Teachers: Listen to Obama

Dear Teaching Colleagues,

There was a warning in Obama’s farewell address that I hope we all heed – not just for our own good, but for that of our students: “The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas.  It will come from the from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”


Whether or not we believe that schools are purely for education and enlightenment or the beginning of the economic machine we cannot deny that we are failing our students if we do not prepare them for economic success through schooling.  Through his words President Obama just reiterated a truth that few educators wish to acknowledge – that going to school, getting good grades, doing what you’re told, and coming out with a mortar board hat and fancy paper are no longer going to pay off with promise of a comfortable position in a growing middle class.  The truth is that the middle class is shrinking and that jobs where one has to just do what they’re told are becoming ever fewer and lower paying.


So what can we do?


Number 1: Realize that for our students it is less likely that they will be ‘finding’ a job.  Instead, we need to prepare them to CREATE a job.  This will require innovation, entrepreneurship, and a full understanding of economics.  Not just in high school, not just in one class, but as an integral part of a full education.


Number 2: Realize that self-sufficiency is the counter-balance and insurance against economic dependence (not to mention a moral imperative to teach).  For our students to be self-sufficient they will need to regain lost skills such as gardening and construction, regain an understanding of our natural world, and gain a respect for hard work.


Number 3: Realize that current school structures stifle innovation.  Age-based class sorting, subject-based classes, 50 minute periods, and test-driven curricula have all been proven, time and again, to be the ‘elephants in the room‘ that are preventing quality education.  These methods of organization serve the school as a machine, not the student as a learner.  We need to move beyond ‘trying to do the wrong thing better‘ and instead do the right thing for children.



Finally, I want to note to all my respected colleagues that our old way of doing things – lecture – practice – test – repeat is already being automated itself (see Tenmarks.com for math, duolingo.com for French instruction, and even chessacademy.com for Chess).  We need to, instead, move from the front of the classroom and instead take a seat right beside our students in learning.  Constant evolution and learning are the hallmarks of success today – we need to be the example.

We are opening a school in the beautiful Beaver Valley of Ontario that is set to change education.  Feel free to come, join us, and see for yourself how we are recognizing the limitations of a ‘yesterday’ school and instead building the school of tomorrow.



Kindest regards and remember that every day in this wonderful profession is a day to make a difference.



Mark Brown, OCT, M.Ed.


Headwaters Academy