Debate Magazine

The Market Rewards Genius

By Stevemiranda

I saw this comment (I edited it slightly) on this website’s Facebook page, and loved it. My response is below.

I’m really inspired by everything you write, but I feel like a lot of it seems a bit too utopian without a complete overhaul of our economic system. In “Mistakes” you say the 20th century factory economy has been outsourced or automated. I think that’s a pretty gross overstatement. I agree everyone has their genius, but unfortunately our economic system will only allow those with money to use it. Our 21st century economy—perhaps more than ever, given our rising consumption—is still built on a foundation of low-wage, low-skill jobs: farm workers, factory workers, maids, custodians, dishwashers, etc.

Shouldn’t this new kind of education be available for people in the rest of the world? But is that possible under neoliberal capitalism? Aren’t we still reliant on underpaid, over-exploited workers across the globe, working in “free trade zones” to make our clothes? I want what you write to be true, I really do. But it might be even more of a crime to educate a generation of children, instilling in them the idea that they really can do anything, only for 20 percent of them to find out that the available jobs use very little of their unique genius.

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Nothing I write in this space should be considered “utopian” or hopeful or even theoretical. Everything I write here is being put into practice at PSCS and other leading edge schools around world. The point of this blog is to tell stories about things that are already happening to dispel the notion that in order to transforms our schools we need to brainstorm new, untested theoretical ideas. Nope. We just need to shine a spotlight on those who are already doing it.

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While there is not a particle of doubt in my mind that we will transform our schools—sooner than you think—I harbor no delusions about building an entirely new economic system. From the standpoint of humanistic education, we don’t need one. The marketplace, even the neoliberal global marketplace, rewards genius. That’s what humanistic education is about: honoring the unique genius in everyone. And I’m not just talking about brilliant software engineers and Hollywood actors. Even those working in what we consider low-wage jobs increase the demand for their services when they allow their genius to flourish.

Here’s an example. Today my son was hanging out with one of the women who babysit for my kids. She had just made parfaits for some of the neighborhood kids and he asked her, “What’s in a parfait?” Without blinking she said, “Pig brains, cauliflower, and sweaty socks.” He busted out laughing. When my wife and I come home from a date on Saturday night, not only are the kids in bed safe and sound, but also the kitchen is clean and the dishes are put away. I’ve seen our babysitters do routines for our kids that are a crazy mix of standup comedy, dramatic storytelling, and dress-up, with full audience participation. They charge double what it would cost me to pay a teenager for the same job, but I hire them every time because they’re geniuses. They’re worth it.

How about a custodian who leaves a note on your desk at the end of the day in the form of a limerick, summarizing the extra detailed cleaning he gave your office last night after you went home. You pay more for his services because it’s worth it, and because going with some agency that promises to do the job cheaper now feels like a much bigger risk. Who are they going to send over here? Will the new guy care as much? Will he do something that will make me smile every morning? Not only are you going to keep the limerick guy, but you’re going to recommend his services to others. The market rewards genius.

To anyone who thinks that all they need to do is show up at school, learn to follow directions and do the minimum, then they’ll graduate, get a union job and earn a middle class living, they’re living in the 20th century. If they don’t believe me, there’s a group of legislators in Wisconsin that I’d like to introduce them to.

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