Seth Godin’s manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For?), argues that schools are designed to keep kids out of the labor force and train them to be “compliant and productive workers.”
Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence–it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.
. . . As we get ready for the ninety-third year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push, or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable, and mediocre factory workers?
The economy has changed dramatically, Godin writes. Teaching compliance is counterproductive now.
. . . certainly, the public school curriculum has not kept up with the times to the extent needed to effectively prepare students to compete in the economy.
But were schools ever explicitly designed to create compliant workers? Godin goes so far as to draw a sharp dichotomy between teaching a rich set of skills and teaching obedience. Is it really impossible to teach obedience and creativity at the same time?
I’ve heard the schools-as-factories argument before and found it unpersuasive. The average American never has been a factory worker — and few factory workers needed much education until recently. Furthermore, if we’re educating for compliance, we’re doing a lousy job of it.
That said, it’s worth discussing Godin’s ideas on educating leaders.