Healthy Family
May 4, 2022

Does The Future Of America Depend On Our School System?

SJ Barakony, from the Buckeye State, discusses the future of the school system and education in America and what needs to change.

SJ Barakony, CCO of H7 Network, is a futurist in today's world who is always looking forward. What does it look like to have a futurist view of society and what the world looks like? Well, on today's podcast we have SJ Barakony who proclaims to be a futurist who cares about the potential of what is going to happen in our world. We go over the future of the school system and education in America and what needs to change. Listen in as we discuss the future of America and how we can help save it.

SJ Barakony is an American small business founder with a boundless appreciation for people, entrepreneurship, liberty, & lifelong learning. He has ties to multiple business ventures: He started the Education Sherpa in late 2011; over the next 11 years, he's been offered a number of opportunities to partner with others, inc. the H7 Network; Econ Impact Catalyst; The Entrepreneurial Leap; Bee Konnected, & Web Strategy + / Social Media Enthusiasts. He’s a thought leader; futurist; guest blogger; super-connector; speaker; historian; & soft skills specialist.





What does it look like to have a futurist view of society and what the world looks like? Well, on today's podcast, we have SJ Barakony, who proclaims to be a futurist who cares about the potential of what will happen in our world. We navigate into the future of the school system and education in America and what needs to change. Listen in as we discuss the future of America and how we can help save it.

Does The Future Of America Depend On Our School System?

I have the guest on this episode. I got SJ Barakony from the Buckeye State. What's going on, SJ?

Lots of great things, Brett. I wanted to not pass up the opportunity to thank you so much for you and your very kind invitation to be on your show. It's very much appreciated.

No problem. We've already chatted. You're probably one of the most interesting people that I've come across in a while. We're going to get into a lot of different topics that I typically don't talk about that much. We interview successful business guys and women going beyond success and doing whatever they're doing. We're going to talk a lot about this, but you describe yourself as a futurist and super-connector. Let's talk about education and what's going on in the modern world with education and our workforce. Before I dive deep into that, let's talk about you for a second. Who is SJ Barakony?

It's an excellent question and I always appreciate it when I get that one because it aligns with something that I read many years ago. That was Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. The why someone exists and what they're delivering into the marketplace of ideas and execution. Action is very important because you can talk all day long about the what, but I think the why outranks it by a factor of at least ten if not more, and then the course the who shapes the why. There's an interplay between those two. Who am I?

I am someone who is very concerned about certain things in our society. Rather than being concerned and then outsourcing that to some third party, I decided to use the vehicle of entrepreneurship to become 1) Concerned, 2) Entrepreneurial, and 3) Solutions provider. I also am a believer in the root definition of what is called libertas, which when translated into modern parlance is equal to organic leadership, lifelong learning, learning as a practice day-to-day then lastly, liberty.

I want to bring all three of those to the forefront through, “What I am doing? How I am delivering it?” The who leads to those other questions. The last thing I would add to this is I am very much a champion for people who take their inherent gifts, skills, and desire to be a better version of themselves into the market, and then offer that to people who truly need what they have. We can define that as free enterprise. In free enterprise, you overlay entrepreneurship onto it and you get what I consider to be a very powerful solution and delivery method for both the present and for where we're going. I'm a champion for that. That would be how I'd wrap up that question.

I love that you're very clear. Sometimes that question honestly trips up people. They're like, “Who am I? I don't know.” You're very clear on that answer. I love Simon Sinek's book Start With Why. I've been digging into that more. I realized that some of the habits that I was doing weren't progressing me into the best version of myself that God had designed me to be. Let's talk about how you are a futurist. What is that? What's a futurist?

IDP 92 | School System
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

If you were to do a general lookup, Brett or anyone in your audience, in a lot of different search terms, you're going to get a lot of different answers. However, here's how I would define it. It is someone who has an orientation pointed towards the possibilities, potentialities, and the road ahead of us versus the road already traveled. Does that mean that if you are in a metaphorical or a physical vehicle you do not look out the rearview mirror? Of course not. There is value in looking out a rearview mirror. However, one way to look at it is that is the windshield oftentimes, if not always, bigger than the window in the back of the vehicle.

You have this big forward-looking windshield and you have possibility thinking. You have responses that are sitting out in a greenfield, or sometimes they've already been practiced in reality. These oftentimes will have the potential, there's that word again, to solve the challenges in the present. It does take some elements of courage, creativity, curiosity, and counter-intuitiveness in some cases to become and step into future issues. Within the last few years, I have taken and put on those shoes and found that they fit. I have now taken a lot of steps into that future, thereby becoming a committed futurist.

