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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Death to the Standardistas! (re-posted from Feb, 2008)

The more things change the more they stay the same. Or more accurately, the more we try to change things, the more people who misunderstand the problems in education try to keep things the same. Today’s case in point: entrepreneurship education.

Some months ago, we were able to gather some top business and academic people to sit for a day and do a high level design for a story centered, learn by doing, on line curriculum in entrepreneurship for high school, meant to take up the whole of one year. We heard about a foundation that was interested in funding entrepreneurship education so we sent them our design, which was, more or less an attempt to start a business in a Second Life kind of world and compete with other students in that world. Before that part, the students took on certain business analysis projects to get them ready, and in the final part they tried a real project on the web.

We were told by the foundation that looked at our design that we had not paid attention to the National Content Standards for Entrepreneurship Education!

Of course, we hadn’t. We had never heard of them. So, it was with some trepidation that I went on line to take a look. I say it this way because standardistas are always wrongheaded and evil. Why? Let me count the ways in which standards are a disaater.

1. They tell you what you must teach and therefore allow no possibility of doing things differently.
2. They are always testing-oriented.
3. They always say what the student must understand and must know and must be able to explain which is a code for we will tell him this and then he will tell it back to us.
4. They invariably do not allow for freedom on the part of the student to get interested in one thing while not being interested in another.
5. They are made by a committee that always insists on listing all the things any person in that field must know without realizing that knowledge comes after doing not before.

So, knowing my prejudices, now let me show you what I found. Here are some the skills listed that every students must have:

Explain the need for entrepreneurial discovery
Discuss entrepreneurial discovery processes
Use external resources to supplement entrepreneur's expertise
Explain the need for business systems and procedures
Explain the need for continuation planning
Value diversity
Conduct self-assessment to determine entrepreneurial potential
Maintain positive attitude
Explain the concept of human resource management
Explain the nature and scope of operations management
Explain the nature of effective communications
Address people properly
Treat others fairly at work
Interpret business policies to customers/clients
Use basic computer terminology
Compress or alter files
Explain the nature of stress management
Determine file organization
Explain the concept of scarcity
Explain the law of diminishing returns
Describe types of market structures
Read and interpret a pay stub
Explain legal responsibilities of financial institutions
Explain the rights of workers
Describe use of credit bureaus
Develop job descriptions
Encourage team building
Describe the elements of the promotional mix

There were well over one hundred of these. And, they would, if actually paid attention to, get my nomination for the most boring curriculum ever invented in a fundamentally learn by doing field. Further there would be lots of tests, each one saying explain this and describe that.

The lesson here is simple. As soon as standardistas get a hold of a curriculum it will be turned into the garbage that has always been our school system – one where knowing, explaining, and describing, always win out over doing and learning from one’s own mistakes. The facts and noting but the facts.

Too bad. I kind of like this field. Kids really would have enjoyed running their own businesses in simulation and in reality.

Note to Mr. Foundation Head: After you blow millions on garbage entrepreneurial education by boring and testing students to death just like we have always done, and don’t produce even one more entrepreneur, and don’t deter even one more kid from dropping out, don't come crying to me

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