Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Do we have the wrong schools for an age based on connections? Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a well respected American business consultant - recently he posted a manifesto on the need for a rethink of the present  education system - one more suited to the past demands of a past industrial age. ( see previous blog).

I did enjoy reading Seth's manifesto because aligned so well with my thoughts -  coming from the business world made it even more pertinent. I have chosen some of Godin's ideas to share.

Seth sees schools reflecting the needs of a past factory based  industrial age - one that provides workers who were compliant, schools where productivity can be defined and measured.The development of such factory like schools, he believes,  is not a coincidence.

Now,  he writes, is the time for a new set of questions and demands  and to consider how schools need to change to develop the new dispositions young workers need in a connected age.

Current schools are based on fragmentation, transmission, conformity, control,  fear of failure and measurable standardised achievement.To make things worse, he writes, current schools actually stamp out the very attitudes needed and, worse still, contributeto the killing of the American economy.

In contrast the business world is moving into mass customisation to cater for the diverse needs of individual consumers. Business as usual is not an option for schools.

The flip side of such a approach is that passion for learning is destroyed. There is no room for the nonconformist whose learning requirements don't fit the system.

Seth believes we can create schools  where students can be taught to desire life long learning, to express themselves, to innovate and make personal learning commitments.

And just important, he writes, we can teach bravery and creativity and initiative - the very things our industrialized, competitive,  measurable orientated schools destroy.

What he is writing about is the creation of  a learning culture where school play a key role. The only way forward  is to ask new questions - to develop schools where dreams ( rather than compliance) can be realised.

The dreams we need are self reliant dreams base on what might be. Students who can learn how to learn, who can discover how to push themselves and are generous enough and honest enough to engage with the outside world to make those dreams happen.

Amplified by the web and the connection revolution, human beings are no longer rewarded most for work as compliant cogs. Instead our world is open to the work of passionate individuals, intent on carving their own paths.That's the new job of schools.

The connection revolution is upon us. It marks the end of the industrial age and the beginning of something new that is ultimately about connection.As the industrial age amplified work the connection age amplifies connections to one another, to data, to organisations and to disparate groups of like minded individuals.

And yet we isolate students instead of connecting them. Virtually all work done in school is done solo, Group projects are the exception when they should be the norm. Levering the power of the group is at the heart of how we are productive today. Schools relentlessly down plays group work.It breaks tasks down to measurable units.It does nothing to coordinate teaching across subjects.It often isolates teachers into compartments. Most of all it measure relentlessly at the individual level and reprocesses those who don't meet the performance standards.

This is 'scientific schooling' which use the same techniques as 'scientific management. It is a mistake to say scientific schooling doesn't work - it does work.It creates what we test! Unfortunately it is not possible to measure things we desperately need - creative individuals.

The role of the teachers in this connection age  is to inspire, to notice and amplify students gifts,  to intervene, and to raise up the motivated but stuck student; to jump start students who start a bit behind. Students need teachers not to deliver information so much as to sell kids on wanting to find out.

Failure is no longer an option -  it is is a choice made by individuals who choose not to learn.If you do not know what you need to know that fixable.But first you have to want to fix it. Creative teachers communicate emotion by engaging with their students - learning from the students in the process. Students need teachers who care about their students. Instead of punishing great teachers with precise instructions we need to give then the freedom to teach.Teachers needs to ensure students participate - to get them to learn for reasons that make sense to them.

All people who have excelled in life have made a commitment - have made choices. In contrast current schools ask students to fit in and do as they are told! School push for sameness and fear of standing out. Obedient students are turned out by obedient teachers - 'we are wired for this stuff'. And it is all too easy to enforce.

New schools teach students to lead - to tackle interesting problems -to step up and begin to start driving without a clear map; individuals who can draw a new map, who can solve problems that didn't even exist yesterday.

An interesting idea Godin writes about  is that it is the room, the environment, that needs to be 'smart' -  fully equipped with the available networks that join people and ideas with those in the room. Our task is to learn how to make 'smart rooms' - to build networks that make students smarter. Such 'smart' rooms encourage the personalisation of learning in contrast to current standardisation of industrial aged schools.

Successful dreamers need will power to succeed. After all willpower is the foundation of every dream. Dreams fade because we can't tolerate the short term pain necessary to achieve long term goals. The good news is that willpower can be taught by parents and schools.

