Written by Dave Seibel | 4.21.20
This post is the eleventh in Project Legacy, a series of interviews that aim to learn from leaders outside of education to influence those inside education. You can see more of this series on our blog.
Ron Brumbarger is a 30-year entrepreneur with a vast spectrum of experience, ranging from founding Bitwise Solutions to authoring the book You’re Always Being Interviewed. Bitwise Solutions pioneered professional-grade website solutions to corporations worldwide from 1994 until its sale in 2018. As one of the most respected technology/professional services firms in the Midwest, Bitwise employed hundreds, served 1,500 clients, and successfully delivered 3,400 engagements over 24 years.
Nowadays, you can find Ron running the higher education institute he founded in Brownsburg, Apprentice University. Although Project Legacy focuses on folks who work outside of education, Ron Brumbarger merited an exception because of his entrepreneurial bent and his passion for innovation and design. So here are two lessons from Ron Brumbarger for educators today.
#1: Don’t let schooling get in the way of learning
From the very beginning of his learning journey, Mr. Brumbarger found that discovering (learning) new ideas and skills was joyful. He told this story:
“My librarian in grade school was a wonderful woman. She knew I was interested in coins and science, so she was always finding things on coins and science and giving them to me.”
The school librarian infected young Ron with a passion to continue onward and upward in his learning journey.
In his middle school years, his pastor and principal, Oren Rechtor, gave Ron a sense of the importance of living a life of faith. He prayed with students and had a clear love for them and their families. And in high school, Nancy Miller, who ran the tech side of the little school library, asked Ron to help with one of the first Apple 2E Computers. “It was at this point,” Ron said, “that I got really into technology. That season was a turning point.”
Through the two librarians and the pastor/principal at the school, you see the seeds of an entrepreneurial spirit planted. It was clear in speaking with Ron that he could vividly remember the contributions of these caring adults in his life.
The process and bureaucracy of schooling can hinder learning for some students.
At Apprentice University, Ron places a great emphasis on ‘education unrestricted’ and ‘learning without boundaries.’ When you look at some of these initial learning moments in Ron’s life, you can see how a few caring adults gave Mr. Brumbarger a greater sense of joy in discovery, a desire for mastering certain skills and a vision to accomplish more.
Unfortunately, the process and bureaucracy of schooling can hinder learning for some students. Effective administrators must keep this in mind as they make decisions that will affect an entire generation of students. Parents must keep this in mind as they make educational decisions for their children. And teachers must keep this in mind as they write plans, grade assignments, and run their classes. School should promote learning, not hinder it!
#2: If you are not growing, you’re dying
Throughout our interview, Ron repeated that schools must “reimagine what they are doing.” According to Ron, many of the practices that worked a generation ago have become irrelevant and ineffective. ‘The students are different, the tools are different, the technology is different. We must adapt.”
As a classical educational leader, this type of communication made me a little uncomfortable because, on the surface, it appears to throw out what is timeless, the true, good, and beautiful. however, Mr. Brumbarger is very familiar with classical education and has a high view for carrying forth into the future what has worked from the past. He is interested in preserving the message but promoting innovative methods.
Ron has shown me that the Great Conversation should be done in a community with great mentors, great tools, & great partners.
When I interviewed Ron, COVID-19 had just become a thing. Now that I spend the majority of my time behind a computer in Zoom meetings, his words about reimagining and innovation are sticking with greater adhesion!
So what can we learn here? Technology is a useful tool that helps us solve people’s problems. Although tools should never replace the people that hold them when it comes to education, technology may hold a greater place of prominence than many of us in the Classical camp would like to admit. The Great Conversation is the ongoing process where today’s students refine and innovate upon the great minds of the past. Ultimately, Ron has shown me that this should be done in a community with great mentors, great tools, and great partners. In his words, “Theory and practice must go together.”
Ron is a serial entrepreneur, author, and education disrupted. Founder and President of Apprentice University in Brownsburg, Ron has started numerous businesses, virtual charter schools, and private education organizations. He is also a frequent speaker on innovation, entrepreneurship, and mentoring. Ron and his wife Cindy celebrated their 25th anniversary in May 2017 and have raised two young men, Tanner and Hudson. They enjoy spending their family time touring the country in their motorhome.