Full text of marketer and author Seth Godin on Stop Stealing Dreams at TEDxYouth@BFS conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: STOP STEALING DREAMS by Seth Godin at TEDxYouth@BFS
Good morning, boys and girls.
That was terrible. You’ve learned how to do that from a young age. You’re supposed to say, “Good morning, Mr. Godin.” So let’s try again.
Good morning, boys and girls!
[Audience: Good morning, Mr. Godin!]
Have you thought about what that’s for? Have you thought about how, for a hundred or 150 years, that was ingrained into the process of public education? And have you thought at all as people on the cutting edge, as people who are interested in making school work again, about a very simple question: What is school for?
I don’t think we’re answering that question. I don’t even think we’re asking that question. Everyone seems to think they know what school is for, but we’re not going to make anything happen until we can all agree about how we got here and where we are going. So my goal today is to put that question into your head and help you think about it.
First, we have to understand what school used to be for. There was a woman named Mary Everest Boole and she came up with this notion — she was a mathematician in the late 1800s — that you could use string and nails and wood and make decorations, those things with the string goes back and forth, and there is math built into that, and that a teacher on the cutting edge, of fifth graders, might decide to use that idea modulo nine and remainders and string going back and forth to teach an important lesson about math.
So that memo went home to all the parents at my kids public school and said, “We need help with this. We need hammers.” So I am sort of unemployed. I showed up at school that day with a bag of hammers, a big bag of 18 hammers. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard 18 kids hitting nails with 18 hammers in a little room for 20 minutes, but I have. I’m not going to do it for you because it’s really hard to listen to.
And what the teacher explained to the kids is they must arrange the brads in this certain pattern, hammering, hammering, hammering and make sure they’re in there nice and firm. And so these kids are hammering, hammering, hammering, 20 minutes of zero education. Just 20 minutes of hammering.
And then the teacher walks over and she says to a boy, “I told you to make sure the brads were all the way in.” And one by one she pulled them out and threw them on the floor every single one and put the board down and that is what she believed school was for. School was about teaching obedience.
“Good morning, boys and girls” starts the day with respect and obedience.
Now I have to move on to Frederick J. Kelly. Some of you have brought your own number 2 pencil for the quiz that’s going to be part of today. The number 2 pencil is famous because Frederick J. Kelly made it famous.
Back around World War I we had a problem, which was that there was this huge influx of students because we had expanded the school day to include high school, and there was this huge need to sort them all out. So he invented the standardized test and an abomination. And he gave it up ten years later when the emergency was over but because he gave it up, because he called it out, because he said the standardized test is too crude to be used, he was ostracized and lost his job as the president of a university, because he dared to speak up against a system that was working.
So let’s try a little experiment here. I’d like everyone to go ahead and raise your right hand just as high as possibly you can. Now please raise it a little higher.
Hmm. What’s that about?! My instructions were pretty clear and yet you all held back. How come? You held back because you’ve been taught since you were 3 years old to hold a little bit back because if you do everything, if you put all out, then your parents or your teacher or your coach or your boss is going to ask for little bit more, aren’t they? And the reason they will is because we are products of the industrial age.
The industrial age made us all rich. The industrial age brought productivity to the table. Productivity allows human beings working together with a boss and a manager to make more than they could ever make alone. Productivity makes us a car for $700 instead of $700,000 in 1920.
But the thing about productivity and industrialism is this. The people who ran factories had two huge problems.
Problem number one: they looked around and they said, “We don’t have enough workers. We don’t have enough people who are willing to move off the farm and come to this dark building for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and do what they are told. If we could get more workers, we could pay them less. And if we could pay them less, we’d make more money. We need more workers.”
And so, the KKK went to industrialists and said, “You need to get those kids out of the factories, those people you’re paying $3 a day, because they’re taking our jobs.” And so a deal was made. And the deal was universal public education whose sole intent was not to train the scholars of tomorrow. We had plenty of scholars. It was to train people to be willing to work in the factory. It was to train people to behave, to comply, to fit in. We process you for a whole year. If you are defective, we hold you back and process you again. We sit you in straight rows just like they organize things in the factory. We build a system, all about interchangeable people because factories are based on interchangeable parts. If this piece is no good, put another piece in there. And org charts, those little boxes are all designed to say, “Oh, we can fit Bob in there because Rachel didn’t show to work today.” And so we built school. That’s what school was for.
And the second thing industrialists were really worried about was that we weren’t going to buy all the stuff they could make, that in 1880, 1890, people owned two pairs of shoes, one pair of jeans. That was it. You don’t know anyone who owns one pair of jeans anymore, ever. What they needed to train us to do was buy stuff. They needed to train us to fit in. They needed to train us to become consumers.
And so, Horace Mann, who meant well, built the public school as we know it. And then, he needed more teachers, right? Because you have more schools so he built a school for teachers. Do you know what it’s called? The normal school. He called it the normal school where they trained people to teach in the common school because he wanted you to be normal, and he wanted the class to be normal, and he wanted people to fit in.
And then we came up with this: the textbook. Now if you want to teach somebody, how to become passionate about, I don’t know, American history, why would you give them this? Do people walk into Barnes & Noble and say, “I’m really interested in that latest gripping thing that’s going to get me all engaged about the Civil War. Do you have one of those textbooks in stock?”