Anette On Education

What is School For?--Seth Godin & Maria Xenidou

Episode Summary

Anette and her friend, Maria Xenidou, of the Impact Learning podcast, take the opportunity to talk education with one of their teachers, Seth Godin. Seth asks great questions about what is school for, and talks about the difference between education and learning. Everyone involved in education should listen to this, and, especially those setting up our systems of education, including legislators. Seth is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, AND teacher. In addition to launching one of the most popular blogs in the world, which Anette reads daily, he has written 20 best-selling books, including The Dip, Linchpin, Purple Cow, Tribes, and What To Do When It's Your Turn (And It's Always Your Turn), Thiis and his newest book is The Practice, Shipping Creative Work. Seth also founded two companies, Squidoo and Yoyodyne (acquired by Yahoo!). Seth has lots of thoughts on education, including his manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams, his TED Talk, and a course on Udemy called Seth Godin on Learning and Education. Seth has inspired Anette for years now, and he helps thousands learn through his Akimbo courses, including Anette, through The Podcasting Fellowship! Thank you, Seth and Maria, for talking education today!

Episode Notes

Anette and her friend, Maria Xenidou, of the Impact Learning podcast, take the opportunity to talk education with one of their teachers, Seth Godin. Seth asks great questions about what is school for, and talks about the difference between education and learning. Everyone involved in education should listen to this, and, especially those setting up our systems of education, including legislators.

Seth is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, AND teacher. In addition to launching one of the most popular blogs in the world, which Anette reads daily, he has written 20 best-selling books, including The Dip, Linchpin, Purple Cow, Tribes, and What To Do When It's Your Turn (And It's Always Your Turn), Thiis and his newest book is The Practice, Shipping Creative Work.

Seth also founded two companies, Squidoo and Yoyodyne (acquired by Yahoo!).

Seth has lots of thoughts on education, including his manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams, his TED Talk, and a course on Udemy called Seth Godin on Learning and Education. Seth has inspired Anette for years now, and he helps thousands learn through his Akimbo courses, including Anette, through The Podcasting Fellowship!

Thank you, Seth and Maria, for talking education today!

Episode Transcription


education, kids, learning, parents, pandemic, teachers, system, people, seth, question, talking, learn, school, adult, testing, akimbo, create, conversation


Maria: Hey, it's Maria from Impact Learning, and I'm here with my friend Anette from Anette on Education. Today we invited one of our teachers to join our discussion on education. Together, we will unpack the progress we've made thus far, the change we are creating today, and, most importantly, where we are headed. Our special guest is Seth from Akimbo. Welcome, Seth. Thank you for joining us.


Anette: Hello, I'm Anette, and thank you for listening to my podcast, Anette on Education. Today, I'm really excited to bring to you a very robust conversation about education and learning with my friend Maria Xenidou, of the Impact Learning podcast, and, the one and only, Seth Godin. Seth is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker and teacher. In addition to launching one of the most popular blogs in the world, which I read every morning, he has written 20 best selling books, including The Dip, Linchpin, Purple Cow, Tribes, and What to Do When it's Your Turn (And it's Always Your Turn), This is Marketing, and his newest book, The Practice—Shipping Creative Work, Seth also founded two companies, Squidoo and Yoyodyne (acquired by Yahoo). Thank you both for being on this podcast. In this wonderful conversation that I think raises some really important questions about what is school for.


Maria: Welcome, Seth. Thank you for joining us.


Seth: Well, thank you both for having me. It's good to meet you, Anette; it's good to see Maria again as well.


Anette: Thank you, Seth. It's a pleasure to meet you. And I look forward to this conversation with you and Maria. Seth has lots of thoughts on education, including his manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, his TED talk, and a course on Udemy, called “Seth Godin on Learning and Education,” which I just discovered. I'll put links to all of these in the show notes. Seth has inspired me for years now through his blog and his books. And he helps thousands learn through his Akimbo courses, including me, and earlier, Maria, through The Podcasting Fellowship. Thank you, Seth, for talking education with me and Maria, today. We’re going to begin with that good old question, “What is the purpose of education?”


