What are Schools For?

The Spring semester is finally underway and unsurprisingly, I’ve returned to TED Talks, following topics on education. I found the following Seth Godin TEDx talk, “Stop Stealing My Dreams” and it made me think.

  1. At 3:03: “Good morning boys and  girls starts the day with respect and obedience.”  I understand his point about how this morning ritual hammers little people into compliance so they’ll fit in the system, but (a) I don’t believe that conflating obedience and respect are valid; (b) aren’t obedience (at some level) and respect social skills that children should be taught?
  2. At 4:00: “Raise your hands. OK, now raise them higher. Hmmm.” this was interesting little experiment and I would argue that it is not simply a matter of our children learning this from/in schools. I would argue that we do so out of self-preservation that is reinforced throughout society.
  3. The argument that compliance and obedience and acquiescence (the “interchangeable people”) is a product of the Industrial Age seems a bit over-simplified. Granted, the Industrial Age exacerbated this mindset, but I believe that we’ve been working on this model in society long before the Industrial Age. It could be argued that the printing press and the spread of information had a profound influence in spreading this mindset as well.
  4. From 7:27: I couldn’t agree more with the text book killing any interest in a particular subject. “When it’s art, people will try to do more.”

“What are schools for?” is the most important idea for me in this video and is the question we (educators, students, politicians, parents, society) must ask. “Are we asking our kids to collect dots, or connect dots?” I believe that we as educators/facilitators should focus on inspiring curiosity and critical thinking skills, that we should encourage and help kids to connect the dots. However, I think Mr. Godin answered his own question. All too often, and for different reasons, school is for producing the peg that matches the corresponding hole. Our discomfort with and perhaps our apprehension about those who stand out or don’t fit in plays a large role in the perpetuation of this system. Society needs the artists, the revolutionaries, the ‘mad men’ in order to continuously challenge our current beliefs and ideas and notions, in order for us to grow. However, these individuals have always been outside the ‘normal’ that Mr. Godin refers to and perhaps, these individuals need the normal as well.

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