Saturday, July 21, 2012

An Education Bubble?

I watched this debate the other day between entrepreneur Peter Thiel and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. It was moderately interesting, but the part that got me thinking was in the last few minutes (about the 33 minute mark) when they briefly touched on education. Peter Thiel suggested that, at least at the university level, we are in an education bubble. Eric Schmidt responded that while there may be issues, he thinks education is the answer.

Dinner and Debate with Eric Schmidt and Peter Thiel from Fortune Conferences and Fortune Conferences on

And that got me thinking. More and more I'm wondering if Education - with a capital 'E' - is not the answer. Perhaps we are seeing a bubble in education, not just at the university level, but in K-12 as well. Perhaps we'll look back at the last half of the twentieth century and this first decade or two of the twenty-first and view it as the industrial-education complex (with apologies to Eisenhower) era of education.

More and more I'm wondering if there's any possible way to take a system of Education and make it work the way I think it needs to; to truly meet the needs of our children. I'm really beginning to doubt there is.

So if Education (capital 'E") is not the answer, what is? Perhaps it's learning.

Now, to be fair, I have no idea how to "scale" such an idea, and specifically no idea how to make sure the least advantaged among us can take advantage of the learning landscape we currently are presented with (that's one thing a system - despite all its flaws - currently does better). But just as in other bubbles, where in the midst of the hype very few folks were aware they were in a bubble, perhaps the way forward to make our children's learning the focus will emerge from the rubble.



  1. emerging from the rubble.. a quiet revolution.
    focus instead on getting back to a natural state... perhaps.. of learning to learn.

    thanks for sharing Karl.
    great find.
    great probing....thinking.

  2. This comment is from Sue King - for some reason Blogger is not cooperating and letting her post a comment on this post.
    Wonderfully written and thoughtful comment. I share your sentiments and have come to a similar conclusion about our "Education System." I also share your concerns about those who least advantaged. I wonder if we "left no child behind" in a completely different manner as we have been - perhaps by creating learning community centers in which all children are welcomed, loved, and nurtured in ways that we know will allow them to thrive - food, shelter, genuine human affection; read to them, talk & listen with them; surround them with music, art, nature; give them opportunities to play, to socialize with others, to explore. And then just support them in their natural development - emotionally, intellectually, socially. Less structure, but more guidance & care; less 'accountability,' but more responsibility. Just thinking/dreaming aloud here . . .

    1. Yes, more guidance and care. Care. Love. Respect. Not just teachers, but families, friends, neighbors. Be present. Be involved. A major shift is coming. I strongly believe this. The power is in the people. Not the tests, not the e-content, not Google. It has to start with the people. The communities.

    2. I completely agree that it needs to start with the community! So many students don't see their education as a means to multiple opportunities, I believe, because their communities don't view education that way. And this includes the community within the school. Since I moved from teaching elementary to teaching middle school, it feels as if some teachers care more about their content than their students . . . not because they don't love kids, but because the district, state and national focus is the content and the manner by which we teachers and schools are judged. I hope that you are right about the shift . . . power to the people!

  3. I found it surprising that education was almost a footnote in this debate. Peter made a good point that failure of imagination was a cause of slow innovation which reflects back to a deficit in education. Perhaps if the technology companies invested some of those billions of dollars they talked about in the debate in public education programs.

    1. Lupe - I have to say that thought crossed my mind as well. I wonder if it crossed Eric Schmidt's?

  4. Sad that the idea of "scaling learning" seems so daunting. My goodness, what did we do before schools? ;0)

    I think the panic is starting to set in at the higher ed level. MOOCs are being co-opted by big unis in an attempt to keep learning under their control. They won't be able to. But the whole badges for learning thing is problematic too. How do we give a badge for the really meaningful stuff around learning? Curiosity? Persistence? Grit? (I'd love my kids to earn a grit badge, btw, moreso than a calculus badge.)

    Learning will emerge from the rubble, but I fear it's going to be a huge amount of rubble to dig through.

  5. Will - before we had schools, kids worked/lived on farms/etc. and we didn't have an entire economy built on schools-as-day-care. That, and the fact that before schools there was no conception of educating everyone, is what makes me worry about the scale question.

    My concern is sometimes after the rubble comes . . . nothing.