Seth: What a great question. And it almost never gets asked. My grandmother was a teacher. Some of my favorite people on earth are teachers. I've been a teacher my whole life. We know that teachers are involved. But education might not always be about learning. And so I want to start by making a distinction between education and learning. Education has evolved into being a multi trillion dollar industrial activity, about compliance, and about coercion. And learning, used to be at the center of it, but maybe it's not anymore. So I care a lot about learning. And I think I can talk clearly about what learning is for and how it works in our society. But education, education, the thing that's left over with simply bureaucracy and obedience, I'm not sure what that's for.


Maria: Has learning always been in the center, like years ago? Or is it something that has evolved because of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the technology?


Seth: Right, so we needed learning, if we wanted our kids to be able to speak to us to be able to read to be able to use a plow to be able to understand when it's time to milk, the cow, those are all things we learn to do. And in the 1800s, we invented public school education, it was based on the Prussian paramilitary system of education. And it had two functions, one to do learning at scale, and to to create a generation of factory workers, because factory work requires going to a strange place for 12 hours and doing what you were told. That's not natural behavior. So we trained kids to become factory workers, because there was a shortage of them. But along the way, we also taught them really useful skills and attitudes and approaches. So yeah, there's there's a juicy center of learning inside school. But what's happened as the stakes have risen, as other countries have come online as we have expanded education is that parents have been indoctrinated into wondering if we'll get a good grade. Because if we get a good grade, then we get to go to a fancy college. If we go to fancy college, then we get a better job, and then the status and parents goes up and all in all at all. But if we say to those parents Your kids didn't learn anything today. Most of them are like, but did they get a good grade? And I think the pandemic, which we are coming out of a year of surviving, has shown parents what those kids are doing in those zoom rooms, which isn't the kind of learning most of us would hope for. It's mostly education.


Anette: If you could predict what the future of education could look like, and should look like, how would it change? And how would it shift?


Seth: Well, I think the more we let teachers do, the better, everything gets. That hard working, caring teachers signed up to teach, they didn't sign up to be disciplinarians, they didn't sign up to indoctrinate kids, they signed up to discover what someone needs to learn and help them do that. But it got burned out of them by a system that just wants to test things that scale. And so what I think is going to happen, as we advance zoom five years, in just one year, as the economy fractures around what Americans think of as a good job, which is the factory job, which is almost non existent. Now. We're going to see that people are going to demonstrate their competence by what they do, not by what their certificate says. And your body of work is more important. So if someone says, Where did Spike Lee go to college, it doesn't matter. I've seen the movies, I don't care where he went to college. Whereas when my wife was a 40 year old lawyer at 40, people were still talking about where they went to law school and how they did on their LSATs. Because there's no easy way to show your work in the middle of the legal profession if you're not a superstar. And so they resort to what kind of certificate do you have? How much did you withstand, to get here.


Maria: So if you talked about teachers leading the way, so educators, whether they are in K 12, or higher ed, they're taking initiatives, and they are leading change. Outside of that, also, that's within the system. Now we have change that's happening from outside in, think about an edtech company, more or nonprofit, or instructional designers who help educators design a more, let's say, experience based or project based curriculum. And then there are people like you who are completely outside of the system, I see you in the learning ecosystem. So if you look at these three different buckets, or pathways of change, how each of them contributes to the sift we're talking about, and how is this gonna all work out as we move forward?


