There's a thing out there called the shadow education system. The gist of the shadow education system is that there are many people out there on the web, using its social elements, its open infrastructure, and its distribution mechanisms to serve up one-to-one, one-to-many, and even many-to-many crowdsourced content to people who want to learn and who want to teach.
It's the thing that inspired me to start my own blog, to legitmize efforts by entrepreneurs, teachers, technologists, and administrators to disrupt and re-invigorate the public education system in America.
From time to time, I interview an entrepreneur in the space. The reason I do this is to put some flesh on this shadow education system.There is a lot of pressure in traditional and mainstream education circles to pretend like it does not exist; to pretend that the only legitimate education out there is one that is stamped and approved by public education's administrative infrastructure.
I think the more we learn about the shadow system, the more we will be comfortable with the fact that future learning, or what I like to call social learning, is about helping someone deal with reality right now, as part of their education. It is the opposite of the old school way, which is preparing kids for a future that will not exist by the time they exit the system, leaving them woefully unprepared.
In other words, the shadow education system is about learning about the future now, and doing something about it.
Ben Lang, a 17-year-old serial entrepreneur, is co-founder of MySchoolHelp, an online platform that helps high-school students share class notes with their classmates; he's also founder of EpicLaunch, a blog for young entrepreneurs. Finally, in a sector where disruption is seen as an assett, it's worth noting that he was legally handslapped by The New York Times for setting up FreeNewYorkTimes.com, a site that helped users skirt the NYT paywall. Here's a brief glimpse of his story.
Douglas Crets: You call yourself a young entrepreneur at a time when most people your age would be focused on attending classes and figuring out what they want to do. What made you realize that you were an entrepreneur?
Ben Lang: When I was 14 my grandfather gave me his used camera equipment to sell on eBay. From there I started selling other people's items for a commission until it was a business. It peaked when I was interviewed on channel 12, which prompted me to create a website and start blogging.
Do you think school as it is traditionally practiced stymies your efforts to be an entrepreneur? What about your schooling so far has helped you do what you want to do in this space?
Unfortunately at my school entrepreneurship was never even mentioned. I created a website for my school to find and share notes but that was the extent of entrepreneurship within my school. There was no economics class, although there was a very unpopular programming class.
Can you tell us a little bit about MySchoolHelp and how it started, and what you want it to be?
It started with RamazHelp.com, the note-sharing site I made for my high school two years ago. The administration was very supportive and now about 70% of the school relies on the site. I most certainly would have had a weaker GPA if not for RamazHelp.com and I want others to have the same opportunity. MySchoolHelp.com is an expansion of the site; it'll be built for all high schools in America and a few other countries. Our goal is to impact as many high schools as possible within the next few years.
Many entrepreneurs struggle with getting their solutions into the hands of people who they think need those solutions in schools. What is your advice to these people?
The best solution is to see if the user you're targeting will even use your product. Luckily, I had a chance to see that over two years at my school and saw an enormous amount of engagement.
Can you close with your vision of what the future of education on the web looks like?
My vision of education on the web will be based primarily on collaboration. I believe that there's so much potential for students to help out other students on the web. That's why our goal is to create a platform for students to do so via sharing notes and hopefully even more in the future.
[Image: Flickr user Michael 1952]