The Biggest Failure of the US Education System

The other night, I was walking through my neighborhood in Brooklyn when I overheard some teenagers talking outside a grocery store. One of them said to the others: “X equals Y. When do you use that shit in the future? Tell me when.”

I couldn’t agree more, kid.

Our education system suffers from a massive lack of practicality. Students are not taught practical skills and they are rarely ever shown how they can translate what they learn in school into anything of relevance or “real world” value.

Let’s take algebra and most high school-level math as an example. Only a small subset of the population will ever need to use it. And, yet everyone is forced to study algebra and gets graded on their performance. These grades may impact their future college and job prospects.

We are failing students when we continue to score people’s intelligence and abilities based on completely nonsensical metrics like how well they can solve an algebraic equation or regurgitate a motif in a Shakespeare play. Often, the only ability a standardized test is good at measuring is one’s ability to take a test. Ouch.

We now know that there are many different types of intelligence and the way we grade in school is completely passé. Grades are an egregiously poor indicator of how smart a person is or how well they will do later in life after school.

Yeah, that’s right. I said egregious. Stick it up your ass, SATs.

In my current field — content marketing — where I never have to use any algebra or trigonometry whatsoever, I focus on creating content with the purpose of engaging an audience of potential customers. We center all of a brand’s communication around the needs and wants of its target audience. If educators figured out a way to provide their students with educational content tailored and customized to the needs of their students, way more students would be thriving. By creating engaging and student-focused content, the education system could provide a lot more value to students.

Of course, this means a lot more work for teachers and administrators, so it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. To be fair to them, a lot more depends on politicians and we all know they are so great at getting shit done. Hah. Good luck with that.

Instead of an outdated, one-size-fits-all education model where we’re all taught the same subjects and graded the same way, we should be focused on teaching each student according to their unique abilities and interests, helping to steer them toward success. To borrow from a source of ancient wisdom with modern-day relevance, King Solomon wrote: “Teach a child according to their way.”

(And to all you Grammar Nazis out there, it’s perfectly acceptable to use “their” instead of his/her when trying to keep your language gender-neutral.)

The absolute biggest failure of the US education system (and probably all education systems) is this: We force kids to spend more time, energy, and focus on what they’re not good at instead of helping students double-down on their strengths so they can hone and develop their talents. Rather than nurturing a student’s passion or natural aptitude for a certain subject, we squelch it and make students do more of what they suck at and hate doing. Schools do this because they’re preparing students to pass more exams in order to meet quotas instead of preparing kids for life or a future career.

On a personal note, there was no need to make me sit through hours and hours of remedial algebra focusing time and attention on something I’ll never use again or be great at when that time could have been spent developing my talents and translating them into practical skills. “Math lab,” as they called it, was a complete waste of my time, my teacher’s time, and your tax dollars.

Now, I know what some of you critics will say:

“We need to expose people to a broad educational curriculum before they can discover where their interests lie.”

Sure, but there’s a way to accomplish that without making it into an exercise in futility. Let’s be honest. By the time you’re in high school, and for some, it’s much sooner, you already have a pretty good idea of what general areas (math, reading, writing etc.) you’re strong in and what general areas you’re weak in. We can expose people to different disciplines without killing their curiosity and thirst for learning, punishing them when a subject is not their “thing” with bad grades, remedial classes, and erroneous judgments about their intelligence or work ethic.

Others will argue that everything we learn in school is valuable and serves a practical purpose, even if indirectly. For example, reading literature can develop critical thinking skills and algebra can improve logical reasoning.

All true, but a lot of other things can also develop those skills AND provide real-world, post-graduation value. Furthermore, if you want to argue that many of the subjects taught in school are valuable and necessary, then I would ask why you don’t deem many things that are not taught in school, such as time management, leadership skills, and how to manage money effectively valuable and necessary enough to be part of the curriculum. With so many people in debt in this country, educating people about money should be a top priority of educators. Sadly, it’s not.

Still, some will say all knowledge is good and helps to develop us as people. Without taking a position one way or the other, I’d counter that if school is supposed to shape you as a person, then don’t give out grades. Failing a class doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a human being.

