First things first: I will be migrating Empanada.Life to andytrattner.com since my domain lease is expiring in a few days and I don’t currently want to pay $40 annually to renew it.
In other news, I’m writing at 4:30am because I woke up suddenly with an idea for an education-related podcast, inspired by Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” riff. In it, he asks the essential question: “What is school for?”
If I recall correctly, Seth tells the story of how he volunteered at a school where the teacher wanted students to craft a birdhouse. Everyone got a hammer, and they were told to hammer in nails. One student wasn’t hammering quite right, so the teacher took the near-completed birdhouse, and took out all the nails. One-by-one, dropping them to the floor. “This. Is. Wrong. You. Didn’t. Do. It. Properly. Now. Start. Over.”
He discusses how schools are antiquated; they sill teach 19th century factory-worker compliance. They don’t encourage creativity—not the frilly Sesame Street imagination kid stuff, but the difficult emotional labor of showing up consistently to make and ship something. And every time schools fail to teach essential modern skills (like creativity, resourcefulness, grit), they steal dreams.
Until we can agree on what school is for, Seth argues, we cannot make progress on radical systematic change. But that sounds pessimistic, maybe we can re-phrase: we can do things to improve the situation, but we will ultimately need to come to consensus on what school is for in order to fully embrace a better human-development paradigm as a society.
So what is school for? That’s a loaded question, of course. We can break it down further:
- What makes someone successful? (thinking about the past, present, future)
- What’s undervalued or overvalued in terms of success contributors / traits?
- How can teachers and school officials better cultivate successful students?
- How can parents better raise successful kids, especially in non-traditional or resource-constrained situations?
- How can lifelong (middle, high school, college+) learners develop their full potential, within or outside of school systems?
After talking with many, many smart folks, I’ve picked up a few patterns and resources but haven’t found any decisive answers. My own opinions on this subject are not so tightly held; I find myself eschewing old assumptions and (re)discovering new directions of thought on a near-daily basis. These tantalizing questions are timeless, wide-ranging, and fascinating. There are ties to biology, economics, self-help, pedagogy, etc.
These questions also provide an essential first step in creating dialogue to drive a cohesive, coherent re-invention of the modern school. The questions are accessible to lay-people, and we can all opine, but also they lend themselves to a broad variety of experts whose synthesized wisdom could shine through in a recorded discussion.
It would be wonderful to have this discussion with the rigor of 80,000 Hours and the entertainment value plus audience reach of Joe Rogan. I suspect there would be lots of support and community-building potential for a high-quality, weekly, free content. It would be a relatively easy ask to get people on the phone for an hour. With the right discussion moderation and thorough lines of questioning, listeners as well as discussion participants stand to gain significantly.
What downsides might there be to such an effort? The discussion could be misleadeing, incomplete, or unsatisfying. The audience might not be as big or engaged as desired. There may be logistical hurdles with production, community cultivation, content quality, guest invitations, legalities. But the biggest downside of all might actually be simply not starting…
The beauty of this medium, like YouTube, is that it’s a low barrier to entry. Why not just try it, experiment, see what happens? Most podcasts begin this way. There are huge upsides in generously bringing people useful information and building a project touchstone larger than oneself to draw in like-minded folks, growing together into a beautiful future.
Seth talks about his blog as an outlet to dump ideas, so he can focus on the good ones and won’t feel compelled to pursue them all indiscriminantly. I love this philosophy, but this podcast thing is worth serious consideration of pursuit!