What Star Trek Taught Me About Education
It’s been about a year and a half since I began my journey into the EdTech space. I can’t tell you how many times over this brief period I have been asked they question, “Why are you in Edtech?” Typically, the question arises from the fact that my only previous experience with the education industry was as a consumer of knowledge (aka student) in the public K-12 and university school system in the great state of California.
Although my co-founder, Mandela, CTO Aleks, and Growth Director Pete all have teaching backgrounds, I myself, have never held a formal position in this sector. Other than guest lecture a few classes on entrepreneurship, I’ve never actually conducted a traditional lesson to a group of students.
My degree is in Business; to be more specific, Business Economics, Accounting, and Entrepreneurship. I switched into Business after studying Mechanical Engineering for two years. I made the switch because I didn’t want to work for a defense contractor, which is where many UC Santa Barbara M.E.’s end up. But still, Mechanical Engineering doesn’t have much to do with education.
In conversations with people outside of education, I am constantly asked why, with my background, I chose to build an edtech company. The incredibly slow decision-making processes and the painstakingly long sales cycles of edtech make angels and VC’s wary to invest, and with our talents, we could be making a lot of money doing other things. So, the question remains, Why am I in EdTech?
Corny or cliché as it may sound. I am in EdTech because I believe education is the key. The key to what, you may ask. THE KEY TO EVERYTHING.
I often see people standing in line at their local movie theater to watch the latest sci-fi film. Maybe it’s the new Ironman or some futuristic “humans vs. aliens” flick. Perhaps it’s about deep space travel, or a film where humans have moved on from earth to colonize other planets. I see these people in line, because I’m typically in line right there with them. I’m a huge sci-fi fan!
Ok, back to the topic at hand. I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi movies, but there’s a particular line from one of these movies that speaks to me more than others (please excuse my inner-geek for a moment). In Star Trek First Contact, Geordi travels back in time to assist Zefram Cochrane, whose invention of the warp drive lays the foundations for humanity’s future. The invention of the Warp Drive was the catalyst that raised humanity from the rubble of a world war and united them in a common cause. When attempting to explain the impact of the invention to the inventor himself, Georgi explains how in the future, “Every child is taught the basic equations of warp travel in grade school.”
So my point is, there is simply no way to progress as a species without building on the progress of those that came before us. Things that were ground breaking hundreds of years ago are now the building blocks students are learning to prepare them for a constantly evolving world. Being educated on what past generations discovered is key to our current survival and future existence. After all, without the first paddleboats, there would be no ships, no freighters, and no cruse-liners (Yup. Cancel your trip to Cabo).
Of course, education doesn’t necessarily mean extensive formal schooling.
Steve Jobs learned much of what he knew about technology from being around people who were interested in technology. Hell, he had a summer job at HP at age 13 after a phone call with the CEO. Steve dropped out of college, but no one would say that Steve wasn’t educated.
Mark Zuckerberg (note to Microsoft: please add Zuckerberg to your list of recognized terms in Word. Some English teacher 15-years from today will quiz my kids’ spelling of that name.) took up writing software programs as a hobby in middle school, beginning with BASIC, with the help of his father and tutor. He, like Jobs, dropped out of school, but no one will say that Zuckerberg isn’t educated.
Both Steve and Mark had people around them that they could rely on for support, guidance, and encouragement, which gave these two men the confidence to believe in themselves, their dreams, and pursue their passions to create world-changing innovations. This was their education.
Unfortunately, much of today’s youth do not have the advantage of having an engineer, doctor, lawyer, accountant, or positive role model within their home. Like the kids I grew up with in South Central, many still don’t have access to the amazing education resources online, such as Khan Academy, TED, and Wikipedia (which I just donated to, and you should too). For these youth, their formal K-12 education is their best chance to learn the knowledge and skills they’ll need to prosper and contribute greatly to society.
We built Tioki with those youth in mind. Unfortunately, we can’t control the fact that web access is not free and universally available. We cannot lower the cost of living so that their parents don’t have to work two jobs, giving them more time to invest in their kids’ development. We can’t stop the inner-city violence and drug use that lines their path on the way to and from school every day, or stop the helicopters from hovering overhead when they are trying to complete their assigned reading from the Great Gatsby.
But what we can do is try our very best to help the people that interact with those children on a daily basis from 7:45AM to 4PM – the teachers and school leaders.
We can provide them with the tools, the community, and the voice to become better at their craft. We can help them celebrate their accomplishments, and share what they have discovered with a generation of new educators. We can help educators constantly strive to improve, and we can help schools recruit the best educators to make a life-changing impact on their students. All of this combined will help the youth develop into more educated, responsible, and socially responsible adults.
So I hope that the reasons are clear, as to why I chose to be a part the EdTech Community, a branch of an eco-system of Educators, Administrators, Professors, Families, and Enthusiasts all striving to prepare students for the future, a future that they themselves will create. All our hopes and dreams of what the future holds for renewable energy, clean transportation, abundant resources, and even Warp 5 space travel lies within their hands.
What could be more important than giving them the best education we possibly can?
Written by Brian Martinez, the Co-Founder & CEO of Tioki