You're very clear on your definitions. I appreciate that. One thing that we talked about a little bit that you are extremely passionate about is schooling and education. You have the Education Sherpa, which you designed. We can dive into that a little bit, but I want to dive into your opinions on school, education, how we do both school, and how we learn in education. Take us on what is your opinion on how we do learning in school?

That is a very multifaceted question and I will do my best to unravel it here. It'll probably be about 3 or 4 pieces in the end only because of time. This is the topic you can literally build an entire conference around. I'm glad to hit it at a somewhat higher level because it is indeed very important to me and it should be important to everyone in your audience, in my network, and obviously all the ripples beyond them. Here's the way I look at it.

First of all, probably somewhere between 10% and 20% of the people who are in the current superstructure and system are the ones who truly are true believers in it. Since it is the status quo, it does represent mostly the past as well as a chunk of the present, definitely not the future of education. They are also known in some modalities as laggards. They will stick with what they know until what they know almost literally disappears.

To those people, especially if they happen to be in your audience, I am not being critical. I'm not condemning you but I am framing it that with any other thing that has happened throughout human history, there's always roughly 10% to 20% that stick with what they know until what they know is almost completely past them, then they finally will jump to whatever it is that is now current.

To the rest of you, all the 80% to 90%, some of you are like me. You sit in that visionary chair. You sit in that chair of being a creator, builder, and innovator. Some of you are early adopters and you will capture in a bottle the lightning that we are creating in our laboratories of entrepreneurship. Some of you will eventually pick up on it once you get some basic questions answered and maybe you drop a little bit of your skepticism, which is inherent in the human condition.

The first part of my answer is to put a little framing around the people because sometimes people get awfully defensive when they hear about things like this because they're thinking, “I'm being attacked.” It's the system. It is the structure. That's where I put all my emphasis on. The first thing I say about that then is the way we are delivering what most people call education but isn't is not working for about the same percentage of people who are not the laggards. It's not working because it's mediocre. Average at best, in some cases, it's outright not working.

80% to 90% of people in classrooms are getting that result, but if the water is a certain temperature, color, and tastes a certain way, you don't know any better. You're the fish. You're swimming in it. Unless you're introduced to a different fishbowl, a tank, or the wide open ocean, you don't know any better. The first thing is framing the rest of the populace. Then the next piece is I believe there are four status quo forces that are holding back the dam. They're basically serving as the dam that's holding back the rest of the innovation and ingenuity.

That would be the existing system because it doesn't know any better. Number two is the political class because they usually use it as a vote-buying mechanism like, “We will deliver X,” and they never deliver it, but they get your vote and then they move on to the next election. The third is conventional corporations because conventional corporations enjoy the existing system because there are forebearers. The original corporations as they rose, especially in the 19th Century, in the Robber baron era, literally had a seat at the table with the academic elites and designed this system. All these generations later, corporations still are fully bought into what's already there.

Lastly, the media. The media has very little interest in solving anything. They love to create problem identification and problem amplification. They rarely, if ever, play in the sandbox of solutions. The next piece to understand is who is holding it back. Next is to understand that education, credentialism, and schooling are not to be considered the same. Schooling is an attempt to push things into people. Education is meant to draw out what's already there.

You already have a gift inside of you. You have skills that are more inherent to you than your neighbor, brother, cousin, etc. That's what education is when you properly define it. Schooling pushes in. It's equivalent in the business world to interruption marketing. Education in the business world is equivalent to permission-based marketing where you seek the permission of the person to offer you something that will help you.

Credentialism sits in the middle and basically says, “We are going to give you a piece of paper if you do a certain amount of seat-based time for a certain amount of dollars, which are oftentimes grossly inflated because of the third-party payer problem because we got too many third parties in the middle of the free enterprise transaction.” Until we nicely kick them out and have a true free enterprise transaction, we are going to get way too much credentialism and not enough education.

The last piece of this is to look at the fact that we need to unleash grassroots entrepreneurial energy into the system. That can come in many different forms. It could be parents forming their own school or grandparents saying, “The parents are working. They truly can't create the time, but here we are. We have a lot of life experience. Let us home-educate. Let us take some of our wealth that maybe we saved up because we were a better class of people in terms of understanding savings over consumption. Let's go off and hire a teacher who does not like the existing system. Let's create a learning pod,” or let's go off and say that we are going to vote with our feet or wallets and we're going to go to a state that has a more free enterprise where we've kicked out most of the third parties if not all of them.

