Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, public speaker, and author of more than a dozen worldwide bestselling books. He also contributes to a personal blog, which covers universal topics like the Internet, distinguishing oneself in the workplace, taking risks, and maintaining happiness with authenticity.
Below is a summary of the insightful manifesto Godin wrote entitled, “Stop Stealing Dreams”. In the piece, which spans nearly 200 pages and covers 132 topical sections, Godin expresses his belief that society is evolving as a result of the Internet and what he calls “the connection economy.” His overall claim is that our industrialized schooling system is being compromised due to these elements. Whether purposes are as educator, parent, or concerned community member, considering Godin’s views opens our eyes to the position we face regarding leadership in the U.S.
In his manifesto, Godin attributes the threat to our industrialized school system to a change in skills and attitudes of school graduates, as well as society’s turn from a top-down industrial method of guiding students. His assertion is that as leaders, we have a great need to champion a “very human, very personal and very powerful series of tools to produce a new generation of leaders.”
Where did our problems with education originate?
To provide readers with a historical context for his claims, Godin makes a case for the shift we have made since the mid-nineteenth century in education. At that time, children worked in factories, which presented moral issues on a societal level. It wasn’t until near the end of World War I that we would see children being sent to school. And still, asserts Godin, that big change manifested because children were expected to become more productive workers over a longer term. Godin poses this question to contemporary society: “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?”
Godin’s belief is that school is for developing a culturally coordinated society, for evolving science and understanding, and for capitalizing on the inherent benefits to learning in general. We can advance our civilized society by providing tools for its constituents to make intelligent choices. And finally, we can train youth and adults to participate in productive, working communities. Godin laments that over the past several decades, the number of individuals being schooled has escalated, but so too has the cost of education, with “trillions of dollars being spent on delivering school on a massive scale.”
From here, it follows for Godin that because our thrust is to develop productive workers, we must change the schooling system because our need for a particular working pool has transformed. His theory, however, is not that we hone the educational system we currently have in place, but to alter its output overall.
One change Godin poses for our industrialized schooling model is a shift away from uniformity toward customization, which is what the workplace and civil populations command. The cause for this dynamic, he claims, is that the industrialized system was coming into play early on in our industrialized society, when both mass production and marketing were pushed toward an idealized standard for operation. Because we have adapted into a mass-marketing culture inclined “to find the edges and the weird, and to cater to what the individual demands instead of insisting on conformity,” Godin says, we must turn our focus to mass customization of the school system.
Are we really using fear as a method for instruction?
“School’s industrial, scaled-up, measurable structure means that fear must be used to keep the masses in line,” Godin states. While he doesn’t specify what fears the schooling system taps to this end, his theory interestingly enough, is that we pay a high price for instituting fear and conformity in education. In the face of fear, we lose passion. In the face of fear and conformity, students are stymied while attempting to push forward and distinguish themselves from the lot.
Godin makes a case for society’s narrow-minded perception of what disciplines can be taught in school. For example, instead of believing that we can teach students endeavors like singing or science, we believe that we must focus on teaching students how to optimize their SAT scores. He proposes instead that we “teach people to make commitments, to overcome fear, to deal transparently, to initiate, and to plan a course.” From an even more progressive perspective, his belief is that we “can teach people to desire lifelong learning, to express themselves, and to innovate.”
Godin highlights a study Jake Halpern conducted regarding career goals of high school students. Interviewed subjects were asked, “When you grow up, which of the following jobs would you most like to have?” According to Godin, Halpern’s results were disheartening. 43% of the girls claimed that among a list of options, they would most like to work as personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star. “Notice that these kids were okay with not actually being famous,” Godin writes. “They were happy to be the assistant of someone who lived that fairy tale lifestyle.” Then, Godin moves closer to a possible manifesto thesis when he poses the concern, “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams?”
Hoping to exploit the goal of forward movement in school systems, Godin presents a list of ways in which we can impact change. Among the list, he mentions:
• Students complete homework during the day and attend lectures in the evening
• Open book, open note in all testing circumstances
• Access to any international course
• Focused instruction to replace mass instruction
While he agrees that implementing new technology into classrooms is beneficial, he feels our teaching methods should move away from strictly teaching “compliance and consumption.”
Godin presents an interesting consideration for how dreams are formed in youth. His belief is that for students to create dreams can be a difficult pursuit, as developing such goals are impacted by a variety of factors, including background, parental guidance, and one’s ability to come into contact with the “right” connections. Godin feels that we’re mistaken to believe that as leaders, if we allow students to settle for a “boring, steady” job, we’re doing them a service. Pertaining to dreams, then, according to Godin, we “need 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.”
