No jobs for a misled, mis-educated generation.
According to The Wall Street Journal, hundreds of thousands of new college graduates are entering a U.S. work force that has no use for them. While two million college grads remain unemployed, kids with $200k educations get to compete for jobs waiting and busing tables, delivering pizzas, serving as bouncers at night clubs and baristas at Starbucks. Those who've gone the distance to earn Ivy League law degrees may be joining other Ivy League law grads working as census takers, file clerks, and substitute teachers.
If you're a recent college grad, you've likely spent your entire academic life training to be irrelevant in our new economy. Not only that but you're likely to be tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for an "education" whose economic bubble just burst.
Maybe you didn't get the memo, but most of the smartest, richest self-made billionaires were astute enough to ditch class and dropout of this irrelevant education system. Billionaire dropouts include many of the most forward thinking entrepreneurs of our time such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Sheldon Adelson, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen and about 70 other self-made billionaire drop outs.
Trained to Fail
After all the hard work it took you to survive seventeen years of this archaic, industrial era academic system, you're about to discover it was all a giant mistake. You've been trained to fail in the worst possible sense; because you're not even failing at what you naturally love to do - you're failing at what you've been trained to think you should do. And the new global economy doesn't give a rat about the promises you were made. "Get good grades, so you can go to a good college, so you can get a good job," is yesterday's news and it's about as helpful as knowing yesterday's lotto number.
U.S. schooling has probably trained you to follow instructions (instead of blaze your own trail), engage in rote learning (instead of deep, thoughtful exploration), work for grades (instead of your true passions), develop a docile, domesticated disposition, dependent on the "the system" for security and employment (instead of developing your own rugged individualism). You've been taught to avoid experimentation and risk, because straight "A" students are trained to think they need to "get it right" at least 90% of the time, (instead of learning to be comfortable taking big risks with the confidence that if you can just "get it right" 20% of the time in the real world, you'll be among the most successful entrepreneurs, pioneers, innovators and creative risk-takers in the world. 9 out of 10 new businesses and creative ventures fail. Get a 2 out of 10 success rate in the real world and you win. Get 5 out of 10 right in school or as an industrial age factory/knowledge worker and you still fail.) Bottom line is, school's trained you to fail outside of anything but the artificial bubble of "higher education" and the American industrial age economic system, which we have just watched collapse.
Taught to Think Like a Dinosaur
This whole fiasco wasn't malicious, but rather a consequence of a school system designed over a century ago, for what was necessary to drive last century's industrializing economy. The U.S. school system was designed in Germany around the turn of the last century to fuel the industrial revolution. That's where we got much of it from - even the name "kindergarten" (literally "child garden" - a place to grow kids.) The need then was for good factory workers and managers who did what they were told and followed procedures. So the school system wasn't designed to foster free thinking, a pioneering spirit, innovation, or passion - in fact it was designed to snuff out those traits; it was designed to replace your natural inclinations, curiosities, and creativity with the compulsive desire to earn good grades and subordinate to the system. Instead of learning and working for passion, you were likely trained to learn and work for performance evaluations and your supervisor's approval.
This worked on a national scale when graduates joined a massive workforce mobilized to build and man factories. In that era industrial citizens needed to be docile and easily trained to execute policies and procedures, day in and day out, without question or revolt. When industrialization was still the name of the game this approach ensured U.S. economic supremacy.
Back then two major realities of today didn't exist: computers and telecommunication-driven global outsourcing. With these two factors squarely in place now, there's either a computer or someone in India or China's newly educated two billion person workforce who can perform the same tasks for which our school system trained you - and these new solutions offer corporations orders of magnitude greater efficiency than any U.S. grad. That is, unless you're willing to work for $10k a year. If you are, then your U.S. education may still serve you well for years to come. If not, then you've been duped. Some of us have been warning about this for many years, but now it's finally happened - with 17% unemployment for our latest generation of college graduates, many of which are now burdened with huge student loan debt that can't even be escaped through bankruptcy - U.S. education is proving to be not only pathetically irrelevant, but a ridiculously expensive mistake - epic FAIL.
