I believe that entrepreneurship, at its core, is problem solving. You can solve problems to make money and be a traditional entrepreneur, you can solve problems within your company or organization and be an intrapreneur, and you can solve problems in the world as a social entrepreneur. If we want to prepare kids for success in life, we ought to prepare them to solve problems. After all, isn’t the ability to solve any problem put before you the very definition of what it means to be smart?
To an extent, schools do prepare kids to solve problems – unfortunately these problems lack authenticity because of the siloed nature of schools and academic departments. Students in math class learn how to solve for the slope of a line tangent to a curve. Students in Spanish classes learn how to use the preterite tense to talk about the past. Students in English class learn how to deconstruct a poem to analyze the author’s purpose, and on and on.
While problem solving is rampant in schools, connection and purpose is thin. Students move from class to class without a sense of how their skills fit together. Likewise, teachers are on a parallel track of disconnection. As a social studies teacher, I often have no idea of how my students’ learning in other classes might inform or enhance their problem solving in my class.
What if entrepreneurship – problem solving – was the hub for authentic interdisciplinary learning? What if each year of high school was devoted to a specific problem? For instance, the problem set could look something like this:
9th grade: Climate change and energy of the future
10th grade: Rising income inequality in America and the future of work
11th grade: Systemic Racism and Racial Justice
12th grade: What kind of future do we want: Independent/team problem-solving projects
Students would still be able to rotate through classes to work on their grades’ challenge. Each discipline would continue to matter – students would need to draw on their artistic, communication, language, quantitative, scientific, research and analytical skills to broach these issues. Subject-area teachers would continue to deliver content and skills for students to work on each problem. As the year progressed, the traditional subject areas would fall away and teams of students would emerge to work in collaboration with teachers on tackling specific parts of each problem.
My previous proposal isn’t all that radical – schools could designate a new problem/challenge each year and do away with grades. Kids would rotate through various approaches to solving the, “issue of the year.” They might rotate through creative classes, quantitative classes and communication classes, for example. All of which would bring the traditional academic subjects together in interdisciplinary and authentic ways to collectively work on solving challenges that matter to students. Entrepreneurship might just be the linchpin for the future of school.