Teach Us How to Talk to Each Other

What is school for?

That’s the question that first drew me into Seth Godin’s world. And, having spent an awful lot of time in school, it’s a question I ask myself almost every day.

Though I’d happily start with Seth’s answer — school is for teaching us how to lead and how to solve interesting problems — I want to suggest another purpose here and question one of our common practices.

If we want to lead or to solve interesting problems, it seems to me that we first have to (re)learn how to talk to each other. That’s a badly lost art in our society, and while I don’t want to consign or confine it exclusively to famous colleges, I’d be in favor of seeing some famous colleges take the lead in trying to teach this in a way that actually works.

Here’s the thing: too much of school — both in traditional lecture classes and in the constant parade of eminent speakers on eminent campuses — still presumes that talking at students (or past them, as at many events) will produce people who really know how to talk with each other.

It’s true that reading good books can make you a better writer. But it’s also true that writing requires practice. We don’t teach it by having people read, read, read for 22 or more years, hoping they’ll be magically capable of writing once they hit the real world.

What’s a college? Among other things, it’s a group of still-malleable minds cooped up together along with world-class mentors for a number of years. In other words, it seems like the perfect opportunity to teach people how to really talk to each other.

What might we do differently if we started acting as if that wasn’t just a latent possibility but in fact a big part of what school is really for?