Everyone is trying to figure out how we’re solving our statewide labor problem. Are we investing more money in place building and marketing? Training ? In childcare? Towards affordable housing? Yes. But to really make a difference, we have to step back and see the whole board.
Right now, the challenges in our schools are untenable. Ask any educator, administrator, student, or parent what they’re seeing right now. The mental health, behavior, performance and development of our young people in this world right now is not good.
Iowa is no different. Our students all struggle to some degree; as one caring teacher recently said, “Every one of these kids is broken in some way.”
Put yourself in their shoes and look at the future they see: systemic inequalities, a warming planet that will only get more chaotic, a democracy hanging by a thread, an inconceivable pace of change . And in their hands we place technologies that were designed, specifically designed, to make them feel inferior, addicted, anxious, angry and dependent, and so we can’t even accept what the truth is anymore.
So what do we do? We force them to follow the same basic education system that was designed 80 years ago. We ask them to forget about these problems, the underlying causes and all this technology exists and to sit nicely in small rows to regurgitate the information so that we can evaluate and classify it. And their reward for joining this system and doing well? We are putting them in massive debt to prove that they can navigate the next phase of this archaic system so that they can eventually graduate and enter a workforce that they are not emotionally or mentally ready to be with. to hire.
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We already know from talking to employers what they want in the workforce: good humans they can count on to show up, keep busy, and keep learning. That’s it. (Yes, surgeons must have some specific type of training, like many professions, but overall most people are the generalists needed to keep our economy running.)
Transforming our education system into something that can help be a solution and an engine for the betterment of society and the economy is not beyond our reach.
Step One: Redefine admissions standards at the University of Iowa. Bring together our regent university leaders, community and private colleges with Iowa companies such as ACT and discuss how post-secondary education in Iowa could pioneer new ways to assess learners for the admission not based on secular standards. Focus on the type of person who should be admitted rather than a measure of how many of each class they took in high school. It goes down to the K-12 system; you can’t make changes to it until higher education demands a different “product”. We can do it in Iowa; we have the expertise and the ability to innovate. This will make Iowa colleges and universities more attractive to learners across the country and beyond at a time when enrollment is expected to decline.
Second step: open up the requirements and allow schools great flexibility to innovate. The Iowa Legislature must work to empower teachers and administrators to innovate without fear of retaliation or funding cuts. Work with the Department of Education to determine what rules need to be changed to allow for new approaches to learning. Provide communities and school boards with the assurance that the time is right.
Third step: Find the courage to rethink everything. From scratch, take a fresh look at what education could and should look like outside of the rigid industrial model that worked in the past. This is the hardest part, but the most necessary. Start asking better questions about what we can do and what aspects of the old model are no longer serving our students or society. Then try new things to see what makes a difference for students and systems in general. Ask the question: What will best prepare these students to thrive emotionally, physically, and professionally in the world they will inherit? Rather than preparing them for the world of the past. Use technology to provide individualized learning combined with an explanation to each learner of the impact their life can have on others and on humanity as a whole and that their life has a purpose.
If we were to enable meaningful innovation with real and powerful change, it would be the greatest economic driver in our state’s history. Our students would be so much better prepared for their lives. People and businesses would flock here to be part of this transformation, and so many symptoms of suicide, depression, anxiety, crime, chemical dependency, violence and apathy, all of which are linked to economic stagnation , to emigration and despair, would show a radical improvement.
I understand that change is difficult and causes a lot of fear. But the status quo is destroying our children’s lives and their hopes. We can let things happen or we can act. As the late Desmond Tutu so aptly said, “There comes a time when we have to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling.
Iowa was once a leader in education, and it can be again. We Iowans just need the courage to try, look around the world for other models and innovate our own.
Mark Nolte is vice president of partnership development at North Liberty-based Green State Credit Union. These views are his.