I often hear teachers say that it is impossible to compete with an adolescent’s outside interests—that what we have to offer will never be as rapid-fire as an online video game, or as engaging as the latest text message from a friend. The subtext is that in this age of electronic gadgetry, school has little hope of relevancy for some or many students—at least until they realize that success in school is their ticket to success beyond school.
I read an interesting article about Apple Computer and its CEO, Steve Jobs. Apple doesn’t compete. They have decided what the Apple experience is going to be like for customers, and that is what they focus on to the exclusion of all else. So far, this approach has worked extremely well for them.
I think we should take a page from Apple’s playbook and stop competing with video games and social media. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever use these as tools for learning. If they are appropriate to our purpose, we should, of course, take full advantage of their appeal for our students. But the defining criterion has to be “appropriate to our purpose.” School will remain irrelevant for too many of our students if we define it by what it is not—not fun like video games, not always collaborative like social media.
We need to stop fighting against all of the things we are not about, decide what we are about, and get busy aligning our actions to our purpose. I believe that’s what will make us relevant.