Seth: Well, I think that we need to, in addition to distinguishing between learning and education, we need to distinguish between adults and kids. Because, you know, the most of the systems around us were built when the adults were expected to be out of the system by the time they were 40, or 50 years old. So you went to school for 10 years, and then you were an adult, and you worked. But if you're going to live to be 80 or 90, that's a long time to be relying on what you learned in 1964. So adult education is a really important factor going forward. And some adult education is just school for adults with, you know, papers and certificates and all the rest of it. But I think we're seeing an explosion in adult learning. And so we've got Akimbo, which is now an independent B Corp that I don't run, we've got the new companies like Maven and disco, that are showing up to create adult learning. But most of the money and most of the focus is going on those 10 years, that kids aren't able to go out in the world and earn a living need. Authority need a safe place to be and should learn something. And I think what we're going to see is the idea of homeschooling multiplied by 100 that all kids are homeschooled, to the extent that from three o'clock to midnight, the parents are in charge. And you know, a lot of families that you know, are either a broken home or single parents or double income. There's not a lot of supervision from three o'clock God. And if we can create processes, where kids can explore their curiosity and actually learn not be educated during that period of time before they go to bed instead of sitting in front of the same video game all day. I think that that could be a miracle.


Maria: And who is leading, like what is our responsibility, whether we are at school, whether we are at a university, or whether we are you know, on Akimbo what is our role? What like what do we need to do


Seth: Well, if you're an adult, the responsibility is obvious. If you don't know enough, go learn something. And you don't need money. And you already have time, turn off Netflix, turn off the television and go learn something, learn to learn. If you're an adult who has kids in your charge, this hour that you're about to spend with 30 children, they're never getting that hour back. How dare you spend that hour? Giving them a lecture that they can watch on their own? How dare you spend that hour with drill and practice? How dare you spend that hour prepping for test? What a waste? What a waste. There's a TED talk I never gave. And it was only three minutes long. And I'll give you the brief version of it. And this was long before the pandemic. So forgive me if it hits too close to home. What would happen if there was a pandemic from outer space, and it made everyone on earth permanently infertile? what it would mean is that one day, five years from now, the last kid would come along, the last kid would enter kindergarten. And then the last kid would be in second grade. Imagine the last kid imagine her cohort of 30. If it was the last kid, would we say, well, we're sorry, the school is really run down and dirty. But we don't have enough money. When we say we're sorry that we have to test you with this brain numbing process. But there are too many kids in school, would we say you don't deserve a chance to shine? Of course not. The pathos is so deep, just as I'm talking about this, about how we treat that last kid. And so my compass is, what would happen if that person in the class with you right now is the last kid? Why don't we treat them like that.


Anette:  So powerful. I just have to ask, as being part of the system, both as a school board member for years, I'm now in community college region. I also work with folks at the state level, battling some of the current systems. And the systems aren't designed by those teachers in the classroom. I know. They're designed by our legislators by our commissioners of education, who are appointees currently least in Texas, of the governor. So it's a political system. How do we disrupt the systems that we've already created? That may often be driven by profit? Because there's so much money involved in the accountability system?


Seth: Yeah, I mean, this is, this is the heart of it. First, thank you for a lifetime of work. And Community College in particular is so important. I want to relate to a conversation I had with someone who was running a community college, and I will never forget it, I had given a talk like this to a bunch of educators. And in the q&a, this person raised their hand. And she said, Well, yeah, that's fine. But I went to community college, and those people are never going to want to learn. And I started to cry right there on stage. Because we had trusted this woman, the way we trust you. But she didn't get she had decided those people were people unlike her who weren't deserving of so many of the opportunities that she had had. And don't get me started about political appointees. My point is that every one of us has some level of authority. And all of us have responsibility. And the question is, how far are you willing to go? To make things better? What would it mean, for a superintendent or principal to just suspend testing. And my cousin runs one of the most important high schools in New York City, public school, and she has done just that. And she has risked her career to say these kids not on my watch. And that's why her school is so important, and why the chancellor of education in the city of New York relies on her to be the outlier and the person was gut. So the thing about responsibility and authority is this. You probably don't have the authority to fix it. But you could take responsibility to fix it. And you could take responsibility and go change it right now and let them fire you if they want, because they probably won't. And if they do, you'll make things better either way. And I know we all got indoctrinated into compliance, but the system's not going to change from the top. The system is going to change because someone like my teacher in 1968, Mr. Gillam decided to change my life. And teachers are still able to do that.


