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Dilbert Creator Calls for Real Education
by Grant Zimmerman

Last April I read an article in the Saturday/Sunday edition of the Wall Street Journal. The headline captured my attention, as is usually the case with the WSJ, but this time I did a triple take when a couple of Dilbert® looking cartoon characters ate up a full half page of the newspaper. Not only did the artwork appear to take up more space than the article, but it rested on top of the title—“How to Get a Real Education,” (Wall Street Journal, April, 9-10, 2011). Curious I was.Scott Adams and Dilbert
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert® comic strip, wanted to be a banker but ended up, “with negligible art talent,” drawing cartoons.  How did his experiences with higher education differ from his friends and colleagues?
He lauds the accomplishments of scholars, scientists, engineers, experts in classical literature, and those who hold and maintain positions in civilization that helps us move forward.  He questions, however, the need to force “B students” to sit through the same classes when the authenticity of “brainy” learning comes into question. According to Mr. Adams, we should teach entrepreneurial skills to those students more interested in the practical than the theoretical.
I offer an extension to his proposal. Teach all students to think. I mean go way beyond the critical thinking worksheets of a few years ago and teach students the sub-set of skills needed to think-- reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Students learn and practice these skills during focused Paideia (Socratic) seminars and producing authentic products. Let’s add Mr. Adams’ declarations to the list of reasons detailing the egregious curriculum behaviors dedicated to keeping our students in the under-world of lower leveling thinking skills.
 Use learning vehicles that accomplish both the “brainy” and the “entrepreneurial.” Studying and thinking about Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,”, teach students entrepreneurial skills while working on the “brainy” skills. Provide the authentic learning environment that makes students think. Engage students in an intellectual dialogue about the economic and entrepreneurial ideas and values via Seminars using chapters or excerpts from “Wealth of Nations.” The learning unit also structures lessons so students learn the skills needed to plan, open, and manage a business that markets a product or service. This is getting a real education.
Granted, from the ideas in the article, Mr. Scott references his college days and not his earlier public school experiences. He learned more by accepting leadership responsibilities at a couple of campus businesses than he ever would have in a traditional college classroom. His experience makes us understand how he failed as a banker and became an entrepreneur.
Mr. Scotts Seven Ideas for Success
Combine Skills--Learn many skills to make yourself valuable. Becoming really good at one skill is not enough.
Fail Forward--I love this idea. Don’t ignore your mistakes and use the skills learned in activities or careers in which you failed.
Find the Action--Discover where innovation is happening. Go there.
Attract Luck--Luck will find you when you are doing something. Athletes embrace this concept.
Conquer Fear--“Replace fear and shyness with enthusiasm.”
Write Simply--Use strong nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.
Learn Persuasion--Two year olds badger. Civilized people learn the arts of psychology, sales, marketing, negotiating, statistics, and others to persuade.
Mr. Adams does not need to persuade me. I know authentic learning makes students smarter. I have written the units, managed the process, assessed the product, and watched other teachers smile when there students get it.
Grant Zimmerman is the Senior Education Consultant with Knowledge Network Solutions—Leaders in Technology Integration in Schools. Grant is also on the faculty of The National Paideia Center at the University of North Carolina. He leads educators in Professional Development sessions on the Paideia Seminar, the Paideia Project, and Technology Integration. You can reach Grant at or at