entrepreneurship education

Schools Weren't Built for Tomorrow's Leaders

Venture off campus to cultivate your entrepreneurial mindset in ways the curricula simply can't.
Schools Weren't Built for Tomorrow's Leaders
Image credit: Mauro Grigollo | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Creative/PR and Brand Marketing Strategist
10 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Modern-day schooling is out of date. Young leaders, innovators, and creators are being turned into robotic machines that follow assignments to generate grades. The grade school years are meant to help students find who they are, but schools today are nothing more than a glorified holding facility for carbon copy education.

Every student has his own set of strengths and weaknesses, and yet we find every student following the same exact academic agenda as their peers. It’s almost like schools are asking all students to wear the same size shirt, despite the inevitable variety in body shapes and sizes.

Schooling not learning

At school, we’re taught from day one to blindly follow directions or risk facing disciplinary consequences. The school system was built to match labor environments -- eight hours a day with short breaks in a controlled setting to make it easier to push young adults into the workforce. Schools say they are preparing students for the future, but they are forcing them to obey commands that expunge all creativity, which is actually robbing students of the ability to pursue a successful future.

Students are taught to reject failure, yet many bright and capable students are left behind because their learning style doesn’t fit into their teacher’s box. Rather than work to help these students understand material, teachers pass them along for the next grade to deal with, giving students a false perception of where they stand academically.

When reality finally hits, it can shatter students’ ambitions for the future and push their dreams into the slow lane. Students are competing instead of collaborating, tearing each other down so they can succeed in a race for rank. The fact is this: our society has put such strain on the grading system that kids are pushed to unhealthy limits each and every day, with teachers that don’t teach them according to the individual needs, and with assignments that are often irrelevant to real-life skills. Even though our failing education system won’t change overnight, there is a way for students to succeed despite it.

Grubbing the grade

I began recognizing the problem with the school system in high school. Throughout grade school, I attended eight different schools in three different states. At one high school -- one of the hardest schools in the nation, according to the Washington Post -- I noticed that students were too busy following commands to even think of something remotely creative. I saw students skipping class to hide in the library so they could study for the next big test. The image of a perfect grade is what students strove for -- because they were told that was all that mattered, leading them to sacrifice ethics for perfection.

I’ve seen students cheat and bend over backwards to find shortcuts to get a higher grade or to simply relieve their workload. In the real world, cheating and shortcuts will result in more stress rather than relief and will pull coworkers down with you. School implicitly teaches that if a goal is important enough, any method of achieving it is acceptable. In other words, consequentialism is accepted when it comes to getting the highest grades. But that is not an adequate preparation for our future.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Don't Thrive in School

In an effort to build my leadership and entrepreneurship skills, I used my free time to join many organizations in my community. I networked with professionals I admired, and took advantage of opportunities to share my ideas with them in a way that displayed my abilities. This opened multiple doors, and I began consulting for several companies.

Through consulting, I recognized a pattern in executive management. I saw that successful people at the top aren’t afraid to fail. They don't reject failure. They get to the top by taking large risks. Ironically, the A+, 4.0 GPA students find themselves working under these infamous and outspoken trouble-makers. I’ve seen this pattern time and again. Those who embrace failure tend to combat it best.

Cuban's revolution

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to two successful entrepreneurs. I wanted to get a better grasp on what schooling meant to them when they were there.

From Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a world-renowned billionaire businessmen, I quickly found out he was a rule breaker. Cuban was suspended in high school for wearing a shirt with the word bullshit printed on it. He was a proud trouble-maker with little respect for authority, which fueled the head-strong character we see in him today. He was a student who went around the system instead of through it -- just to see what would happen.

I wondered what Cuban's number one tip to high school entrepreneurs was. His response was direct and to the point: “Sell. No company succeeds without sales.”

Related: The 15 Characteristics of People Who Succeed at Sales

Next, I asked Cuban what the word fail means to him. He explained to me how it is a stumble that you can learn from, that a failure is a first attempt at learning. “It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. You only have to be right once and then everyone can tell you that you are an overnight success,” he says.

Batiz's fire

Suzy Batiz, founder and chief executive officer of Poo~Pourri, recalls her high school experience differently, though it led her to a similar searching perserverance. Batiz didn’t have the best time in high school. It was very hard for her to fit in and go with the flow. In fact, she told me that it was traumatizing for the most part.

But Batiz is a strong-willed person, questioning everything and countering any type of authority. Her number one tip for high school entrepreneurs was to stop trying to fit in and find the fire that motivates you.

She told me that students must get out of the box to become successful. “Find the passion that guides you and thinks outside of the box to find success,” says Batiz.

The numbers say it all.

I ran an anonymous survey at my high school to figure out what students said about their educational experience. It uses a random group of 500 students, grades nine to twelve. From it I discovered the following:

  • 92 percent admitted to cheating or gaining unfair advantages to get a better grade.
  • 82 percent believe that restrictions in school hinder creativity and performance.
  • 88 percent believe the “ends justify the means” when it comes to getting good grades.

These results virtually prove that students are being forced into a system that is not setting them up for success but rather, is producing human labor machines programed to simulate intelligence and imitate accomplishment.

What's a young entrepreneur to do?

Is there still a way to succeed? I am often asked. Here are my top seven for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to get involved in the business world:

1.) Join or build an incubator or hackathon: Many companies now have incubators where all the super cool ideas are born. Incubators and hackathons put like-minded creative leaders in one spot to tackle a common problem or invent an idea. Currently, I work as the chief marketing officer for the largest student-led hackathon in the United States. Finding a good hackathon and coming up with ideas might be the start of something big. Most students end up going after their high school visions, so get out in the world and explore your vision!

Related: Accelerator vs. Incubator: Which Is Right for You?

2.) Summer internships: As the millennial generation is entering and beginning to dominate the market, companies need young minds even more than ever. Companies will flip for the chance to gain insight into your generation’s thoughts, desires and habits, so consider a summer internship. If you can provide valuable ideas and insight, you will be unstoppable.

3.) Networking: Build a LinkedIn account and start connecting with professionals in your area. My growing network has enabled me to work with some of the top professional leaders and mentors in the country, every day. Networking will help you find people who will build you up, and you will learn abundantly from them in the process.

4.) Forget the money: Focus on learning a craft and building a strong track record of following through. If you are hung up on the amount of money you make at the beginning of your career, then a good fast food or entry-level job will be most fitting for you. Money isn’t everything.

If you forget about how much you are making in the short run you will win in the long run. I am not suggesting to always work for free, but don’t hesitate to render free services to get your foot in the door and show companies what you can contribute. Author and businessman Zig Ziglar said, “Success must never be measured by how much money you have.”

5.) Start a club or organization: Launching a new business successfully takes skill and experience. Knowing how to share your vision with other people is what the big leagues are all about. Starting a club can give valuable experience and understanding what that takes.

6.) Fail forward: Learn how to keep going after you fail at something. Don’t give up, and don’t let fear of failure prevent you from giving it your all. Mistakes are what give you wisdom to know what works and what doesn’t.

7.) Be real with yourself and build a team: A while back I sat down with Kirk Ballou, a distinguished CEO who has worked with companies like Microsoft, CNN, National Geographic, Nokia and Red Bull. His number one tip to aspiring entrepreneurs: “Be real with yourself. If your dream job is running a business that will require an experise and you do not have its worth, find a partner(s) that can fill that gap. Too many ‘fail fast’ startups are trying to wear too many hats and handle areas they are not experts in.”

Going beyond school

The truth is that our education system won’t change anytime soon, but you have the choice to understand its shortcomings and work around them. Using your free time to build a skill set for the future is what will place you ahead of the curve.

Understand that graduating high school and getting to college is crucial, but there is a world outside of school with inestimable experiences that a degree will simply never offer. Getting involved in your community, connecting with professionals you admire and building your identity before you graduate high school will help you navigate college and land on a career path that’s best for you.

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