In Silicon Valley, land of money and innovators, people throw around the word disrupt. Like, eBay disrupted how we sell second-hand goods by completely changing the market we can sell to and the tools we can use to make a deal. Facebook disrupted how we keep in touch with friends because it used to be one-to-one, but now it’s one-to-many.
Silicon Valley is always looking for a big win, so they are always looking for a company that will change the way we do things. Yet in education the startups are the equivalent of decorating a locker to celebrate a birthday: it’s a sad attempt to spice up the sorry status quo.
Yet in education, there is no effort to change that we send kids to school. Obviously the premise that kids need to be in school is up for debate. Education is ripe for disruption yet no one in Silicon Valley is doing that. Instead, Silicon Valley is funding school.
The real measurement of education is, of course, whether the child is gaining the skill of learning what interests him. But what about kinesthetic learners, for example? How does the software encourage them to do their best learning? The most insipid thing about this category of education software is that the company is supporting the idea that testing and measuring is a great idea, which means we can only teach kids things that have right answers. (Which is, by the way, completely anathema to what Silcion Valley leaders believe, which makes me certain that no A-lister in the Bay Area is sending their kid to a school that uses software like this. No—this software is for the middle-class — those families who are stuck in sub-par school and can’t afford to go to a school for self-directed learning.
Thinkful is one of about three million startups that help kids code. Because, presumably, no one else is getting jobs? The problem is that not everyone was born to code, or even wants to code. If that surprises you, then familiarize yourself with the sixteen personality types, because every Fortune 500 company uses this system in some way to peg who should be doing which job. And believe me, at least eight of these types (the most common ones, actually) are completely wrong to train as programmers. Because they care about feelings and people rather than solving logic problems systematically. (Wondering if you should code? Here’s a free test to find your personality type.)
It’s particularly UNrevolutionary to create a new curriculum that we cram down kids’ throats. It’s already clear that forced learning does not work. Kids learn best when they choose what to learn. Additionally, kids don’t need to code. It’s like teaching kids to fix their cars. For most of us this would be a totally a waste of time, because we can just take them in for repair.
Alt.school just raised $28 million. They are bringing back the one-room classroom, and along with that, the same type of analytics-based measurements 0f No Child Left Behind. But this time the standards are customized to a mixed-age classroom. You know what strikes me as revolutionary here? Repackaging a program that was a huge failure, branding it as a Silicon Valley idea, and seeing if anyone will believe it is new and brilliant.
These startups are not disrupting how kids are sent away from their parents for eight hours a day. Education start-ups are ignoring the research that says self-directed learning is best for kids. And they are creating (supposedly) new situations where kids once again have no space for self-directed learning.
And here’s why: most people with money in Silicon Valley also have kids. And they don’t want to fund a company whose premise is that kids don’t need school. Because then why are their own kids in school?
It’s hard to fund a startup by selling to homeschool families. Traditionally, the way you sell education stuff to parents is by telling them their kid will score higher. Achieve more. But homeschoolers are done with the school scoring system. The tests are a waste of time, and studying for the tests makes kids hate learning (or, worse, makes them monkeys who do whatever someone tells them to do.)
Here’s some advice to all the venture capital firms funding education startups: disrupting education will come from Unschooling. It’s growing fast and it’s not the right-wing Christians. It’s the liberal New Yorkers.
And here’s some advice to people who want to do a startup. Think about how the world of education spending will change when most of the middle class has taken their kids out of school. Create a startup to take advantage of that trend, and you’ll be the first to cash in on it.