Do we have the wrong ideas about connecting with others?
Emerging upon an era of what Godin refers to as the “connection revolution,” focuses upon connection. We have come upon the age of connecting individuals to others, connecting who seek info to figures, connecting one business to the next, and bringing like-minded populations together in order that organizations run more fluidly. Godin posits that these connections results in value added to organizations at large. But his claim, where students and the school system are concerned, is that in the connected sphere, “reputation is worth more than test scores.” This statement further speaks to Godin’s emphasis on personal connections impacting students to a greater degree than anything concrete the industrialized school system primarily values (e.g. exam results).
To position this point in an even more salient light for our purposes, Godin speaks to the solitary level of academic pursuits. Homework, exams, writing exercises and lectures are all isolated activities. When faced with a professional quandary, nearly any type of worker would need to consult others to see the problem solved. Godin responds to the dilemma of isolation with an exception to the current educational model: a focus upon group work in the classroom, which, according to Godin, should become a school-system norm.
Speaking of norms, Godin then returns to this observation of fear as a utilized tool in the classroom. His idea is that fear and passion are the sole tools accessible to educators. While the former maybe be simple to ignite and withhold, it’s ultimately damaging. The latter tool, on the other hand, acts as a portal to a child’s learning spirit. If a student is engaged in topics that interest him—science, dinosaurs, he will learn on his own and somehow find a way to master the material, says Godin. Unfortunately, he concludes, passion is difficult to incite on a mass level. Rather, “the passion that fuels dreams and creates change must come from the individual, not from a demigod.”
It is Godin’s belief that in industrialized school models, educators tend to teach students the concept of certainty. Because schools focus on concrete data (that which is testable), we leave no room for students to challenge the institution. While it’s ideal for students to benefit from the ability to question concepts, “students aren’t there to challenge—they are there to be indoctrinated, to accept and obey.”
What are our teachers for?
To break down these barriers inherent in depriving students of the ability to challenge in industrialized school systems, Godin sets out to define the role of the teacher. A teacher is useful for transmitting information, of course, but an educator can also be responsible for explaining the how and why behind an subject’s mechanics. The teacher, says Godin, can stretch students and help them to complete exceptional work. As we can all relate to at one time experiencing environments in which connections with certain individuals altered our perception, there must be a shift to optimize that outcome in school systems. There must be a shift to select educators who are able to persuade students that what they’re learning is information they truly desire to learn.
To further back his desire to see provocative leadership come to fruition, Godin suggests that parents motivate their children toward healthy learning results. His sense is that teachers cannot solely be trusted with the design of our future in the event that these teachers be inexperienced or unqualified to teach effectively. Godin positively believes that we have the tools to teach students to dream and to learn in interesting ways, but that it’s ideal for parents to aid in that process.
Are we not teaching youth to dream big?
Revisiting the topic of students’ dreams, Godin puts forth both economic and societal arguments pertaining to school systems. The former issue has to do with students aspiring to careers that are considered “small dreams.” Small dreams would have to do with career paths less significant than what a child can dream of doing professionally with passion. The danger of small dreams is that they tend to thwart a child’s judgment and ability to try new endeavors. On a societal level, Godin continues, we have missed out on the introduction of new art or new jobs, for example, due to the fact that educators have imparted upon students that they dream only superficially (or “small”).
Godin then uses fairytales as a comparing body to real-life dreams in that girls and boys hope to be selected, either to receive a special slipper or to receive superhuman powers. He uses the post-World War II generation as a paradigm for children that could dream with passion. As that war catapulted into a time when new opportunities were created and new sciences were discovered, children dreamed of inventing “new wheels.” They aspired to understand science and politics. These children were inspired. Thus, Godin concludes wistfully, our current generations could benefit from some sort of return to those parameters for young dreamers.
Because he believes it to be the foundation of all dreams turned reality, Godin asks the question, “Is it possible to teach willpower?” Our young generations battle with the inability to focus on short-term challenges required for seeing longer-term goals through. We have become a society of instant gratification, and yet, Godin asserts, we can indeed teach willpower. He mentions Kelly McGonigal and Roy Baumeister, who have each authored works on the subject. Why are we not teaching willpower, the reader might wonder? According to Godin, “because industrialists don’t need employees with willpower, and marketers loathe consumers who have it.”
Are we too fearful to do what’s right?