Maria: So, Seth, for the kids that they are graduating, and they don't have these teachers you're talking about, that put their heart out there, and they take risks. So they come out of K 12. Perhaps they go to higher ed. And they don't think of learning, they think of tests. So they are a little bit trained in a way that we want to change. So what can we do? Like, can we? How can we help them, so they can become the lifelong learners and move forward with their life for the next 60, 80 years?


Seth: Exactly. So first of all, they got indoctrinated by their parents and their parents were indoctrinated to believe that a famous College is a good college, they're not the same thing. And they're going to go a quarter of a million dollars in debt to do High School, but with more binge drinking, and they're going to be focused, you know, at Penn State, they give kids a clicker, the kind of clicker you use to train a dog, and the clickers got some electronics in it. When you go to a large lecture class at Penn State, you have to click that you were there, if you don't, they fail you. I mean? Is there anything more like dog training than that? That don't go to the lecture, because you're gonna learn something, go to the lecture, because you have to. And it just, it breaks my heart. And so at some point, either the kids and adult or the parents still responsible, we got to speak up and stand up and say, screw this, learn something, and I don't care what your grades are, I want to understand, did you change your mind? Did you adopt a new posture? Did you lead? Did you show up as an emerging leader? And at Akimbo, they've run a conference a bunch of times called Emerging Leaders during the pandemic, for kids who had lost their internships and everything, and to watch what happens when 100 kids for five days are able to actually learn it's mind blowing, five days undid two years of college. It was beautiful. And so what I would say, if you've got a kid like that, or if you are a kid like that is go organize your own. Go organize your own five day session on zoom with 10 people and change these other's lives. If you don't do that, you've got no one to blame, but yourself.


Maria: What are the changes have you yourself done differently amid the pandemic, and also others might have done, to contribute to the shift we are talking about?


Seth: I’ll try to chime in. And then I want to make sure that I know Anette has something that she was trying to add, but was was being polite. For me, I am seeing indoctrination more clearly than ever before. I am seeing the caste system that I grew up under, I am seeing how our expectations have been shaped by a lifetime of marketing and brainwashing and propaganda. And I'm trying to turn on lights for others. But the status quo is the status quo because it's really good at sticking around.


Anette: Speaking of the status quo, today, in Texas, they launched the they accountability test, the STAAR test that is now in place, even after the year and a half a pandemic that the kids have been through, for over a year. And guess what? The online platform didn't work, of course, of course. And so the push towards the test, which is increased only increase since my kids were in school, they didn't go through quite some of this because they're a little older. And so it's been clearly obvious to me that this is not what we need to be doing to create learners and lifelong learners. Part of the reason I took the podcasting course through Akimbo was to find a different way to develop learners, and to develop that community. And you've done such a beautiful job at that, that it's I mean, it's it's impacted my life, my friendships, my future, forever, and it is so powerful. But it's not what a third grader needs. So there's this, you know, challenge that we have, as say, saying the K12 system. We're custodial care for a lot of parents, and, and we have a lot of low income students that we that we're trying to create those opportunities for, because we're their only chance, honestly,


Seth: I want to just interject for one second, I'm sorry to interrupt you in it. But it is exactly what third graders need. It's just not something that an independent outside party can inject into an eight year olds life without a custodial care system helping along the way. But I got an email last year from an eight, someone who I changed their life when they were nine. And that was a really long time ago, and they're dropping me a note 25 years later because The same kind of learning works in the real world. And the same kind of learning is possible in Texas. The hard part is figure figuring out how to do it at the same time you don't have deniability, because teachers can be subversive to the system if they want to. And it's harder than ever before, but it is still doable. And that's what makes a teacher hero. We don't make movies like standard deliver about teachers that principals thought did a great job. We never do that. We make movies, we remember the teachers who subverted what the bureaucracy one and not the ones who did what they were told,


