How To Escape Death Valley

It is my last essay for 2020 and I wanted to express my thoughts on what the future could look like, if we create the path forward into 2021. I feel like we are standing at a time of choice. Some yearn for the way it was before the pandemic, but others are quick to point out, while we can, let’s tweak the way it was, a little. After all, we are suffering from many maladies, not just a lack of social interactions. We have mortgaged ourselves to the hilt and much of that debt is quickly coming due. We are going to need some collective creative thinking to get ourselves out of this one in a good way. But, are we ready for it?

The late Ken Robinson was an advocate for creativity in education. That is probably understating the dynamic nature of his theories and the compelling call to action that he supported. But, I wonder if, while we are at reforming education, shouldn’t we extend those ideas to our corporate life as well? The places where we spend the majority of our adult lives? I think these 2 institutions could stand an upgrade, at the same time.

I’m not going to lay out all the research that has been done on the poor state of engagement in the workforce. Not to mention the lack of diversity and inclusion. Much has been written about the current state of affairs. What I find shocking is the statistics describing disengagement at school. Actually, the adults who are not happy at work, came from school, so it probably makes sense to have started there.

In some parts of America, 60 percent of kids drop out of high school. In the Native American communities, it’s 80 percent of kids. If we halved that number, one estimate is it would create a net gain to the U.S. economy over 10 years, of nearly a trillion dollars. From an economic point of view, this is good math, isn’t it, that we should do this? It actually costs an enormous amount to mop up the damage from the dropout crisis. – Ken Robinson, How To Escape Education’s Death Valley

It’s interesting to think about the math of the social problems we currently have. It is cheaper to promote health than to treat the sick. It is cheaper to provide meaningful solutions for homelessness than to solve all the social problems that arise from it. It is cheaper to empower the education system to solve the dropout problem than to squander the economic output those students could create. I would argue that the cost of truly addressing employee engagement issues is a fraction of the potential profitability which could otherwise be generated. So what stops us?

Fear of change, probably. There is a power imbalance in society which favours those who have mastered the system. They control the wealth and they are not too keen on changing the very system which helped get them to their position. This power structure starts at the top and cascades down the line. Even those who are not wealthy yet, favour the status quo because the system does work, if you fit the mold.

It is not to say that you need to be a white man, but that does help your case and gives you an essential leg up to start with. It is also good if you are born into a wealthy country, if your parents are well educated and have financial resources and extend that privilege to their children. You also need clean air to breathe, water to drink and healthy food to eat. Access to health care is essential. While the actual home you live in can vary, it is better to be in a safe neighbourhood where you are not at risk or living in fear.

Some of you may have seen this video make the rounds on social media earlier this year. If not, you might watch it and understand where you were, in school, on that field of play. There is nothing we can do about the privilege we may have been given. But, as the coach said, what are you going to do with that wealth that you didn’t nothing to earn?

Not far from where I live is a place called Death Valley. Death Valley is the hottest, driest place in America, and nothing grows there. Nothing grows there because it doesn’t rain. Hence, Death Valley. In the winter of 2004, it rained in Death Valley. Seven inches of rain fell over a very short period. And in the spring of 2005, there was a phenomenon. The whole floor of Death Valley was carpeted in flowers for a while. What it proved is this: that Death Valley isn’t dead. It’s dormant. Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility waiting for the right conditions to come about, and with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable. It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life. – Ken Robinson, How To Escape Education’s Death Valley

For me, the coming vaccine protocol and the end of the pandemic in 2021, is akin to coming out of dormancy. This is a chance to breath new life into everything we do. We have been given a rare opportunity to spend some time examining our life. What did we find with that study? Did we like what we saw? And if we didn’t, what are we going to do about it?

Some thoughts of education and what might be done to make it better.

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