Our Schools Are Not Raising Leaders—How We Can Fix That?
The ultimate goal of our education system is to teach important subjects well, such as science, mathematics, the arts, and history. Teaching these subjects increases analytical ability and embeds important knowledge for future life and careers. Succeeding at these subjects also aids students in acquiring necessary skills to develop a strong work ethic, effective study skills, and respect for authority. While important, these lessons are not enough to raise children who will lead and succeed. [You may have an interest in my article: A Leadership Challenge to High School Students.]
The overarching objective of our system has a major flaw at its core design. The goal of our current system is to teach important subjects. While these subjects should be taught, the ultimate goal of education should be to build character, emotional intelligence, and relational capacity, traits which are foundational to great leadership and overall success in life.
What is the solution? One-on-one mentorship.
We need new voices to challenge the status quo in the world of educational theory. Please allow me to make my case.
As a leadership teacher and coach, I am very interested in how we can best develop people and leaders. But as a father of an adorable one-and-a-half year-old, Danny, my heart aches to know that my son will be thrust into an education system that is lacking, even though Joanne and I can most likely send our son to the best schools available. [You may want to reference this article: Raising Leaders: The Pain and Joy of Parenting.]
A few years ago I met with a well regarded doctor who is quite successful in his field of medicine, but a total failure when it comes to dealing with people. He is rude, impetuous, and frankly immature. The question I asked myself, and one I cannot shake to this day, is this: How is it that we can spend the first 30 years of our lives in school (in the case of doctors) and are never coached, taught, or measured on our maturity level, character development, emotional intelligence, or relational acumen, when in fact, these will determine our level of success and capacity to lead?
This doctor, who also had a business degree from Harvard, succeeded at calculus, physics, general and organic chemistry, anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, as well as his business classes. Yet he fails at character development and having a mature spirit that offers dignity to others. No one in our current education system saw fit to stop his progress until he learned these lessons? I see this all the time, people with high degrees, but low character development. This must cease. This must change.
What is the solution? And how do we make sure our own children develop in these areas? The answers come from an unlikely source: the kings and queens of old. Consider a famous Greek leader, Alexander the Great. He had a mentor, a tutor his father King Philip hired, Aristotle. I imagine Alexander’s training did not just involve didactic learning, but coaching on how one should think and evolve as a human being who will lead and succeed. Aristotle was preparing a future king, a future leader. It is said that Aristotle imparted into Alexander a love of books, and that he gave Alexander his annotated version of his book The Illiad, which Alexander kept with him as he traveled and conquered the world. In the tradition of the Greek philosophers, they must have walked, and talked, and observed, and theorized together. Aristotle taught him what he knew—wisdom, and principles of living, along with the sciences and the best learning of their day. It took a philosopher to prepare a future king for mega success in his life and leadership.
Here are some conclusions for your consideration, as you are raising your children to lead, and we think together about how we can improve our education system:
In our classes today, the ratio of teachers to students is anywhere from 1:15 to 1:30. In our best schools, it may be as low as 1:6. The answer is not to increase that ratio. The answer is to make it one-on-one. I am not sure how this can be accomplished, but it must. A student cannot go deep unless there are one-on-one interactions which help the child explore learning on his own unique journey. Could we begin with one hour daily when each child can meet with a mentor at school?
Mentorship from Someone Other than a Parent
While we live in a different era, and our children may not be kings and queens, much can be learned from the training of the kings and queens. After all, our children have opportunities to become leaders in whatever field they choose. Kings and queens always had tutors for their children because parents have limits in reaching their children. As parents, we have an integral role in our children’s development, but we must not be their sole teacher in life. [You may want to explore this article: Do You Really Need Mentors?.]
Philosophers as Teachers, Not 20-Somethings with an Education Degree
What qualifies a person to teach our youth? In today’s world, a college degree with a teaching certificate suffices, at least in the United States. No other life experience, age, experience, maturity, or previous success is required. Referencing our example above, imagine if a 21-year-old, fresh out of college, was brought to the court of King Phillip to teach his son how to lead and become a successful king. That clearly would not work. He brought in the brightest mind of his day to teach his young son. At first glance, one may deduce that this is overkill. Do you really need a philosopher to teach a ten-year-old? You don’t if you want to teach your child basic mathematics. But you certainly do if you want your child to be taught about life, led gently to ponder the principles that guided history, and to understand what moved and still moves the hearts of people. You certainly do if you want someone to help your child process the value of their failures and successes, and be delicate, yet deliberate, in shaping the character of your youngster.
Training Must Begin Early On
The Bible says to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Training for success in life must begin early on. How early? I will leave it to the education theorists and researchers to tell us. But as a teacher of leaders, I know that the important lessons that shape successful leaders—integrity, coachability, and humility—are embedded in a person early on. When I hire people to work for me and with me (usually after age 18), it is too late most of the time to introduce these important lessons.
As parents and educators, I pray that we have the wisdom to train future kings and queens (our future leaders) to lead and succeed!
Please note, if you are a teacher or a member of the education system, I want to thank you for doing the best you can within the context of our current system. This is not a critique of what you do, but a commentary on how we can do better as a society.