Thoughts on Education and Economic Recovery

You know what sucks? Being a sixth grader and having a stranger tell you to start over with third grade math. I couldn't swallow the diagnosis at the time, and I cried about it on the car ride home. I felt embarrassed. I was attending a private school and told by those teachers that my learning was advanced compared to kids in public schools (which proved to be true). My parents literally paid for me to get ahead.

They also paid for Nina and I to attend a Kumon Learning Center for a short time to supplement and ensure academic success. For our first visit, the Kumon staff administered a timed test to place us in the program. I didn't realize that the number of questions completed was part of the testing criteria, so I took my time rechecking each answer for accuracy. Based upon my slow performance, those bastards at Kumon told me to start over at third grade math. Nina received a similar demotion for her grade level, but I think she only cried about it to mimic my reaction.

I don't remember how long we continued the Kumon program, not too long, but it helped me better master fundamental math and with speed. I continued with success on the math track from there -- all the way up through calculus my senior year of high school -- until public school culture influenced my decision to drop the math for "Independent Study - Jazz" (i.e. extra-long lunch hour). I rounded out math completing business calculus as an undergrad.

I give a lot of credit to all the teachers I now know as adults -- Aunt Rhonda, Nina, Jeff, Keeley, etc. In my world, "multitasking" is responding to people on Facebook while taking a conference all and eating lunch. In their world, multitasking is keeping the order of their classrooms while figuring out how to get food for the kids whose parents didn't get the reduced lunch form in on time. It's encouraging the engaged students while disciplining the students who flipped them off.

The systematic failure of standardized academia continues to take the backburner while at the front of our minds and in the front lines on Wall Street people question why jobs aren't available and leadership sucks. The answer is simple: We don't have flexible education systems in place to develop the best minds and most capable leaders. I gave George W. Bush a bunch of crap when he was in office for a variety of reasons, but I credit his priority for addressing educational reform during his term. Of course, the system he installed went the opposite direction that education reform needed to go -- more standardization. No Child Left Behind works as well as putting out a fire with gasoline, but at least he tried.

Enter Khan Academy. WATCH THIS VIDEO.

Anyone who gets Bill Gates' approval gets mine.

If you have a child struggling with basic or advanced math, sciences or humanities, get them plugged in with that free educational platform. NOW.

In essence, Khan Academy appears to be similar to what I experienced with Kumon -- do not pass until you've demonstrated mastery -- except Khan Academy is scalable for any teacher, tutor or district to adopt and more convenient to access. At minimum, Khan Academy can serve as an education supplement like a Flinstone pill for the mind.

Broader adoption by school districts could be even more promising. As Salman Khan says in the video, the program can flip learning on its head. Instead of learning in the classroom and taking homework on solo, students can watch videos at home in advance or in the classroom at their own pace, as often as they need to, and work on the problem solving in the classroom with teachers and peers available for assistance. It's all self-paced learning at a pace faster than programmatic lecturing and testing can produce.

At this point in the GOP primaries, I'm counting on Obama getting re-elected. I'm hoping that in his second term, Obama's long-term economic plan is an educational reform that produces a generation of Americans that ask not what they're country can do for them, but what they can do for their country. We don't need policies. We need people who can invent, innovate and lead and develop their own companies and jobs rather than rely on government to do the work for them.

And I'm not talking about everyone becoming MBAs or Ph.D.'s. I'm talking about the college drop-outs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who developed their minds outside the standard paths of learning and produced American economies around them as tangible as Bellevue and Palo Alto.

Long-term economic recovery won't come from stimulus packages or tax breaks. It will come from brilliant minds fostered in classrooms and homes today. We've got to stabilize the foundation or the structure will continue to shake and fall.