To move the topic of willpower closer to center stage, Godin poses two questions: “Is it too risky to do the right thing?” and “Do parents mean well?” Though parents demonstrate interest in seeing to their children’s high performance: tutors, parent-teacher talks, sending kids away to the “best” schools, for Godin, something is missing. His issue, to this end, with the current schooling model, is that “the sanctity of performance/testing/compliance-based schooling is rarely discussed and virtually never challenged.” He then shoots down two popular and yet flawed beliefs: 1) When students perform well in school, they are ultimately happy. 2)) If parents are considered “great,” then they inherently bring high-performing children into the world. To Godin, we must risk finding healthy alternatives for putting children through the school system as it stands.
Returning to the issue of children’s limitations behind seeing goals through, Godin finds that students on industrialized school systems suffer from an inability to commit to a task or pursuit. “A byproduct of industrialization is depersonalization,” Godin states. Therefore, we have come upon an age where we favor emotionally “checking out” to embracing the process of learning. To Godin, the student has traded self-respect for the desire to win any teacher’s approval, for to the student, doing so might present his only opportunity to be accepted within the system.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t touch upon another forlorn reality that Godin addresses with regards to student limitations: the decline of grammar. Perhaps a quote from Godin’s grammar section will speak for itself: “We’re all going down the drain. Too much profanity, no verb conjugation, incomplete thoughts, and poor analysis, everywhere you look, even among people running for President.” What’s his prognosis? Students simply don’t care. Educators, by and large in the mass-produced school system don’t challenge students to care. And so it goes.
How do we implement alternatives to industrialized education?
In a section entitled, “Lectures at night, homework during the day,” Godin speaks to the work of Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. In Khan’s vision, we would add a new model for teaching. Godin puts forth the model when we writes:
There will be a free, universal library of courses in the cloud online, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Every lecture, constantly improved, on every conceivable topic. This means that students will be able to find precisely the lecture they need, and to watch it at their own speed, reviewing it at will.
Godin’s assessment is that Khan’s model will open up a great deal of new possibilities for teachers, including access to a variety of professional-level presentations.
As Godin continues to narrow in on quality models for learning throughout his manifesto, he writes a segment entitled, “Leadership and Followership,” in which he explains is a concept instituted by John Cook. Cook’s term refers to a false pretense of leading where students might learn theoretical concepts of leadership without actually having to lead a group of individuals. Though this is a model perpetuated in the industrialized school system, it’s certainly not ideal. Instead, Godin proposes that for students to learn the real challenges of process-oriented leadership, they must be taught the steps before being granted any sort of credibility to lead. He believes this outcome is in fact teachable in schools.
In fact, as Godin moves further toward his manifesto’s conclusion, he discusses the “two pillars of a future-proof education,” which include teaching students how to lead other students, and then aiding them in understanding the process of problem solving. Leadership, Godin writes, “involves initiative, and in the connected world, nothing happens until you step up and begin, until you start driving without a clear map.” He goes on to assert that any individual’s merit comes from his ability to develop “a new map,” and to solve emerging, ever-changing world problems.
What makes teachers exceptional?
To expound upon ideas regarding those principles for teaching that will make a teacher exceptional, Godin claims that teachers must possess an ability to express and explain emotions. He gives an example of a first-grade teacher who teaches students to contribute in class even if they don’t hold “popular” beliefs. Godin finds the pivotal issue is that regardless of a student’s age, she can be taught by a teacher who believes she can eventually express her ideas honestly.
Godin ultimately comes to make some cases for higher education models. Of higher education, he writes, “Schools are facing the giant crash of education loans and the inability of the typical student to justify a full-fare education.” While this is an unfortunate progression, the digital age at least partially to blame, the bottom line for Godin is that higher education is on the dawn of a great deal of change as course work is offered increasingly more online. He continues with a number of statements about colleges and universities, including costs, reputability of schools, the importance (or lack thereof) of SAT scores, the college degree as a means to an end, and the need for institutions to focus on elements “that matter.”
Finally, as Godin makes overall cases for what we must do to reform our school system, he deftly states, “The common school is going to take a generation to fix, and we mustn’t let up the pressure until it is fixed.” He encourages leaders to “go. Learn and lead and teach. If enough of us do this, school will have no choice but to listen, emulate, and rush to catch up.” Godin’s ultimate tenets for effective, powerful leadership include teaching students to make sound decisions, teaching to have compassion and to learn, teaching students to navigate a dynamic society, teaching students to challenge authority, and granting students an interest in the creative process.
After a great deal of progressive and thoughtful ideas set forth by Godin, these concluding statements, for the reader, come across in quite a compelling manner. Read the full manuscript to benefit from such inspirational wisdom so proficiently communicated by Seth Godin.
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