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Education 2.0: How Philosophy, Not Technology, Will Disrupt How we Learn

Voice & Exit 2016 is coming soon! Tickets are limited and will sell out soon. Reserve yours today.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had two nagging insecurities about my physical appearance.

The first was my height. I always thought of myself as being too short. The second was my nose. I always thought my nose was too big.

These insecurities followed me around ever since I was a kid, all the way through my teenage years, up through college.

One day I went to a lecture and the speaker gave a talk on the power of self-love. He talked about the importance of embracing our peculiarities and distinct idiosyncrasies as unique manifestations of beauty. Some might have heard that lecture and thought of it as a bunch of fluff, but I took that message to heart. And as I walked back to my dorm room, I pondered the ramifications on my personal life.

When I got to my room, I did something that I didn’t tell anyone about for a long time — I had a conversation with myself. I apologized to my body for condemning it and criticizing it and I made a pact with myself to end the pattern of self hate — to devote myself to the practice of self love and self respect.

Not more than a day later, I was walking across campus heading to class and from the distance I saw a guy who was crouched over looking at me really intently. There was nothing subtle about it. He was definitely staring at me. I walked past him, trying to ignore his stares, when he yelled: “Hey you! Stop right there!”

He walked up towards me and said “today is your lucky day. Let me tell you something…”When I was downtown, I saw a young man rob an older woman and take her purse in broad daylight and he looked exactly like you. When I saw you, I was ready to pull out my phone, call the police and confront you. But something told me: ‘Take a closer look. Double check. Make sure you’ve got the right guy.’”

“I’m sorry to scare you, but I just really had to get a good look at you. And when I moved close to you and I saw your face, the first thing I thought was my gosh this guy has a big nose. I knew it couldn’t have been you,”he said, “so this is your lucky day man.”

Who would have thought that the very attributes that I used as evidence for my ugliness would be the very thing that would keep me out of trouble?

In my mind, I saw the size of my nose and height as a major liability. To the witness of that robbery, however, the size of my nose and height were my most advantageous assets. Without that serendipitous experience, I might have forever regarded  my feelings of insecurity as the only possible reaction to my physical appearance.

Have you ever experienced something like that before? Have you ever equated your personal opinion with reality itself? And have you ever had a moment where you went from describing things “as they are” to realizing that you were merely describing your own habits of perception?

Getting Perspective

One of the most amazing things about life to me is that no matter how accurately or definitively we take our perceptions to be, there’s always another angle from which things can be viewed.

Every perspective, every paradigm can be challenged. All of our familiar ways of doing things, knowing things, seeing things, and going about things can be called into question. Our status quo can be interrupted at any moment by an experience or by an epiphany that forces us to broaden our horizons and open our minds to new ways doing things.

Leonardo Da Vinci said: “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.”

Paraphrasing Da Vinci: Perspective is the education’s rudder.

How we view education’s meaning and value determines how far it can take us and how well it can prepare us not only for today’s world, but for the world emerging before our very eyes.

As it happens, my professional life takes place right at the intersection of education and entrepreneurship. I’m the Educational Director for a program called Praxis. We facilitate academic and professional experiences that help cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit.

That entrepreneurial spirit? It’s something we’re born with. Family and friends convince us we don’t have it, and the entrepreneur is the one who finds a way to remember what he always was.

In that sense, the most exciting aspect of this whole conversation about “disrupting education” is not how emerging technologies are allowing us to do the same things we’ve always done — at a faster pace, or in a cheaper way, or more efficiently. Instead, emerging technologies force us to revisit and re-examine our assumptions for why we pursue education in the first place.

What is the value of education?

What becomes of education when so much — teaching, learning, talent signaling and community — can be outsourced using an ever-widening array of technologies?

If we want to provide a constructive, compelling and sustainable answer to that question we have to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. We have to adopt an approach to learning that facilitates the process of self-discovery, and that cultivates an attitude of self-determination.

I am involved in this type of work for three reasons:

  1. I love ideas. Concepts are like psychedelics — they’re something we can chew on that can alter our state of mind and not only induce internal states of bliss, but compel us to change our perspective on the world.
  1. Entrepreneurship is the best medium for demonstrating the value of an idea. If you really want to know what an idea is worth — if you really want to know how useful it is — take that idea and engage reality with it. The test is simply this: Does it create value for others? Solving problems within the accountability structure of profit and loss is the best way to test your idea.
  1. The fundamental aims of education should be to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit. I realize this is a controversial statement. But I think we can no longer afford to treat entrepreneurs as if they are isolated figures who are limited to launching start ups, small businesses, or founding the large firms of tomorrow. Indeed, the world is becoming an increasingly smaller place for those who don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs. There will be fewer and fewer opportunities left for people who don’t approach work with a sense of artistry, autonomy and a willingness to create value for others.

Now for the sake of clarity, I make a distinction between being an entrepreneur and being entrepreneurial.

Being an entrepreneur is typically understood as owning your own business. But being entrepreneurial is a way of thinking. It’s an attitude in which you say:  I do not see my world as a closed system in which all of the opportunities are pre-packaged, pre-existing opportunities that I have to fight and compete over. I see my world as an open system, one in which I can introduce possibilities. One in which I can produce effects that have never been seen. One in which I can make manifest results that have never been realized.

Without this spirit, we don’t have the capacity to survive and thrive in the future.

So here’s what I would like to do…

I want to disrupt the conversation about education. I would like to shift the focus of that conversation from technology to philosophy. Because no matter how fast our technology gets, no matter how efficient we get at doing things, we might just get better at futility. And that’s where philosophy comes in. True entrepreneurs alter the assumptions. Changes the starting points.

Remember this: the most powerful disruptive technology is yourself.

Here’s a question I challenge people with: Are you approaching life from a “pick me” perspective? Is your approach to creativity permission based? Are we educating people to think and live in a system that rewards compliance, uniformity, and standardization?

Get a diploma. Get a college education. Do what you’re told. Get the right credentials from the right credentialer. And then what? Be rewarded by the status quo gods for not stepping out of line? There’s nobody in this world who is going to help you simply because you did what you are “supposed to.”

Nobody is going to knock themselves over to help us out, to make us happy, or to make us rich. We have to learn how to take responsibility for our lives — to be the creative forces in our own lives, lived in the creation of value for others. Let’s not stop until we find a philosophy of education that honors the entrepreneur in each of us, and that gives it the fullest expression.

TK Coleman is the Education Director for Praxis, a 9 month startup apprenticeship program. 

View TK’s talk from the 2014 Voice & Exit conference: