Education is a very inspiring field. I came to it late in life, having a very interesting first profession in the media biz. I got my start in small town newspapers, serving as editor or ad manager, and in one case, both positions simultaneously. I worked in towns so small that you could refer to location as “the red light,” because there was only one in town. Towns like Cullowhee, Cashiers and Highlands. As my career grew, so did the size of the towns. Populations grew from 2800 to 25,000 to a million. My media experience morphed into magazines, radio and television. And always in the South. I was a journalist and owner, and enjoyed the folksy business in the small towns and the frenetic pace of business in the big towns. I sold $50,000 ad pages and radio spots for a dollar a holler. I thought that media was a pretty good gig.
And then education happened.
At the age of 47, I sold my media business and started looking around for something else to do. By chance, I crossed paths with a publisher that had an education magazine. He needed an editor and my golf game wasn’t going anywhere, so I decided to give it a try. I began to have conversations with a number of educators and education business people. And I found it fascinating. The people that I spoke with had genuine passion. Engulfing passion. Contagious passion. I jumped in. There had to be a reason that everyone I spoke with was so genuinely passionate.
Fast forward nine years.
I’m a listener. I’ll call people I’ve never spoken with and have hour-long conversations. For the last nine years, I’ve spent eight or nine hours a day on the phone listening. A bit of quick math and that’s about 18,720 hours of conversations with very passionate superintendents, CTOs, teachers, and owners of every type of education company you can think of. I have talked to more than a thousand education entrepreneurs, most of whom are former educators. It’s great because they still have their passion – oftentimes even more because they are solving problems and helping even more learners. And their numbers are growing. As education changes, the technology and tools that we need are coming, for the most part, from this amazing crop of edu-entrepreneurs. It is very grass-roots, and this crop of very talented, passionate problem solvers is literally growing like a weed. So much, in fact, that the traditional structure of a handful of companies controlling education content is almost a memory. And good riddance to them. The talent and quality of this new crop of companies puts the old guard to shame.
If you build it, they will come.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this new bunch of companies is they started out on a wing and a prayer and as they needed it, the funding came. The amount of venture capital that is finding its way into education is unprecedented, and just about right. It’s seeding the ground and growing these companies just as education needs them, and our learners are reaping the benefits.
I read a lot in the press about education. Mostly about the challenges and problems of running school districts and working with unions and whether or not charter schools will be the saviors of the education world. But I don’t worry. As long as the passion remains, and we have superintendents and CTOs and teachers who care, and companies springing up to solve our learner’s challenges before they have them, I know we’re going to be okay. In education, we work in a field of dreams. And education is a very inspiring field.