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U.S. Education Overhaul

I propose a simple, time tested model to 1.) lower the cost of education and 2.) empower students with useful knowledge. Please give any insights you may have.

The following is the process of gaining a marketable education:

student desires - education - learning - marketable skills - employer desires

In the U.S. this process breaks down at each step. Specifically, the main incentive for students to get an education is to have a financially stable future, however most students don't study, learn, or practice what they want to do until they get into the work place. Therefore they're useless until trained by the employer.

So why do we do it? Today's U.S. education system is the product of our industrial age, but market demands have changed. Education is just slow to catch up.

THE SOLUTION: My proposed method is to take students out of high school and inject them directly into the field they want to be in. This will cut out the 4+ year waste of secondary education, save students from debt, and provide them with connections, experience, and skills they will actually be able to use.

Employers have two incentives to do this. 1.) a young student is more malleable and the employer can raise up this student asset however he wants. 2.) it makes economic sense for the employer; Average college tuition is ~$40,000 / year. Times four years, that gives a student roughly $160,000 that he was planning on spending on his undergrad. Plus four years of time. Instead of paying a school to entertain a student, a student could pay a fraction of that money and time to a mentor, while providing benefit to the mentor simultaneously.

Again, the student here gains connections, experience, and skills.


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    Lejan .

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    Dec 1 2012: There is one big mistake in your perception of education:

    Education is NOT about beeing MALLEABLE for the needs and deeds of some random employer who comes to decides over a student asset however HE wants! HELL, NO!

    Education is about to support and spark the interests, talents and abilities of the individual STUDENT ONLY. To help to create self-determined and independent thinking individuals which are able to decide and act for themselves.

    Education is NOT about forging mindless robots for an limited industrialized 'conveyer belt' mindset!

    If this is your overhaul for the U.S. education the decline slope of this nation has just become even steeper.
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      Gail .

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      Dec 1 2012: Re: "Education is NOT about forging mindless robots for an limited industrialized 'conveyer belt' mindset!"

      In the USA, it is.

      You would be stunned if you saw how much is not taught in our schools and how many lies are part of our standardized educations. Europe has always had a higher standard of education, but it's pretty despicable here now.
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        Dec 1 2012: I wish I could agree in whole on your view on European education standards, at least for my own country, but in fact I can't.

        Since the PISA study Germany found its once proud and noble race horse changed to a ragged and tousled little donkey happily chewing its hay of arrogance and ignorance. Actually, it never was a race horse, as it has been branded by the label of class society as a foal.

        Our school system still rests on three columns: Two types of secondary school (lower and upper) and one high school.

        As soon as you enter a certain type at very young age after elementary school, your chances drop significantly to evolve freely and to switch towards higher levels.

        With this so called 'German precision' we 'forge' exactly what the job market needs.

        Worker class - Middle class - Leading class

        Our job curriculums are chronologically. We do not show first what we achieved, our emphasis is where we come from. And to stay in the picture, what 'stable smell' we have.

        Personally I made my way from 'Worker class' school all the way up to 'Leading class' school and by doing so I almost lost all of my senses, creativity and vitality to finally get to see the intention behind this destructive clockwork.

        The official lipservice about this, of course, is sweet so it was a slap in 'official faces' when Germany was placed at the lowest rank possible in terms of social equality within Europe.

        When I was working in your county I did not see any differences in basic education throughout all 'social levels'. The only thing I noticed was a general 'blindness' for the world beyond US borders.

        There was Mexico in the South and Canada in the North, which got noticed as 'illegal immigrants' and 'funny speaking people'. I am generalizing here, but in Europe we just have to deal with many neighbours, and if we are not killing each other, to me this is enriching.

        Europe is is piling up a heritage of dept for its descendents, by which the future of education is set and doomed.
    • Dec 1 2012: "Education is about to support and spark the interests, talents and abilities of the individual"

      I agree completely. But here in America this is leading a lot of students into majors that they're good at but have little relevance to the student. I believe firmly in students pursuing what they love and what they're good at. But their education should be worth something to other people too. Why? First off, then the student has earning potential. Money doesn't buy happiness but neither does poverty. Secondly, then the student can give back to his society and help others in ways that they need.

