I weep for our future.

At dinner the other night, our daughter told my wife and me the following horror story:

Her sixth-grade math teacher missed school that day, and the substitute teacher handed out a homework sheet with the following two warnings:

  • If you work with another student on this assignment, you’ll lose 50 percent of your grade.
  • If you work with more than one student, you’ll lose 75 percent of your grade.

Punishing collaboration? Look no further for definitive proof that our educational system is woefully outdated.

Look, I’m not stupid. This is how education has operated for decades upon decades, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. It’s how we’ve always done it. I’m a product of that eyes-on-your-own-paper brand of education, and I’ll bet you are, too.

Know what we got out of it? An uncanny ability to memorize stuff that we can find in seconds on Google.

I’m not naive, either. There are some things we simply need to know. It pays to drill incessantly on certain subjects — math facts, for instance, or historical milestones, or how to coherently communicate complex thoughts to the right audience.

It’s time to add collaboration to that list.

At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, the world has changed. We no longer solve complex problems by closing the door and doing stuff on our own. We do it by working with smart people to find solutions. Want to know how my daughter does some of her homework? By Facetiming her friends and working with them to find the answers.

Shouldn’t that be a skill that we learn in school? Shouldn’t our schools be teaching our kids how to collaborate to solve really hard problems? In an increasingly social world, shouldn’t our kids be taught how to lead those discussions and find crowdsourced answers to really complex questions?

I’m no educational expert, but I suspect the answer is “yes.”

If we want to conquer change and complexity, we’re going to need new skills. We’re going to need new educational models to teach us those skills. From educator to student, we’re going to need a new mindset.

The first step is to not punish our kids for asking questions.

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