Today a friend of mine showed me a website design he was working on to get feedback on the design and the idea. It was a site to help people learn Reason, a popular software tool for music production. I told him I liked the idea and pointed out some of his design decisions I particularly liked. After I thought about it, I realized it would really get him ahead if he used a blogging tool like WordPress instead of doing this site from scratch with HTML and built the site on top of that. So I told him he should do this design as a WordPress theme. His response via IM:

eh i could
but its actually for class
: (

What does that mean? It means he would, but this is just a class assignment. I asked him if he really wanted to make this site, and he said definitely. All of a sudden I remembered so many class projects that I was really excited about either because it really interested me or because it allowed me to do it around something that really interested me. The thing about all those projects was that I was never satisfied with how they turned out, but because it was a class project made that okay.

In fact, if I took the opportunity to take something I was doing outside of class and do it as a class project, that would almost certainly kill the project.

I hated that dynamic of school. You only really have time to do things for class, but the things you do are never enough of what you would really want to do if it wasn’t for class. Then because it’s for class, you don’t really want to treat it like it was something you really wanted to do. Instead it’s reduced to what most schoolwork is: busywork.

Instead of making it a WordPress theme and getting his site started, my friend made a very sane rationalization that it would be more work and more to learn than it would be worth as a school project.

Greatness is not encouraged in school because greatness is relative, and that’s very hard to industrialize. You generally get the lowest common denominator. Not all schools suffer from this, it’s mostly K-12, but even many colleges suffer from this and they used to be the hope after K-12.

Compare this to what some of the educators are doing that use systems thinking as a foundation. I saw a talk by Jay Forrestor that mentioned how some K-12 classes are daring to do things that nobody else is. One example was a class that was redesigning the population policy of China, and they actually engaged the Chinese government to get real data to work with on this real problem. It was a thrilling experience for the kids to actually engage a foreign government to work on something real. In that context it would be a bit harder to look at it as “just a class assignment.”