One of the few constants we have in education is time – and how we choose to use that time has a profound effect on both the individual and the country in which we live.
That principle is at the core of Two Million Minutes: A Global Examination, a recent film by entrepreneur/venture capitalist Bob Compton that juxtaposes how students from China, India and the United States are using those high school years. Compton’s vision, interspersed with commentary from Robert Reich, Bart Gordon, Richard Freeman and others, paints a vivid portrait of the position of the United States – and its potential future – in the global economy.
In its own words, 2MM is:
… a deeper look at how the three superpowers of the 21st Century â€“ China, India and the United States â€“ are preparing their students for the future. As we follow two students â€“ a boy and a girl â€“ from each of these countries, we compose a global snapshot of education, from the viewpoint of kids preparing for their future.
Before reading my comments on the film, I invite you to view the trailer on YouTube:
Having screened the pre-release of the film [the DVD will be available on November 15, I believe], I’d like to present my comments and whet your appetite for a must-see.
2MM is a clear, direct and eye-opening film that analyzes our global readiness with 6 examples – a boy and a girl from China, India and the United States – and sharp, relevant commentary from a diverse crowd of authorities.
We see a relaxed, individually-focused pair in the United States in stark contrast to the intellectually- and career-driven Chinese. And the Indians, though somewhat in the middle of that continuum of seriousness, are still seemingly more committed and prepared to contribute in adulthood than the average American student.
2MM isn’t the first to expose this difference – it is, however, the first to present the situation conceptually yet convincingly and ask, “Now what?”
But I think this film goes beyond posing that question. 2MM shows clearly that the US, India and China [or more simply, the US and everyone else] have very different concepts of what education is and how it supports the answer to the question, “How do we live?”
In 2MM, the Indians and Chinese have a solid answer to, “How do we live?” – both explicitly and implicitly – and have built their education systems into that mindset. In the United States, we simply don’t use public education to live our lives in any specific way. We use school to teach skills [in theory] that will equip students to pursue whatever they’d like to pursue. We don’t have an answer to the question.
Two things are happening right now: 1) our world is flattening; and 2) we can see it. In a way, our shutter speed has increased due to communication advances, so we’re able to look at/analyze parts of that flat world with a speed and efficiency that we’ve never been able to. We’ve got a more easily analyzed plane and a better way to view it.
What we’re seeing – what 2MM shows – is almost a split-screen video of a few different approaches to how we live our lives. If we think of it as a race and the world as the field upon which that race is run, we can look at it this way:
1. The Chinese and Indian students are trained, prepared and committed to running from the starting line to the finish line within well-defined boundary lines. They’re going from Point A to Point B in a straight line. They don’t deviate.
2. The two American students aren’t running that same well-defined race. They’re watching it, figuring out how to organize it, they’re marketing it, they’re considering all the possibilities related to it – but they aren’t going from start to finish in their own lane. And if they choose to run, they’re running the way they want to and in whichever direction they choose.
There are advantages to both approaches here – we know this. But it also isn’t new. What’s new is that our flatter world and faster shutter speed allows us to juxtapose the two starkly different approaches. 100 years ago, when our flatter earth was mountainous and our progress slower, and when we were unable to see so clearly how different countries ran their races, it was very difficult to see. Now we’re all on the same plane, we’re looking at the progress in real-time and we’re seeing two separate performances.
The question isn’t, “Now what?” – it’s, “How do we want to live?” and then reforming or re-developing a public education system based on our answer. 2MM lays the foundation for this discussion.
2MM raises questions not just about how we want to live, but whether we want to instead just accept what we’ve got, run with our strengths and accept the consequences.
And then there’s the business world with which Mr. Compton is intimately familiar – a world that can’t afford to wait 100 years for this question to be answered properly.
NCLB barely scratches the surface of answering this question as it relates to our education system – I’d liken it more to lifting the sheet that covers it, taking a peek and reporting back – and it has divided the country’s education profession badly. Suggesting that discussing such broad, holistic questions as, “How do we want to live?” and, “How does public education support that?” is a tough project is an incredible understatement.
But 2MM has the capacity to open up forums for this debate in a way that we haven’t yet seen. One need not be an educator or policy wonk to be engaged by this film – we’re all stakeholders.
The film’s blog is titled, “What Should America Do?” – it’s about time we get started on the answer. Two Million Minutes has already begun.
- Fisking the National Association of Secondary School Principals on Two Million Minutes
- BREAKING: Students Outside America Aren’t One-Dimensional
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