Stop Stealing Dreamswebdev
Godin NAILED IT!!
I have been promoting these ideas for the last 20 years. I hated school and was very much against all “education” until Oliver DeMille first introduced me to these concepts in the early 1990’s.
But these aren’t new ideas, they had been talked about for a long time since the 1940’s and 50’s. Great minds such as Mortimer Adler, Jacque Barzun, Robert Hutchins, Louise Cowan, Neal Flinders, and countless other have been sounding the warning for decades.
So while I strongly encourage you to read the full text of Seth Godin’s STOP STEALING DREAMS, I am giving you a few excerpts here.
This is the best introduction to POST INDUSTRIAL AMERICA AND EDUCATION I have seen so far. Enjoy!
By the way…this post is 5,000 words. That does not mean you have to read it all. It means that out of a 40,000 word e-book I am suggesting you read 11% to try it out. It means that if you read this and like it, you should go to Seth’s site and read the rest of his revolutionary book. The future depends on you.
Back to (the wrong) school
A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults.
Sure, there was some moral outrage about seven-year-olds losing fingers and being abused at work, but the economic rationale was paramount. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work—they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place.
Part of the rationale used to sell this major transformation to industrialists was the idea that educated kids would actually become more compliant and produc-tive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence—it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.
Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.
Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed. But now?
Nobel prize–winning economist Michael Spence makes this really clear: there are tradable jobs (doing things that could be done somewhere else, like building cars, designing chairs, and answering the phone) and non-tradable jobs (like mowing the lawn or cooking burgers). Is there any question that the first kind of job is worth keeping in our economy?
Alas, Spence reports that from 1990 to 2008, the U.S. economy added only 600,000 tradable jobs.
If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.
Do you see the disconnect here? Every year, we churn out millions of workers who are trained to do 1925-style labor.
The bargain (take kids out of work so we can teach them to become better factory workers as adults) has set us on a race to the bottom. Some people argue
that we ought to become the cheaper, easier country for sourcing cheap, compliant workers who do what they’re told.
Even if we could win that race, we’d lose. The bottom is not a good place to be, even if you’re capable of getting there.
As we get ready for the ninety-third year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push, or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable, and mediocre factory workers?
As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership, and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.
The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it?
What is school for?
It seems a question so obvious that it’s hardly worth asking. And yet there are many possible answers. Here are a few (I’m talking about public or widespread private education here, grade K through college):
To create a society that’s culturally coordinated.
To further science and knowledge and pursue information for its own sake.
To enhance civilization while giving people the tools to make informed decisions.
To train people to become productive workers.
Over the last three generations, the amount of school we’ve delivered to the public has gone way up—more people are spending more hours being schooled than ever before. And the cost of that schooling is going up even faster, with trillions of dollars being spent on delivering school on a massive scale.
Until recently, school did a fabulous job on just one of these four societal goals. First, the other three:
A culturally coordinated society: School isn’t nearly as good at this as television is. There’s a huge gulf between the cultural experience in an under-funded, over-crowded city school and the cultural experience in a well-funded school in the suburbs. There’s a significant cultural distinction between a high school drop-out and a Yale graduate. There are significant chasms in something as simple as whether you think the scientific method is useful—where you went to school says a lot about what you were taught. If school’s goal is to create a foundation for a common culture, it hasn’t delivered at nearly the level it is capable of.
The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake: We spend a fortune teaching trigonome-try to kids who don’t understand it, won’t use it, and will spend no more of their lives studying math. We invest thousands of hours exposing millions of students to fiction and literature, but end up training most of them to never again read for fun (one study found that 58 percent of all Americans never read for pleasure after they graduate from school). As soon as we associate reading a book with taking a test, we’ve missed the point.
We continually raise the bar on what it means to be a college professor, but churn out Ph.D.s who don’t actually teach and aren’t particularly productive at research, either. We teach facts, but the amount of knowledge truly absorbed is miniscule.
The tools to make smart decisions: Even though just about everyone in the West has been through years of compulsory schooling, we see ever more belief in un-founded theories, bad financial decisions, and poor community and family planning. People’s connection with science and the arts is tenuous at best, and the financial acumen of the typical consumer is pitiful. If the goal was to raise the standards for rational thought, skeptical investigation, and useful decision making, we’ve failed for most of our citizens.
No, I think it’s clear that school was designed with a particular function in mind, and it’s one that school has delivered on for a hundred years.
Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers built school to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. And it worked.
All the rest is a byproduct, a side effect (sometimes a happy one) of the schooling system that we built to train the workforce we needed for the industrialized economy.
If school’s function is to create the workers we need to fuel our economy, we need to change school, because the workers we need have changed as well.
The mission used to be to create homogenized, obedient, satisfied workers and pliant, eager consumers.
Changing school doesn’t involve sharpening the pencil we’ve already got. 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. The challenge, then, is to change the very output of the school before we start spending even more time and money improving the performance of the school.
The goal of this manifesto is to create a new set of questions and demands that parents, taxpayers, and kids can bring to the people they’ve chosen, the institu-tion we’ve built and invested our time and money into. The goal is to change what we get when we send citizens to school.
Mass production desires to produce mass
That statement seems obvious, yet it surprises us that schools are oriented around the notion of uniformity. Even though the workplace and civil society demand variety, the industrialized school system works to stamp it out.
The industrialized mass nature of school goes back to the very beginning, to the common school and the normal school and the idea of universal schooling. All of which were invented at precisely the same time we were perfecting mass production and interchangeable parts and then mass marketing.
Some quick background:
The common school (now called a public school) was a brand new concept, created shortly after the Civil War. “Common” because it was for everyone, for the kids of the farmer, the kids of the potter, and the kids of the local shopkeeper. Horace Mann is generally regarded as the father of the institution, but he didn’t have to fight nearly as hard as you would imagine—because industrialists were on his side. The two biggest challenges of a newly industrial economy were finding enough compliant workers and finding enough eager customers. The common school solved both problems.
The normal school (now called a teacher’s college) was developed to indoctrinate teachers into the system of the common school, ensuring that there would be a coherent approach to the processing of students. If this sounds parallel to the notion of factories producing items in bulk, of interchangeable parts, of the notion of measurement and quality, it’s not an accident.
The world has changed, of course. It has changed into a culture fueled by a market that knows how to mass-customize, to find the edges and the weird, and to cater to what the individual demands instead of insisting on conformity.
Mass customization of school isn’t easy. Do we have any choice, though? If mass production and mass markets are falling apart, we really don’t have the right to insist that the schools we designed for a different era will function well now.
Those who worry about the nature of schools face a few choices, but it’s clear that one of them is not business as usual. One option is smaller units within schools, less industrial in outlook, with each unit creating its own varieties of leaders and citizens. The other is an organization that understands that size can be an asset, but only if the organization values customization instead of fighting it.
The current structure, which seeks low-cost uniformity that meets minimum standards, is killing our economy, our culture, and us.
Frederick J. Kelly and your nightmares
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 thou-sands 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.
To efficiently run a school, amplify fear (and destroy passion)
School’s industrial, scaled-up, measurable structure means that fear must be used to keep the masses in line. There’s no other way to get hundreds or thousands of kids to comply, to process that many bodies, en masse, without simultaneous coordination.
And the flip side of this fear and conformity must be that passion will be destroyed. There’s no room for someone who wants to go faster, or someone who wants to do something else, or someone who cares about a particular issue. Move on. Write it in your notes; there will be a test later. A multiple-choice test.
Do we need more fear?
Is it possible to teach attitudes?
The notion that an organization could teach anything at all is a relatively new one.
Traditionally, society assumed that artists, singers, artisans, writers, scientists, and alchemists would find their calling, then find a mentor, and then learn their craft. It was absurd to think that you’d take people off the street and teach them
to do science or to sing, and persist at that teaching long enough for them to get excited about it.
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 make commitments, to overcome fear, to deal transparently, to initiate, and to plan a course.
We can teach people to desire lifelong learning, to express themselves, and to innovate.
And just as important, it’s vital we acknowledge that we can unteach bravery and creativity and initiative. And that we have been doing just that.
School has become an industrialized system, working on a huge scale, that has significant byproducts, including the destruction of many of the attitudes and emotions we’d like to build our culture around.
In order to efficiently jam as much testable data into a generation of kids, we push to make those children compliant, competitive zombies.
If the new goal of school is to create something different from what we have now, and if new technologies and new connections are changing the way school can deliver its lessons, it’s time for a change.
Here are a dozen ways school can be rethought:
Homework during the day, lectures at night
Open book, open note, all the time
Access to any course, anywhere in the world
Precise, focused instruction instead of mass, generalized instruction
The end of multiple-choice exams
Experience instead of test scores as a measure of achievement
The end of compliance as an outcome
Cooperation instead of isolation
Amplification of outlying students, teachers, and ideas
Transformation of the role of the teacher
Lifelong learning, earlier work
Death of the nearly famous college
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.
Fast, flexible, and focused
It’s clear that the economy has changed. What we want and expect from our best citizens has changed. Not only in what we do when we go to our jobs, but also in the doors that have been opened for people who want to make an impact on our culture.
At the very same time, the acquisition of knowledge has been forever transformed by the Internet. Often overlooked in the rush to waste time at Facebook and YouTube is the fact that the Internet is the most efficient and powerful information delivery system ever developed.
