What is school for?

In time for back to school, Seth Godin wrote a wonderful blog post the other day asking an important question: What is school for? Money quote:

If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it’s not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.

But that’s not easy to sort for in school, so we take a shortcut and resort to trivial measures instead.

The statement: “The ability to not quit in precisely the right moments” is worth the price of a book, and yet you can read it for free on Godin’s blog.

What’s also free is Godin’s book Stop Stealing Dreams. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you do.

Seth Godin…

writes a blog post everyday. Every. Single. Day. (I think he’s broken the 4,000 blog post milestone.)

I’ve written about him before, and I’ll probably write about him again. His book, Lynchpin, revolutionized the way I view work and how one brings value to an organization. His blog posts are an inspiration for anyone who wants to be a better writer, communicator, marketer, entrepreneur, blogger… the list goes on.

Yesterday he wrote a post containing the following excerpt:

Do your work, your best work, the work that matters to you. For some people, you can say, “hey, it’s not for you.” That’s okay. If you try to delight the undelightable, you’ve made yourself miserable for no reason.

Like usual, Godin sheds light on integral aspects of work. We must do work that is not just lucrative or fun, but also of importance. At the same time, we must keep in mind that there are some who are “undelightable.” That’s OK; this only means that it’s a fool’s errand to try making everyone happy. Instead, it’s better to work hard for something you know is important. In doing so, the right people will be happy, which are probably the only people whose opinions you should care about anyway.

This all reminds me of something Conan O’Brian once said:

If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.

It’s so true. Work hard. Care about people. Amazing things will happen.

Stop Stealing Dreams

No, the title of this blog entry has nothing to do with the movie Inception.

I recently finished reading Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin, a book about education. Actually, it’s better to describe Godin’s latest work as a “manifesto”—as he does many times. It’s organized into 133 chapters that read like individual blog posts. I’m not mentioning this to be disparaging—the bite-sized episodic nature serves it well, and it may be the way many books (fiction and nonfiction) are written throughout the coming years. It’s much easier to use this practice and build a tribe that follows your blog everyday than writing for a year or two and only then begin searching for an audience to read the book.

Godin has significantly shaped the way I view books and information. As he intends, I often find myself thinking after reading a work of his: “What is a book? When does a blog post become a book? When does a short story online become a novella—or a novella a novel? And if you write fiction on your blog one chapter at a time, is it still a book even though it doesn’t have a physical spine and can’t be possessed as an ebook?”

Metaphysical for sure, but worth noting. Stop Stealing Dreams is about education—and I’ll get to its content in just a bit—but the way its content has been presented (free) and the avenues by which you can attain it (Kindle file, PDF, on the web, etc.), coupled with the fact that it’s not quite a book, make it extremely interesting and thought-provoking before the first word about school is even read.

So what does it say about education? Well, a lot. Godin’s musings aren’t meant to be set-in-stone rules for how to improve K-college in America. A book of such magnitude would be impossible. What Stop Stealing Dreams does well is point out problems and provide new ways of thinking as we go about the process of doing a better job educating our youth.

It starts by doing what Godin has done well in the past: explain now the industrial age as we have known it is now over, and many of the jobs that have been lost due to our quickly changing economy are never coming back. The age of the factory is done—at least the age of humans working in a factory. Factories being built in America used to employ thousands of workers to help run the machinery. Now they only need fifty highly trained specialists to make sure tens of thousands of square footage hum along smoothly.

The premise of the manifesto is to stop running schools like the now extinct factories. Godin writes:

Even though just about everyone in the West has been through years of compulsory schooling, we see ever more belief in unfounded 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 Child Left Behind mandated all students will be at “proficiency” by 2014, but standardized testing and drill ‘n kill has made it impossible to reach such a lofty goal. This philosophy is not in congruence with the fact that if you have a job “where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it.” Jobs that pay well do not come with a map, they come with a compass, and instead of teaching our students a litany of facts and data, we need to teach them creativity and problem solving. Memorizing large amounts of information has been made obsolete by the collective brain we now possess, which is the Internet. Students must be taught how to navigate digital information in order to learn and complete tasks. Memorization for memorization’s sake is a waste of precious time when we could be fostering curiosity and a love for learning. Create curiosity and learning will follow; it’s hard to do this the other way around.

Stop Stealing Dreams really eviscerates much of what is prevalent in education: standardized testing, cuts in electives, little attempt at teaching leadership, fear being used to keep the masses in line, and a stand-offish approach to science.

As I’ve been writing this, I’m referring back to the highlights I made on my Kindle, and I now realize I can’t discuss all the interesting points Godin makes (even though the manifesto is only 30,000 words). To do so would basically be paraphrasing the book. What I will end with is that schools need to be in the business of teaching students scarce skills and scarce attitudes. To not do this will only result in millions of college graduates who are not ready to enter the 21st century workforce. I’ve witnessed firsthand what happens when educators teach to the test: students become needy and expect their hand to be held through every problem that needs solving. This hinders the intellectual capacity they must acquire.

Lego used to only have sets where all the blocks were different shapes and colors, which facilitated a playtime where kids had to be creative and make their own shapes, toys, and structures. Over time, this was jettisoned for Lego sets with directions that spelled out exactly what should be made. This assuaged parents into believing their kids were learning how to follow directions, resulting in better performance at school.

Is this really how we want our children to think? Do the “good” jobs out there come with a manual?

Go to this website and download a copy of Stop Stealing Dreams for free. Read about Godin’s thoughts on libraries, colleges, and home schooling. You may not agree with everything he writes, but the manifesto will help you formulate your opinions as we tackle the 21st century problems education faces.

A new Seth Godin book

I just downloaded the book Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin. It’s free, and you can download multiple formats of the manifesto here.

Stop Stealing Dreams deals with a subject we should all care deeply about: education. I’m hoping to read it within the next couple days–it’s only 30,000 words–and post some thoughts soon.

Check it out. All of Godin’s books are thought-provoking and worth a read.


I wish every educator would watch this:

Steven Pressfield

If you have a Kindle (or Kindle app), I highly suggest downloading the free book Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is one of the reasons I wake up at 4:40 A.M. and write. His books are inspirational and they actually motivate you to do the work of creating your art — whether that be writing, painting, programming, etc.

The War of Art is another book he’s written that teaches about the “resistance” and how to overcome it. Very intriguing for anyone who has started a project and never finished it.

Do the Work is free right now (4/20/11), but it may jump up to nine dollars soon. Check it out!

And if you find the above books helpful, here are some others you can purchase:

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott