Seth Godin recently gave a thought-provoking TED talk that has been making its way across the web. He explains how the current school system, which hasn’t changed much since the Industrial Revolution, is optimized for generating interchangeable units of people, and is ”the thing we built to indoctrinate them into obedience.” Godin pushes us all to ask, what is school for?
Inspirational talks like this get me fired up about my own work to help improve education, redesigning the future of teaching and learning to rethink what is possible in schools and communities. Here is another great short film, also featuring Seth Godin, that celebrates the potential of how technology will revolutionize education. (Note that this one is focuses more on specific mobile tech solutions as it was produced by Ericsson.)
While these videos definitely help bring awareness and energy to modern education reform efforts, I often feel that they skip over two very important aspects at the root of why there is such education inequality in the US: motivation and culture.
We’ve all heard the rationale behind the current school system’s batch-processing model designed for military and/or factory based models to create many of the same type of person/consumer. This message is not new. We know this model doesn’t align with our growing emphasis on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. So, let’s assume for a minute that we actually can shift to a student-centered, project-based learning school system. Continuing this dream, let’s then assume that teachers and schools automagically have the tools and resources (money) to support this type of individualized system. Would this solve the problem?
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to get to this type of system, which I think is necessary, but I don’t believe we can have a conversation about true education reform without acknowledging what is happening outside of school. Seth is a genius and outlines an ambitious goal for all of us to ask ‘What is school really for?’ yet I wish he, and others who give talks like this (Ken Robinson, etc), would take it a step further and address the role that motivation and culture play in the learning process and how much that actually matters when we compare the US education system (mainly through test scores) to other nations.
Families and communities establish important cultural norms for kids, which directly influence their motivation and willingness to engage in school, no matter what that system looks like. We cannot talk about addressing comprehensive education solutions without talking about parents and what is happening at home and in neighborhoods.
People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. I think the true role of education is to help learners discover ongoing opportunities and feel competent to pursue them. We must realize this goes beyond just what is happening in schools, and that it is our collective responsibility if we want an educated society.