Seth Godin recently wrote a very interesting post about education. You can find it here. He established a starter list of 27 statements summarizing the purpose of school. (In my current post, I will give you my take on his 10 first statements. I will do a part 2 of this post to reply to his 17 other statements on school’s purposes.)
I loved school. I really enjoyed doing my degree and my masters’ degree in marketing when I was in my early 20s. Seth’s list refers to school “in general”. I decided to give it a different look. A more specific perspective like “What is University for?” and since I studied marketing at university “what worth a marketing degree?”
In today’s fast pace marketplace in which knowledge and expertise become rapidly obsolete and replaced with skills and experiences required by the “new marketing”, I tend to minimize the value of a marketing diploma over time.
So, let’s take Seth’s list about « what is school for » and dissect it with that twist in mind.
1.Become an informed citizen
School does a great job to prepare our brain to empower us and make acceptable judgement calls on numerous subjects. University is just the extension and therefore the refinement of it. However, it largely depends on the citizen’s mind openness. I have seen many people with no degree who are better informed citizen than people with 2-3 diplomas. It is more a matter of personal attitude than school attendance.
2. Be able to read for pleasure
This one should be “Be able to read business books for pleasure”. Too many business people stop reading once they get their first job. This is the beginning of their lack of professional competitiveness…. Never stop reading. Reading business books should be as pleasurable as reading thrillers.;-)
3.Be trained in the rudimentary skills necessary for employment
That is probably the first and foremost reason why we go to university. And that is a fact, this is truly rudimentary skills. About 80% of what you learn at university is not usable in your first job. The remaining 20% requires important adjustments to be applicable but I believe it is the rational methodologies learned at school that serves you the most by providing you a rational and scientific approach to execute your work. The diploma is the passport to get you a job interview and some may be promotions early in your career. After that, your experiences take up all the space.
4.Do well on standardized tests
Standardized tests are a necessary evil and unfortunately, our society and labor market is based on standards. Play the game. Do them. Do not try to fight against them. If you are brilliant, you’ll make your way and differentiate yourself with other attributes than your performance on standardized tests…
5.Homogenize society, at least a bit
University homogenizes through similar teaching methods, programs and tests. I have a problem with that. This willingness to « uniformize » slows down the renewal of what is being taught to future managers and contributes to create a growing gap and a major disconnect between what students learn at university and what is being required by the marketplace. Which takes us back to point #3.
6. Pasteurize out the dangerous ideas
This one is closely linked to point 5. Dissident voices are not very welcomed at university. This is not necessarily better in the « sexy » marketing departments of business schools. They want one simple consistent speech with proven methods. Authors like Seth Godin are not very popular with academics.They preach with great examples and common sense and it doesn’t seem to be enough… Academics want the scientific method. Therefore, new ideas that are emerging are not even discussed at university until they are proven with a strong history. Too late for the poor student who desperately want to hear the latest stuff. Don’t read marketing handbooks to get that, start to read blogs!
7.Give kids something to do while parents work
In the case of university, this one should read: “Give parents something to work for”. University is very costly for parents full of ambition for their kids. This is even worst in the USA.
8. Teach future citizens how to conform
This one goes on with the “society standardization” aspect (see point #5). University just contributes to accentuate that level of conformity. University is very good at teaching us how to think and behave. I do not see conformity very positively. Conformity in the long run, leads to mediocrity.
9. Teach future consumers how to desire
Personnaly, I would reformulate this one more like “teach future consumers what they need ». The whole concept of desire is slowly disappearing. At the very moment when we think we might need something, the period for which we « desire » it is shorter than ever. We want it buy it.Now. We did not buy it? Then the need is replaced with another one leaving no space for desire. In that sense, I do not think school teaches us how to desire. The potential to desire something is within us with variable strength. School has nothing to do with it.
10. Build a social fabric
By opening up our minds to other cultures, other point of views, school and university indirectly help us to build a social fabric and a less individualistic society. This is probably one of the greatest benefit of university for society. However, university only reinforces what has already been initiated by schools and since there is only a small percentage of people which goes to university, we shouldn’t expect too much from it on that aspect.
I will continue with the other 17 items in Seth’s list in the part 2 of the post in the coming weeks. UPDATE Feb 23rd, 2009: The rest of the list is in the part 2 of this post here.
Any thoughts? Please do not hesitate to comment.