Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin

What do you think the purpose of school is for? Well, according to Seth Godin, it's to churn out compliant factory workers. In fact, it only feeds the children facts and doesn't teach them the skills needed to survive in the world today.

The book is talking about American education, but I bet a lot of Singaporean parents will be quick to agree with him. Singapore's education system is seen as learning by rote and having too much emphasis on marks. All true I suppose, although I find my experience to be a little different.

The book (to be exact, the manifesto), is a collection of 132 fairly short chapters. They're numbered, but a little disjointed, as he jumps from one chapter to another. It is, however, very readable. The language was really good, and I highlighted many sentences.

Interestingly, even though he criticises the education system, he isn't advocating homeschooling. He says "as a citizen, I'm not sure I want to trust a hundred million amateur teachers to do a world-class job of designing our future." Personally, I agree. Although I would have liked to be homeschooled (as I've said many times), now, I'm glad I wasn't. I think you need to have a certain type of personality to be able to teach your own kids. My aunt certainly does it very successfully. But it's not for everyone.

Apart from that, I thought the leadership chapter was kind of sad. He makes it sound as though American students don't have any chances of leadership. Personally, I had quite a lot of chances. In Secondary School, if you're a prefect, or even just a student leader, you have quite a lot of responsibility. In JC, my friends organised a triathlon by themselves (they're now starting their own charity). Now, my kendo club pretty much does everything themselves, from the training camps to practice schedules. Everywhere I look, I see opportunities to lead if you'll reach out and grab them.

And that, I think, is the crux of the matter. While there are flaws in the education system, it's not that bad. As I got older, my tests started leaning towards essays - essays that require analysis, synthesis of information and judgement. Maybe it's because I was always more in the humanities stream, but there are subjects (like social studies), which all students have to take (and has these sort of questions).

Seth Godin has this really awesome example of this boy who dedicated one hour a day to learning something new and unassigned. While I'm quite sad that reading a novel didn't count, I realised that I've already been doing stuff like that. I used to go to the library to read random books (that were out of my syllabus), normally browsing and coming back with stuff I didn't need to learn at all. I was reading my dad's reference books for fun. And even researching the background for a book led to an unrelated topic on myths and legends.

That being said, I think it'll be a good idea for me to do something like this. Apart from reading widely, I'd like to focus on re-learning how to code (I used to know, but I forgot) and re-learning Malay/Learning Indonesian. Those are skills that can't be gained simply by reading, I'll have to find practices and stuff.

And this book has introduced me to the Khan Academy and a bunch of other resources, which will help self-learning.

So while I found this book while browsing for books about unSchooling (remember the time I read John Holt?), this is really more of a call to self-directed learning, rather than being dependent on your school, your parents, or other people to feed you. You too, can get the free ebook here, where it's available in many different formats.

If you've read it, what did you think?

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