What is school for? Have we really asked this question? – Seth Godin

There are some questions which are avoided by many and avoided indefinitely, and these questions are actually very simple. Important simple questions are the worst because just asking these questions throws us into hot water. That’s because answering these questions honestly might leave us questioning everything  we do. One of these questions is – ‘What are schools for?’  Are we brave enough to ask this question?  Let’s hear it from Seth Godin. And then please leave me a comment about whether you ask this question and whether it makes you feel uncomfortable teaching in our schools.


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5 responses to “What is school for? Have we really asked this question? – Seth Godin

  1. Hamish Curry

    It is a brilliant talk by Seth to simply go to the heart of disruptive thinking about education. It reminds me of the same exploratory discussion John Taylor Gatto goes into with his book ‘Weapons of Mass Instruction’; something I was exploring at the SLAV Conference on Monday. In it Gatto makes the statement “…let’s help kids take an education rather than merely receive schooling”. Education, as always, is asking the wrong questions – it is a system entrenched with industrial processes that will take decades to break down – the only problem is that technology/internet is working at 10X this speed to offer others avenues for learning. It would be great to run an unconference on ‘What is school for?’

    • I’d be in that unconference, Hamish. I think it would be interesting to gather anecdotal evidence from secondary and tertiary students about their self-directed learning that occurs outside school, sometimes despite their schooling. This is passion-based learning, and I’m guessing it’s made possible by technology and the web or the social web.

    • Hamish is right that asking the right question is the start. I was looking at my local school district’s mission statement and it was a combination of overly vague ambitions that can never be measured and goals that related to staff or community involvement, not students. The District spends time arguing about vacation schedules and budgets when it should be asking, “What is this school district for?” If they could answer that question, it would be a lot easier to resolve budget disputes.

  2. Even Seth doesn’t ask quite the right question. He’s a very very long way from being the first to ask the question he does, and he most certainly won’t be the last.

    A more pertinent question might be: “Why does school persist in the form that it does?”

    Even Ivan Illich did not actually want to get rid of schools altogether – he merely wanted to do away with compulsory schooling, and allow learners to use school as they see fit, rather than be dragooned and regimented into a ‘system’ of schooling that serves other interests than those of the learner.

    • I agree. I can’t see the advantage of dissolving school in favour of self directed or informal learning which is happening alongside traditional schooling but is not acknowledged by many. Even disengaged students might enjoy the social aspect of schooling, and within that is the potential for relevant, valuable collaborative activity. I wonder how it would work if schools were not compulsory. Our VCE system takes teachers’ time and energy and channels it into teaching kids to pass the exams – not different from other countries? Any official time allocated for professional development to incorporate change, eg new technologies, are met with resentment for various reasons, but mainly because the technical infrastructure is defective, and because real change requires major time-out and rethinking/reworking.

      I appreciate you taking time to comment. What is your vision of schooling, John?

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