American Ingenuity - Our Saving Grace
It turns out the U.S. still has an edge in one area - despite our public education system's apparent determination to rid our brightest students of it - and that edge is American ingenuity. American ingenuity isn't just folklore; it's natural selection. For centuries America has attracted the most adventurous, innovative, pioneering people from every country on the planet. And these pioneering souls passed their pioneering genes on to us. Genes like the DRD4 7R, associated with a novelty-seeking, exploratory, pioneering mindset, have been shown to be over twice as prevalent in the U.S. as it is worldwide.
While the industrialization of America provided our high standard of living, we have paid the price for it with epidemic rates of addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders. This is because we as a population have forced ourselves to conform to a disposition that is literally antagonistic to our genetic temperament. We are natural born explorers, creative risk-takers, and pioneers who have been cooped up in industrial era classrooms for far too long. And this confinement (and subsequent sublimation of our creativity) has taken a toll on our mental health.
We Americans can only sustain our lifestyle if we focus on maintaining our edge as the seat of innovation and progress: not factory workers, not bureaucrats, and certainly not the kleptrocrats whom frustrated creative-risk-takers all-too-often become when they are taught to abandon the passions of their hearts and instead chase external validation. When these naturally creative risk-takers, deformed by our intolerant school system, are put in the role of bureaucrat, kleptocratic looting becomes their only "creative" outlet - and what they create is disaster and chaos - think Enron, Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, and BP to name an infamous few.
So What Do You Do Now?
If we want to recover from our industrial-sized hangover, we need to retool our idea of what education should be. (In fact our current educational system defies the very word education, because - as Russell Bishop once pointed out to me - educate comes from the Latin meaning "to draw out of," which is the Socratic style of teaching, not "to put into," which is the didactic style of teaching inflicted by our school system.) We need to offer the kind of real education promoted by the likes of Socrates, Plato, Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Einstein, Edison, and Henry Ford. The kind enjoyed by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who both lucked into having rather unconventional educational experiences, which fostered inner direction, passion, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and freedom to take risks - lots of risks. This type of education is also the most effective for our most energetic and creative students. Right now these kids are being labeled ADHD and medicated to suppress their high energy, and fluid, creative temperaments; biochemically forcing bright creative children to conform to an antiquated idea of learning, which is tied to a sinking ship. These highly creative kids don't have a disorder - our system does.
America needs to wake up. We need to help kids learn to be dynamic entrepreneurs, innovative inventors, and accomplished artists. That is what the new global economy may still be willing to pay American grads big $100k+ incomes for. We need to get back to the roots of American prosperity when the leaders of industry didn't get paid fat salaries and juicy bonuses for manipulating the system and chop-shopping our infrastructure, but instead thought like true entrepreneurs who gain prosperity through courageous, resourceful, creative pioneering.
We need to create and participate in more pursuits emphasizing innovation and difficult problem solving (instead of mere rote learning) like the Imagine Cup, where students compete to innovate technology to help solve some of the world's toughest problems--including eliminating poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria. It's "one of the most important science competitions in the world" according to Bill Gates and yet most U.S. high school and college kids aren't even aware of it, because they're too busy trying to keep up artificial grades. (If you're interested, The Huffington Post is hosting a contest for student journalists to win a trip to this year's event in Poland.)
The ones who prosper in a new world of rapid innovation and constant upheaval are not the compliant, dependent, directionless students we're churning out of our cog-in-the-wheel education system. Those who prosper in a new world are those cut from the same cloth as our great American heroes: the kind who could shoot from the hip, the kind who could think on their toes, the kind who were comfortable with risk and uncharted territory, the kind who could invent unthinkable things like the airplane, the integrated circuit, and the Internet.
If you're graduating with the class of 2010, your best bet is not to wait and hope for industry to save the day, rescuing you from your jobless purgatory. Your best bet is to reconnect with your passion, your God-given brilliance, your American ingenuity, and go ahead and invent the industry that will save the day.
I leave you with a couple quotes:
"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." ~ Albert Einstein
"Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, so study without desire sports the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in." ~ Leonardo da Vinci
"Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school." ~ Albert Einstein
"If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him." ~ John F. Kennedy