Tuesday, May 17, 2011


“My biggest problem with homeschooling is that it makes it very hard to teach leadership because you're isolated.”
                                                                                                                -Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a bestselling author, entrepreneur, public speaker, and marketing guru who has a lot to say about education, starting with his belief that modern public school education was an industrial revolution conspiracy between business and government based upon the fear that businesses would run out of a pool of workers needed to man productions lines as well as run out of people who would buy the goods being produced.  The goal of public education was to create a large pool of compliant factory workers while teaching “kids that the best way to fit in and feel good is to buy stuff.”  1
Speaking mostly about college level education, Mr. Godin wrote that there are two different kinds of schooling.  There are classes where “you learn technique, facts and procedures,” and classes “where you learn to see, learn to lead and learn to solve interesting problems.”2 The second type of class is preferable to the first.  It “is where all real success comes from.”2  Unfortunately, the first type is easier to find.   According to Mr. Godin, “The first type of schooling can even be accomplished with self-discipline and a Dummies book.”2   
“The sad thing is,” he continued.  “We often conflate the two. We think we're hiring someone to do the second type, a once in a lifetime teacher, someone who will change the outlook of stellar students.  But then we give them rules and procedures and feedback that turn them into a type 1 teacher.”2 (emphasis mine)
Mr. Godin believes that teachers are the key to a good quality education.   “Why is it that the rest of the teachers were competent at giving exams and getting us to do well at those exams, but didn’t teach us enough to change us?” he asked.   “The system has hamstrung teachers, handicapped those that want to stand out and make a difference… I think we can’t wait for the teacher’s colleges to change, or the schools to change. We need teachers to care so much that they can’t stop pushing until they create change in the students who really need (and deserve) it.”3
In an interview with Barbara Bray, Ms. Bray asked, “Education tends to be a top-down driven model where administrators, standards, policies, and test scores drive what teachers teach. How do you see education changing with this model where the individual sets their agenda?” 
Mr. Godin replied, “As a student in a digital world, tell me again why I need the building? The administration? The system?  I don’t.  And as accreditation becomes less meaningful because it’s easier to test the student than to test the system, the top heavy organizations will falter. And fast.”3
“It’s sort of pathetic how we’ve abdicated responsibility to a leaderless system that’s actually accountable to no one in particular.”3
So, why would a man who values thinking outside of the box and is so critical of public education also be critical of home education?    Why would he boil down his criticism of an educational process that addresses all of his concerns with the observation that what is wrong with homeschooling is that it doesn’t teach leadership?  
Mr. Godin told Lee Stranahan that schools “don’t churn out people who are creative and innovative and interrupt and ask questions.”  Schools are “a complete failure.” When Mr. Stranahan mentioned that he homeschools his children, and homeschools them for some of the very reasons Seth Godin mentioned in his criticism of public education, Mr. Godin ignored the topic. He stated that Lee’s children were lucky to have him, but then continued speaking about public schools rather than discussing the very real potential for homeschooling to address his educational concerns.
In an interview with Avi Solomn at Boing Boing, Seth Godin expanded his thoughts on homeschooling, saying
“Well, I think we need to ask a different question. School's been irrelevant for a while. The question is what do we want school to do? What do we need to create in our next generation? And I've argued we need to create two things: we need to create leaders, and we need to create people who can solve interesting problems.
“Anything we do in school that doesn't help with those two things we should stop doing. So homeschooling isn't necessarily the answer, unless homeschooling is going to come up with a way to work on those two problems. My biggest problem with homeschooling is that it makes it very hard to teach leadership because you're isolated. But with the right parents, it is much better at teaching people to solve interesting problems. My argument is that every parent should homeschool at night, and then send their kids to school during the day. The homeschooling at night should consist of intelligent conversation, asking difficult questions, as opposed to watching television.” 4
Education should not be so narrowly defined as to be mainly concerned with producing leaders and solving interesting problems.   Those are elements of a greater whole.  Why does a man who believes that school is irrelevant (and has been for awhile), who believes that students no longer need the building, the administrator, or the system, also believe that students should still go to these places each day?  It’s a repeat of the argument that no matter how poorly public schools perform, they are still better than education being taught by a loving mom or dad in the safety of the home.    I’m willing to bet that Mr. Godin has not spent much time interacting with the homeschooling community.   If he had, he would have seen many of his concerns being addressed.  But from a marketing standpoint, we’re being noticed.  People are talking about homeschooling.  The better we do, the more successful we are, the easier it will be for future generations to experience the joy of education at home.  

