The Race to the Bottom: What can schools do now?

The future is based on impromptu innovation, inspiration and connections – that’s a paraphrase from Seth Godin’s blog today and I urge you to read it: The forever recession (and the coming revolution).

And when you have ask this question: If Seth Godin is even close to right: What kind of schools, classrooms, programs – what kind of education-  do we need now?

And then switch out the workers, factories and the  economy and replace with children, schools and education. Any alarming parallels?

Godin argues that the industrial age, factory era of good jobs anchored to specific geography and replaceable work is gone forever and on a global scale this is what we have instead:

There’s a race to the bottom, one where communities fight to suspend labor and environmental rules in order to become the world’s cheapest supplier. The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win…

Recognizing that this is a life-changing discontinuity, a disappointment and hardship for many hardworking people he also sees opportunity for those who can grasp it

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

 No one is trained in how to do this, in how to initiate, to visualize, to solve interesting problems and then deliver.

Why not? And shouldn’t schools be centered on just that?

Some see the new work as a hodgepodge of little projects, a pale imitation of a ‘real’ job. Others realize that this is a platform for a kind of art, a far more level playing field in which owning a factory isn’t a birthright for a tiny minority but something that hundreds of millions of people have the chance to do.

For some this will mean a life of lowered expectations and service. But for Godin the bright flipside is a kind of freewheeling freedom and opportunity available to those who can grasp it and make it work.

 In one direction is lowered expectations and plenty of burger flipping. In the other is a race to the top, in which individuals who are awaiting instructions begin to give them instead.

So which direction does standardized schooling and standardized testing and all the other deadening routines lead? The future, Godin says:

… feels a lot more like marketing–it’s impromptu, it’s based on innovation and inspiration, and it involves connections between and among people–and a lot less like factory work, in which you do what you did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.

And then Godin goes right to heart of the secondary problem: With these changed expectations we also need to change our training and approaches to what works. If what we imagine to be the  status quo is actually gone forever then we have to stop fighting for the past and engage with the future.

Job creation is a false idol. The future is about gigs and assets and art and an ever-shifting series of partnerships and projects.

Ok – so – back to that opening question. If you think anything of what Godin has to say (and please read the whole thing) what are the implication for schools –  the curriculum, the approaches to learning – and the work of the children and adults inside them?

Education is not about preparing children to enter a workforce. But take a good look at schools and classrooms and programs and ask – what is this designed to do? What is the thinking here? Does what is happening in any way connect with a sense of how the world is in shift and what children need to thrive in the here-and-now.

And to help us with direction here is a collage of the compasses created in yesterday’s all-school activity. There’s one missing and I have to track it down. For more pictures of groups at work click here.

Compasses from the all-school activity September 28th 2011


  1. Andrea Payne:

    I would love to see project oriented work. Not culminating activities where at the end of the year students create something to demonstrate what they have learned. Rather, something more like Lego robotics where at the very beginning a challenge is presented and the rest of the term is spent working on it. The learning would be interdisciplinary – depending on the project students might need skills in researching, writing, science, math or history. The students could seek out outside experts to collaborate with or get input from.
    Ideally the projects would be something new to both students and teachers so that everyone is learning together. In this type of a dynamic, everyone brings their own skills to the team and has opportunities to teach and learn from each other. The students would be learning how to learn – what do you do when no one in the group has an answer or an idea. How do you seek out information from the outside world to move your project forward? What are good and reliable sources of information?
    At the conclusion of the project the students can present to the community. They can talk about their approach, what they found worked and didn’t work, how they overcame challenges. That process of learning from challenges and refining is the most valuable experience. Another advantage to doing this type of semester or yearlong project challenge is that the students are building a body of work. They can build a portfolio of projects that they have worked on, and skills they have cultivated in the process. That portfolio could end up being part of their application materials to colleges and would demonstrate their real life experience as creators.

  2. Dear Josie,
    I like how you had a lot of paragraphs about how play is a big part of life. I also like the extract about how if you don’t play, you won’t want to learn as much because you won’t enjoy learning. When the two senors were making the fire react to the different frequencies of music, I wanted to dance with the fire and it was really cool. Also, I liked the picture of my mom where she has a really big smile and her head is lopsided, But I wish you went into more detail about the fall festival. I also wish you had more videos in the newer posts. Overall, I think your blog is really cool and can’t wait to see more posts.
    This is a link to my a really awesome class blog called Shirley’s 6th grade.. From Anastasia

  3. Josie:

    Hi Anastasia:
    Thanks for the helpful and positive comments. And now you have given me an idea. I think you – and maybe some of your classmates – should write a guest post on this blog. perhaps it could be about something about school. How about the Fall Festival? Think of one bit that would be fun to record on video and then write a couple of lines to help people understand what they see.

    How about it? Are you willing to be a guest blogger on The Compass Point and tell the world a bit more about the PDS story?

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