Entertain to Educate
“Entertainment and education…that’s where the big void is.”
— Brian Grazer in conversation with Marc Andreesen on his a16z podcast
Brian Grazer, producer of Apollo 13, Arrested Development and A Beautiful Mind, told Marc Andressen, VC titan and famed founder of Netscape that this void existed between entertainment and education back in 2015. This struck me immediately to be true.
It’s still obvious. And the gap is still there.
Of course, education must be engaging. We’ve all had that great teacher, great class, great educational experience. We’ve all said to ourselves that we wish that every class could be as good as Ms. Malloy’s Cardiovascular Physiology, as transcendent as Mr. Raby’s US History, or whatever education experience made a massive difference in your own educational experience.
Good teachers are entertainers as much as they are educators. Here in California, standard teacher credentialing includes obtaining a baccalaureate degree, taking a foundational computer course, even learning about the US Constitution. Shouldn’t the ability to hold kids in rapt attention be just as important?
We need to look no further than the web to see where education is going. Think of some of the biggest names on the internet as well as those who are up-and-coming: Tim Ferriss, Sam Harris, Maria Forleo, David Perell, Tiago Forte. What do they all have in common? They are teachers and entertainers. They know that if they don’t entertain — and keep our attention with compelling, useful content — their students will look — and find — engaging experiences elsewhere.
Our goal as parents is to make sure our kids have the best possible educational experience. Shouldn’t we want our kids to be excited for the next class, the next assignment, the next educational experience just like they are in courses like David Perrell’s Write of Passage or Seth Godin’s altMBA? If we aren’t, then we should be.
Trailblazers are traditionally dismissed. It’s worth thinking about teachers and icons from whom we learned that we now consider cultural heroes — Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Goodall, Rachel Carson. Isn’t it conceivable that they would have been massive internet names had they come of age today? Might not they have used the same approaches some of the new educators are using?
The folks in the education vanguard are often slighted as self-promoting salespeople. Institutions like credentials, largely because institutions hand them out. But the college student debt crisis and the nationwide debate about charters, magnets, private and public elementary and high school options strongly suggest that education is ripe for a shakeup.
Boring is not Fundamental
Another common argument is that our kids must learn the fundamentals like reading, writing and math. Of course, this is true. But the argument for fundamentals often implies that the basics must be a slog. As if it is the monotony of the subjects that makes them so valuable.
As education expert — and former teacher — Alfie Kohn has argued, there is absolutely no reason to believe that teaching the fundamentals has to be soul-crushing. Teaching literacy sounds boring. Becoming literate by reading Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go or one of Judy Blume’s classics and learning to reflect on what you learned through project-based writing can be dynamic and exciting for a child.
We Must Be the Change
Of course, the advantage that prospective students in these new and wonderfully enriching and engaging courses have is that they are adults. They can take their eyeballs — and cash — elsewhere in search of the most engaging ways to learn.
Our kids don’t have that opportunity. We speak for them (in elementary school) and share in their decisions (in high school). They can be involved in some choices (private or public, charter or magnet), but they are limited by either our bandwidth as parents or the local limitations of physical schools. Therefore, it’s on us parents to make change happen.
It needn’t be complicated. Huge stacks of private — if not public — money can be made available in service of great ideas.
This inevitable improvement in our educational system will start at the local level with a few basic ideas:
- Attract the best talent with better pay and great societal appreciation for teachers. Talented youth often join Teach for America or similar programs and then head off to corporate finance to “pay the bills.”
- Successful teachers share how they are best engaging their students. Many schools already have collaboration programs to encourage this. Schools should encourage exploration and allow their teachers to incorporate programs and technologies that might foster more engagement.
- Consider engagement boards at the district and school levels to ensure that the most engaging approaches are being measured and replicated within schools and across districts.
- Poll students to make sure that less engaging teachers and classes are made more engaging.
Let’s Fill the Void
We can see the ever-evolving models of education that are doing a better and better job of engaging students. Teachers can work together to improve and engage and we can leverage technology to give our students more opportunities to take a more diverse range of classes with a more diverse range of classmates. Education can and should be entertaining and engaging. We can bring about the change that we owe to ourselves and our kids.