The last great monopoly of the Industrial Age is dying. None too soon. 

Our traditional education system is the last great monopoly of the Industrial Age and is awkwardly out of synch with the Participation Age in which we live.

Education Won’t Make You Successful

The present system was designed in the mid 1800s specifically to feed the Factory System, for the benefit of a few Industrialists, and to the detriment of the rest of us. It’s still stuck there, focused on churning out employees who are taught two things: a specific skill, and that they should never challenge the teacher’s brilliant and finished view of the world. This sets them up very well to be cogs in a corporate machine, but not to be learners, owners, Stakeholders, or self-managed adults in the Participation Age.

Education Is Not Correlated to Success

There are many reasons why we should not rely on a formal education system that, a century and a half later, is still deeply committed to closed markets and the status quo:

  1. Top CEOs—People who never attended or never graduated from college are the number one source of CEOs for S&P 500 companies. (Harvard was number three.)
  2. Wealth—One out of five of America’s millionaires never attended or finished college. Many of the rest would say college didn’t help. Almost none could show a clear correlation between school and wealth.
  3. Personal well-being or happiness—A college degree leads to lower levels of happiness for twenty-three to twenty-five-year-olds, compared to those twenty-three to twenty-five-year-olds who got an apprenticeship or vocational training.
  4. LearningA full third of college graduates gain no measurable skills during their four years in college.
  5. ProductivityHigh school graduates waste the least amount of time, followed by those with a bachelor’s and MBAs, with PhDs being the least productive.
  6. Annual income—Millions of nonattendees and nongraduates make significantly more money than college graduates.
  7. Lifetime income—The idea that college graduates make an extra million dollars in their lifetime is an urban myth perpetuated by a system that needs your money to keep it afloat. It has been debunked many times. High school grads can regularly make as much or even more, and with much less debt.

If Not Traditional Education, Then What?

For most of us there are other, better ways: become an apprentice, be a doer, not a thinker, or chase your dream and start a business. Before the education system was formalized in the 1850s, 80% of adults owned their own business. Today it’s reversed. This should not be surprising, since the education system was designed specifically to churn out highly skilled employees taught not strike out on their own. It worked.

But the giant is dead on it’s feet. It just hasn’t fallen yet. Here are just a few of the myriad of better education options emerging in the Participation Age.

The Sudbury Valley School is a K-12 model, with students coming from the full economic strata. There are no classrooms and no syllabus. The adults function as facilitators, not teachers, and learning happens in the context of doing, which research regularly shows is one of the best ways to learn. A staggering 42 percent of Sudbury graduates are involved in entrepreneurial pursuits.

Sudbury is only one example of Participation Age primary learning that ranges from charter schools, to homeschooling, to a myriad of cocreation initiatives.

The online world is also helping break the mold. Research shows that kids being educated online are as social or more so than their traditional counterparts. , an online learning phenomenon, is attracting millions who are rejecting the didactic preaching/teaching model for a learn-by-doing model. And is one of many like it springing up online across the nation. , started in 2012, is now offering hundreds of free online classes from dozens of elite universities, giving anyone in the world free access to a great education.

Faster, Please

The traditional Industrialist Age education system works hard to maintain a closed market, and is focused more on destroying the competition than getting better. But the Participation Age and its hallmark of sharing are encouraging the development of a myriad of new learning models that are replacing the old standard. It can’t happen soon enough.

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