What is School for?- A Reply to Seth Godin (Part 2)

head-clickme2Last week, I wrote the first part of a reply post to Seth Godin about what is school for? I commented his list here. His post about education was really interesting and was designed to ignite discussion. You can find it here. Because his starter list contained 27 statements summarizing the purpose of school, I broke down my reply in 2 posts. In this one, I concluded with my take on his 17 last statements. I looked at his list with a marketer’s perspective with emphasis on university degrees.

11.Create leaders who help us compete on a world stage

School does not create leaders. School might in help leaders to demonstrate improved leadership skills but I strongly believe that leadership is something you have within you. It only grows better if sufficiently stimulated and given enough opportunities to be demonstrated. Strong leaders that do not have the chance to be surrounded with people willing to risk with them do not emerge.

12.Generate future scientists who will advance medicine and technology

That is one of the most important goal of schools and university. On that matter, I have nothing to add. Strong university programs equals better scientists and eventually better quality of life for each of us.

13.Learn for the sake of learning

As mentioned in the part 1 of this post here, I loved school and I love to learn. School is good for people who love to learn and the opposite is even truer… But I have a small problem with learning for the sake of learning. This would sound OK for you in your daya to day life or in your spare time but for a university? No. And that is part of the reason why, as a manager, I feel that students waste precious time at school learning stuff that is completely irrelevant for the future job they will occupy and miss important learning requirements. One example:  how to create a marketing budget? This accounts for about 30 minutes teaching time in a 3 year marketing degree…

14. Help people become interesting and productive

Productive? Probably yes. All the methodologies learned at school to think in a more rational way pay off over time. Become interesting?  It is not because you know more stuff that you suddenly become more interesting. Think about a Mr. « Ph.D Professor » at University. He knows a lot. Is he interesting? He could, but it is mostly because of his presentation skills, passion and inherent capacity to turn his class into an interactive exchange than solely because of the ton of knowledge he accumulated.

15. Defang the proletariat

From a societal point of view, I fully agree with this one. Education, including University degree make population smarter and richer and therefore defangs proletariat. This is good. No doubt about it.

16. Establish a floor below which a typical person is unlikely to fall

University helps you raise your standards and your quality of life. University degree pushes it a step further. However, saying that you are unlikely to fall below this floor is illusory.

17. Find and celebrate prodigies, geniuses and the gifted

That is why all the academic programs feature awards for the best performance and governor’s medal and so on. Our search for the next Einstein or Darwin is relentless.

18. Make sure kids learn to exercise, eat right and avoid common health problems

Ouch! This may be true in the US where Seth lives, I don’t know. But in Canada, over the past few years, this is quite the opposite. My daughter who goes at an elementary schools has 1 hour of physical education every 10 school days! Not enough to develop habits that will follow you for the rest of your life. To me, that part is more a parent’s responsibility but many of us do not invest enough time with the consequences we all know now.

19. Teach future citizens to obey authority

Isn’t asking too much from our education system? Expecting this from our schools and universities contributes to let parents play an even more laid-back role on that very important matter. This should undoubtedly come from parents and school should only play a complementary role on that aspect.

20. Teach future employees to do the same

Idem as #19.

21. Increase appreciation for art and culture

True for school but not so true for university. It depends on the program you picked up. In Business/ Administration programs, there is not so much room for arts and culture. Anyway, this is a matter of personal tastes. If you have interests in arts and culture, you will find a way to increase you level of appreciation though other medium.

22. Teach creativity and problem solving

True for problem solving, not so true for creativity. Problem solving methodologies could be learned at business schools and the more you practice, the better you become. To me creativity is a little bit like leadership. You gotta have a minimum level within you in order to build on something. Yes, school can help kids develop their creativity but this aspect becomes less and less important as you step up in our educational system, especially in business classes. The emphasis is more on the transfer of knowledge than onto the growth of your creative skill set. Moreover, academics tend to be allergic to creative problem solving. They prefer solutions that have been proof- tested than out of nowhere creative approaches.

23. Minimize public spelling mistakes

This is true. This is a typical example that the more efforts you put into something, the better you become at it. Most university degrees involve a great deal of papers to read and/or to write. Same for oral stuff. The more you practice, the more interesting you become (normally). In that sense, university is a great incubator for future writers and speakers. At least they’ll know if they have a future in that direction.

24. Increase emotional intelligence

I do not get this one. ;-). I have learned more in the past 6 years about emotional intelligence (from my kids and my wife) than with my 17 years spent at school and university.

25. Decrease crime by teaching civics and ethics

OK, civics and ethics are subjects that are discussed at school. This should complements what should be mainly transmitted by parents. However, saying that crime is decreased because civics and ethics are taught in school is far-fetched. Seth, is there a study done somewhere that confirms that assumption? To me, school and education might contribute to decrease crime indirectly but increasing our quality of life and helping to defang proletariat. (And this brings us back to point # 14)

26 Increase understanding of a life well lived

This a very personal and individual thing. Everyone has its own definition of a life well lived. I do not believe school of university should try to standardize that so that everyone has the same definition of what should be a life well lived.  I think school is a facilitator to help us define what should be our very personal definition of a life well lived.

27. Make sure the sports teams have enough players

That one is really funny! There are many ways to interpret it. I will let you draw your own conclusion on this one…

Any thoughts? Express yourself below.

What is school for?- A Reply to Seth Godin (Part 1)

seth-godinSeth 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.