Start Up Culture and Education


I recently read a great interview with John Maeda, a major player in the STEM to STEAM movement. In it, he talks about how Start Up Culture has influenced him as an educator:

I love watching the start-up people. They have changed me. They’ve taught me how little I know of the world and how it behaves. One start-up entrepreneur told me she is always hustling.’ At first, I thought that sounded like a bad thing. Then I realized that I don’t know how to do that. I’ve been in the Ivory Tower for too long. I need to learn how to hustle.

My own experiences echo his. In the last five years or so of my life as an educator, two pivotal events involving start up culture changed my viewpoint on education.

  • My wife took a leap and opened her own business, Shindig Paperie. While I’m not directly involved with the business, her venture exposed me to the “real world” of creating a business and how the “hustle” can be both exhausting and invigorating. Don’t get it twisted here, as I honor the fact that teachers pour their heart and soul into teaching. They “hustle” in their own ways. Yet, that way is markedly different from the way people hustle in the world outside education.
  • I also took a group of students down to the first ever High School Start Up Weekend (which I’ve blogged about in the past). Here I was exposed to even more people working in the start up world, and I was able to see some great models of how profoundly capable students can be in that world. They weren’t just playing at the start up “game.” They were genuinely engaged in contributing valid business ideas and innovations to society. This treatment of students as authentic agents for change is picking up momentum as evidenced by such colocated educational environments as IowaBIG. It’s also at the heart of both Noble Impact and Future School.

Looking back on my roots as a traditional educator in a college town, I’d probably been overly suspicious of the private sector and its engagement with education. While I still don’t believe that the sole purpose of education is to cater to the workforce needs of industry, I do believe involving community allies from all sectors makes for a more relevant and current education to our students.


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