      In response to, "Education is NOT about forging mindless robots for an limited industrialized 'conveyer belt' mindset!". Good, I'm glad we agree there too. This IS the mindset that I propose we move away from.

      We're on the same page :)
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        Dec 1 2012: Joshua, you leave me puzzeled... :o)

        First you made me swear my first time on TED ever, and then you are telling me we are on 'the same page'...

        Sorry, but I don't get this... :o)

        Don't you think that there is an even bigger potential to 'give back to his society and help others' if students persue their way to personal fullfillment? Given all this beautiful variety and individuality do you think that a society would have a lack of professionals in any field? And why do you think that there is no earning potential in doing in what you like to do? Actually BECAUSE of this 'earning potential' we really have a lot of professionals who choose their profesion on 'money issues' only, and most, if not all, of them are just doing a lousy job, because they don't actually love what they are doing!

        How many people hate to get up in the morning only because they have to? And without knowing the number, I claim, there are to many of them!

        Because of the way we are structured, many of us actally lost this important feedback loop to get the feeling what we are giving 'back to 'this' society! The horizon became the due date of our pay-check, and our life temporarily starts at the weekend.

        We came all the way of 3.6 billion years of evolution to finally end up with THAT?

        There is more to it and good education is one of the keys to get there...

        Maybe you can fill in my gaps where I don't get to see our views to resonate... ;o)
        • Dec 2 2012: I agree with you. There is more to education than that which provides a job and career. A lot more. My proposal addresses just that part of education which leads to a career, and I should have mentioned that.

          We should help students pursue what they enjoy and excel at. But in the U.S. we hardly do. So I would argue instead of mandating the teaching of historical dates, biology, calculus etc. focus on the student's desires and what they'll use. Such as finance, investing, nutrition, current affairs, language, social skills, etc. Things they'll actually use that simultaneously enrich their lives instead of teaching bland material they'll only remember for passing tests. Make sure also that they are taught some skill that others want too so they can support a family and contribute back. I'll bet we can agree on this, no?

          Also, you've said, and I agree with:

          "Maybe it is because I was indulged in this context, but I am honestly confident that education 'free of charge' has to become a human right.
          Besides freedom and the basic needs for a decent living, there is nothing else of this magnitude which can be handed over as joyful to the following generations, as this gift.
          One day we may get there."

          I would love to see a more accessible, self-sustaining, efficient education system especially if it is not my proposed idea. What would you suggest?
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        Dec 2 2012: Are you arguing that education where you are receiving it is "about forging mindless robots for a limited industrialized conveyer belt mindset?" It sounds to me like what you propose of not exposing students seriously to subjects in which they are not immediately interested and putting them right into focused employment is closer to that model than the more typical liberal arts education.
        • Dec 2 2012: "It sounds to me like what you propose of not exposing students seriously to subjects in which they are not immediately interested"

          Yes, but I would change the word 'exposing', to 'teaching in depth'. Expose students to everything but focus on what will change their lives.

          "putting them right into focused employment"

          Kind of. I'd say just have a purpose for everything you teach students, and make sure that everything they study is going to be useful to know. I'd argue that being "well rounded" is not useful in and of itself. Instead of being "well rounded" by studying superfluous things, we should teach students budgeting, investing, creativity, social skills, how to raise kids, how to make and keep money, etc. Then they're well rounded and can do something with their knowledge. So have students cycle through internship positions in many fields and make that paramount to their education.

