“America’s Special Sauce”

Lucy FriedmanI couldn’t help but smile while reading Mike Petrilli’s commentary on the secret ingredient of American innovation this morning. Mike’s post was inspired by a recent meeting he had with a group of Japanese scholars visiting American schools, intent on discovering how America produces so many innovative leaders.

“I hope my new Japanese friends paid attention to what American kids were doing after school and on the weekends,” he writes, “because that is when our special sauce is made.”

Mike cites a range of skills that our young people develop while participating in extracurricular activities—innovative thinking, leadership and teamwork skills, competitiveness and creativity—all of which contribute to “America’s special sauce.” I would add to that list of secret ingredients: having the opportunity to discover their passions and take charge of their own learning (a theme that my colleague Saskia Traill wrote about here). The innovators that Mike lists in his post—Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg—may or may not have been introduced to technology in school, but it was the time and opportunity they had to pursue what they loved outside of the classroom that made them great.

The post also reminded of a comment one of the TASC staff members made during a company-wide outing to our ExpandED Schools earlier this year. Stela, a native of Bulgaria, was amazed to see the wealth of learning opportunities offered by community organizations after the end of the traditional school day. “This does not happen in my country,” she said when she saw kids going to the library, learning African drumming and practicing martial arts well after 3PM.

At the time, I didn’t have a catchy phrase to describe what those community educators were doing, but now I do. They’re cooking “America’s special sauce.”