The Illiterate of the 21st Century Will Be Those Who Cannot Teach Themselves

Education is a topic that everyone cares deeply about. It represents the dreams of a better tomorrow. Most would agree that something is wrong when 60% of children entering school are not even ready for kindergarten. In some states, more than a third of students leave high school without possessing basic academic skills — including reading, writing, and arithmetic. This forces employers and post-secondary schools to take up the slack.

Institutions of higher education spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year teaching employees and students skills they should have learned Pre-K through high school.



Over the last few years , there’s been a tremendous change in global communication and technology, making almost every expert agree that the future of work is forever changed. Politicians, including both candidates running for president, say “jobs, jobs, jobs”. The frameworks of the past need to be redesigned, as the needs of the future transfer from organizational control to freedom for the individual worker. The new mental model will be to think in terms of work and value, not jobs and hours.

The world is in a transitionary phase from the analog model to the digital model, but unconscious beliefs and antiquated mindsets lead our educational decisions. Maybe it’s time to question long help assumptions about what it means to have a “good life”.

We have seen the significant rise of technology first hand. We have super computers in almost everyone’s pocket, social media, virtual reality, nano-tech, and even self-driving cars, and many other disruptive technologies are on the horizon. Traditional media like newspapers, radio, and even broadcast TV have had to adapt to a changing landscape — where digital ads are beginning to dominate. This isn’t just about a future for education. It’s about the future of work.

It is just a matter of time before technology makes its way towards replacing an out-dated and ineffective educational system designed in the 1800’s, to prepare students for life in an industrial age.

David Kearns, the former CEO of the Xerox, defines “uneducated” as “not knowing how to keep on learning.”

Research shows information is exploring and that we now have 100% new information every five years — hence “Big Data”. If that trend continues, students who are in first grade will graduate during a time where, in some segments, there will be new information every 30 days. That could mean that the information they learned this month may be outdated two months from now! That’s fucking insane!


The very foundation of our educational system is standardized testing. Ever since we were little kids we were branded with letter scores that started at the top with A and were whittled away every wrong answer we gave in a test. Usually, our mistakes are written with a big red marker highlighting our errors and imperfections. We were paired by age, told to shut up, sit down, and given a one-size fits all factory style education.


At my high school, aside from the esteemed career of ditch digging (which a teacher actually said to me), the guidance counselor recommended trade school — such as electrician, HVAC, or automotive. Not that there’s anything wrong with those fields, but the expectation had been set and a standard laid out for what a latino should do in the midwest. This mindset was also a standard for many of my peers as well.

So what would it look like if we re-thought our grading system? Mindset aside, school systems need a radical redesign, real-time student metrics, computer aided instruction could revolutionize education in America. Interactive and AI based lesson plans customized for each student, social connectivity, and student engagement encouraged. The model would not be about memorization and recall of information — but instead research, curation and asking good questions will be the main focus.

The old model is about the right answer, the new model is about asking the right question. It’s about knowing how to learn quickly to adapt to a constantly changing environment.

Education 2.0

​Social networking and the trends of today point to a future where the current method of education may soon become obsolete. Today it’s possible to watch an online course from Stanford, MIT or some other guru.

Projects are already underway of connecting our brains with our computers. Neo in the movie The Matrix stated — “I know Kung Fu” when he uploaded information directly to his brain in a matter of seconds. Perhaps someday, this may be an educational reality and a common form of gaining knowledge.

The potential for these technologies within education is limitless, and these tools offer us a glimpse into what is possible. But in order to properly use these tools we need to understand the changes that are taking place in technology and the workplace. Our current educational system has simply not kept up with the rapid advancements being made. The current educational system was designed for a different era, and more importantly for a different set of challenges.

Schools are preparing kids for the way the world used to be, not for the world that’s going to be.

In the last 30 years, we have seen the disintegration of pension’s, lifetime employment, and job security. The average student today will have 14 jobs by the time they are 34 years old. The current paradigm of education is equipping and preparing students based on how the world used to be.

We should ask ourselves, is institutional self-preservation and adherence to the status-quo of outdated educational methods more important than the future of our society and the education of our children’s future? In my home state of Michigan, we talk a lot about the success stories of past entrepreneurs. We marvel at their courage and risk-taking. At the same time, we discourage those risk taking traits in our educational culture, instead teaching the values of “getting a safe secure job” instead of teaching job creation.

Perhaps dumping information by the truck load into students heads through repetition and memorization isn’t the best way to learn anymore. Perhaps learning can actually be fun. Today’s students will enter a very different world and as such, need to be equipped with not just new tools, but a new mind set.