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Nikhil Goyal Headshot

It's Halftime for the American Education System

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During the Super Bowl last Sunday, a particular commercial struck a chord with me. It was Chrysler's "Halftime in America" ad starring actor Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood, the face of rugged American individualism, spoke about "tough eras" and "downturns" and "times when we didn't understand each other," but then declared:

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that's what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can't find a way, then we'll make one...

This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime, America. And our second half is about to begin.

Immediately, I sought to find a clandestine message that linked the tenets of the ad to what is currently unraveling in the American education system.

For over the past century, our education system has been stuck in a 'first half' mentality. We have schools that are grounded in the principles of the industrial revolution -- prepare kids for factory work. This is how it worked: Pay attention in school. Follow directions. Try a modest amount. Don't make trouble. And we will take care of you. You will be guaranteed a job for life.

It worked for quite a while. In the meantime, the world has witnessed the greatest social and technological transformation known to man. Entire industries have been revolutionized. Millions of once high-paying, prestigious jobs have been outsourced, automated, and digitized. Yet, our schools look oddly identical to those more than a century ago.

Ironically, schools should have a sign that says, "We train the factory workers of tomorrow. Our graduates are the best at memorizing and regurgitating information. Success for our kids is high test scores. We teach kids what to think."

It's almost impossible to find a school with a sign that says, "We enlighten our students to nurture the 'next big thing,' to discover their life purpose, to be skeptical of the status quo, and to think different. Our students understand that they have the capacity to change the world at their fingertips."

Students are crying out for a new type of education that offers them opportunities to pump their creative juices, because it makes them feel not like a product of a factory, but simply a human being.

Average is over.

Seth Godin puts it best in his groundbreaking book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?: "Those are the only two choices. Win by being more ordinary, more standard, and cheaper. Or win by being faster, more remarkable, and more human." To get a job, you have to have a special charm -- the ability to adapt, invent, and reinvent your job every day.

Thus, we need a new game plan. A game plan that is long overdue. Public education is one of the few, if not the only public institution that runs on the principles of yesterday.

There's new bargain in town, one that leverages creativity and imagination and art more than it cherishes submission and passivity. The education system must adapt to it.

This is our make or break situation. We have to get this moment right. We don't get a do-over. Can America make a comeback? Let's find out. Our second half is about to begin.

Nikhil is currently writing a book on education reform.