If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (link)
This post should be epic (or a complete disaster, we will see).
I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last few weeks and clear my mind. It’s been awesome! Now I feel like a whole bunch of ideas are bubbling to the surface. I also have about a dozen articles to blog about already so the next few weeks should be fun.
First, I would like you to look at this video from Glenn Beck. Now I understand that most of the readers of this blog are teachers, and statistically most of them would be of a political persuasion opposed to Glenn Beck. That’s ok because the part of the video I want to share with you isn’t political at all. In fact, it’s an argument I have seen other people make and think it’s right.
I can’t embed it directly so please click below, and start the video on that page. Jump to time 9:43 and please watch to time 13:00.
This question of Why is hugely important and goes back to motivations. When somebody ask you what you do for a living, how do you answer? Do you talk about how or why? If you are a teacher, your how would be something like “I teach 5th grade”. That is a perfectly valid answer of course but is it your motivation? The next time somebody answers like that to me, I going to then ask them “why do you do that?”. I wonder if they have thought about it? If you do ask why, I would imagine many teachers would say “I want to change kids lives”. That is a noble quest of course. I wonder if that answer would come from a new teacher more often than a 30 year veteran? Hmm.
This question of why is critically important to understanding and influencing the world around us. I didn’t really fully understand this until now but I think I get it.
If how is what defines you, then it also limits you. In Glenn Beck’s example, Dell computers would say things like “we build computers” or “we have fast processors”. These end up being limiting factors I believe because if you build computers, then that’s all you can do. If you “build beautiful things” then that lets you move from computers into cell phones, tablets, mp3 players and all sorts of gadgets. Why is liberating because it focuses you on the goal. How isn’t as important and thus can be changed when it gets obsolete or inhibiting.
This my friends is why the school system is in such trouble. The mission of the school system is to teach children right? That’s a how. What if we change it to “each child should achieve their fullest potential“? That’s a why and thus we are free to figure out how to make that happen. It could involve homeschooling, vouchers, apprenticeships, classroom, online learning, unlearning, private schools, blended learning, or anything else we can dream up. In fact, it probably involves all of the above.
I have spoken of Elon Musk before. He is the founder of SpaceX (among other companies). Last year they successfully launched the first commercial spacecraft to the Space Station. I blogged quite a bit about how they did it but I realize I missed the why. He doesn’t want to make a space company. He wants to go to Mars. That is his why. For that reason he is doing things that don’t make a lot of sense to somebody who just wants to make money launching rockets. It also makes him disruptive to the rest of the industry because he doesn’t have the same why as they do. Another person like this is Sebastian Thrun (see The Most Dangerous Man In Higher Education)
As I have noted before, we are living in a time where people have increasingly powerful technologies to shape the world around them. If you couple this with a driving sense of Why and you get a force that can literally change the world.
Pick anyone you want in history who has changed the world and ask yourself if you know why they did what they did. I bet you can. Columbus discovered America because he wanted to know if it was there. The quest for knowledge is a powerful why. The US went to the moon in the 1960s because we wanted to beat the Soviet Union. Competition is a powerful why. Thomas Edison wanted to change the world with the Electric Light. He did.
So what is the why of learning? While the gaining of knowledge for it’s own sake can be a why, that is only possible when the student chooses the subject themselves. As long as the student isn’t the focus of the Why of Learning, then school will not change. The school system always focused on the how, not the why. (see Great Video Explaining The Origins Of The Education System) Politicians and unions always say “it’s for the children” and then they don’t do what is good for the children. In the end though the true why of learning can be summed up by the great American thinker John Wayne.
So what do you think? Epic or fail?