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Monday, May 10, 2010

Time to Invest in Our Ultimate Asset

I believe that one of the most challenging aspects of the current economic downturn is that it has blurred our focus. As a result, we are not capitalizing on opportunities to invest in our future.

It's true that we must address Medicare, healthcare, infrastructure, and the rest. But even more important is for us to invest in our ultimate asset - that which will enable us to stay competitive in the global economy - our kids. That investment requires education and innovation, and one begets the other. This is where Lifeplan comes in. It's a brilliant investment opportunity whose time has arrived.

Many remarkable people are actively researching, diagnosing, and offering remedies to our very broken educational system. I am confident most will acknowledge that a majority of our 3.6 million U.S. teachers are well intentioned and competent with content. What I think is becoming apparent, however, is that more teachers need to be better equipped in HOW to teach.

We have long assumed that if you know the material and can successfully inform your students, you are capable of being a successful teacher. But in this day and age, one need only visit a classroom to see that the far greater challenge is how to motivate students, how to facilitate an engaging and relevant process, and how to challenge each student in order to elicit their very best.

Look how hard kids work to achieve the next level in video games: if it seems too easy they'll never play it again, make it more challenging and they're hooked. Most kids are not "lazy." They are innovative multitaskers of the first degree. And we need to be innovative in how we engage them in education.

Lifeplan is a small innovation, but a telling one when it comes to seeing how engaged and motivated kids can be to build their Lifeplans. First and foremost, it's the context of THEIR own individual lives and it's their own Lifeplan that motivates these young learners. Second, the work is cooperative, encouraging them to share with each another as they learn to work well together. These two core components of an educational process are part of what George Lucas and his educational foundation have been advocating for 20 years.

We are currently teaching Lifeplan to the 8th grade class at my wife's school. As these young people take more of an individual role and personal responsibility in building their Lifeplans, they recognize the importance of certain competencies that you don't routinely get in school - or at least not in the same contextual and cooperative way.

Important life concepts we want to share with young people are usually offered via a few hours of talking, sometimes supplemented by pamphlets and videos. Lifeplan, on the other hand, offers an interactive and cooperative platform for all the literacy we wish for our kids - including financial, media, sustainability, career aspirations and aptitudes, decision-making, health and nutrition, values, service, volunteerism, and altruism.

As a young person participates in the Lifeplan process, he or she is invited into the world of all these competency areas and an extraordinary universe of assets that can support their personal exploration and mastery of each one.  Some stellar examples of these assets include:

  • Common Sense Media, which has a wonderful program to support young people's media literacy.
  • National Endowment for Financial Education, which provides a topnotch financial literacy program.
  • United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which provides an interactive youth drug prevention and "true sport" program with the support of Olympic athletes.
  • Plus an absolute jewel: The Foundation for a Better Life, which produces incredible PSAs and billboards promoting values.  (The students I'm working with were so taken by these that they decided to produce three of their own to share with their community. Now, do you think any of them will ever forget the values they worked on to produce a 60-second video? It's like the native elders who told me years ago, "Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. But involve me and I will understand!")
So, this is just my longwinded way of expressing how profoundly optimistic I am that if we can just refocus on and invest in our ultimate asset - the kids of this country - and hold the highest aspirations for them, motivate them, and give them the educational tools to think outside the box, we will once again lead the world in innovation. 

Let's also make sure that we do all that we can to help them develop a Lifeplan!

All the best,


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