In the higher grades (and maybe the lower too), we have the concept of electives. Electives are classes that are often a hell of a lot more interesting than the general requirements. They are taken on a volunteer basis, usually by students who are interested in the topics. The problem is that much of what we teach should really be offered as electives and much of what students actually need to learn is not taught in school at all.

Worse, if a student is failing in a subject, they will make the student spend extra time on that subject and prevent them from taking electives in areas where they might excel. So instead of letting students take a course that would enable them to pursue an interest and possibly find a career path, they force students to spend more time and attention on something they’ll never need.

Scoring by the metric of lifetime value, the education system deserves a big, fat F.

To Win, You Need to Make the Time

You want your brand to get noticed?

You want the leads to come to you?

You want to grow your business?

Then you need to create content.

You need to create quality content that provides value to your target audience on platforms that have your audience’s attention, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter frequently and persistently.

Depending on your brand, your content might be entertaining, educational, or inspiring. It might be helpful, motivational, or funny. But, it must provide value to your audience and the content must be in the right context — shared at the right time, for the right people, and created in a way that it appears native to the platforms on which it appears.

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You will only succeed once you commit yourself to creating content on a consistent basis and sharing it with the world. There is enough time. But you have to be willing to sacrifice some nights and weekends or times when everybody else is enjoying their leisure.

Most of your content creation is not going to take place during your traditional work hours. You’ll never get the time. You have to make the time. Set aside a block of time each week for creating content or working on your content distribution strategy. A little planning will take you or your organization a long way.

In a world where there is so much competition for consumer attention, it takes a great deal of effort to get the market to care about what you’re doing. Content marketing is not a short term marketing strategy. Even if you create good content, you need to earn audience engagement consistently. It takes many interactions before a purchase is made. But, if you stick with it, focus on the needs of your audience, and commit to providing them with as much value as possible, you will eventually build a brand and earn your audience’s trust. Once you have their trust and their attention, your hard work will pay off.

It takes a lot of time and effort to amass brand equity, but once you have it, you can leverage it to advance your business objectives. However, to stay on top, you will need to continue putting out content and keep the momentum going.

Content marketing cannot be seen as something “extra” for whenever you get around to it. As entrepreneur, vlogger, and marketer, Gary Vaynerchuk so aptly puts it, most brands are playing it “half-pregnant” and that’s why they never see results. You need to invest the time, money, and people to create and distribute content effectively. If you want to reap the rewards of content marketing, then you need to understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. To break through the noise, it takes a ton of patience, grind, and scaling the unscalable.

If you’re not ready to do the work and you can’t afford to invest the resources necessary to make it happen, then you’re not yet ready for branding and content marketing. To succeed with content marketing, you need to go all in and stay focused.

Good Things Come to Those Who Work Their Butt Off and are Patient AF

We’ve all heard the expression:

“Good things come to those who wait.”

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s bullsh*t.

No one ever achieved big things without working their ass off and going out and getting it. Every successful person I know has had to work hard. Even people who raise boatloads of cash or enjoy family connections will not be profitable without grinding day in and day out. Sure, there are people who win the lotto or were handed a lucrative venture, but you and I can’t point to anyone who earned lasting success by not giving it their all. There are many gurus and coaches on the Internet selling mastermind courses these days with “get rich quick” schemes who claim they have a hack for getting successful without all the work. Some of their suggestions may turn a profit for a short time, but will not bring lasting wealth. There really are no shortcuts to success. There is no simple formula, growth hack, or automated process that will enable you to win long-term.

I’m currently in the process of building a digital marketing agency as well as my own online presence and personal brand. Having interviewed many successful people for my Huffington Post column and studied many people who built a business, personal brand, or an online presence, the common themes I’m seeing and applying to my own life are as follows:

Patience: 

It takes so much patience to achieve any big, hairy, audacious goal. If you love it and it’s worth pursuing, you’ll likely have the fortitude to stick it out when the going gets tough. Oh, and it will get tough. We look at many successful people today as “finished products.” We didn’t see them before they achieved greatness. We don’t see the countless hours of painstaking effort and unglamorous amounts of dedication they put into refining their craft. It doesn’t make for good TV (or whatever medium you use for entertainment these days). There’s always this temptation to try to jump ahead several steps before you’ve made it. And it can be discouraging when you go through a dry-spell. You need to remain humble and continue to do things you may feel you shouldn’t have to still be doing if you want to get to the place where you aspire to be. It’s called paying your dues.

