Industrialized Education

“Sadly, most artists and most linchpins learn their skills and attitudes despite school, not because of it.” -Godin

Read Seth Godin’s newest book, Stop Stealing Dreams (which is free, click here.)

Personally, I hated school and loathed everything about it. I hated the early start times, the rigid schedules, the pointless homework, and the general polarized social stigma of it all. Teachers and admins included.

Looking back at those doldrum years and the way I acted I wonder why anyone put up with me. And then I remember what I was like after 2:40 PM in the afternoon.

“Education isn’t a problem until it serves as a buffer from the world and a refuge from the risk of failure.” -Godin

From 2:40 on–and often times earlier–I ran my own business. I built from nothing a respected and profitable business that I sold when I left to finish college. And to this day, I learned more by doing that then all of my schooling combined. Owning my own business–particularly at that young age–taught me more about selling myself, leading others, and thinking creatively than any pre-or-post graduate course could, or did.

If you want to know how to break any problem down to fit within a matrix, get an MBA. If you want to know how to be a better person, expand your mind, and lead–do what you’re afraid of.

I believe that the solution to the world’s problems are a more driven, educated and creative public; and it truly pains me to see the education system (particularly in the US) in the state it’s in. Almost as much as it pains me to watch parents sit idly by–focusing their efforts on banning Ben & Jerry’s Schweddy Balls ice cream instead of their school board or State mandated curriculum.

But then again, they’re just a product of the public education system.

As Godin points out, public education was created by and for the aristocratic industrialists. Their factories needed a sparsely educated mass to form the cogs in their machine. Farm work wasn’t easy–and not just any idiot can get by doing it. But the factories needed people who could read, write and do basic math. Or rather, the aristocrats needed people who spoke their language.

They needed people who could follow the instructions. The old fashion way of learning by doing simply doesn’t scale. Instead things are broken down to their most simple and ignorant form: write down the steps in a sequential order and pay people to follow them blindly.

“If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it.” -Godin

And they did a fine job–a terrific job. But things have changed. We no longer need the mass produced educated. We need leaders, creative thinkers–people who challenge the status quo.

“We don’t need more of what schools produce when they’re working as designed.” -Godin

In business everyone moves in one of two directions. Either you accept that the product or service you offer is a commodity, and you race to the bottom to do it cheaper then anyone else; or, you set yourself apart from the competition by doing it better, faster and with the added intangibles that make replicating the experience impossible. Make it more of a commodity, or less. The future–at least in the US–is to make it less.

“The question I’d ask every administrator and school board is, ‘Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?’” -Godin

Each year the rankings show the US far behind China, Japan and Germany in math and science. It shows that we are far worse at creating the homogenized patrons for our factories.

The problem is that we’re evaluating ourselves on exactly the wrong criteria. Those three countries that consistently beat us are also the leading manufacturing countries. We are no longer, and will never again be a country that can compete on manufacturing. Our future is in the knowledge worker–the jobs that don’t come with work instructions and procedures.

“Rebecca Chapman, literary editor of a new online journal called The New Inquiry, was quoted in the New York Times. ‘My whole life, I had been doing everything everybody told me. I went to the right school. I got really good grades. I got all the internships. Then, I couldn’t do anything.’ The only surprising thing about this statement is that some consider it surprising. Rebecca trained to be competent, excelling at completing the tasks set in front of her. She spent more than sixteen years at the top of the system, at the best schools, with the best resources, doing what she was told to do. Unfortunately, no one is willing to pay her to do tasks. Without a defined agenda, it’s difficult for her to find the gig she was trained for.” -Godin

There’s an entire essay within Stop Stealing Dreams that by itself should make your jaw drop, your blood boil and your chest feel empty. No editorial needed.

“In 1914, a professor in Kansas invented the multiple-choice test. Yes, it’s less than a hundred years old. There was an emergency on. World War I was ramping up, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants needed to be processed and educated, and factories were hungry for workers. The government had just made two years of high school mandatory, and we needed a temporary, high-efficiency way to sort students and quickly assign them to appropriate slots. In the words of Professor Kelly, ‘This is a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.’ A few years later, as President of the University of Idaho, Kelly disowned the idea, pointing out that it was an appropriate method to test only a tiny portion of what is actually taught and should be abandoned. The industrialists and the mass educators revolted and he was fired. The SAT, the single most important filtering device used to measure the effect of school on each individual, is based (almost without change) on Kelly’s lower-order thinking test. Still. The reason is simple. Not because it works. No, we do it because it’s the easy and efficient way to keep the mass production of students moving forward.” -Godin

So really…

“School is doing the best job it knows how to create the output it is being asked to create.” -Godin

As alluded to above–the problem isn’t school. It isn’t the teachers or the parents or the students. The problem is that we’re asking the wrong questions and thus getting the wrong answers. The wrong agenda.

“Only 3 percent of Americans can locate Greece on a map. (That’s not true, but if it were, you wouldn’t be surprised, because we’re idiots about stuff like that.)” -Godin

We’re so focused on memorizing and testing the trivia of Jeopardy that we miss the bigger picture. I have many friends smarter than me. They know the capital of every African country, can speak multiple languages and comprehend Old English passages in a single reading.

That said, what they can’t do is think creatively, construct original arguments or see fault. If there’s a system–in their eyes it should be followed–not questioned. They’re the best and brightest specimens of the industrial education complex.

“One theory is that if you force someone to learn math or writing or soccer, there’s a chance she will become passionate about it and then run with what she knows. The other theory is that once someone becomes passionate about a goal, she will stop at nothing to learn what she needs to learn to accomplish it.” -Godin

If there is passion in the education system as it sits (and I think there is), I think it’s too often for the wrong things. It’s for team spirit. It’s for popularity. It’s for rote memorization and rule following.

Is it really any wonder that we have an entire civilization devoted to the same things? We are a populous afraid of change, terrified of authority and unable to think differently.

“When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions.” -Godin

Why do we have school? Excluding everything about why it was here yesterday–why is it here today and what is its function in preparation for tomorrow?

…seriously… consider that.

We know exactly what the future holds if we don’t change… the same degradation we’ve experienced for the last 100 years.

Three years ago there wasn’t an iPad. Eight years ago there was no Facebook. And yet 100 years ago was the last time there was a significant change in the content, method or medium of the education system. It’s as worse off as the internal combustion engine.

We must lead by example–teach through our actions. Continuing to sit idly in fear is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing–or teaching.