David Brooks writes in today’s New York Times about the two different economies in the United States. The manufacturing economy is prospering because it has learned to use technology to reduce people costs, boost productivity, and increase profits in the face of global competition. By contrast the economic sectors that don’t face global competition—notably government, healthcare, and education—are not prospering.
One of the down-stream effects of this economic rift is the rise of the entrepreneurial information worker who sells his/her skills on a job-by-job basis. The education community at large has not come to grips with the significance of this economic trend.When educators talk about entrepreneurs, most of the time what they have in mind is a Steve Jobs-type figure creating a vast corporate empire. The reality is likely to be a single-owner business with at most a couple of employees.
If most students from the middle and lower class are going to have any chance of surviving without a college degree—which many of them won’t be able to afford—schools need to make “what you can do with this skill” a part of coursework across the curriculum so students graduate high school with entrepreneurial skills. That doesn’t require a special program. It does require doing some digging to see what skills are needed in the local community that students could master within existing courses.
For example, right now I could use someone with skills to prepare e-book covers. Designing book covers doesn’t require a college degree, or even a high school diploma. It requires computer skills, math skills, art skills, plus the ability to read and follow directions and to copy text accurately. There’s no reason the required skills couldn’t be taught in a high school art program. Eric Azcuy does it in his art classes at Urban Assembly school for Applied Math and Science even with sixth graders.
There are hundreds of e-book producers like me across the country, and they all need book covers. Put “e-book cover design” into your search box and look at what designers charge. Even design services that use templates pull in several hundred dollars a cover.
Existing small businesses like mine are willing to pay someone to do something they could do but don’t have time to do without taking time from their main focus. Those small businesses are places where Josh and Caitlin, even at age 15, can get paid for doing something they enjoy. In the process, Josh and Caitlin might even decide they need to learn something else from their school classes.
We can always hope.
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