I don’t know about you, but occasionally, the challenges of K-12 education seem to press in on my spirit like a vise. Increased external pressures, “everyone’s an expert” syndrome, recession-based funding difficulties, oversimplification of teacher evaluation, insanely high poverty rates for children, overemphasis on testing, oversimplification of what defines good teaching and learning, conversations about the future of K-12 education that pull together “education experts” without any teachers, students, administrators, education researchers, or preservice educators on the invitation list; and a fundamental us vs. them, right vs. wrong binary approach to reform are stressing. us. all.out.
So, I admit it: I was skeptical about Seth Godin’s latest work, Stop Stealing Dreams. Godin is a great marketer and a refreshing thinker, and I like his blog — but he’s not an educator. Please, please, please, I thought, let this not be one more diatribe against teachers. I can’t handle it. But when downloads reached 100,000 days after its released, I realized that a lot of people were reading it, so I’d better read it, too, if only for cocktail conversation.
87 pages later, I’m pleasantly surprised. Godin’s book, in his time-tested, succinct style, is divided into over 100 mini-chapters or brief essays ranging from K-12 to higher education to libraries. Godin has a strong basic grasp of the over-tested, fact-crammed, under-motivating gestalt that is currently pervading much of K-12 culture. And although he talks about teachers who have passion versus those who do not, he steers clear of teacher-bashing. If there is any finger-wagging at all, it is to America itself for not asking for more creative, engaging work for its children and for believing in multiple-choice testing as judge and jury of student knowledge and teacher effectiveness. We educators can only hope that the parents and decisionmakers in our community read Godin’s book and are motivated to begin big conversations with us about how we can, collectively, change education so that our children’s individuality is embraced and we look holistically at the purpose of education in the 21st-century.
Godin also talks about the changing purposes of libraries in ways that are very compatible with the ways folks like David Lankes (in his award-winning Atlas of New Librarianship) are discussing them, the ways that we, in our Professional Practice class, discuss how we can keep libraries vibrant and lively at a time of change. From Chapter 123, “The Future of the Library”:
The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa, and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user …
Industrialists (particularly Andrew Carnegie) funded the modern American library. The idea was that in a pre-electronic media age, the working man needed to be both entertained and slightly educated. [Note from me: our own Melvil Dewey said the same, remarking that libraries should keep similar hours to bars.] Work all day and become a more civilized member of society by reading at night … Which was all great, until now …
Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research … Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don’t schlep to the library to use an out-of-date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR. You might want them to, but they won’t unless coerced.
They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all …
Librarians who are arguing and lobbying for clever e-book lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending the library-as-warehouse concept, as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher, and impresario …
The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information … the insight and leverage are going to come from being fast and smart with online resources, not from hiding in the stacks.
The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do coworking and to coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands … domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information.
The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user-serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it’s fun. This librarian takes responsibility or blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark…
Wouldn’t you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information? There are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community, and create value.
We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.
Preach on, Brother Seth. We’re on it.
If I have one complaint about Godin’s book, it’s that it references a lot of other works without citing them in-text. There’s a hyperlinked bibliography at the end (and that’s causing an interesting territorial stink: this bib’s titles are hyperlinked to Amazon, which has reportedly caused Apple to block it from the iBookstore — a huge market fragmentation issue for discussion on another day), but when you run across an interesting fact, like this from Chapter 96:
Apple just built a massive data center in Malden, North Carolina. That sort of plant development would have brought a thousand or five thousand jobs to a town just thirty years ago. The total employment at the data center? Fifty.
you can’t figure out where that information came from. And more and more, as my own education is self-driven rather than driven by an institution’s syllabus or curriculum map, I find myself following those citations with questions like, “What else did that article say? What else is happening in that plant? Who said that?” A written work with citations is more than a stand-alone; it’s the citations that help connect those thoughts to a larger, interconnected world of ideas. Which is, ironically, what Godin is trying to do with this book and hoping that future educators will help students do.