I was one of the purported 60,000 people who downloaded Seth Godin’s latest publication Stop Stealing Dreams on its first day. It’s vintage Godin, and though clearly aimed at a primarily American audience, his argument will resonate in most developed economies. I recommend downloading and reading it. (It’s free.)
The essence of his argument:
- Our publicly-funded school systems were set up a century ago. They were never set up with an altruistic desire to better the lives of children. They were set up to supply the then-modern factories with plenty of cheap, compliant, skilled workers. They were set up primarily for the benefit of the people at the top of the food chain, not those at the bottom. (Although those at the bottom have also benefitted.)
- But the rules of the game have now changed. The mass-production industrial era is ending. In its place is coming a new era that rewards passionate, initiative-taking people, who build connections and work with their hearts as well as their brains.
- Our school systems (and the governments that funds them) have not recognised the change, and are not evolving to equip our youngsters with the skills and attitudes to succeed in the new era. They are still churning out compliant youngsters suited to jobs that have disappeared.
I am only a quarter of the way through Seth’s manifesto, so it’s a bit early to pass judgement on his conclusions. However, I am troubled, not so much by his argument, but by the implications of acting on it:
- The Connection Economy he says is arriving (and I agree that it is) is of necessity built on the bedrock of a Connection Infrastructure. Servers, laptops, routers, satellites, cables . . . . and even more old-world than that: Bridges, roads, airports, buildings . . . the Connection Infrastructure has all been built by the Old Industrial Economy. You can’t connect to people around the world without the equipment to run the Internet, roads, airports, buildings, etc.
- If that Old Industrial Economy disappears, so does the infrastructure that the Connection Economy needs to survive.
- If we completely re-orient our schools toward the Connection Economy, and starve our infrastructure of the skills needed to maintain and upgrade them, the Connection Economy will be a house built on a floodplain.
- Nowhere do I see this more evident than in the Europe, where traditional jobs in science, technology, health, transportation, etc, are still plentiful. The problem here is that schools are failing to enable kids to find their passions for new and old economies. Both are necessary.
- Those at the top of the old Industrial economy don’t understand or recognise the new Connection Economy. They see it as an annoyance and an aberration. If their lives are sufficiently threatened by the Connection economy stealing their fuel (i.e. young skilled people), a battle royal will ensue.
Re-jigging public school systems to suit this Connection Economy will be difficult and painful. Seth Godin would, I expect, be the first to admit that. But the action needs to be seen as bigger than simply changing how we do school. The action needs to be seen as one of changing our societal cultures and values.
Which is where it gets nasty.
Because people (particularly those at the top of the food chain) will change just about anything before they will change their culture and values.