Technology is a meritocracy. We want the brightest, most engaged, most passionate minds we can get, and we don’t care where they come from, what sex or race they are, or who they love.
But for those who fail the meritocracy test, and it’s assumed that will be most people, tech today has nothing for you. This, is why technology lost the election. People who work with their hands, people who don’t go to prestige colleges, feel locked-out of the game, except as drudges. They took their revenge in November.
The problem is made worse by the behavior of the elite institutions. Increasingly top colleges are taking students from overseas. They’re taking the elite from China, charging them full freight, and they know the kids can do the work.
Put those two things together and you get Trumpistan’s nightmare. Their kids can’t get into the game, and all the money from that game is funneling into fewer-and-fewer hands. The assumption is that technology, which cut out middlemen, then salesmen and retail clerks, is now coming for anyone who drives. What are their kids going to do?
It’s enough to make you a Luddite.
This is the question people like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Case, and Bill Gates need to offer answers for, right now, if they hope to reclaim political power and make sure the U.S. continues to dominate technology, and biotech, into the future.
How do other countries build elites? They test, test, and test some more. We do some of that, too. Lin-Manuel Miranda says his life started when he got into Hunter College Elementary School, at age 5. Had he not passed those tests, no “Hamilton.”
In most of the world, however, the kids who pass the 4th grade tests get the good education to 8th grade. The best of those get into “elite” high schools, and the best of those get the best colleges. This is partially effective, but it often results in graduates who only know how to take tests, and who lack imagination. It also results in kids who don’t have childhoods, who are anxious to slide in their 20s just when their performance should be peaking.
American schools can offer more opportunity, but they need major reform.
Here are a few suggestions:
Make Teachers Talent Scouts – One thing teaching colleges fail at is identifying and nurturing talent. They’re turning out degrees, not talent. That means the teachers teach, the administrators administrate, and the kids jump through hoops on the way to meaningless diplomas. This must change.
Every teacher, in every high school and college, needs to be on the look-out for talent. They need to spend time nurturing this talent, helping it get to the next level, onto the rungs past college. This will take a program of bonus money for every kid who makes it to the next level, whether that’s an elite school in the case of high schools, an elite graduate school in the case of colleges, or a job starting at a set salary higher than the teacher’s.
Feed Every Kid — Minds grow fastest when they’re young. If they’re starved in the early years, they have no chance of exceling. This must change.
I’m talking here of more than school lunch programs. Every kid deserves three square meals a day, which means the parents must feed them a nourishing breakfast and a filling dinner as well. Having an optional program for parents to join is fine for their kids. What about the rest? As birth rates continue to decline, wasting kids is going to be increasingly costly.
Transform Education – We’ve been talking about this since my kids were kids. With clouds and devices, we can do it. Every lesson, from kindergarten through a conventional college degree, can be put online, with lectures by the best teachers, and with testing done online.
Teachers should be teaching and nurturing. They shouldn’t be standing in front of bored kids reciting something anyone can recite, or waiting for kids to finish a test. Teachers should be helping with what used to be called “homework,” using a variety of techniques to help the lessons get through, listening to kids’ problems and seeking solutions for them, being involved in their lives. That’s why people get into teaching in the first place. It’s all they should be doing.
Demand Real Learning — For education to really transform we need to standardize the work. Define what must be learned and what skills must be mastered to define success in every grade, then guarantee it gets done.
This is where the rubber meets the road, because for too long we’ve had “parent” groups, political groups and “moral” leaders denying kids the curriculum they need to succeed. They’re being given Bible Studies in place of science, lies instead of history, Pablum instead of literature. They’ve made school boring, and we can’t afford that any more.
Next, we need to spread the wealth of technology to every city and every state. Steve Case had the right idea with his “rise of the rest” tour. Now it needs to be funded. Individual corporations can “adopt” cities, counties and towns across the country, assuring them the resources needed to educate, the funding needed to start new businesses that will be of use to larger ones, and space for all of it, in concert with all sorts of colleges, not just the elite schools.
Silicon Valley, and synthetic biology can no longer wait for talent to come to them. They must seek it out. Only in the seeking will they win the hope of parents, and the political support needed to drive Trumpistan into historical oblivion, where it belongs.
Few parents want their kids to spend their lives digging coal, turning wrenches, or driving cars. But they do want their kids to find their way into careers, and lives, of passion and purpose, with enough money to raise some grandkids. As the dominant industry of our time, technology has a responsibility to make that happen, and as the rising industry of our time, biology also has a responsibility to make that happen.
The alternative is for these industries to move away and leave America to the wolves. Tech doesn’t really want that, because Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin would be harder to overthrow than Donald Trump is. They have the money to make these changes happen, but they need to invest that money.
The program is simple. Merit must be available to everyone. Everyone deserves multiple opportunities to become Mark Zuckerberg. Parents and grandparents must be shown that the game is not rigged against them if they are to support a meritocratic society. And the benefits of that society must be more broadly shared than they have been.
Otherwise the whole thing falls apart. Trump will concentrate tech’s mind quite well on that score. Let’s hope they get the message.