"What is school for?"

Photo by  Jonas Jacobsson  on  Unsplash

The first thing I read every morning is Seth Godin's daily blog post.

On the surface, Godin is a marketing guru. Beneath the surface, Godin is a genius at creating change.

And learning is, if nothing else, the art of creating change.

Godin has a new podcast, Akimbo, whose episodes do a wonderful job of approximating his live workshop riffs. At the end of Akimbo Episode 4 ("No such thing as writer's block") he fields this question:

Q: How might a large organization like a public school district scale up efforts to make the system fit its students?

Here is Godin's response:

You know, this is a great question, and the idea is how do we use the bureaucracy we've got now--the efficient powerful bureaucracy--to make "school" what it needs to be, which is personalized and individualized education about leadership, about making change happen.

Well, if we think about it a little differently, you'll see the problem.

Let's say you ran a really efficient division of the army: the division of the army that shaves the heads of all the people on their way into Boot Camp. On a good day, you can shorn 400 people, no problem. Well, that's super efficient and I understand how you would organize a squadron of barbers to end up with 400 haircuts done in no time.

However, if you’re then going to take that approach to try to build a chain of beauty parlors and hair salons, you're going to fail. And the reason you’re going to fail is not because you're bad at shaving the heads of 20 year olds. The reason you’re gonna fail is because that's not what the public needs or wants from you.

And so the wrong answer would be, "Here’s how you take the old squadron you got, that was good at the old job, and turn them into people who are good at the new job."

The right answer would be, "What’s the new job? Let’s build something around that."

So the challenge of adjusting the bureaucracy of school is there can be no effortless, easy, top-down solution to this problem. This problem is going to be solved a different way. It’s going to be solved by parents asking a simple question:

 "What is school for?"

And if we can be clear with each other about "What is school for?" we will no longer tolerate wasting time and money doing things that school isn’t for.

And organically, with a lot of dislocation and pain and suffering and discomfort--but yes, organically, day by day, classroom by classroom, student by student--the school system will begin to change.

But it will only begin to happen when we ask the question:

What is school for?

I could write several blog posts unpacking the wisdom here, but I'll highlight only one thing:

The answer is actually a question.

When was the last time you asked that question--"What is school for?"


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Christian Talbot