Seth Godin’s Educational Manifesto

For those who don’t know it, this month is National Arts Education Month. Hip hip hooray!

In honor of that ARTSblog is hosting a salon of contributing authors who put forth ideas they hope can guide arts advocacy in its struggle to retain relevance for the arts. Lots of cool stuff, so please check it out if it interests you.

One of my favorite contributions has been a reposting of excerpts from Seth Godin’s education manifesto: “Stop Stealing Dreams”. I’ll just go ahead and repost this one segment that came out on ARTSblog on Wednesday. You can download the whole document for free at

Here is the post:

Stop Stealing Dreams (Part Three)

by Seth Godin
Seth Godin

All week, we will be sharing (numbered) points from Seth Godin’s new education manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?). You can download a free copy of the full 100-page manifesto at

100. Can anyone make music?

Ge Wang, a professor at Stanford and the creator of Smule, thinks so. The problem is that people have to get drunk in order to get over their fear enough to do karaoke.

Ge is dealing with this by making a series of apps for iPhones and other devices that make composing music not merely easy, but fearless.

He’s seen what happens when you take the pressure off and give people a fun way to create music (not play sheet music, which is a technical skill, but make music). “It’s like I tasted this great, wonderful food,” he says now, “and for some reason I’ve got this burning desire to say to other people: ‘If you tried this dish, I think you might really like it.’”

His take on music is dangerously close to the kind of dreaming I’m talking about. “It feels like we’re at a juncture where the future is maybe kind of in the past,” he says. “We can go back to a time where making music is really no big deal; it’s something everyone can do, and it’s fun.”

Who taught us that music was a big deal? That it was for a few? That it wasn’t fun?

It makes perfect sense that organized school would add rigor and structure and fear to the joy of making music. This is one more symptom of the very same problem: the thought that regimented music performers, in lockstep, ought to be the output of a school’s musical education program.

It’s essential that the school of the future teach music. The passion of seeing progress, the hard work of practice, the joy and fear of public performance—these are critical skills for our future.

It’s a mistake to be penny-wise and cut music programs, which are capable of delivering so much value. But it’s also a mistake to industrialize them.

As we’ve learned from Ben Zander (author and conductor), real music education involves teaching students how to hear and how to perform from the heart…not to conform to a rigorous process that ultimately leads to numbness, not love.

103. This is difficult to let go of

Those of us who have successfully navigated the industrial education system like it when people are well informed, when sentences are grammatically correct, and when our peers understand things like what electrons do and how the scientific method works.

Does the new economy demand that we give this up?

No. But applying ever more effort and rigor to ensure that every kid knows every fact is insane.

We’ve failed at that. We’ve failed miserably.

We set out to teach everyone everything, en masse, with embarrassingly bad results. All because we built the system on a foundation of compliance.

What if we gave up on our failed effort to teach facts? What if we put 80 percent of that effort into making huge progress in teaching every kid to care, to set goals, to engage, to speak intelligently, to plan, to make good decisions, and to lead?

If there’s one classroom of beaten-down kids who scored well on their PSATs due to drill and practice, and another class of motivated dreamers, engaged in projects they care about and addicted to learning on a regular basis, which class are you going to bet on?

If we can give kids the foundation to dream, they’ll figure out the grammar and the history the minute it helps them reach their goals and make a difference.

(End of post)


Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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