Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 27th Friday: What Is School For?

“Fitting in is a short-term strategy that gets you nowhere; standing out is a long-term strategy that takes guts and produces results.” 
Seth Godin

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Seth Godin. Godin is the author of 18 books that have become bestsellers around the world. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and most of all, changing everything. Although recognized as one of the foremost marketing experts in the world, Godin also spends an enormous amount of time and energy pontificating on schools, teaching, and education in general. In fact, in 2012, he published a free ebook manifesto on the topic called, Stop Stealing Dreams. The subtitle of his manifesto reminds me of my post topic from two weeks ago, when I reflected on Berger’s idea of “Beautiful Questions.” Why? Because his subtitle is a powerful example of just such a question: What is school for?

This ebook was published in January 2012 and being a Godin fan, I downloaded and read it immediately. It made an impact then, but when I read it again this week after viewing his 16-minute TED Talk on the topic, I was once again impacted by much of what he says and believes. To be honest, I do not agree with all of Seth’s perspectives on education, but I passionately agree with much of what he says and even where we disagree, I respect that he always pushes my thinking and encourages me to consider what actions we should be taking to better fulfill our mission of engaging, inspiring, and empowering all students we serve. 

I hope you will view this video whether for the first time or again if you have already seen it. In it, he clearly states what he sees as wrong with American public education. During his talk, he also strategically shares  5 props to make several key points:

  • A hammer
  • A #2 pencil
  • A textbook
  • Blocks
  • An Arduino

An overall theme of Godin’s is that we spend too much time teaching compliance and memorization  in our schools and not enough time fostering individual exploration, passion, critical thinking, questioning, and building interesting things. Thus, his quote shared above about "standing out" versus "fitting in." He keeps prodding us to ask and answer the question, “What are schools for?” He believes that when we engage in focused, spirited conversations surrounding this beautiful question, eight things are going to happen in our schools that will change everything:

  • Homework during the day; lectures at night
  • Open books, open notes, all the time. Zero value in memorization
  • Access to courses anytime, anywhere
  • Precise, focused education instead of mass-batched education for all
  • No more multiple choice questions
  • Teachers transitioning to "coaching", rather than "teaching", roles
  • Lifelong learning with work happening earlier as part of the process
  • Death of “famous” colleges

Please take time to watch if you can; let me know what you think about these eight predictions/action steps--as well as the rest of his talk. For me, I was particularly struck by three additional observations he made and possible implications for us as educators:

  1. If it’s perceived as work, people will try to figure out how to do less of it. If it’s perceived as art, people will try to figure out how to do more of it.
  2. We are really good at measuring how many dots our kids collect, but we teach nothing about how to connect these dots.
  3. If you care enough about your work to be willing to be criticized for it, then you have done a good day’s work.

What are schools for? What an interesting (and beautiful) question to ponder for passionate educators. Continuously reflecting on our purpose and how we best fulfill it is another way we Teach with Passion!


  1. Thanks for this post. I whole-heartedly agree with schooling viewed through an art lens rather than a work lense. I love when teachers refer to their classroom as studios for this reason. It implies that something creative, purposeful, and important is taking place, and I want to - have to - be there. Like "the literacy studio" Ellin Keene describes in her book, To Understand. I also see the end of college as our generation knew it coming to a jolting end soon. Dual credit and personalized learning is making the way for a formal Early College in our school district, ultimately allowing young adults access to the work force sooner. I used to say my teachers, "universal preschool is the new Kindergarten". Now, I've added the other bookend and add, "high school is the new college". Great post!

    1. Jim,
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I love the idea of the "classroom as studio." Have an awesome week, my friend!