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What is your child being educated to become?

If you’re a parent worried about the future of your child, you should really read Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin. And the first thing that should begin to worry you is how your child is being schooled.

Is this your child’s daily education routine? Show up every day. Be punctual. Fit in. Have good handwriting. Don’t challenge authority. Cram for tests. Do the minimum needed to get through. Don’t fail. Don’t say embarrassing stuff. Be popular. If you pass, move on to the next stage.

That was certainly what my education was like. Yours too. And, unfortunately, it probably still is what your child is undergoing, no matter how expensive the school you’ve chosen.

That style of education was developed for a very specific purpose, a long time ago: to create factory workers. A factory, in Godin’s definition, is not just the industrial plant you’re thinking about; it’s “any organization that has figured it out, a place where people go to do what they’re told and earn a paycheck.” By this reckoning, today’s insurance firms, government departments, banks and law offices are also factories. A factory is a place where there’s a fixed plan and method, and all you have to do is fit in and do as instructed.

These “factories” have been the great engine of growth for a century or more, and the modern education system was developed to generate the workers, from labourers to chief executives, to populate them.

Some schools are trying to hard to be different, and should be applauded. But most are fixated on standardized tests, discipline, periods, bells, and imparting shallow and dull knowledge in many subjects. On top of that, Godin points out that in order to keep the production line going and churning out graduates in large numbers, schools are based on fear: fear of failure, fear of not getting a job straight away, fear of not fitting in. In his words, schools are “fear-based, test-based battlefields.”

In such a system, only the most original thinkers, the true iconoclasts, the serious mavericks will ever stand out. Only the hard-core rebels will recoil and chart a different path. The vast majority will fall into line, practice the drill, gather the papers, and walk out into the world of work.

But there’s a problem. Today, the well-drilled notetaker is not what the world needs. This is a wholly different era, in which vastly decentralized technology and unprecedented peer-to-peer connectivity is killing off many “factories”, one by one. The number of positions that will require mindless drones have been shrinking every year.

What the world needs now are people who can take on challenges, demonstrate initiative, develop original insight, deal with uncertainty, and solve problems. If you do not bring up your child to do these more difficult things, you are probably setting her up to be chained to the desks of the factory-owners and subject to their whims, awaiting restructuring and retrenchment.

We desperately need education systems that emphasize problem-solving and leadership, that encourage creative thought, and that stimulate passion. There are not many institutions that even believe this is true, let alone try to be this way. So we’re mostly stumped. Less well-off kids are being trundled through schools that lack even the most basic equipment, let alone enlightened thought. The children of the rich may have all the modern gizmos, but they are also being indoctrinated in systems well past their sell-by dates, by teachers who have never known any different.

So what are you going to do, mum and dad? This is a problem you can’t outsource. Find schools with as progressive a teaching policy as you can, but also roll up your own sleeves. No one but you is really going to make your children fit for the 21st century.

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