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The Chemistry of Genius?, Part 1

New Science on What Makes Quality Education

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This is part 1 of a 2-part article.

Read Part 2 Here

Harvard Business School recently emphasized that the major changes in the world tend to come from what they called “disruptive innovators.”

These are surprising innovations that usually come from out-of-the-mainstream sources and drastically change society, business, and other facets of life.

Disruptive innovators are disruptive precisely because they are totally unexpected by the mainstream.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a best-selling book on the concept, showing that many and in fact most of the major societal initiators come from “outliers.”

Why are so many progresses initiated and led by unknown talent hotbeds, what Daniel Coyle called “chicken-wire Harvards”?

Indeed, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and their counterparts may lead the analysis about innovations, but “chicken-wire Harvards” produce many more innovative projects.

The Innovation “Gene”

Why is more entrepreneurial, innovative and leadership education flourishing in small, humble, usually under-funded environments than in the prestigious, elite halls of endowments and status?

And even when the mainstream and elite institutions take note and attempt to emulate such successes, why do they usually fall short of the smaller talent hotbeds?

The answer is simple. The breeding grounds of initiative and leadership believe in and implement the philosophy of individualized education.

Nearly everywhere else, the emphasis is on systemized models of learning that students must learn to navigate and “fit.”

To reinforce this point, there are many small, humble and under-funded educational models that are not talent hotbeds—almost invariably they are followers of the “systems model” rather than individualization.

Dead Poet’s Society

I well remember a visit years ago to a private school that had just received two major breakthroughs: an endowment from a wealthy parent, and a new president who promised to significantly grow the school.

As I talked to this president, however, I realized that he fully intended to turn this excellent, proven hotbed of talent into a systemized conveyor belt. He felt that this is what the wealthy donor wanted, and maybe it was.

But I could tell after a few minutes of visiting with him that he would ruin the depth, quality and excellent results the school had boasted for the past decade.

Five years later, my worst concerns were unfortunately the reality. The school was no longer a place of deep quality and excellence, but it was much bigger, more bureaucratic, and hardly distinguishable from the local public schools. Indeed, several charter schools in the area offered much higher quality.

The key to this change was teachers. In the public schools, teachers have been penalized for great teaching since 2002. As Harper’s noted:

“Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002…U.S. teachers are forced to choose between teaching general knowledge and ‘teaching to the test.’ The best teachers are thereby often disenfranchised by the improper use of education information systems.”

But in private schools, this system is not mandated. However, when such schools apply the systems approach to education, they usually obtain similar mediocre results.

In the old, under-funded days of this high school, the teachers had given their hearts and souls to provide personalized, individualized attention to every student.

As the school turned to industrial systems, these teachers were forced to move on or change their approach from individualized learning to factory-style academia.

Approaching each child with the assumption that she has genius inside, and that the teacher’s role is to help her find it, develop and polish it to improve herself and the world—this is called teaching. Anything else is something else.

Where true teaching occurs, excellence flourishes. This is applicable at all levels, from elementary to high school, undergraduate to graduate programs, and also adult learning.

Individualization of education is the first step to leadership education, and without it quality always decreases.

Read Part 2 Here

Click Here to Download a PDF of this Article

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  1. […] Harvard Business School once emphasized that the major changes in the world tend to come from what they called “disruptive innovators.” […]

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The Chemistry of Genius?, Part 1