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ea5IgyVd3_U
4 http://www.boingboing.net/2011/05/16/interview-seth-godin.html


  1. Mr. Godin - like many others - is guilty of being trapped "in the box." Home school differs from school only by one word "home", so it must be a box just like school, with fewer people. Mom must recite at a blackboard, Susie must ask for permisison to go to the washroom, and Dad must review the attendance records. Or something like that.

    Real home-schoolers, of course, are constantly thinking outside the box. They tend to be very sociable, meeting with other home-schoolers, church groups, scouting groups, and many other areas outside of the home. They don't need permission slips and insurance waivers to organize field trips, so they spend a lot less time "inside the box" than government schools do.

  2. Mr. Godin should read some John Taylor Gatto. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Godin HAS read Gatto. His conclusions sound remarkably similar to those of John Taylor Gatto. Except for his criticism of homeschooling.

    As an award-winning (NY State Teacher of the Year-'91, and NYC Teacher of the Year-'89,'90,'91,) Mr. Gatto has rocked the education world with his criticism of the current system of education in America. He's a school reformer with a strong message. But he's also a strong proponent of homeschooling.

    In a 2003 Harper's article, Against School, Gatto says, "Do we really need school? I don't mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years. Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what? Don't hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers have surely put that banal justification to rest"

    Though some of the problems he's identified are similar to those identified by Gatto, Mr. Godin has missed the boat when it comes to viable solutions. In fact, Mr. Godin is the worst kind of school reformer. He's just another elitist with a supposed solution to a problem created by a different group of elitists. The problem is that Mr. Godin's solution comes in a box that is only a slightly larger than the box the current system has created. It's still a box. He's not interested in looking at the "outside the box" solutions that are already finding success. In fact, homeschoolers are already creating the kind of learning environments and learners that he says the current system destroys.

    You're a little behind, Mr. Godin. Millions of homeschoolers have already identified AND SOLVED the problem of failing schools. If you ask nicely, maybe--just maybe--we'll show you how it's done.

  3. BTW...excellent article, Mr. Arby!

  4. This is seriously fascinating! I find it especially interesting since Godin is often cited as living completely ahead of everything. Thanks so much for this well-thought out perspective.

  5. Interesting...I think homeschooling nurtures leadership in that students must learn to be self-governed...older students are often challenged to be role models to younger siblings...homeschool students often have more time to take effective leadership roles in organizations outside the home...Would love to sit with Seth Godin and dig deeper into his thought process.

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Thanks for this article. Leadership tends to happen more in a setting that allows and ,yes even requires, students to think for themselves.

  7. Seth Godin is a "guru" i.e. he is way too full of himself. I've heard about him for quite awhile and I'm not impressed. He clearly has no idea what home-schooling is. The fact is that institutional schools, and that generally means even private Christian schools, teach children to be sheep. Home-schooled kids have so many more opportunities to interact with the real world that they almost inevitably turn out to be leaders.

    I can tell you of my four kids probably only one is a NATURAL leader (he is my oldest son, now age 23). Yet my three oldest are all leaders because of being home-schooled and my youngest (age 9) is well on his way as well.

    Frankly, Godin hasn't a clue. And Lee Stranahan is an unschooler who says anyone who doesn't do it like he and the other unschoolers isn't really home-schooling at all. I read some of his stuff and just couldn't tolerate it. According to Stranahan I am doing exactly what the public school down the street is doing simply because I don't "unschool" like he does.

    Just thought I'd add my two cents. And say that after my own home-school website your website is my favorite home-school website. :)

  8. The traditional public school classroom setting is NOT the end all and be all of leadership skills for kids. Scouts, anyone? Our homeschool co- op allows kids to plan and teach classes! How about volunteer organizations? My oldest mobilized his scout troop to volunteer at a distribution center for ANGEL FOOD MINISTRIES when he saw there was a need... what nonsense!