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Creating vs. Borrowing Credibility: Accelerating Education Towards a Tipping Point

I first heard the phrase creating versus borrowing credibility before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed life as we know it. The concept of creating credibility was very familiar to me as it’s at the heart of what students at Pathways High are doing everyday as they tap their talents and passions and unleash their potential. Creating one’s own credibility is disruptive to the conventional education model that historically has relied on proxies and borrowing credibility from institutions. Interestingly, the current environment amplifies the potential to accelerate the disruption, creating opportunities for more learners everywhere -- an exciting prospect for our country and the world!

What does it mean to create your credibility and why is borrowing credibility no longer sufficient for achieving long-term success and fulfillment? My inspiration for this blog post came from Eric Koester whose Creator Institute helps students convert their passions into books they author. The Institute’s bSchool (Book School) program asks students, “What is your purpose and how can you demonstrate it to others?” Koester’s idea originated from studying each of the Forbes 30 under 30 alumni since 2011, a total of 3,400 people, and finding that “more than 85% of these highly successful individuals created something -- a book, a podcast, a video series, a conference” -- which demonstrated their expertise. A creative work product, whether appreciated on-line, at a brick-and-mortar store, in a theater, or at a public exhibition, in the case of Pathways High, is tangible evidence of a person’s capabilities. Furthermore, a work product, especially one conceived and executed in the context of a real world problem, provides a much richer perspective on a person’s skills and competencies than merely an association with a prestigious institution (borrowed credibility.)

To illustrate this point, the following are examples of work products created by Pathways High students and the credibility they earned as a result of their creations.

  • Micah, a sophomore, leveraged his and fellow students’ passion for social justice to research, interview experts, and create a podcast about the negative impact of the use of Native American mascots by local and national sports teams. The work of Micah and his peers was recognized by author and Fulbright Research Fellow, Jason Edward Black. After being interviewed by the students, Black told them, “Y’all have done a fantastic job. These were super sophisticated questions....there’s a lot of good critical thinking going on here...This is probably one of the best interviews I’ve done.”

  • As a freshman, Sophie discovered her passion and talent for theater stage management. She embraced being the lead student stage manager working alongside a professional stage manager at Milwaukee Repertory’s Stiemke Theater for Pathways High’s first theater production. The veteran professional stage manager provided Sophie with the highest praise and endorsement of credibility when he said she demonstrated more skill and natural ability than most professional stage managers he had worked with. Sophie has continued to hone her skills and develop her credibility by stage managing two more Pathways High productions, earning additional accolades from seasoned theater professionals.

  • Kobe, a junior and talented visual artist and avid cyclist, has produced inspiring chalk art around Milwaukee, built his own website to showcase and sell his artwork, and is pursuing a passion project that includes a 3D art experience inside a sphere. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Kobe’s talents were recognized by Sandra Walling, Visual Arts Coordinator, at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center and Kobe’s artwork is planned to be exhibited at the Wilson Center in the coming months.

  • Saida and Amiya’s desire to help abused and neglected children which was sparked during their Global Citizenship seminar, led them to co-found a business, Artisanal Delights, and donate 50% of the profits to Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA.) Artisanal Delights was the only high school student-led business at the grand opening of the UW-Milwaukee Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and caught the eye of many local entrepreneurs and UWM faculty. Listen to them as they discuss how they believe the structure of Pathways H for student led businesses to develop, what they enjoy most about the school, and what the future of Artisanal Delights may be.

There’s no doubt these students are creating their credibility, but what can be learned from their experiences that could benefit others? Also, what in our current environment is facilitating the creation and demonstration of credibility for everyone?

Creating vs. Borrowing Networks

Networks and productive collisions are powerful means to open doors to opportunities. It is precisely the importance of networks that led the Pathways High founders to develop the IMPACT Program, providing students with a minimum of twelve real world productive collisions per year. The examples above highlight these productive collisions. In many cases, Pathways High students are sourcing their own networks through independent research and guidance from teachers. The students continue to grow their networks and credibility by sharing and engaging the new connections in their work/projects.

But, what about borrowed networks? The quest for access to extensive alumni networks via matriculation at elite universities across the country will likely continue unfettered for the foreseeable future, especially among those who can afford the large and rapidly growing tuition costs. There is nothing inherently wrong with borrowed networks, except they can be expensive. The good news is borrowed networks are not the only option, or even the best option, available. Students with initiative and a passion for a topic are successfully creating their own networks of expert resources and thought leaders. In turn, the created networks and credibility provide these students with an advantage when pursuing post-secondary education options and careers. They have more than a test score or a grade. They have tangible evidence of the quality work they’ve produced.

Changes Supporting the Creation and Demonstration of Credibility

The other day my 17 year old son told me that he and a friend from school recorded and produced an original song using Logic Pro, an Apple digital audio workstation included in the Apple Ed bundle of five applications totaling $235. He then showed me the YouTube recording where producer Warren “Oak” Felder describes in detail how he and singer Demi Lovato made “Sorry Not Sorry” from royalty-free samples and another video called Diary of a Song about the making of the song “The Middle” with collaborations across the globe. It was fascinating! Even though I knew that everything anyone could possibly want to know is on YouTube and technology is making everything faster, cheaper, and of higher quality, I was still surprised by the professional quality of the songs produced by my son and his friend. What used to require someone to source and travel to a professional sound studio, typically at significant expense, can now be accomplished in your home for $235 and $15/month for a DistroKid subscription to manage your uploads to Spotify.

The same principle applies to podcasting, book publishing, video production, software app development, and other work products. Barriers to creating and disseminating professional quality products that demonstrate an individual’s credibility are falling at a rapid rate.

Furthermore, as my son found, access to experts and research via the Internet is easier than ever. Also, students in Koester’s bSchool found that when contacted, well-known thought leaders and industry celebrities were willing to be interviewed for the students’ books.

Finally, I believe the current environment provides students with a unique opportunity to explore and create work products that demonstrate their credibility. Time is the one commodity that many of us, with the notable exception of essential workers, have right now. Experts and thought leaders are unlikely to be traveling and likely to have time and a greater willingness to connect with others who share their passions. The ambiguity and fluidity of our current situation actually amplifies the opportunity for students to virtually connect and learn from anyone they choose, accelerating the disruption to our conventional ways of gaining credibility. In this time of unimagined disruption, Pathways High learners are finding their purpose and boldly demonstrating it to others.

Will you join us?


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