IDP 92 | School System
School System: We need to unleash grassroots entrepreneurial energy into the system.

One of the states right now that's leading the way is the state of Arizona. It’s a very free enterprise state when it comes to the delivery methods. That would be my four parts building upon the main foundation that I started with. I know there's a lot of meat on this bone. Hopefully, I was able to give you some structuring.

It sounds like you don't agree with the current system. Even before you said it's the same system that we've been using for years. Our grandparents and great-grandparents, had the same type of system sitting in the class getting the information, but you're also the futurist. Let's trans transition to that. Let's talk about here's where we're at and what you see for the future of schooling and education with our kids and maybe our kids' kids.

This is where you take what I mentioned earlier the challenge and response continuum. That's where the futurist lies. They truly believe he or has a response to the challenges of nowadays, or in this case the challenges that have carried over from the past because we're using hundreds of years old systems. There are a lot of possibilities here and potentialities. I'll share some of them. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I also don't believe in feeding people with a fire hose, especially if they might be reading some of this for the first time. Remember, you have these four very strong status quo elements that are going to do whatever they can to hold back where we should be already. We should be certainly much farther than we are now.

Kudos to all the innovators who have cracked through as many ways through the dam as they can because it's like plugging holes in it with a finger. Eventually, it's going to crack. Some possibilities. First, we're going to continue to decentralize the delivery. When you decentralize, you take these centralized, highly bureaucratic hierarchical delivery models, which tend to be physical. They tend to have multiple buildings, lots of different layers, and lots of people that are directly involved in the client customer versus the person delivering the instruction and you need to disperse them. 80% to 90% of these people are quality good people and it's the rest of them that are holding on for dear life to what they understand. They also tend to be very cynical.

The first thing is we're going to continue to decentralize, more micro-schools, cooperatives, and learning pods. Even some of the more conventional private options out there like your faith-based schools, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and such. You will see some influx into them as well. I'm not so much sold on the secular private model as much as I am on the faith-based private because I think there's enough of a movement into what some might call the 3rd or 4th-grade awakening to see some people say, “I'm going to a church. I'm going to a synagogue. There's a school attached to it. Why don't I have my own kids in it?” That kind of thinking. You'll see some of the more old-guard solutions beat and have a fresh look at them.

You're also going to have a lot more of these new models. Next, we need to disconnect the remaining chains that are connecting most families and households and buy extension businesses and other stakeholders to the geographical construct of the late 1800 system that is still predominant. What I mean by that is we need to have the dollars follow the household, family, student, and not the entrenched system.

For anyone who might be in the state of Arizona, please applaud your elected officials because they had to beat back those four pillars and say, “We are going to create a truly liberty-based model free enterprise where we're going to eliminate as many of those third-party actors as possible.” I think we're going to see more states follow the Arizona model and we're going to decouple that geographical anchor that says, “You have to go to this district to play sports. You have to go to this district to get this delivered.”

One of the very first steps, even if you don't go all the way to Arizona, is you can say that it's open enrollment. In other words, you could send your kid to a district 50 miles away as long as you're willing to get him or her there. A very simple step is opening the enrollment and saying, “We're not going to force you to attend the school around the corner.” The next step is we have to decouple the geographical chain that anchors it.

Third, we're going to see an unbundling for older kids and adults. We're going to see an unbundling of the conventional credentialism into what are called nano and micro-credentials. There's also a term called digital badging. For someone who is looking for conventional employment, let alone if they want to build up their LinkedIn profile as an entrepreneur, all they need to do is say, “I've pursued some skills-based brushing up of something. I've learned a brand new skill. I have a little badge.” Especially if you use the blockchain in a smart contract to represent it, you can eliminate some of the fraud and such that have sunk a lot of for-profit institutions in the past.

Here's the thing. It's not about credentialism that matters. It's what was delivered. If there is a piece of paper, it should be something that is based upon real-world life readiness versus something to boost up a piece of paper that in the end will not have as much value. Make the paper meaningful is what I'm saying. One last thing in the future I could point to because there's a lot more I can get into, but we'll keep it higher level is we want to integrate a couple of things that the conventional classrooms nowadays literally failed to cover all.

