Ricardo: The Disconnect Between Education and Business

There is a disconnect between what the American school system deems a success and what Main Street, let alone Wall Street, finds successful. That disconnect centers on one question; what is the purpose of education?

In 1973, my Kindergarten teacher gave me a “satisfactory” for my interpersonal skills because, as she wrote, I was a “social butterfly.” It was her diplomatic way of saying that my constant chattering was exhausting her and distracting my my classmates. I, with an archetype of the People’s Champion, naturally took that as a compliment.

Looking back, perhaps that was the beginning of a life-long belief that people can’t be measured by grades alone. In fact, to do so is akin to lopping off two legs of a three-legged stool. There is no argument that knowledge is vital to optimum success but knowledge alone can’t prop up an entire person.

Knowledge must be accompanied by skills and abilities less it become knowing but not knowing how or why. Hinting to the world that little Heather would be more pleasing if she would shut up is equivalent to taking an axe to my “ability” leg. I went on to know Mrs. Dalton throughout my teenage years so I am confident that she never intended to limit me or even to change me. She just needed to harness me so that I would better fit within the confines of the school system. However, if not done with care, the harnessing of innate abilities can become a destructive act.

This year, Jobs for America’s Graduates will celebrate its one millionth student. After thirty plus years, JAG has hit a massive milestone in a world fraught with program du jour. They have chosen a Jobs for Florida’s Graduates student from Hallandale, Florida to memorialize the previous million and to anticipate the next. To me, the People’s Champion, Ricardo is pure perfection. Although he is only in middle school, he is everything a college or an employer would be lucky to find. He is the very definition of a self-made millionaire, if you will. He is also everything the school system would find taxing.

Raised by his grandmother, Ricardo was forced to watch her return to her home of Chicago as she faced a terminal illness. To go with her was to immeasurably increase the odds that his future would be derailed. With a father killed by gun fire, a dying grandmother and an absent mother; Ricardo moved in with his Uncle who was subsequently incarcerated.

 And that pretty much sums up 7th grade for Ricardo.

As an 8th grader, he spends some nights getting re-acquainted with his mother. Other nights, he stays with his best friend who happens to be the son of his Jobs for Florida’s Graduates teacher (or Treasure Hunter as we prefer to call her).

But Ricardo’s grades aren’t great and he is struggling with the standardize test he must pass. Unless he shores up his “knowledge” leg, he will not get into the magnet high school he dreams of attending. No combination of skills and abilities can fix that because the system doesn’t give grades based on potential.

“Dear World,” Ricardo could write. “I am full of skills and abilities but am weak on knowledge. Statistically, it is likely that I will grow increasingly frustrated by a system that doesn’t recognize all I am and all I have overcome to get this far. Should that frustration take root in me, I may make a life changing decision by giving up on my education. In that case, world, we may never meet. So I thought I’d introduce myself now.”

You could say Ricardo is a man-child. He is forced to make adult decisions with a teenage mind.  Despite it all, he is making some very good ones. He is a leader in student government and mentors younger kids at his after school program.

When Ricardo becomes of age, he will be able to pour his experiences out on a resume or a college application. He will tell the crowd of whence he came before he asks for their vote if he chooses to run for office. He will be an example of perseverance and determination to the children in his classroom if he chooses to teach. Or he will tell the Noble committee of how close he came to not finishing high school if he chooses to cure cancer.

There are, of course, many moments of transition between man-child and man. What if Ricardo veers off track? What will the world have lost if this person so full of a unique blend of generosity and grit is killed or is locked up or simply drops out of school because his teenage brain failed him in the wrong moment?

His report card only tells one-third of the story. Reports cards are one dimensional that way. But life, Ricardo’s life, is dynamic. Kinetic. Three dimensional. And for him, the biggest risk of all is not fitting into the little box containing the right letter from the alphabet.

For us, the biggest risk of all is losing too many Ricardo’s because we spent too much time focused on weakness over strength.

Heather Beaven


Heather Beaven is the CEO of The Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida's Graduates, which operates Jobs for Florida's Graduates, VOiCE, Girls Get I.T. and SUPERB.

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