Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World

Much of the focus of contemporary education reform is on helping disadvantaged kids overcome the effects of poverty. This new book, by The Global Achievement Gap author Tony Wagner, doesn’t much go there. Instead, it gives advice to parents (presumably mostly affluent ones) about how to encourage their children’s creative juices. The premise is that America needs to foster more innovation and grow more entrepreneurs—both the STEM and social varieties—to remain globally competitive. Drawing on 150 interviews (and ten case studies of young innovators), Wagner argues that play, passion, and purpose must dominate one’s growth (through childhood and into college). The book is a lively read (helped by its companion videos, which can be accessed via QR codes throughout the text). And Wagner does make some valuable points, mostly aimed at higher education as well as parents. (K-12 education acts as an understudy.) He exalts disruptive innovation, calls for abolishing “publish or perish” tenure determinations for professors, concedes that content cannot be drowned in an effort to boost process skills, and posits an interesting charter-like reboot of college education. All worthy. But Wagner sort of skirts the class issues: The majority of young people profiled in his book have prosperous, supportive, and engaged parents. (He does profile two exceptionally gifted underprivileged youth—both also living in supportive homes.) Waldorf parents, Montessori moms, and Koala dads will find much to agree with in these pages, and good counsel regarding what they might do with and for their daughters and sons. There’s less here for K-12 educators who must educate (and teach to innovate) all sorts of kids from all sorts of circumstances.

SOURCE: Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (New York, NY: Scribner, 2012).

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