“What is School For?”

In his TED talk and free ebook “Stop Stealing Dreams,” Seth Godin poses the question, What is school for?

“Stop Stealing Dreams” is his answer, and it boils down to the assertions that school is for teaching people to lead and to solve interesting problems.

He also challenges readers and listeners to start asking that question, too — and to come up with their own answers.

One year after completing a professional, terminal master’s degree in international affairs (a field that has always seemed full of opportunities to lead and solve interesting problems, even before I learned to think in those words), here’s my latest answer:

School is for preparing people to take real responsibility in the real world.

For some people, that will mean walking the heady path of professional scholarship. But not for most — and even professional scholars can’t pretend their work doesn’t have real-world implications.

The problem is that schools are by and large run by and for professional scholars. Left to its own devices, scholarship can fall in love with itself and try to slip the surly bonds of earth. Unfortunately, most students — or, practically speaking, graduates — don’t have that luxury.

There’s a big and endlessly interesting conversation to be had about scholars and students or teaching and learning. But perhaps it’s time to frame the question in terms of graduates rather than students: is what we’re doing right now preparing these people to be the kind of graduates we want to put into the world? If not, what needs to change?

This doesn’t rule out liberal or humanist education. Far from it. The student must first learn how to think — but the reason she must learn how to think is that, as a graduate, she will have to decide.

In the 21st century, practical education doesn’t mean teaching a 22-year-old all she’ll need to know for the rest of her life. The world moves too fast. Instead, it’s about admitting and choosing to deal with the ultimate practicality that every graduate eventually faces: given that she’ll live a life of consequence, what kind of consequence should she wish her life to have?