Creating Schools for the Weird

In his book “We Are All Weird“, Seth Godin offers a short but interesting manifesto on how the age of mass (mass marketing, mass manufacture) is fast disappearing as the concept of “normal” becomes obsolete and the audience/customer splinters into thousands of tribes (another of his concepts).

Godin’s primary audience is business people, of course, but in this book he does offer a brief look at education, which is probably the “mass” institution in this country that is the most resistant to change.

At the end of that section, Godin offers a simple proposal for transforming American education.

A different approach to education is almost impossible to conceptualize and seemingly impossible to execute. The simple alternative to our broken system of education is to embrace the weird, to abandon normal. To acknowledge that our factories don’t need so many cogs, so many compliant workers, so many people willing to work cheap.

It’s simple but it’s not easy. It’s not easy because we can’t process weird, we can’t mass produce students when we have to work with them one at a time or in like minded groups. We can’t test these kids into compliance and thus we can’t have a reliable, process-oriented factory mindset for the business of education. No, it’s not easy at all.

When we consider whom we pay the most, whom we seek to hire, whom we applaude, follow, and emulate, these grownups are the outliers, the weird ones. Did they get there by being normal students in school and then magically transform themselves in to Yo Yo Ma or Richard Branson? Hardly. The stories of so many outliers are remarkably familiar. They didn’t like the conformity forced on them by school, struggled, suffered, survived, and now they’re revered.

What happens if our schools, and the people who run them, and fund them, stop seeing the mass and start looking for the weird? What if they acknowledge that more compliance doesn’t make a better school but merely makes one that’s easier to run?

My proposed solution is simple. Don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead, find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. And then get out of the way.

Ok, so maybe you don’t like the idea of calling your students “weird”. Substitute “unique” instead. Godin’s ideas still make a lot of sense, although maybe with less impact.

I know I’ve ranted many times in this space about all the many “leaders” proposing reforms to the education system modeled on business principles. However, this approach is more about relating to the needs of people than about reforming traditional business methods.

Although many policy makers may view learning as an assembly line process, it’s really all about many, many unique, individual people in our classrooms. And any experienced teacher will tell you they’re all weird.

3 thoughts on “Creating Schools for the Weird

  • June 18, 2012 at 7:44 am
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    School for the weird. Check. :)

    Reply
  • June 18, 2012 at 9:12 am
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    Students are far less centralized – far more weird – than their teachers, who in turn are a standard deviation more weird than administrators. The struggles that “weird” students face in our schools are often a direct consequence of norm-enforcing culture built by “normal” teachers and administrators.

    Let’s look at hiring and supporting more weird teachers!

    Reply
    • June 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm
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      I love weird teachers. They teach me new ideas for reaching kids. They’re not always successful but they keep trying and I wish more of our colleagues would do the same.

      Reply

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