Maria: Can we talk a little more about the role of parents, because you said that now everybody because of the distance learning amid the pandemic. And my my friends who are parents tell me that now they're realizing how bored their kids are in front of zoom, which is basically a virtual classroom because they would be watching also, you know, the same thing on the board or whatever, you know, the teacher would be using. So has this kind of experience, which was challenging quite a bit, right. The distance learning has this helped parents develop awareness to help a little bit more giving the approval we're talking about embrace and empower their children?


Seth: Well, there are lots of different kinds of parents, and I can't speak for all of them. You know, there are parents who come from a background where certification is worth way more than a family that comes from privilege that gets the benefit of the doubt, it's way easier for someone with my background, to encourage a kid not to go to college than it is for somebody who that piece of paper is going to be life changing. So I don't want to speak for everybody. It's also true, as Anette pointed out, that the caregiving component is vitally important if you need a job to put money to put food on the table if two parents have to leave, or if there's only one parent. So all of these things are all tied up into one conversation. They don't belong that way. Like we need community systems in place, so that parents and caregivers can take care of kids in a positive, safe way. But we also need learning systems in place, and they don't have to be the same thing. But we need them both. And so yeah, more parents than ever before, are reading my Manifesto. It's 80,000 words, it's free. Just type go to stop stealing dreams calm and saying this is exactly what I am seeing. And you wrote this seven years ago. But what are they going to do about it? And what they need to do about it is they need to go to the principal, and they need to go to the school board. And they need to go to the teachers and they ask a simple question. What is school for? And if the community can't answer that question, then it needs to stop doing everything it's doing until it can answer that question. And I don't think the answer to the question is what school is for is to keep kids from killing each other until they get good enough grades so they can go to a famous college and not be my problem. How can that be what schools for?


Anette: I love this conversation so much!


Seth: I love that I made you speechless.


Anette: You did. And that's unusual. I have always said that, pretty much, because I've analyzed education for quite some time now. And I've really thought we just need to blow the system up and start over. And I think the pandemic gave us that opportunity. Whether or not we can capitalize on that. We're in a legislative session right now, I guarantee that is not the focus of the Texas Legislature. So there are those competing systems that I that I juggle with, to try to encourage my senators and house representatives and state leadership, we need to do it differently. I don't have that power on my own. But there are coalitions of folks in the state I work with who maybe we do, over time. And we're trying. We've been trying and we're not there yet.


Seth: I think we can learn something from what's going on in prison reform, which is also taking way too long. But prison reform has got people on both, quote sides of the quote aisle to agree that it is a waste of human capital. It is cruel, it is disrespectful and stupidly expensive to incarcerate people who would be better off not incarcerated. And schools not that different. right that the thing is that the people who care more about their pocketbook than anything else should be up in arms about the testing regime that's being put in place because it's a huge waste of money. And people who care about humanity should be up in arms about the testing regime because it's a huge waste of human potential. So who other than Pearson and people like them? Who exactly is in favor of the testing regime? That's not clear to me. And I, you know, there's a great book called Weapons of Math Destruction. And I strongly recommend people read it or listen to it, because it will open your eyes to a system that's in place that isn't in your favor.


Anette: Thank you for that recommendation. Maria?


Maria: Can we unpack the the drivers that are perhaps helping us towards the sift we are talking about and the first thing that comes to mind is technology. Now my nephew is connected to people around the world. And he's in a community and he's learning on YouTube. So if you compare that with, with what happens in school, it's a day and night. So what are the key drivers are going to help us continue to evolve towards the seat we are talking about?


