Posted by: drewdice | October 27, 2009

Education, Incentives and Discipline

Recently, there seems to a wave of press around the state of education in the United States.

Truly, I do not know all of the politicking that surrounds our education system, and I am sure there are complexities that I don’t see. That being said, I have a few thoughts on a couple of main themes around this topic that I’d like to share. Please weigh in.

Quality of teachers and educators: There is continuous debate over the quality of educators in our country. Has the level of teachers significantly diminshed over the past number of years? It is possible. However, I believe that the issue around instruction goes much deeper than just the overall quality of educators. For example, let’s talk about incentives. However we got here, “here” is a place where people do what they are incented to do, by design or untinentionally. Where are the incentives for college students to devote their professional careers to teaching? What we hear about is how difficult the younger generations are, how they can’t learn and don’t pay attention. What we see in many professional atheletes is their leaving college early (if they attend at all), and yet, these people are held up as icons. Why would a person want to dedicate themselves to giving everything they have and everything they are to teaching people who don’t place a high value on education? Get mine now, get rich quick and find the shortcuts. That is still the message we see and hear in the U.S. We can change this, but it requires dogged perserverance and a major champion, relentless in the pursuit of excellence.

The younger generations cannot learn, cannot pay attention and are difficult.: I cannot tell you how many business owners I still hear saying they do not want to hire young adults right out of college. That these individuals are spoiled, have a sense of entitlement and do not want to work. That is a tough pill for me to swallow. Yes, there are generational gaps. Yes, the different generations have much to learn about each other, and the best ways to relate to and communicate with one another. But to simply write of part of the population as incorrigable is a massive mistake, in my opinion. What does education have to do with this? Shifts need to occur in our system. Not only attracting, supporting and incenting the best and the brightest to become educators, but in what and how we teach students. We should lead massive change in using technology to teach, learn, collaborate, support and grow. I’m not just talking about making sure schools and kids have computers, and teaching them the Microsoft stack, I mean tapping into the brains of our students, teachers and communities to innovate and turn standard education on it’s head.

The United States has fallen behind emerging countries in education: Everything we read underscores this same point. In this area, I am actually hopeful, and here is why. On a recent International Field Study in China (as part of my Executive MBA program), we repeatedly heard that China, like India, Japan and other countries, are increasingly sending their best and brightest to the United States for their higher educational experiences, and at least a couple of years of work experience. At that point, the adults who have had these experiences come back to their home countries to apply what they’ve learned. The good news: we must be delivering solid frameworks, high quality opportunities to learn, and the opportunity for people who want to achieve, to actually thrive. This is where I see the biggest gap and biggest chance for us to grow: discipline.

After all is said and done, for me, it comes down to discipline. In China and India, for example, kids are raised with a discipline and focus to succeed. There is an extremely high value placed on education and achievement. Granted, these things come with plenty of downside: I’ve heard that the children in these countries miss the chance to actually be “kids”, to embrace their inner child and play, instead being rigidly structured, almost machine-like. I am absolutely not advocating that. I do, however, believe that we can find a balance and discipline, and inspire great teaching, unparalleled learning, and the creation of a more robust educational framework. More discipline, less glitz, glamour, attention and accolades to the ones who made it by taking short cuts. Humans follow incentives. Intentionally or not, we are incenting kids and young adults to find the easy way.



  1. I agree with so much of what you said, but especially the last paragraph. Too much emphasis on “what’s in it for me” and how quickly can I get it. The value and importance of education is not stressed enough in the homes and in general in this country, nor is the importance of the value of striving to do your best.The value and importance of intrinsic benefits is underestimated and often neglected.We need to foster the love of learning and the desire to achieve.

  2. I enjoyed the article. I’m from India and yes, I agree that we do place a very high emphasis on education and disciplne. Parents make sacrifices, often unheard of in the West, and kids grow up with an innate respect for good education, teachers, etc…

    The good thing is that most of us in the cities have enjoyed our childhood as much as any kid in teh west. We just havea different sense of value and respect for learning. Being an Indian and having equally experienced life in the WEst and the US, I would like to mnetion that “I’ve heard that the children in these countries miss the chance to actually be “kids”, to embrace their inner child and play, instead being rigidly structured, almost machine-like” is simply not true. 🙂

    • Thanks for weighing in on the conversation, and I appreciate your sharing additional perspective. I believe that the emphasis on education and discipline creates an advantage for children raised with that mindset, and I remember seeing somewhere that the top 25% (I could have the number wrong) smartest population in India is greater than the entire population of the United States. Impressive and scary at the same time.

      Thank you also for checking me on the enjoyment factor of growing up as a child in India!

  3. Excellent discussion here. If our teachers aren’t teaching and our students aren’t learning and our country is falling behind, then we’ve lost touch with the purpose of education. The following quote seems to nail it: “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” Robert M. Hutchins

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