Passion  Godin writes, that arrives from success. Do something well, get feedback on it and perhaps you'd like to do it again. Schools need to reward students wiling to be singled out - who learn to survive such moments - and be compelled to experience them again.

The future challenge is is develop students as creative, independent and innovative artists and scientists. It is passion that fuels dreams and creates changes - not compliance.

The industrial age demanded that we teach things for certain. Testable and measurable  things but the new civic, scientific and professional life is all about doubt. About questioning the status quo, questioning marketing or political claims, and, most of all, questioning what's next'. The obligation of the new school is to teach reasonable doubt - the evidence based doubt of scientist and the reason based doubt of the skilled debater.

The challenge of developing creative, independent and innovative artists is new to us. We can't use old tools. The essence of the connection revolution is that it rewards those who connect, stand out, and take what feels like a chance.

Godin believes that risk taking can be taught - all great mentors do exactly this but bravery in schools punished, not rewarded. Most people who became brave became brave in spite of schools.

All too often individuals learn to deny their talents -  if you deny your talents you are off the hook. If you do as is expected, and you fail, it isn't your fault. To amplify your talents is is to claim responsibility for what happens next. In our current schools it is easier to act like sheep - to simply play the game.

Jobs of the future ,Godin  writes, are in two categories: the downtrodden assemblers of cheap mass goods and the respected creators of the unexpected. Virtually every company is moving to places where there are cheaper workers. The other route is for the few who figure out how to be innovate and creative.

Sadly most such successful individuals have learnt their skills despite school, not because of it.The only way out is going to be mapped by those who able to dream.

Judgement, skill and attitude are the new replacements for obedience. Schools need to teach students to care enough about their dreams that they will care enough to develop the judgement, skill, and attitude to make them come true.

The current emphasis on competence is seen by Godin as a problem. Competent people have a reliable process for solving a particular set of problems. As such competent people are quite proud of the status quo and the success they get out of being competent. Competence is the enemy of change. Competent people resist change. They are not in a hurry to 'rock the boat'. Such people are propping up the industrial economy.

What is required are people who work at the edge of their competence - ones who break rules and find something no one else can. Fast flexible people are embraced in the networked era.

Students have to learn to be usefully wrong before they can be right. Learners need to be comfortable being wrong - to be with people who challenge each other to until 'right' is found.

Exposing students to the arts is vital so they can experience the passion of seeing progress, the hard work of practice, the joy and fear of public performance - these are critical skills of the future. Real learning happens when the student wants( insists) on acquiring a skill in order to accomplish a goal.If we can give students the foundations to dream, they'll figure out what is required to reach their goals and make a difference.

We need, Godin writes, more artists, more leaders and people passionate enough about their cause to speak up and go through the discomfort to accomplish something. Give students a chance to dream and, with the open access to resources, help them find exactly what she needs to know to go beyond competence.

Schools need to be different -once we start doing something different we'll start to get something different. We already have a surplus of unemployable workers. On the other hand creative schools lead to creative jobs developed by self starting, self reliant initiative taking individuals.

New dreams are required.When we let out students dream , encourage them to contribute, and push themselves to do work that matters, we open doors for them that will lead to places that are difficult for us to imagine.When we turn school into more than just a finishing school for a factory job we enable a new generation to achieve things that we were ill- prepared for.

Our job, Godin writes, is obvious, we need to get out of the way, shine a light, and empower a new generation to teach itself and to go further and faster than any generation ever has.

If school is worth the effort , and Godin thinks it is, we must put the effort into developing the attributes that matter and stop burning our resources in a futile attempt to create or reinforce mass compliance.

And we don't need permission from bureaucrats.

If enough of us do this schools will have no choice but to listen, emulate , and rush to catch up.


Anonymous said...

An excellent read Bruce.Schools sure are 'dream stealers' and creative teachers and schools far and few between - but one day !!

Anonymous said...

Good one, Bruce. Only one problem - how are teachers supposed to raise and assess achievement against national standards in such an environment? How are will they moderate OTJs and report to the BOT and MOE on achievement if we allow children have input into their learning?

After all, the experts running this country have all the answers to 'raising achievement' and who are we to doubt their well researched expertise on education? The solution is, of course, that tried and true method of sitting children in rows and pouring learning down their throats, that resulted in the high quality politicians who govern us….. whoops, something is not right here.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks for the comments anons! One day someone will wake and realize new thinking, new questions, are required. You can bet it won't be senior principals or politicians - most likely to come from someone outside of the corrosive school environment. Seth Godin for example.