by Seth Godin
If you missed Parts 2 & 3, click HERE.
4. 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, overcrowded 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 trigonometry 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 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, 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.
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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