business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, in an Eye-Opener designed to train a spotlight on how young people think and act differently, we had a story about how Los Angeles public schools were launching a program that would put iPads into the hands of students, albeit iPads that were programmed so kids would be unable to play games or access social networking sites. Of course, it was inevitable that some students would be able to quickly hack the iPads so they could do exactly what administrators did not want them to do ... which had some folks questioning the wisdom of the program.

I wrote:

Now, I get why this is a problem. But there is a part of me - and this is the part that almost certainly is going to be criticized by Mrs. Content Guy, who is an elementary school teacher - that thinks these kids should get commendations for original thinking. (Sort of like if they had managed to figure out a way to survive the Kobayashi Maru test, if you get my meaning.)

Sure, we want to teach kids discipline, in addition to math. But I think the ability of these kids to figure out how to do things that their teachers probably weren't able to do also speaks, in no small measure, to their ability to navigate a 21st century competitive environment.

While it is entirely possible that the initiative wasn't fully thought through, it is more than possible - indeed, it is a certainty - that old fashioned paper-and-ink textbooks are an obsolete concept. Because of how fast information changes, they are out-of-date almost from the time they are printed, and tablet computers are going to create an environment in which organic, interactive and potentially more relevant learning can take place.

The solution to this problem isn't to scrap the program. No, the solution is to do it better. If it were me, I'd start by hiring each of these kids to help me figure out how to make it work more effectively, and put a letter of admiration into each of their files. I'm not sure the old command-and-control approach works in education anymore, simply because so many of these kids are so smart about so much. (Smart. Not wise. And not able to think clearly, objectively, and critically. That's what a good teacher will help them achieve.)

I do think there is a business implication in this story, because so many of the people you are hiring, or are going to hire, are going to have these same impulses and knowledge set. And it is incumbent on businesses to figure out who these people are, and take advantage of them. You may have a kid stocking shelves who could be your next IT director ... if you are open to the idea that there are always possibilities, and part of your job is to nurture and allow them to flourish.

I was right ... Mrs. Content Guy didn't entirely agree with my reasoning:

While I agree with most of what you said in MNB "Out of the Mouths of Babe" this morning, I would only have given the kids accommodations if they had informed their administration of how easy it was to hack into the computers and help solve the impending problem.  Unfortunately, their skills at hacking just caused thousands of kids and teachers to lose a wonderful teaching tool and many learning opportunities (whether for the short or long term)...

Let's just say that Mrs. Content Guy has a lower tolerance for civil disobedience and irreverence than I do. Perhaps because, unlike her, I was something of wisenheimer in elementary and high school. Still am, in fact.

MNB user Mike Franklin responded:

Perhaps, the lesson is…everybody over the age of 45 should consider a Millennial Mentor.

From MNB reader Kelly Smith:

Couldn’t agree with you more on this. Arguing that the district was hasty in achieving something that should have happened 10 years ago is ridiculous. As is the expectation that kids should only use technology for school related assignments. Any good marketer knows that you only succeed by knowing your customer and their lifestyle. Students are online. Hell, everyone is online (or should be).

You can pretend that’s not the case or try to manage against the tide, to no avail (as some tech savvy kids demonstrated). Why not make access to gaming and social media a reward as part of this program? Of course, these kids will have much better ideas for how this program should work and I really hope someone asks them!

MNB reader Leo Martineau wrote:

I agree that today’s students need to be encouraged to think outside of the box but with the proper guidance and controls.  The kids should be congratulated for their adventurous behavior and skills as long as they use them in a positive and constructive manner.  Who knows, some day they may work for the NSA!

And, extra credit to the MNB reader who used a movie reference:

The lesson here comes from the movie Troy.  The character Agamemnon, talking about Achilles, states:  "He can't be controlled".

Nestor's immediate response is, "We don't need to control Achilles, we need to unleash him".

The talents of the new workforce today need to be unleashed, not controlled within the same framework of 20 years ago.


I got a lot of email yesterday about my colonoscopy, with folks thanking me for being so public about it and making it seem both necessary and less scary than it often is portrayed.

My pleasure. And I appreciated your stories.

Besides, as Nora Ephron used to say ... "Everything is copy."
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