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Editorials

Stop Stealing Dreams (What is School For?) — Parts 2 & 3

by Seth Godin

If you missed Part 1, click HERE.

2. A few notes about this manifesto

I’ve numbered the sections because it’s entirely possible you’ll be reading it with a different layout than others will. The numbers make it easy to argue about particular sections.

It’s written as a series of essays or blog posts, partly because that’s how I write now, and partly because I’m hoping that one or more of them will spur you to share or rewrite or criticize a point I’m making. One side effect is that there’s some redundancy. I hope you can forgive me for that. I won’t mind if you skip around.

This isn’t a prescription. It’s not a manual. It’s a series of provocations, ones that might resonate and that I hope will provoke conversation.

None of this writing is worth the effort if the ideas aren’t shared. Feel free to email or reprint this manifesto, but please don’t change it or charge for it. If you’d like to tweet, the hashtag is #stopstealingdreams. You can find a page for comments athttp://www.stopstealingdreams.com

Most of all, go do something. Write your own manifesto. Send this one to the teachers at your kid’s school. Ask hard questions at a board meeting. Start your own school. Post a video lecture or two. But don’t settle.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

3. 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 productive 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?

To be continued …

Or — if you want to read the rest of Godin’s manifesto now — click here: http://tinyurl.com/6n5dz9o

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Now that you have read this story, please consider donating to crowd-source funding for the work of the KC Education Enterprise: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073548152/civil-rights-and-school-discipline-in-the-kc-metro

Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise | Photo Credit: Dreamstime

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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