Persistence:

If you’re patient and appreciate every small victory, you’ll have an easier time remaining motivated and persisting toward your goals. Let’s take influencers as an example. Many of them churned out hundreds of blog posts, videos, and podcasts that barely got any reads, views, or listens before they seemingly “popped” out of nowhere. They didn’t get discouraged when no one was paying attention them because they believed in themselves and persisted. The truth is even if you do everything right and you produce quality work or churn out great content frequently and consistently, it will still likely take years of doing it before you break out and become well-known.

Consistency: 

This one is so crucial. They say a big part of success is just showing up. I’d like to suggest an addendum to that old adage: A big part of success is just showing up consistently. Even if you’re talented, produce great work, have good ideas, and spend time honing your craft and working toward your goals, you will not go very far if you’re on-again, off-again, hot and cold. This is true for many endeavors in life, but specifically, when it comes to building an online presence, no one wins the market’s attention and becomes known for anything if they don’t consistently put out value. Even if you have one big piece of content that goes viral, you’ll be a one-hit wonder that no one remembers and have no brand recognition unless you consistently follow up and engage your audience. Every drop in the bucket counts. The key is consistently working on your goal and not allowing yourself to get distracted or make excuses.

Sometimes life gets in the way or we see something that looks like it might be more interesting or exciting, but the show must go on. Only by sticking with it, remaining patient when we don’t see results for long periods of time, persisting in the face of obstacles and applying ourselves consistently, will we achieve any of our dreams.

Don’t Wait for them to Pick You

pick yourself

In What to Do When it’s Your Turn (and It’s Always Your Turn) renowned marketing consultant, author, and blogger, Seth Godin urges us to stop waiting around for the higher ups to pick us.

We live in a world where many people are waiting for their defining moment. Their big break. They are an overnight success story that simply hasn’t happened yet. We all know people who are waiting to be discovered. Waiting to be given a raise. Waiting for their boss to give them the corner office. Waiting for the agents, the labels, and the talent scouts to approach them with a lucrative deal. Sadly, like the uncoordinated kid in gym class, many of them are picked last and made to sit on the bench. Most are never even picked at all.

But, waiting your turn was more suited to the previous generation. Back then, we needed the gatekeepers to pick us. The gatekeepers have lost their power. Now, we can choose ourselves. New communications technology, such as smartphones and dramatic behavioral shifts in how we communicate and consume information has given rise to an entire class of individuals who have chosen themselves. The teenage tech entrepreneur. The YouTube star. The Instagram and SnapChat influencers. The stay-at-home mom who starts a 6-figure online business. Or, even the manager, the engineer, or fitness trainer who utilize free publishing platforms, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, and Instagram to build a following and establish credibility that helps them get promotions, higher-paying clients, paid speaking engagements, or raise money for their causes.

There’s no longer any reason to wait in line or cozy up to the bigwigs who had long been the barriers to entry. When mediums of communication and creativity are democratized, the people decide. The opinions of the publishers, creative directors, the editors, the record label executives and TV producers don’t carry as much weight as they used to. One can succeed with no prior experience, family connections, or friends in the industry. Some decry this turn of events and there is certainly a great deal of hand-wringing in many of these industries. But, the floodgates of opportunity have been opened and anyone who is bold enough, talented enough, and hardworking enough will win if they take advantage.

To be sure, this also leaves room for “fake news,” fake influencers, wannabe artists and entrepreneurs, and self-proclaimed gurus or thought leaders to proliferate and crowd the Internet with their noise. Still, the benefits outweigh the negatives, because only the best and most deserving will be heard. In an age when no one waits to receive an invitation and everyone can grab sit at the table, only some will eat their fill. The bar has been raised and one can no longer succeed long-term with output that lacks substance, authenticity, or quality.

So, what are you waiting for? Don’t wait for anyone to pick you. Pick yourself and go do it.