Why I Hate Teaching

I love education. But I hate teaching. Far too often we confuse the two, and I think that’s a big reason the US education system is the battered & bruised behemoth it is. Well, that and demagoguery by pusillanimous politicians.

If you look at how the US education system evolved, there are striking similarities to how our workforce evolved. The industrial revolution turned farmers with broad skill sets into incredibly specialized factory workers. Schooling moved from truly individualized curriculum in the living room, to a rigid, standardized, curriculum-driven classroom. Mass production meant less variation. Mass education meant we could educate more kids in a standardized system, as long as they fit in within the system. It meant less tolerance for “abnormal” kids.

Back in the day, Horace Mann thought that “public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” He thought a standardized approach to education would level the playing field for kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Give them all a fair shot at the American dream. Lofty goal. A goal I agree with. But what happened was factory farms and factory education.

And it’s not that people haven’t been trying to make reforms– they have. For a long time. Back in the early 1900’s, John Dewey was pushing the idea of “Progressive Education.” He argued (rightly, I think) for a more balanced approach to education. According to Wikipedia, “The problem was that Dewey and the other progressive theorists encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration that in general was not receptive to new methods.” That rings true today, too. Massive, entrenched institutions are structured to preserve the status quo.

A more balanced approach to education?

But the status quo isn’t working. Obviously. Something needs to change. Just like Dewey, and Maria Montessori before him, I’m arguing for a more balanced approach to education. Rather than teacher-centric, vs. content-centric, vs. student-centric, it ought to be more collaborative. Maria Montessori put it best: “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” There are people pushing for this today. Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote an article on RWW about how How YouTube is Part of a Global Economic Transformation. From the article: “It has become increasingly evident that to realize human potential in today’s societies and economies, lifelong learning is required, not just an initial period of formal schooling.” Hell yes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the US education system has failed. Or that it’s terrible. Or that I hate teachers and textbooks. On the contrary. I think that on the whole, we’ve tried our best. But we can do better. Because in our attempt to give our national treasures an equal shot at success, we forgot that “equal” doesn’t mean they should be treated like so much carbon in a diamond factory.

Our children are not factory-made. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Each has unique experiences that will inform their learning. If we can minimize the demagoguery and leverage some of the amazing technologies (iPads, serious games, the friggin internet) to create mass-customized learning, we can help each of our precious stones polish themselves into the gem they can be.



3 Predictions About the Future of “Social”

The Future

In the US, there are  tens of millions of searches every month for things related to social marketing, social media marketing, and the like. But, if you look at Google Trends, it also looks like that search traffic may have peaked (for now, anyway). So have searches for Facebook, by the way. What that tells me is that, as George Colony from Forrester Research put it at Le Web (to paraphrase), social is running out of people and it’s running out of hours. So, here are my 3 predictions about the future of social media and social marketing:

  1. Social won’t die. But it will become a zombie mutant. When the printing press came along, written stories didn’t die, they mutated. When TV came around, radio didn’t die, it mutated. People are predicting “the end of social” and I think what they actually mean is “the end of social as we know it.”
  2. You won’t care about social media anymore. “Social” will become a parallel offering– not a differentiator. Oh wait. That already happened– even this novelty “flatulence gift underwear” company has a “social” presence.
  3. I lied, I only have two predictions, but who wants to read a post titled “2 Predictions About the Future of Social”?
  4. Psych! Here you go, Prediction 3 about the future of social: in 12 months, all the predictions made by talking heads in fancy suits skinny jeans, flannel shirts, and stocking caps, will look like the intro to the Jetsons. Speaking of which, where is my flying car?

Ok, here’s the point: calling something social doesn’t make it social. Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t make your brand social. On the other hand, we humans are social people, so everything is social already. The trick is figuring out what part of your product/service/experience we humans actually care about, and building a clear, compelling, consistent story around that. Easy.

