What is school really for?

I think that students should have incredibly high expectations for their lives, and for their future colleges’ roles in helping them realize those dreams.  That’s why I preach so often here that what you do in college will be more important than the name of the college you attend.  Going to a prestigious school used to put you at the front of the line for future success.  But the world has changed now.  With so many college graduates and so much access to information, a degree from Harvard alone isn’t as important as what you can actually do, whether or not you can lead, and your ability to solve interesting problems.

Today, Seth Godin released a free ebook, Stop Stealing Dreams (What is School for?).  It’s not all about colleges.  And it’s not a full-throated bashing of our educational system.  It’s an argument that schools were originally created to educate students for a world that has since changed dramatically.  It’s not just time for schools to catch up; it’s time for students to change your expectations of what you want and need from your education.

I’ll let you read it and judge for yourselves and join the debate.   But here are three parts I found interesting:

On the allure of famous colleges

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Spend time around suburban teenagers and their parents, and pretty soon the discussion will head inexorably to the notion of going to a “good college.”  Harvard, of course, is a good college. So is Yale. Add to the list schools like Notre Dame and Middlebury.  How do we know that these schools are good?  If you asked me if a Mercedes is a good car compared to, say, a Buick, by most measures we could agree that the answer is yes. Not because of fame or advertising, but because of the experience of actually driving the car, the durability, the safety—many of the things we buy a car for.  The people who are picking the college, though, the parents and the students about to invest four years and nearly a quarter of a million dollars—what are they basing this choice on?  Do they have any data at all about the long-term happiness of graduates?  These schools aren’t necessarily good. What they are is famous…Famous colleges are part of the labeling and ranking system, but have virtually nothing to do with the education imparted or the long-term impact of the education received.  If you need the label to accomplish your goals, go get the label.  Either way, we ought to hold colleges to a much higher standard when it comes to transformative education.  For starters, though, start using the word 'famous' when your instinct is to say 'good.'”

On college as an opportunity to do more than just get a degree

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In the post-industrial age of connection, though, the slotting and the scarcity are far less important. We care a great deal about what you’ve done, less about the one-word alumnus label you bought. Because we can see whom you know and what they think of you, because we can see how you’ve used the leverage the Internet has given you, because we can see if you actually are able to lead and actually are able to solve interesting problems—because of all these things, college means something new now.

And an interesting idea to let students learn by doing the coaching themselves

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So let’s de-professionalize. Have a student (or a rotating cast of students) be the coach. And let students be the high school recruiters. And let students be the managers of as many elements of the stadium, the press box, and the concessions as possible.  And let’s have the director of the college musical be a student as well.  And the person in charge of logistics for homecoming.  Just about all of these jobs can be done by students. What would that lead to?  Well, first we’d have to get truly serious about giving these students the background and support to do these jobs well. Interesting to note that kids in college plays have taken ten years or more of drama classes, but the student director probably has no mentor, no rigor, and no background in doing his job. We’ve rarely taught students how to do anything that involves plotting a new course.  Would you be interested in hiring the kid who coached the team that won the Rose Bowl? How about working for someone who had handled logistics for five hundred employees at a 50,000-seat stadium? Or having your accounting done by someone who learned the craft tracking a million dollars’ worth of ticket sales?  Is there a better way to learn than by doing?"