Saturday
Mar032012

What Is School For?

The simplest questions uncover the profoundest truths. 

I wrote On Purpose, in part, to help answer the question "what is a school for"? I didn't ask about schooling in general, but about any one given school that your child might go to—what does it do, what makes it good, and how could it become great?

One reason why this is a particularly important question at the start of the 21st Century is because as a nation we don't have a very good grasp on the larger question "what is school for" or better still "what is good schooling"? 

In On Purpose, I argue that schools—through their very design—can bring about more of the highly skilled, hardworking, good, and noble student-citizens we need to lead our country prosperously into the future. But schools also need to be designed and maintained in a very certain way to produce this great result with any sort of regularity.

Approximately 90% of all children in America go to public schools. The manner in which state and local laws are written has a spectacular influence on the kind and quality of the schools our children go to. The manner in which school districts are structured and the means by which district priorities are identified also has a tremendous influence on what school communities believe is really important and worth their greatest time and attention.

This is where Seth Godin comes in.

Seth is the marketing genius of Squidoo and "Tribes" fame who understands better than most people how ideas catch fire today and what is required to transform the landscape of the world we live in.

Seth has written an education reform manifesto called Stop Stealing Dreams that he wants us to share with our friends and distribute for free. It has a subtitle: what is school for? This is a question that needs to catch fire. 

As I've argued for years, a winning mindset is key to real reform. Without it we won't have the vision to see what's possible or the guts to withstand the forces against us. Godin seems to agree. In one section he even tells us how to fix school in twenty-four hours:

Don’t wait for it. Pick yourself. Teach yourself. Motivate your kids. Push them to dream, against all odds. Access to information is not the issue. And you don’t need permission from bureaucrats. The common school is going to take a generation to fix, and we mustn’t let up the pressure until it is fixed.

But in the meantime, 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.

I like this. It's like the No Excuses mindset after drinking Red Bull. But if you read through Stop Stealing Dreams so much more is revealed. Godin sees that if we don't radically change our schools, our children will stop caring about schooling altogether.

As I have shown in On Purpose, great school communities need to focus greater time and attention on the school cultures they create so that our children might receive the education they truly deserve—an education in which not only skills are mastered but children also learn who they are as people and how they can best contribute to their happiness and to the happiness of others.

That is after all, truly, what school is for.

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