2 Million Minutes

Erica and I watched a newly released documentary this past weekend entitled “2 Million Minutes.” The title comes from adding up the number of minutes that a typical high school student has to prepare for college/career. 8 students are documented in the film: 2 each from China, India and the United States. As someone who enjoys education and learning, I found the video to be very interesting. It certainly led to a great conversation with my wife, Erica, who happens to teach middle school choir and comes from a family of teachers (my father-in-law teaches middle school choir, brother-in-law middle school science, sister-in-law 3rd grade, and mother-in-law school secretary).

2 Million Minutes is mostly an observation, not a prescription, of the current educational climates in 3 countries. At one point, a leading CEO from India states that students in China and India are motivated differently than in the US. In China, for example, education is viewed as a golden ticket out of poverty. It represents security. A stereotypical American student must find the drive to perform in the classroom from a different source. That is, they might not go through school fearing a life of poverty…yet. And that is the pain that my wife must deal with in the classroom filled with students in Greenwood, IN. Her problem is a prevailing sense of entitlement.

The belief that one “deserves” to succeed is instilled in a child by his or her parents. My wife teaches kids whose parents think their children can do no wrong. This reminds me of a study done in the trenches of the New York public school system by psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia. In Dweck’s study, she gave 5th grade students a simple puzzle. At the completion of the puzzle, each student was given praise. The students were divided into two groups, one group received praise regarding their intelligence; the other received praise praise for their effort. For the second round of test, the students were give a choice: another easy puzzle like the first or a more difficult puzzle (the kids were told they would likely learn a lot). “Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.” Maybe the incentive system is out of whack.

One of my favorite coached is the legendary John Wooden, who led the UCLA men’s basketball team to 10 NCAA basketball championships. Coach Wooden’s philosophy centered more in getting his players to maximize their potential rather than win championships. He could take a team to the national title and still be disappointed at a player’s lack of effort during the game. On the other hand, a benchwarmer might come in and produce limited results during a game, but he might play as close as possible to his potential and Wooden would be happy. This simple shift in thinking is missing in parenting AND business. You see, the measure of ultimate success in education or economic prosperity is not based on standardized testing or profits, it rides on a student or worker’s ability to play up to their potential. And this is a significant concern for me in the comparisons made in “2 Million Minutes”: who is playing up to maximum potential and who is wasting talent?