Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Steve Jobs, Arne Duncan, and a Vision for 21st Century Secondary Schools

Steve Jobs died this week, as did Al Davis. As a diehard Raiders fan, I should have been more affected by the latter's death than the former's; I've never bought an Apple product, for example, but I did watch every Raiders game for many years (and I watched today's exciting one). But reading obituaries and viewing retrospectives of their work has forced me to focus on a man with a passion for deeply meaningful work, rather than on one obsessed with what is in the long run a distraction.

Various aspects of the Steve Jobs story are intriguing; for example, I was one of many who reposted his Stanford commencement speech. But watching a Charlie Rose interview with three of his friends and competitors, I was struck by how his was a story of "Build it, and they will come" (from the great baseball film Field of Dreams). Jobs and Apple created demand for products people never realized they needed until they saw them and tried them.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (neither a football nor a baseball player, but a basketball one) will be visiting Southern California this week, and I will go to see him on Tuesday evening. I've been contemplating the question, "What advice would I give him, if I had the chance, based on my seven-year teaching career in Korea and my experience with converting Locke High School into a chartered school, about how to make American education really competitive for the 21st century?" And I think I may have found an answer in our ruminations on Steve Jobs: "Build it, and they will come."

What we need is a vision for what world-class schools for the 21st century would really look like, and then we need to build and test a replicable model school to see if it will really work in practice as we envision it; and if so, we need to replicate such truly competitive schools across this land of ours.

So in my next post, I will try to describe what a school that might truly help us win the future might look like.

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