Trend: Rediscovering Real Life

Drive Thru Wedding
"Drive Thru?" by snailo86 on Flickr.com

Maybe you missed it, but that’s understandable. I’m talking about Society and Social Media, of course. Wedding of the century, and they friggin eloped back in ’08. After two and a half years, though, the honeymoon is over. It was great for a while. All they wanted to do was spend time with each other. They were so cute… all shiny and new. But in the process of falling madly in love, they lost their sense of self. They lost their personal identity. Can’t really bring much to a relationship if there’s no “you” anymore. And that’s natural. It’s part of any healthy relationship. So, Society is reconnecting with her roots while Social Media reconnects with his.

Seriously, though, I’ve noticed more and more stories about people rediscovering real life. Some great examples:

3 Implications/recommendations for businesses:

  1. Your shiny new Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare presence doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Yay! You made it to the party. But did you bring sales brochures or bratwurst? Be helpful first. The sales will follow.
  2. Experiences are more important than ever. All this new tech stuff is supposed to make it easier for your customers to interact directly with your employees. Kill your phone tree. Seriously. Think about the immediate connection with, education about, and empathy for your customers you’d have if every single one of your employees had to answer the phones. Make it random. Related note: get rid of metrics based on length of the call.
  3. Simple is powerful. Simplify your product offering & pricing strategy: good, better, best, works pretty damn well.

What do you think? Do you see Real Life as the next Twitter?

By the way, I’m pretty sure Social Media is sitting on his couch in his underwear playing GTA.

Google Sidewiki: You Never Had Control Anyway

Google launched Sidewiki, an add-on to their ubiquitous toolbar, which lets you “contribute helpful information to any page.” You’d think they grew horns, a tail, and started carrying a pitchfork.

Does anyone else see the irony here? Blogs & other social media tools move control of the collective conversation away from established players (corporations, governments, etc.) and give it to the individual. Now we have as much reach and influence as as multi-billion dollar corporation… in theory anyway.

But look out! Here comes Google Sidewiki!

Jeff Jarvis warns: “I have no control over the content associated with my site, essentially on my site.” He worries that someone will post negative comments. And he’s right– that will happen. But that’s beside the point.

You may own the URL, but the user owns the browser.

How about an analogy? I’ve been picketed. Seriously. The company I used to work for ran out of money and couldn’t pay vendors. Some of those vendors decided to picket. They hooted, hollered, jumped up and down, waved their signs at passing cars. It sucked.But it was a conversation that was happening about our company, right outside our doors, on public property– and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it. Think of that failed business as your website, and the sidewalk as the user’s web browser. The picketers are obviously comments in Sidewiki. Not a perfect analogy, I know. But you get the idea.

So, to those of you worried about losing control of the conversation on your websites, I suggest you heed your own advice: join the conversation and be authentic.

You never truly had control anyway.

Maybe Seth Godin is full of, well, you know.

I know he’s just being provocative, but I’ll bite anyway. In a recent blog post, Seth Godin says “The Internet Is Almost Full.” He goes on to say that there’s so much content out there now, we are full– our attention is full. You used to be able to stay in the know about everything that mattered. You used to be able to make an impact easily. He advises “so if you have something left to say, better hurry. Once it’s full, it’s full.” I call shenanigans.

It’s not about seeing or being or doing everything. It’s about passion.

Whether you’re creating or consuming, it’s about finding that handful of things that you can’t stop thinking about. Joseph Campbell called it “following your bliss.” 

When you’re creating (products, experiences, blogs, etc): focus. Find the things your market is passionate about– recognize the value they’re already creating– and help them on their quest for “psychological self-determination

When you’re consuming: focus. Unless you’re god or a ninja, you’ll never be omnipresent or omnicient, so don’t even try… unless your bliss is drinking from a firehose of information, ideas, and idiocy.

One of my passions is music– listening, writing, recording. And I particularly enjoy finding new music. Let’s apply Godin’s logic to that crowded, noisy space: people have no more room in their lives for your music, young band, so you should either get in now, or not at all. Tell that to The Beatles. Or Mozart. There was already a plethora of perfectlygood music to go around when they got in the game. But that didn’t matter, because they were following their passion.

Sometimes the biggest breakthroughs happen in a crowded space.

What do you think? Is Godin right? Or is he full of it?