Tyler Cowen teaches economics at George Mason University. He has been nominated as one of the top 100 global thinkers by his peers. The Wall Street Journal opines that he may be “this decade’s Thomas Friedman.” He has written widely on subjects ranging from libertarian policies, robotic technology, high cuisine and, of course, market economies.
In September, Cowen released Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. In it, he turned his attention to education and to how leaders will be formed. In short, the new model for formation will be the “professor as impresario.” He says, “At a good teaching school, a professor is expected to run the class and, sometimes, have a small group of students over to his house for dinner. As the former function becomes less important, due to competition from online content, the latter function will predominate. The computer program cannot host a chatty, informal dinner in the same manner.”
Interestingly, Cowen argues that education is moving in this direction because of, well, laziness — “human weakness, namely the inability of most students to simply sit down and try to learn something on their own.” How else do you explain failure to learn when there are “Nobel-quality YouTube lectures” widely available? iTunes University or TEDx, anyone?
Cowen’s solution is to think of the professor as “a motivator first and foremost.” He predicts that as we think of forming new leaders, we will return to an ancient practice of face-to-face formation. What the Greeks did in the symposia and agora, the effective professor will do today. She or he will have students over for dinner, and then, around the table, will form emerging leaders through the give-and-take of conversation, inputting wisdom and experience in a transparently personal way.
So, Cowen says, “Let’s teach our professors how to motivate. Let’s judge them on that basis. Let’s treat professors more like the athletics coaches, personal therapists, and preachers, because that is what they will evolve to be.”
If Cowen is right — and I think he is — then we who imitate Jesus will have an inside track. After all, our Leader modeled a way of investing his first and best time with 12 disciples. And more time with fewer people was his vehicle for shaping leaders and changing the world.