Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin

       5 minute read

Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin

Stop Stealing Dreams is a manifesto for education reform written by Seth Godin.

An economy that’s stuck needs more inventors, scientists, explorers, and artists. Because those are the people who open doors for others.

In this short book, Seth wanders with his direction and topics, jumping from one thought to the next as if he’s writing a string of blog posts. Yet he always comes back to his main themes: questioning the value of our education system and suggesting how it could be changed to better serve our children and society.

Seth provides several short history lessons describing the creation and maintenance of our public schools in the United States. Our national education system, founded in 1918, is based on the premise of feeding obedient adult workers into an industrial workforce. It’s not a coincidence that the system was created during the height of the industrial revolution.

Show up on time. Sit in defined rows. Proceed orderly between rooms. Ask permission to use the bathroom. Memorize the information. Receive a reward for doing exactly what’s expected.

Did I describe what happens at a job or in a school?

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

Our school system is designed to train obedience and solidarity, memorization of facts and concepts that were once unavailable to the masses. It attempts to stuff children as full of information as it can while neglecting to show them how to think critically about the ideas that don’t fit neatly into a pre-defined bucket.

Learning is not done to you. Learning is something you choose to do.

The system doesn’t teach them to question, search, and dream of what might be possible or build a life long passion for learning. It’s imperative that we teach our children to think for themselves, ask questions no one else is willing to ask, and find the answers to those questions through the myriad ways possible today.

Dreamers in school are dangerous. Dreamers can be impatient, unwilling to become well-rounded, and most of all, hard to fit into existing systems.

Seth discusses the ways the system can, and should, be changed to meet the demands of our post-industrial society. Computers, robots, and technology have already begun removing the once steady jobs of the middle class. Truck drivers, taxi drivers, factory workers, and many more will be removed from the human workforce in greater quantity. With that in mind, we must shift the focus of our schools.

The networked revolution is creating huge profits, significant opportunities, and a lot of change. What it’s not doing is providing millions of brain-dead, corner-office, follow-the-manual middle-class jobs. And it’s not going to.

Should the student who prefers drama, theater and English be forced to learn advanced calculus, which they’ll never use again after 11th grade? Should the math teacher have to force uninterested students to learn advanced calculus through threats and punishment? Wouldn’t it be better if the students who are passionate about engineering and math are able to bring their interest to the classroom of their choice, creating interesting discussions and theories with a teacher who has the same passion? And the same goes for the students who prefer drama, writing, biology, and so many other areas.

Once students have reached a basic understanding of math, language, science, and other standard subject areas, why not allow them to pursue their interests, which will have a large impact on their lives after school.

Now that obedience is less important and learning matters more than ever, we have to be brave enough to separate them. We can rebuild the entire system around passion instead of fear.

Allowing students to follow their interests and passions will connect them with teachers who have the same passion, increasing the strength of their interaction.

Moving to a system that embraces open discussion, questions, and no longer tests for trivia, will improve the analysis and critical thinking skills of our children. They will learn to embrace understanding complex ideas through their questioning.

In an open-book/open-note environment, the ability to synthesize complex ideas and to invent new concepts is far more useful than drill and practice. It might be harder (at first) to write tests, and it might be harder to grade them, but the goal of school isn’t to make the educational-industrial complex easy to run; it’s to create a better generation of workers and citizens.

What if we gave up on our failed effort to teach facts? What if we put 80 percent of that effort into making huge progress in teaching every kid to care, to set goals, to engage, to speak intelligently, to plan, to make good decisions, and to lead?

Along with a basic understanding of language, math, science, and history, we can offer classes that address real-world scenarios many adults struggle with during their whole lives. Financial planning, balancing your budget, healthy cooking and eating, troubleshooting common household problems, and so much more that we expect children to learn during the hours they’re not in school or extracurricular activities or getting the sleep they need to make it through the day.

Thanks to technology, knowledge is readily accessible to the vast majority of people around the world, more so than any other time in history. Teachers and librarians no longer need be the stewards of our discoveries. Every kind of information imaginable is available online, accessible within mere seconds of submitting a question.

The connection revolution sets the table for a return of emotional labor. For the first time in a century, we have the opportunity to let digital systems do work while our teachers do labor. But that can only happen if we let teachers be teachers again.”

The current university system is an anachronism, leftover from the days when information was inaccessible. Applications and attendance are driven more by high profile (not to mention expensive) sporting events versus academic achievements or career placement of alumni.

Since 1985, the salary of college football coaches (at public universities) has increased by 650 percent. Professors? By 32 percent.

On prestigious (famous) colleges:

It turns out that students who apply to Harvard and get in but don’t go are just as successful and at least as happy throughout their lives as the ones who do attend. Try to imagine any other branded investment of that size that delivers as little.

Information, knowledge, and experience are the keys to engaging students in ways that ignite their passion for a topic. The current university model relies less on experience, if at all, and almost solely on the dissemination of information.

Seth’s manifesto is a thought exercise for anyone interested in the betterment of our society through education. It’s well worth the time to read and then discuss with those around you.

This isn’t a prescription. It’s not a manual. It’s a series of provocations, ones that might resonate and that I hope will provoke conversation.