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3 Lies That May Bring Down Our Economy

From education to housing, it's time to call B.S. on the widely-cited myths that have the power to take down our next generation.
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Everybody lies from time to time. Even so, no happy outcomes come from lies--even little white lies--so, by and large, I’ve concluded that honesty remains the best policy.

It would be nice if the people who run our government and school systems (the management and the union) felt the same. But, regardless of whether they or anyone else responsible will ever admit it, there are certain lies which persist--and are repeated ad nauseam by the highest politicians in the land. They’re so pernicious that it almost seems like our civic duty to call bullshit on them from time to time. As Thomas Jefferson said, “a continual circulation of lies among those who are not much in the way of hearing them contradicted will in time pass for the truth.”

So let’s contradict them. If we’re going to save our children’s futures, it’s going to be up to us to tell the truth, make the necessary changes--and hope it’s not too late. 

Lie Number One:  Everyone can afford to and should own their own home. This crock has pretty much imploded over the last few years, although I sense a creeping rebirth when I hear the President talk about how the JOBS legislation is such a triumph of democracy since pretty soon every Tom, Dick and Harry will be able to buy and own cheap stocks, and raise money through new and virtually unregulated crowd-funding vehicles.

Can these so-called investors afford it? Do they have the slightest clue as to what they’re investing in or the inherent risks? Talk about learning nothing from the fake financial statements and phony real estate appraisals--from the huge numbers of bogus loans. Imagine how closely anyone will scrutinize the net worths and sophistication of the tens of thousands of cab drivers and convenience store operators who will now become stock speculators on the side.

Lie Number Two: Every kid in America needs and is entitled to a four-year college education. Whether they (and/or their parents) can afford it or not, whether they want it or not, whether or not they are capable and likely to be successful.

Would some of these kids be better served and far more likely to ultimately find a job if they pursued a shorter, less costly program to get some practical vocational training? Then they could get on with their lives without mortgaging their future with student loan obligations. 

Lie Number Three: Classroom education is one size fits all. This ignores how differently each of us learns and pretends that a single instructor standing in front of a classroom full of kids can effectively teach anything to all of them at the same time. 

By the time many kids are college aged, the damage from this lie is already done and they’re long gone from the system. The ones who remain are no better served by the continued pretense that we’re teaching them much of anything useful or of value in today’s globally competitive world. Instead, we’re teaching those students that we still think of schools as industrial-style factories with a premium on rote memorization and repetition rather than rigorous reasoning and problem solving.  

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

All it takes is an acknowledgement that the current system sucks. The solution is pretty simple. It's not cheap, and it’s not universally available. It’s not easy to implement in the face of the fierce resistance to change, which may be the only thing that many schools are still really good at. But it’s straightforward and readily accessible.

You can call it differential or individualized learning or mass customization. What matters is not the name, but the undisputed fact that we all learn at our own pace and our own style. The tools and technologies exist to build a knowledge-delivery system that fits and serves the students rather than trying to force every student to fit into an antiquated system that suits no one.

Imagine a class of students working with different devices: could be a desktop, a game console, a tablet, a phone. All are wirelessly connected through the cloud to a dashboard that shows each student’s status, progress, and success in real time. Instead of teaching to the lowest common denominator or watching the smartest kids complete their work and put their heads down with nothing else to do, the teacher is able to track, react, and adjust the information being provided to each student--as needed and on the fly. Some students will be right on time and on track, some will be looping through remedial exercises, others will be reviewing extracurricular materials or taking individualized pop quizzes. The teacher can even share screens with individual students and provide suggestions and coaching without interrupting anyone else.

Make no mistake: This is doable. The real question is whether we have the guts, the resolve and the strength to implement the necessary changes before we doom another generation of kids to lifetime under-employment, second-class citizenship or worse.

IMAGE: yamagatacamille/Flickr
Last updated: Feb 14, 2013

HOWARD TULLMAN | Columnist

Howard A. Tullman is the CEO of 1871 ? Where Digital Startups Get Their Start and the General Managing Partner of G2T3V, LLC and of Chicago High Tech Investment Partners. He is a member of the Chicago NEXT & Cultural Affairs Councils and the Illinois Innovation & Arts Councils; an adjunct professor at Kellogg; and an advisor to many start-ups. He is the former Chairman and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. Over the last 45 years, he has successfully founded more than a dozen high-tech companies. @tullman

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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