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Ravi’s Unconventional Journey Reveals Keys to Reach Millennials       

“School didn’t really work for me,” Ravi Hutheesing confessed to hundreds of educators during the AASA national conference’s 2nd General Session on Friday. “It was all facts and figures (and) boring.”

For someone who was to become a rock star, pilot, entrepreneur, inventor and a world traveler, boring was not an option. Hutheesing, who grew up in Greenwich, Conn., pursued his own curriculum in the world outside the classroom, letting his passion for music drive him. It was a point he drove home to educators: Learning was important to him, but it had to be relevant and engaging and deal with topics of personal interest.

As a child of 8, he became interested in music, even dreaming of becoming a rock star and performing in Madison Square Garden. In high school, he learned his craft during weekend travels to studios in New York City where he worked with professional musicians.

The personal experience of learning and performing music from pros proved transformative. During his school years, he felt disconnected and believes he would have dropped out were it not for his music teachers who persuaded him to stay in school.

“I believe the world has more to offer than any classroom,” Hutheesing told the AASA crowd in a keynote presentation titled Millennial Mojo. His family was keen on him going to college, as his older siblings had done, so they came to a compromise. He enrolled in New York University, which allowed him to continue working with the local musicians he knew and he taught guitar to others. But college also proved boring, so he asked his professors if they would teach him privately and paid for them with money he earned teaching.

“I believe the world has more to offer than any classroom,” Hutheesing said.

In 1997, his dream came true when he played with the band Hanson, a group of three teen brothers, in Madison Square Garden before a rapt audience of 30,000. That band’s “amazing” year, he put it, was marked by the sale of 50 million records, invitations to appear with David Letterman and Jay Leno, visit the White House — and a move in status from economy class to a private jet.

From those experiences, Hutheesing urged educators to make learning come alive by connecting it to students’ passions. They will respond more positively when they see that school has relevance.

“The cockpit of a plane was my best classroom,” he said because he was keenly interested in learning to fly. In the cockpit, he drew from all aspects of his education in trigonometry, geography and biology. Because he wanted to take his guitar with him when he flew, he invented a folding guitar called the Raviator, and he showed a short video Friday to illustrate how it put STEAM principals to use.

Hutheesing elaborated on the experiences and cultural values that have shaped baby boomers and millennials. Baby boomers grew up in the civil rights movement. Millennials grew up with an African American president. Millennials had thought a college education would be a path to a steady job, as it had been for boomers. But high rates or unemployment and huge college debts have left them disillusioned.

On the plus side, millennials are more global than previous generations, open-minded and fair.  Teaching them about other cultures can be positive. For example, he organized a Skype session between teens in Los Angeles and India, and after 90 minutes the kids were friends.

“They chatted away asking many questions and when conversation ran out, they showed each other dance moves,” he said.

“Education is what remains after forgetting everything one has learned,” he said. “It’s not just what we put in people’s minds. It’s what we put in their hearts — the character traits and values that we build.”

His conference presentation can be viewed at

(By Liz Griffin, senior reporter for Conference Daily Online.)

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