In case you haven’t seen it, Seth Godin recently released a 30,000 word manifesto on school. Educators have been discussing these issues for years, but Seth has an uncanny ability to present ideas in a fresh, compelling way.
The manifesto — available free online in a number of formats — is engaging and thought-provoking. Anyone with a stake in our education system (i.e. everyone) should give it a read.
I’m about a third of the way through it and wanted to highlight a few passages I found particularly challenging. I plan to post additional excepts from the latter half of the manifesto in separate posts.
(I’ve edited many of these excerpts for length. Please refer to the original source for the full quotes. The numbers accompanying each excerpt refer to the section number.)
School reform cannot succeed if it focuses on getting schools to do a better job of what we previously asked them to do. We don’t need more of what schools produce when they’re working as designed. (#6)
On the industrial solution:
Now that we’ve built an industrial solution to teaching in bulk, we’ve seduced ourselves into believing that the only thing that can be taught is the way to get high SAT scores.
We shouldn’t be buying this.
We can teach people to desire lifelong learning, to express themselves, and to innovate. (#12)
On moving beyond factory workers:
It’s easier than ever to open a school, to bring new technology into school, and to change how we teach. But if all we do with these tools is teach compliance and consumption, that’s all we’re going to get. School can and must do more than train the factory workers of tomorrow. (#17)
On restless leadership:
That’s the new job of school. Not to hand a map to those willing to follow it, but to inculcate leadership and restlessness into a new generation. (#20)
School belongs to parents and their kids, the ones who are paying for it, the ones it was designed for. It belongs to the community, too, the adults who are going to be living and working beside the graduates the school churns out.
Too often, all these constituents are told to treat school like an autonomous organism, a pre-programmed automaton, too big to change and too important to mess with.
Well, the world changed first. Now it’s time for school to follow along. (#21)
On fear and passion:
There really are only two tools available to the educator. The easy one is fear. Fear is easy to awake, easy to maintain, but ultimately toxic.
The other tool is passion. A kid in love with dinosaurs or baseball or earth science is going to learn it on her own. She’s going to push hard for ever more information, and better still, master the thinking behind it.
Passion can overcome fear—the fear of losing, of failing, of being ridiculed. (#29)
On teaching doubt:
The industrial structure of school demands that we teach things for certain. Testable things. Things beyond question.
Our new civic and scientific and professional life, though, is all about doubt. About questioning the status quo, questioning marketing or political claims, and most of all, questioning what’s next.
The obligation of the new school is to teach reasonable doubt. (#31)
On getting off the hook:
Greatness is frightening. With it comes responsibility.
If you can deny your talents, if you can conceal them from others or, even better, persuade yourself that they weren’t even given to you, you’re off the hook.
If you stay on the path, do your college applications through the guidance office and your job hunting at the placement office, the future is not your fault.
That’s the refrain we hear often from frustrated job seekers, frustrated workers with stuck careers, and frustrated students in too much debt. “I did what they told me to do and now I’m stuck and it’s not my fault.”
Too many competent workers, not enough tasks. (#35)
In the industrial age, scientific management is obvious when you think about it: record how long it takes to make something, change the way you do it, see if you can do it faster or better. Repeat.
Scientific schooling uses precisely the same techniques as scientific management. Measure (test) everyone. Often. Figure out which inputs are likely to create testable outputs. If an output isn’t easily testable, ignore it.
It would be a mistake to say that scientific education doesn’t work. It does work. It creates what we test.
Unfortunately, the things we desperately need (and the things that make us happy) aren’t the same things that are easy to test. (#38)
On exceptional learning:
The industrialized, scalable, testable solution is almost never the best way to generate exceptional learning. (#43)
On the content gatekeeper:
It used to be simple: the teacher was the cop, the lecturer, the source of answers, and the gatekeeper to resources. All rolled into one.
The Internet is making the role of content gatekeeper unimportant. Redundant. Even wasteful.
If there’s information that can be written down, widespread digital access now means that just about anyone can look it up. We don’t need a human being standing next to us to lecture us on how to find the square root of a number or sharpen an axe.
What we do need is someone to persuade us that we want to learn those things, and someone to push us or encourage us or create a space where we want to learn to do them better. (#44)
Competence is the enemy of change!
Competent people resist change. Why? Because change threatens to make them less competent. And competent people like being competent. That’s who they are, and sometimes that’s all they’ve got. No wonder they’re not in a hurry to rock the boat.
If I’m going to make the investment and hire someone for more than the market rate, I want to find an incompetent worker. One who will break the rules and find me something no one else can. (#50)