Number one, we need to integrate soft life interpersonal people skills that need to be de facto. There's a lot of them. I created a package when I was working with a startup, for example, and I came up with almost 50 of those skills. It’s very subjective. You might come up with less, with more, but we need to be delivering these as a part of true education. Lastly, we need to interweave the future of work, which is heavily based on an independent workforce model. We need to weave that into our classrooms so that when people come out, they are prepared for it. Not prepared for a 1950s model of W-2 employment, but a 2020 and 2030s model of where you are going to be seeking work and not a job. Those are some thoughts that I'll share with your audience.

It sounds awesome. Number one, the decentralizing, I'm with you, not just in schooling but in other areas too. I've been talking to a lot of people because I'm one of the people that do go to church and that's another thing that we've been talking about. It's the same type of little bit of a system of the big buildings and that's a lot where the money goes into that. That's a different topic on a different day. The future of school in your opinion is going to look a lot different.

We've already seen some of that with the pandemic. It has shaken things up a little bit. Let's talk about after school because of your other passion and as a futurist love talking about it. You've touched on the workforce the work development, not getting the job more entrepreneurial. Talk about this a little bit, schooling, and then how it relates to, “Now you're out of school. Get these skills and credentials into the workforce.” What do you think the workforce is going to look like in 2030 or 2040? Talk to us about that.

There are a lot of exciting possibilities and potentiality here as well. They play in the same Venn Diagram. Here are some thoughts in this space. I mentioned it but it's worth repeating because if in your audience, there are people who may have never heard this or maybe they were skeptical or cynical, I implore you to be open-minded about this. Do not allow fear to be your driver.

IDP 92 | School System
School System: Be open-minded. Do not allow fear to be your driver.

You are hearing some stuff out there and some of it is because of those four boat anchors that are holding back education, but in many respects are also holding back work AKA commerce. Make sure you do your best to filter what you're listening to because what you put into this brain, which is essentially a $1 trillion piece of real estate is very important. Keep as many of the cynics and the unhealthy skeptics out. Use an Airbnb model. Lock them out and don't let them in because Airbnb banned parties. You don't want a party of cynics and unhealthy skeptics in your head.

First, the decentralization of the delivery of commerce, meaning you're going to be paid for something to provide something. What you provide might be a service, product, or something that doesn't get enough attention. I do mention as much as I can. You can be paid and monetized with specialized knowledge that can add value to society. Knowledge is an intangible. For those in the audience who are more accounting-bookkeeping-based, you might have heard of intangibles, goodwill and gaps.

Goodwill and gap would be the equivalent of monetizing specialized knowledge as someone in the future of work. It's already done now, even in the present. It's not recognized enough because too many people have an industrial-age lens. Scrap the industrial age. Please move on from it. It did its job. It took a country that was heavily agricultural and brought it into a new era, but that era has now passed and we need to let it go. The first thing is decentralization.

The number two following closely is to let go of the industrial age. If you don't know what that means, you and I in the audience can talk about that separately because there are a lot of moving pieces in that. It's those four main actors that are propping up the industrial age. Another thing in the future is you're not going to be looking for a job. You're going to be looking for work. Work has been improperly defined as, “I am going to work. I am at work.”

Work should not be defined as a place. Work should be defined as a unit of what you are pursuing in order to be compensated. The unit is not a job anymore. The unit is work. Work can come in many forms. A project, but defined with the beginning and end. A gig, you're delivering something maybe in an Amazon vehicle or something. It could be defined as a freelance engagement or a temporary position where you're filling in for someone who is pursuing paternity or maternity leave, for example. It could be defined as being a solopreneur self-employed or paid intern. In other words, the future is not a job as the unit. It's work. Redefine and be careful how you are using the word work.

It is not a place. It is a unit of commerce and transaction between two parties. Another thing to keep in mind in the future is we are moving towards a skill-based model versus so-called experience. Resumes are slow but surely going to become obsolete. You should be focusing on what skills you bring to the table rather than a bunch of keywords and buzzwords that don't have a whole lot of value on either side of the transaction. Resumes are a wonderful flashing thing. They flash like neon. The neon burns out, and then you have a result that neither party likes. Usually, the person hired is not who they were supposed to be and then the place that you sit thought was going to be this place is not what they represented themselves as.

We need to eliminate that and focus on skills and on what you're bringing to the table rather than a bunch of buzzing keywords and papers that in the end game are not as meaningful as they should be. Lastly, you need to have a much better understanding of the future of work, of entrepreneurialism. Not saying you have to pursue it, but you need to embrace what it is and stop falling into a lot of this class warfare that seems to never go away.

