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Monday, May 9, 2011

Can the philosophies of home-schooling and entrepreneurism resolve the cold-war between school and business cultures?

One may be amused by the dysfunctional relationship between school cultures and business cultures. Or terrified.

Arguably, the school community hates businesses. And needs them.

And equally likely, the business community hates schools. And needs them.

Schools think of businesses as over-valued, greedy, short sighted, Machiavellian strip-miners trying to deliver as little as possible for as much as possible. Even Harvard Business School professors with very profitable consulting contracts with large corporations have to culturally downplay the filthy lucre at the same time they aggressively pursue it.

Schools seem to have such disdain for businesses that even the hint that a skill may be useful in a business context turns off most of an academic audience. Take project management. If I ever mention "project management" to most school administrators as a useful thing to know by a student graduating from high school or college, I get a sneer with a statement along the lines of, "that is a vocational skill."

(When I am speaking to an audience of academics, I have discovered a loophole, however. I say it as, "Imagine that someone in a non-profit organization is tasked with distributing malaria vaccines. What skills do they they need?" If I carefully set it up in these terms, then they are receptive.)

As an aside, government and foundation grants have become increasingly useful tools for schools to get significant extra money without having to look businesses in the eye. And grant-delivering bodies, such as The Gates Foundation, tend to use academics almost exclusively both to bestow and receive grants (an arrangement that is not only inefficient, but actually works against the productive evolution of schools).

And businesses seem to hate schools. The business community views schools as sloppy and expensive parasitic institutions governed by pseudo-science and extremist philosophies that would fail if not propped up by an endless supply of new hosts. CEOs, who have no shame in getting tens of millions of dollars for their own personal annual compensation, bitterly complain about any teacher and administrative salaries beyond monk levels. Business negotiates with town to pay as little taxes as possible, while complaining about the readiness of graduating students, apparently seeing no connection.

The business community believes that schools ought to create a pipeline for their HR departments, while academics seem more intent on figuring out how businesses can better give resources to schools.

In this area as well, unschooling may shed some light. There is emerging a congruence between home-schoolers and entrepreneurs. They each rely on open-source technologies, have to quickly learn new pragmatic skills (from, yes, project management to Twitter), are quick to adapt, and are highly sensitive to their communities. With neither crippling infrastructure nor administrative burdens, and without a cash crop or customer base from which to draw, but with the raw responsibility for success, both soon become hungry and smart. They learn not just "what to know," but also "what to do," and "who to be."

Emulating the curricula and philosophies of this productive alignment should be something that both traditional schools and businesses seek as not just common ground between them, but also an internal survival and growth strategy.

Or, and perhaps more likely, home-schooling/entrepreneurism may unite the two simply by becoming the common enemy of both.

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