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Bill Drayton

In elementary school I could not imagine why I was being tortured by Latin or Math, and my perception of soccer was chiefly that of being a crashee.

But I loved starting things, especially newspapers. Once I had saved enough to buy a mimeograph machine (the prior technology being typing hard with as many carbon copy sheets as possible), I was unstoppable.

The logic of producing what became a 32- and then 50-page newspaper with writers and circulation well beyond my school was also irresistible. I had to go out and get advertisements, and I had to organize peers in many places.  All this was obvious to me, but it meant not always being where I was supposed to be.

Many years later when my mother died I found correspondence with the principal of my school. My mother was more than a little worried. (Why is my fifth grader neither in school or at home?)  However, the principal patiently and ultimately successfully argued that everyone should trust me. In fact, he advised: “Don’t even show that you are anxious.”

Bless him!

Once a young person has had a dream, built a team, and changed his or her world, he or she has the power to express love and respect in action–the heart of what brings health, longevity, and happiness.

He or she will be a changemaker for life. Which is to say s/he will be a real contributor in a world where value increasingly comes from changemaking and not, as it has for millennia, from efficiency in repetition. It is no accident that over 80 percent of the 3,000 Ashoka leading social entrepreneurs (over half have changed national policy within five years of launch) Fellows started something in their teens, usually early teens.

I and Ashoka believe that the education reform discussion has long largely missed the boat. It is focused chiefly on access to schools driven by an outdated set of objectives, mastering a body of knowledge and a set of rules. That makes sense in a static world.  But not in one defined by accelerating change.

Now we must ensure that all of this generation of young people are changemakers before they turn 21. That means that they must master the core changemaking skills–empathy/teamwork/new leadership/changemaking.

The only way they can is by practicing and practicing, by in fact being changemakers.

How many principals today know that they are on this very different playing field?

This article was originally published on 1 May 2017
Related TopicsChildren & Youth Education / Learning Youth development Youth leadership Civic Engagement Journalism


As a student, he founded organizations ranging from Yale Legislative Services to Harvard’s Ashoka Table, an inter-disciplinary weekly forum in the social sciences. He launched Ashoka in 1981. He used the stipend received when elected a MacArthur Fellow in 1984 to devote himself fully to Ashoka. In 2005, he was selected one of America’s Best Leaders by US News & World Report and Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. Other awards include the Yale Law School’s highest alumni honor, the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Achievement Award International; and the National Academy of Public Administration National Public Service Award. As one of three members of the Leadership Team, his special responsibilities are leadership of the new group entrepreneurship and social financial services programs as well as staff search and marketing functions.

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