Align courses with real-world challenges, internships, and mentors. Students return multiple times as their careers progress. Turn our nation’s 1,655 community colleges into a strategic asset to help citizens at all stages in life — from high school to older workers in dead-end jobs — to turbocharge their skill sets and expand their minds. Will our community colleges seize the day? Perhaps. In any case, a bevy of aggressive start-ups see higher education as a large market ripe for disruption. Don’t underestimate what they’ll accomplish.”
So … are you ready to seize the day?
I’ll ask again: What are your superpower(s), and how will you use them to help others? …
And where should our Virginia Western superhero team assemble? Perhaps for a grant opportunity?
If you are intrigued by Dintersmith’s ideas, I encourage you watch the following:
- His short TEDxFargo talk (11 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rvhb9aoyeZs
- Longer presentation about this book “What School Could Be” (52 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOZ2K4dbUKQ
- More about his book on Amazon
- In 2015, Dintersmith produced a documentary called “Most Likely to Succeed,” about an unorthodox San Diego high school that embraces project-based learning. The 2-minute trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE5XRrfetu4 and the full-length film is available on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play: https://teddintersmith.com/mltsfilm/. Dintersmith encourages public screenings in order to prompt community conversations … and he’s willing to travel. Just sayin’.