It's actually quite remarkable to examine what the potential for profit can do to an industry, to a culture, and to a country. The first silicon chips that flowed from a southern valley of the San Francisco Bay Area started a techno-culture in America unlike anything which had come prior. The modern entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley seems to spread exponentially like an unrestrained wildfire of ideas and innovation. A quick peek at the notable companies to have been born out of this creative cauldron reveals an undeniable truth about what this wonderfully reckless culture has done for global progress. Imagine a world without Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel and Netflix; an exercise in imagination which proves challenging if not utterly depressing.
With the culture of Palo Alto on one end, let’s imagine what might fall on the opposite end of this entrepreneurial spectrum. While it’s tempting to say government, and more tempting of late, I would argue that the institution of education represents an equally undeniable opposite. Having worked in education for over a decade, I’ve witnessed the Utopian promise of tenure fall flat, and departmental “think-tanks” overrun by bureaucracy. Given this dichotomy, it's ironic that Silicon Valley's roots are inextricably tied to education. During the 1940’s and 50’s, Frederick Terman, Stanford University’s dean of engineering and provost, was encouraging students to start their own businesses and be entrepreneurial; in fact, Terman is often called “the father of Silicon Valley,” and while it’s true that many educational institutions still have Palo Alto partnerships, broadly speaking, the entrepreneurial divide between the world of higher education and high-tech startups has never been greater.
So, is it possible to harness the lost spirit of Terman and bring an entrepreneurial spirit back to higher education, and if so, is it worth the effort? As you may have guessed, my answer is yes and yes! According to Udacity, the traits and skills of a tech entrepreneur include things like persistence, passion, determination, planning, and imagination, and while these traits are unquestionably vital in education, being an entrepreneur also comes with the troubling baggage of manic, distracted, unconventional, and scattered, and it’s this often flawed perception of secondary characteristics which are in direct opposition to conventional education paradigms. While our future entrepreneurs continue to ingest Ritalin at alarming rates to treat ADHD (i.e. unbounded youthful brilliance) and industrial-age schools systems (i.e. standardized pupil factories) persist, the obligation to enact change may inevitably fall on the few university leaders who understand the foresight of Fredrick Terman and have the balls to let go of the past.
This post is an introduction to the MEME series. A meme is defined as "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture," and I see the Modern Entrepreneurial Model of Education as having the potential to be just that.