Seth: Right? So the biggest driver, for most people who have technology privilege, it hasn't been access to YouTube that's been around for a really long time. I mean, I met Sal Khan, 10 years ago, 12 years ago, where he stood up and talked about lectures at home homework during the day, which is a brilliant idea. It's obvious. Why are we hand building a lecture on fractions ever again, the best lecture on fractions has already been given. Just watch it on your own and get back to me. Because it doesn't make sense to do that in real time. What makes sense to do in real time, is cohorts is learning together, his homework is puzzling out what we're going to do next. So the answer is right there in front of us. The question is, why isn't that happening? When I say to the teenagers in my neighborhood, and I spend a lot of time with them, you're 14, start a blog. Write that the way you're going to get into a famous college isn't by testing everyone in America, you're going to do it by having 10,000 fans, by the time you're 17, who will all send an email to a math professor and boom, you're in, right? And the kid looks at me with a panic look in their face, because they've been brainwashed and their parents have been brainwashed. The key question, which technology will support? The destruction of but isn't sufficient is will this be on the test? The minute someone says Will this be on the test? The game is over? We have to get past that. And yes, technology changes culture. But culture also changes technology. And what I'm seeing is that the forces of testing are using the internet, even more than the forces of inquiry. And when we can track every keystroke, when we can know whether it gets focused on the screen or not, you can bet that the testing forces are going to do that.


Anette: Could you reflect on the role that creativity has in the future?


Seth: Okay, so there are two kinds of jobs, there are jobs where you do what you're told that school, right. And that worked for a really long time, except now, we can get a computer to do what you were told cheaper than you. Now I can get someone who's living in a different place to do what they're told cheaper than you. Now I can get artificial intelligence and systems or even the customer to do work cheaper than you. So doing what you're told is no longer adding value. Right that you just have to look at some of the Boston Dynamics videos of machines working in a warehouse. I don't need a compliant warehouse worker anymore. I just need one of those. So then there's the other kind of work, which is figuring out what to do, which is the opposite of doing what you're told. And the question I would ask is, on a measure of time in an eight hour day, how many hours or minutes are kids challenged to figure out what to do? versus how many minutes are they challenged to do what they're told. And it's a typical school that I'm aware of, I would say less than five minutes a day, our kids figuring out what to do next. And that's what creativity is figuring out what to do next.


Anette: So now that's in our lap. What do we do next, Maria? What would your call to action be for the listeners?


Seth: Yeah, I mean, you know, some of the people who listen to this are teachers, I say, thank you. Some of the people who are listening to this are parents and I say, I'm with you. And the call to action for both is the one I mentioned earlier. Just ask the question. Can we figure out what school is for? And I think if we can keep asking that question, you know, what is teaching calculus instead of statistics for? Well, you can say, well, we always teach calculus because we always have even though kids you Statistics 50 times as much in life and are getting taken advantage of. Okay, so what is calculus for? Well, the kid needs to become a math major. Okay, how many kids are becoming math majors? Is that working out for you? We can just keep asking the question, What's it for? What's it for? What's it for?


Anette: Well, Seth, I want to thank you so much for being on our podcasts. And thank you for the work you do through akimbo and well, and in setting up Akimbo, I guess now, and just your ongoing question asking in your ongoing blog, and the one on your enrollment just yesterday, just really spoke to me. So no, there's a lot of us out there really appreciating your work and benefiting from it.


Seth: Well, thank you. And thank you, Maria, people who like you who speak up who care who make a difference. It matters so much. So thanks. Okay.


Anette: Thank you so much. Thank you, both Seth and Maria, for being on my podcast today. I very much appreciate it. And thank you for listening to us on education. I so appreciate the time and energy and thought put into the conversation today by Seth and Maria. And I hope you enjoyed it. I really think there were some very important questions that are left unanswered in our current system, at least in Texas, about what is school for? Maybe this conversation will help others rethink the purpose of school and the difference between learning and education and take this opportunity after a year of COVID in pandemic learning, or education or likely to move into what our students and communities really need. Thank you and thank you for listening to Anette on Education.