The change in the economy and the delivery of information online combine to amplify the speed of change. These rapid cycles are overwhelming the ability of the industrialized system of education to keep up.
As a result, the education-industrial system, the one that worked very well in creating a century’s worth of factory workers, lawyers, nurses, and soldiers, is now obsolete.
We can prop it up or we can fix it.
I don’t think it’s practical to say, “We want what we’ve been getting, but cheaper and better.” That’s not going to happen, and I’m not sure we want it to, anyway.
We need school to produce something different, and the only way for that to happen is for us to ask new questions and make new demands on every element of the educational system we’ve built. Whenever teachers, administrators, or board members respond with an answer that refers to a world before the rules changed, they must stop and start their answer again.
No, we do not need you to create compliance.
No, we do not need you to cause meaningless memorization.
And no, we do not need you to teach students to embrace the status quo.
Anything a school does to advance those three agenda items is not just a waste of money, but actually works against what we do need. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true.
No tweaks. A revolution.
Dreams are difficult to build and easy to destroy
By their nature, dreams are evanescent. They flicker long before they shine brightly. And when they’re flickering, it’s not particularly difficult for a parent or a teacher or a gang of peers to snuff them out.
Creating dreams is more difficult. They’re often related to where we grow up, who our parents are, and whether or not the right person enters our life.
Settling for the not-particularly uplifting dream of a boring, steady job isn’t helpful. Dreaming of being picked—picked to be on TV or picked to play on a team or picked to be lucky—isn’t helpful either. We waste our time and the time of our students when we set them up with pipe dreams that don’t empower them to adapt (or better yet, lead) when the world doesn’t work out as they hope.
The dreams we need are self-reliant dreams. We need dreams based not on what is but on what might be. We need students who can learn how to learn, who can discover how to push themselves and are generous enough and honest enough to engage with the outside world to make those dreams happen.
I think we’re doing a great job of destroying dreams at the very same time the dreams we do hold onto aren’t nearly bold enough.
The connection revolution is upon us
It sells the moment short to call this the Internet revolution. In fact, the era that marks the end of the industrial age and the beginning of something new is ultimately about connection.
The industrial revolution wasn’t about inventing manufacturing, it was about amplifying it to the point where it changed everything. And the connection revolution doesn’t invent connection, of course, but it amplifies it to become the dominant force in our economy.
Connecting people to one another.
Connecting seekers to data.
Connecting businesses to each other.
Connecting tribes of similarly minded individuals into larger, more effective organizations.
Connecting machines to each other and creating value as a result.
In the connection revolution, value is not created by increasing the productivity of those manufacturing a good or a service. Value is created by connecting buyers to sellers, producers to consumers, and the passionate to each other.
This meta-level of value creation is hard to embrace if you’re used to measuring sales per square foot or units produced per hour. In fact, though, connection leads to an extraordinary boost in productivity, efficiency, and impact.
In the connected world, reputation is worth more than test scores. Access to data means that data isn’t the valuable part; the processing is what matters. Most of all, the connected world rewards those with an uncontrollable itch to make and lead and matter.
In the pre-connected world, information was scarce, and hoarding it was smart. Information needed to be processed in isolation, by individuals. After school, you were on your own.
In the connected world, all of that scarcity is replaced by abundance—an abundance of information, networks, and interactions.
What if we told students the truth?
Transparency in the traditional school might destroy it. If we told the truth about the irrelevance of various courses, about the relative quality of some teachers, about the power of choice and free speech—could the school as we know it survive?
What happens when the connection revolution collides with the school?
Unlike just about every other institution and product line in our economy, transparency is missing from education. Students are lied to and so are parents. At some point, teenagers realize that most of school is a game, but the system never acknowledges it. In search of power, control and independence, administrators hide information from teachers, and vice versa.
Because school was invented to control students and give power to the state, it’s not surprising that the relationships are fraught with mistrust.
The very texture of the traditional school matches the organization and culture of the industrial economy. The bottom of the pyramid stores the students, with teachers (middle managers) following instructions from their bosses.
As in the traditional industrial organization, the folks at the bottom of the school are ignored, mistreated, and lied to. They are kept in the dark about anything outside of what they need to know to do their job (being a student), and put to work to satisfy the needs of the people in charge. Us and them.
The connection economy destroys the illusion of control. Students have the ability to find out which colleges are a good value, which courses make no sense,
and how people in the real world are actually making a living. They have the ability to easily do outside research, even in fifth grade, and to discover that the teacher (or her textbook) is just plain wrong.
When students can take entire courses outside of the traditional school, how does the school prevent that? When passionate students can start their own political movements, profitable companies, or worthwhile community projects without the aegis of a school, how are obedience and fealty enforced?
It’s impossible to lie and manipulate when you have no power.