There shouldn't be warfare among classes as long as you offer people opportunities. Opportunity comes in many forms, but one of the ways opportunity comes is when you offer true education and you offer meaningful work. There's the key. When either or both of those are absent, people start to get envious and jealous. They get greedy and they start to make assumptions, create strawman arguments, and all this other stuff that does no good because debate and argument rarely go anywhere.

We need to eliminate that and understand that free enterprise is a great thing, but it's when you start involving third parties, stop offering opportunities and deliver inferior schooling and such. That's when this stuff starts to bubble to the surface. We need to eliminate that in the future and we have a lot of possibilities there. A lot of things going on in my answer, but hopefully, it frames a little better for you and your audience.

I love your answers and I love making me think honestly. You can take one of these topics and dig in and do a whole series on one of these different things. Unfortunately, we're about out of time and I know we dug into just scratch the surface of what you are all about and what you are guiding people into. I want to give you an opportunity to share. You have the Education Sherpa.

You are teaching people about this and it sounds like you're starting and creating a movement into the future and getting people to become aware. One of the first things is to become aware. The second step is to cleanse ourselves of these ideas that we've been living and ingrained for long before we can tackle what you're talking about. If someone is interested in what you're offering and if they want more of this, how can you help them?

Thank you for the opportunity. It does take the form of saying, “Now you're listening, thinking, and allowing your heart, spirit, and soul to be open like you summed up very well, but now there's action to be taken.” It doesn't mean that we have to do instant gratification action, but we need to take steps forward. I'm going to paraphrase from one of my other favorite movies. It's a whole series in Creed II. Rocky Balboa had already become the mentor for Adonis Creed. He said something to Adonis in that movie that has stuck with me. He basically said, and I'm paraphrasing it, I'm not reading off of anything in the background, “One step forward.” Feel free to watch the movie or look up the full phrase for the rest of it.

IDP 92 | School System
School System: Now there's action to take. It doesn't mean that we have to do instant gratification action, but we need to take steps forward.

That's what you need to do here. How do you do that with me? First of all, I am one of the others who would identify as a future work people, education and generally. I don't claim I have the franchise on this but I do believe that I am called. It's a vocation for me. An occupation is Ocupar, which means to take up space and time and a vocation is vocare, which means to be called to do something. It's a higher plane. For me, this is a vocation.

First of all, I would encourage you to look in the mirror and say, “Are you in an occupation or a vocation?” If you're in occupation, trust me, I was there in the past. In other podcast appearances, I've discussed that at length. That's the first thing. How would you contact me? If you look up my name, you'll see other podcast appearances. Feel free to listen. Watch some of those and get a better sense of who I am before you even reach out if you wish. Secondly, pop my name into LinkedIn and connect with me. Send me a message and say, “I tuned in to your episode. I somehow tapped into Brett's show. I liked what you said. I would love to get to know you better.” I literally live on LinkedIn.

Third, Instagram is the other platform that I've chosen to stick with from the legacy options. You won't find my name easily, but you will find @TheEducationSherpa. Those would be two ways legacy social media. Another way is to book a little bit of time with me so we get to know each other. An email using a scheduler works very well. Those would probably be the best ways at this stage.

Down the line, who knows a phone call might be of value too because I'm a Gen X-er and I do still talk on the phone. I do not use one of those smart devices for data only. I'm the bridge generation. We don't hear a lot about Gen X-ers. You hear a lot about the Boomers all the time, which is fantastic. You hear about the Millennials constantly. You're now hearing a lot about the Zoomers, but the X-ers are that hidden generation.

I'm a Gen X too.

I am the bridge and it sounds like you are as well. We can talk and do data on these things. I'm not opposed to talking on the phone as well. Those are the ways to reach out. I look forward to seeing how I can be of value to anyone because at minimum, if I'm not the answer for you, I am a known super connector so I can easily find someone else to connect you to if it's not me as the best answer in a free enterprise world. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share all that.

I would encourage you to read this again. Tune in to some blogs that SJ has been on. Look at what he's doing with the Education Sherpa. Start to take maybe one step. That's how you grow consistently 1% forward each day, each week. This is very fascinating. Most business guys, we do our show for a lot of business people and we always want to be at that ground level and that movement. We always want to be part of something and make a difference. It could be something. I appreciate you, SJ, for being on the show. God bless you.

Thank you very much. Many blessings to you, your family, and your audience. I am most grateful for the opportunity.

Thank you. See you.

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