Big Dollar Takeovers

Big Dollar Takeovers

America’s most successful high-tech CEOs are quietly taking over public (and private) schools and universities in the U.S.

There’s no question that our schools, on the most part, are tired, led by unimaginative educators, and greatly in need of major reinvention. In the digital age and in the 21st Century, our schools and universities are pathetic – making only a few cosmetic changes and turning their backs on the social, economic, and political upheavals and changes of the last few decades. Educators have long been famous for lack of imagination and they are the last people from whom to expect meaningful change.

That said, unfortunately, much the same can be said about the major high-tech CEOs. They are good, sometimes very good, at what they do. But what they do is not at all the same as what children and young adults need in America’s school and universities. People who have succeeded in a big way in the corporate world are famous for believing that they can perform brilliantly in any and all sectors and on behalf of any and all issue. But, those taken with themselves (and accustomed to the adulation of underlings) rarely have the breadth and depth of perspective to take on transformative change in sectors very different from their own.

And, of course, one has to note that it is highly unlikely all the activity by CEOs is blindly philanthropic and wholly for the good of the country. In reality, some important part of the interventions being made today by high-tech CEOs is decidedly self-serving. Tucked into many of the interventions undertaken by these individuals have at their core the sale of their products and software.

Whatever mix of incentives there may be, these folks are messing around in the school and universities big time. They are, however, not likely to do much damage, so poorly are the schools and universities doing today. But real change, long term thoughtful reform, must be a coordinated effort of the best minds (not necessarily the most wealthy and single-sector leaders) in the country.

I agree wholeheartedly that schools and universities are critically in need of reform and change. But what is going on now – CEOs playing with lots of money and their own pet ideas --- is not going to effect meaningful change. Their activities, however, could provide a springboard for coordinated and serious efforts by groups of highly intelligent and imaginative leaders across multiple sectors of our society. Educational reform must not be left to educators. It must not be left to corporate giants, either.

Daniel Socolow
Daniel Socolow: President, Socolow Group. Former Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, President of the American University of Paris, Vice President of Spelman College. BA, MA, Ph.D.

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