Marty Nemko, holds a Ph.D. specializing in the evaluation of innovation from the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently taught in its graduate school. This is the first in a series on thinking outside of the box when it comes to the nation’s leading challenges.
People on both sides of the aisle agree that the best way to create new, permanent jobs is to create more (and ethical) entrepreneurs. Here’s one way to create them: Replace one high school course with a course in entrepreneurship.
The big idea
Special series | Dr. Marty Nemko thinks outside of the box on subjects ranging from education and job training, to health care and politics.
First Book President and CEO Kyle Zimmer speaks with the Washington Post's Emi Kolawole about the importance of arts education and how First Book is working to bridge the growing gap created by declining education funding.
In entrepreneurship class, students would learn how to identify unmet societal needs in the for- and nonprofit sectors, create a business plan, and include online and in-person guided simulations of running a business. Each class would start an actual business during the second semester, such as a peer-tutoring business. These days, “competition” is a dirty word among some leading educators. For example, Alfie Kohn, author of No Contest: The Case Against Competition asserts that competition “turns all of us into losers.” But I believe that, with little liability, great learning would accrue from dividing the class into two groups to see which group can create a more profitable business while retaining scrupulous ethics.
If a student is not destined to become an entrepreneur, the course may still help them become an intrapreneur — someone able to create jobs within an organization. In either case, students would be better empowered to create new products and services — not to mention new jobs.
Compare the net benefit of a course in entrepreneurship to the student and society against the net benefit of the long-required year of geometry. The Common Core Math Standards is a showcase of the arcana geometry teachers are required to teach. Take, for example, this definition of transformations: “Transformations (rigid motions followed by dilations) define similarity in the same way that rigid motions define congruence.”
There’s a limit to what students will learn in high school. Is it more important that all high school graduates be taught rarely-used esoterica rather than lessons in how to identify an unmet societal need, develop a practical plan to fill it, and the art and science of how to successfully and ethically implement that plan?
The most commonly offered defense of requiring a year of geometry in high school is that it teaches thinking skills. No less than Plato believed that so strongly that he had “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter” engraved over the entrance to the The Academy. But I have yet to be presented with evidence that teaching thinking skills in an abstract context such as geometry yields better real-world thinking skills than if taught in a real-world context, such as in a course in entrepreneurship, personal finance, or conflict resolution.
I acknowledge that geometry is needed for careers such as engineering and carpentry. However, the percentage of the geometry course that will be used even by engineers and carpenters is relatively small and likely to be forgotten by the time that knowledge is needed. Larry Leonard, Principal Consulting Engineer at LSL Consulting went further: “In my 20 years as an engineer for Chevron and Conoco-Phillips, I never used geometry. A course in entrepreneurship would have been far more valuable.”