          But the main idea I'm proposing is for students within a field of study to have related portions of study be more related. IE I want to be a physician, so why on earth am I required to study biology, organic chemistry, physics and calculus when things like anatomy and pathology aren't even encouraged (or often offered).
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        Dec 2 2012: I suspect you will at some point discover how biology and chemistry are relevant in medicine and why they form a basis for work in anatomy and pathology.
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    Dec 2 2012: Instead of taking them out of high school, I would try and get back to the original concept of vocational education. There are some school districts, such as Nashville, which have implemented "learning academies." They have brought companies into the education process and they allow students to move around the school system to partake in those that cater to their interests. I don't believe we should eliminate secondary education, but we should modernize the old concept of "vocational education," now called "career readiness." I don't believe that college is a "waste," as you say; rather, it is not affordable to many families and steps should be taken to ensure that every family can afford some type of college education should they choose to purse it.
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    Dec 1 2012: I agree with Lejean that the purpose of education goes far beyond preparing students for specific employment and includes exposing students to a range of disciplines that might interest them, conveying skills in critical thinking and interdisciplinary thinking, giving students an opportunity to engage with experts and scholars working in the disciplnes, and so forth. Giving not only future scientists but all students opportunities for science laboratory experiences, as an example, broadens everyone's ability to understand scientific processes and the potential soundness, or lack thereof, of conclusions that are drawn that affect everyones lives. I give science laboratory experience only as an example.
    The same is true of the style of thought and work in other fields.
    The breadth one can get through education also enhances a person's flexibility to change tracks and integrate understandings over the course of a life or a career.

    Education is an area in which many tend to make assumptions that are too terms of what education does and can do. The vast majority of people under-estimate both. It is important not to mistake confidence and assertiveness for knowledge and understanding. Education also can give us a 'nose" for that.
    • Dec 1 2012: I agree. There is more to an education than what I propose here but this idea is young and the page space was short.

      Perhaps students could progress through a chain of professionals in different fields.
      When I was a kid, if I wanted to learn the piano I didn't study history or college algebra. I practiced piano. Practice.

      Instead of having kids learn things by studying them, I propose that students learn things by practicing them and this is the heart of my proposed idea.

      And I believe so strongly in exposing students to a range of disciplines, and encouraging critical thinking and interdisciplinary thinking. Our system today doesn't teach these as efficiently as it could either, but they must be worked in to a viable education model.
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        Dec 1 2012: I understand, with two reservations. One is that education in any context, very much including the classroom, should involve continuous application. We learn not just by listening but by a combination of listening/reading, thinking, and doing things in a hands-on way. This is true in the classroom and beyond it. People who do not use material in a context in which they get competent feedback often think they understand something better than they do.

        Second, I doubt that when you wanted to learn piano, all you did was practice piano. I bet you were also learning other things that same day and week, though not at the same moment you were practicing piano.

        Single-minded, narrow specialization is not necessarily the best course.
  • Dec 1 2012: If you find this hard to believe, I won't blame you.

    For many skilled positions, your solution was exactly the way many people were trained, by their employers. Then came the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Equal employment opportunity was a BIG issue then, and over the next several years this law resulted in many law suits against employers, some of them baseless. Employers needed a way to standardize the employee selection process. Most employers took the easy way out, by simply requiring a college degree. This solved the equal opportunity problem and also provided employers with better candidates. Coincidentally the draft for the Vietnam war was producing many veterans eligible for the benefits of the GI Bill; one benefit being help with college tuition.

    To this day, many skilled positions that could be filled by high school graduates still require a college degree. Changing this would involve changing the law.

    One of many unintended consequences.
    • Dec 1 2012: That is perfect to know. It totally makes sense, so if we were to change education in this way, we'd need a way to make it fair. How about supplementing the mentored learning position with two things:

      1) A classically designed education but from a far cheaper and accessible online source like coursera or udacity?

      2) Have peers of students under an employee. Then the employer discriminates less because he hires more, the peers can help each other through the learning process. The employer may not be able to hire all the students, and that could be a problem.
  • Dec 1 2012: Aren't we focusing on the crazy way we Americans do things? Early creative individuals in America would freely borrow from others. e.g. Ben Franklin The other industrial countries don't delude themselves with the idea of keeping all students in school for thirteen years. So we've helped our country by the educator professional agenda? IS that what you are approaching. Want 1,ooo Phd physicists a year The American federal government nudges that to fruition Even if there aren't that many jobs. Your idea is right in that we should always think and analyze.