Reformers are a small proportion

Seth Godin, the marketing guru, has published a self-described manifesto on education reform. I won’t summarize it other than to say that it’s education reform for the creative class, for the those stifled in the existing US public and private education system. You should go read it; it’s free and worth your time.

And most people won’t like it (readers of this blog are not most people). What Godin and many other reformers forget are that we’re outnumbered probably 20% to 80%. And being outnumbered like that leads to two giant obstacles to creative-class education reform:

  1. culture
  2. bureaucracy

Culture

The American anti-education education culture is well-entrenched and stretches from religious fundamentalists to those who just don’t like school that much, from deep in our history to depressingly recent examples. The culture frowns upon:

  • math
  • science
  • reading
  • history
  • literature
  • intellectualism

And that is just the substance of education. The culture also hates the means:

  • homework
  • tests
  • rote learning
  • those kids
  • sitting quietly in a classroom all day
  • teachers

Watch any American movie about school and you’ll see the dripping derision (not that it isn’t well-deserved, but the entire system gets painted with one brush).

The end goal of education for the majority is job training. If that could be done without compulsory education, and sports were not tethered to school, the vast majority of the American population would walk away from the system in a second. Most people go through the motions to get the high school diploma or the bachelor’s degree, because that’s the admission ticket to a job, plain and simple.

The culture also invests a lot of energy in believing in rigid institutions, like the military and the DMV. For every creative-classer like Seth and I, there are four people who prefer standardized rules, multiple-choice tests, and ensuring consistency and compliance.  And that brings up reason numero dos: bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy

Yes, most people want bureaucracy. Author Myke Cole has a great description of why the military needs a bureaucracy to function. The exact same reasoning applies to education. And the majority want it that way. You pack your kid off to the bus, and the same crap happens to them as every other kid. The education bureaucracy is a gigantic vested interest that fights tooth and nail to stop the say, 20% of the population who are into the more creative and dynamic education ideas.

Seth’s big problem (along with the TED lecturers he cites and who I adore) is that they (we) are a minority. Isolated experiments and glowing results for kids who want to learn taught by teachers who want to teach will never be accepted by the majority. Some of the majority will just see more work for them to do (especially teachers), others are afraid of becoming that engaged/involved in something as mundane as education, and the rest will dismiss it as book-loving nerds trying to proselytize. Unless there’s a way to convince the majority that a creative-class education system is better for them, they’ll never go along.

We know this because this fight has been going on for a long time, especially in education circles. There is successful experiment after promising pilot, and people fight to get the word out. But the majority is not listening. Standards only increase when the economy forces it through the political system, transparency is quietly strangled behind the scenes and deviations from the norm are stomped on for newer, more urgent reasons (failing school lists, gang activity, school safety).

So what value is there to Seth’s manifesto? As society nichifies into homogenous segments, the people who are drawn to these ideas will be well served to know of them. What does this have to do with science fiction? Well, let me ask a question: what kind of education system will we build on Mars if the settlers are creative classers? Seth is pointing down the right road for the future. But only for about 20% of us.

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