Do we still create astronauts?

Why do we have kids go to school? To get smarter, right? But HOW are they getting smarter? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes people successful in business and pretty much anything else. It occurs to me that it isn’t that they know a lot. It’s that they know a lot about what they do. There is a difference. We all know someone who can list off facts and knowledge like an almanac on steroids, yet they are rarely the ones who are truly successful in building anything. The ones who build something little into something big (business, industry, social) are the ones who KNOW their stuff. Not everything, just their own thing. You look at the person succeeding in business or industry and they are pocket experts in whatever they do. They may outsource the math, communication, logistics, whatever, but at the heart of the whole shebang is someone who knows that business like no one else. I suspect it’s the reason family-owned businesses have traditionally been so successful in America, because generational understanding of a business can permeate even an under-motivated player.

So what are we in education doing to meet this reality? We offer a nearly all-you-can-eat buffet of things to learn and skills to hone, but do we produce experts?  I guess my question is if we have students who show an interest in the food business in high school, can they affordably become an industry expert in the custom pastry business? Yes, we can, in a few years of high school and vocational or higher education teach them how to cook, and how to bake, and perhaps how to present a meal on a plate, but is it enough? Do they know food or restaurants?

Are there ways to leverage technology to help that person who aspires to be a cake boss to become so well read, and own so much usable knowledge, that they are nearly destined to find success?

Ask some industry experts in the finance business and many will recount an interest and an IMMERSION in the world of finance that began well before accounting or finance classes were realistic. They read the Wall Street Journal in middle school, and traded penny stocks before they could drive. I’m NOT talking about forcing a kid to do 5 hours of algebra each day instead of playing tee-ball. What I am wondering is if there is a structure we can leverage to help students whose imagination is already leading them to an industry or business become immersed in it.

Do we still create astronauts by interest alone? We did once. We didn’t need to push hard sciences or engineering, we had kids all over the country aspiring to work for NASA one day. We also created a lot of very talented mechanics, nurses, entrepreneurs, and bankers by sparking interest and allowing kids to learn the field outside the classroom wherever possible. I think we still do, but I think those opportunities are lost in the shuffle a bit. How can we help children explore those passions, become immersed in them, and allow them to flourish?



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