We don’t ask students to decide to participate. We assume the contract of adhesion, and relentlessly put information in front of them, with homework to do and tests to take.
Entirely skipped: commitment. Do you want to learn this? Will you decide to become good at this?
The universal truth is beyond question—the only people who excel are those who have decided to do so. Great doctors or speakers or skiers or writers or musicians are great because somewhere along the way, they made the choice.
Why have we completely denied the importance of this choice?
Exploiting the instinct to hide
Human beings have, like all animals, a great ability to hide from the things they fear.
In the name of comportment and compliance and the processing of millions, school uses that instinct to its advantage. At the heart of the industrial system is power—the power of bosses over workers, the power of buyers over suppliers, and the power of marketers over consumers.
Given the assignment of indoctrinating a thousand kids at a time, the embattled school administrator reaches for the most effective tool available. Given that the assigned output of school is compliant citizens, the shortcut for achieving this output was fear.
The amygdala, sometimes called the lizard brain, is the fear center of the brain. It is on high alert during moments of stress. It is afraid of snakes. It causes our heart to race during a scary movie and our eyes to avoid direct contact with someone in authority.
The shortcut to compliance, then, isn’t to reason with someone, to outline the options, and to sell a solution. No, the shortcut is to induce fear, to activate the amygdala. Do this or we’ll laugh at you, expel you, tell your parents, make you sit in the corner. Do this or you will get a bad grade, be suspended, never amount to anything. Do this or you are in trouble.
Once the fear transaction is made clear, it can get ever more subtle. A fearsome teacher might need no more than a glance to quiet down his classroom.
But that’s not enough for the industrial school. It goes further than merely ensuring classroom comportment. Fear is used to ensure that no one stretches too far, questions the status quo, or makes a ruckus. Fear is reinforced in career planning, in academics, and even in interpersonal interactions. Fear lives in the guidance office, too.
The message is simple: better fit in or you won’t get into a good school. If you get into a good school and do what they say, you’ll get a good job, and you’ll be fine. But if you don’t—it’ll go on your permanent record.
Years ago, five friends and a I were put in charge of a 150 rowdy fifth-graders for a long weekend up in Canada. It was almost impossible to be heard over the din—until I stumbled onto the solution. All we had to say was, “points will be deducted,” and compliance appeared. There weren’t any points and there wasn’t any prize, but merely the threat of lost points was sufficient.
Instead of creating a social marketplace where people engage and grow, school is a maelstrom, a whirlpool that pushes for sameness and dumbs down the individual while it attempts to raise the average.
The other side of fear is 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.
The problem is that individual passion is hard to scale—hard to fit into the industrial model. It’s not reliably ignited. It’s certainly harder to create for large masses of people. Sure, it’s easy to get a convention center filled with delegates to chant for a candidate, and easier still to engage the masses at Wembley Stadium, but the passion that fuels dreams and creates change must come from the individual, not from a demigod.
The industrial age pervaded all of our culture
There has been no bigger change in ten thousand years of recorded human history than the overwhelming transformation of society and commerce and health and civilization that was enabled (or caused) by industrialization.
We’re so surrounded by it that it seems normal and permanent and preordained, but we need to lay it out in stark relief to see how it has created the world we live in.
In just a few generations, society went from agrarian and distributed to corporatized and centralized. In order to overhaul the planet, a bunch of things had to work in concert:
Infrastructure changes, including paving the earth, laying pipe, building cities, wiring countries for communication, etc.
Government changes, which meant permitting corporations to engage with the king, to lobby, and to receive the benefits of infrastructure and policy investments. “Corporations are people, friend.”
Education changes, including universal literacy, an expectation of widespread commerce, and most of all, the practice of instilling the instinct to obey civil (as opposed to government) authority.
None of this could have happened if there had been widespread objections from individuals. It turns out, though, that it was relatively easy to enforce and then teach corporate and educational obedience. It turns out that industrializing the schooling of billions of people was a natural fit, a process that quickly turned into a virtuous cycle: obedient students were turned into obedient teachers, who were then able to create even more obedient students. We’re wired for this stuff.
The system churned out productivity and money from the start. This result encouraged all the parties involved to amplify what they were doing—more lobbying, more infrastructure, more obedience. It took only a hundred and fifty years, but the industrial age remade the entire population of the planet, from Detroit to Kibera.
The cornerstone of the entire process was how well the notion of obedience fit into the need for education. We needed educated workers, and teaching them to
be obedient helped us educate them. And we needed obedient workers, and the work of educating them reinforced the desired behavior.
As the industrial age peters out, as the growth fades away, the challenge is this: training creative, independent, and innovative artists is new to us. We can’t use the old tools, because resorting to obedience to teach passion just isn’t going to work. Our instinct, the easy go-to tool of activating the amygdala, isn’t going to work this time.