We hear a lot about the rapidly-changing world in which our students live and the need for them to be imbued with agility and flexibility for a life characterized by disruption and dissonance. This same rapidly-changing world is often maligned on account of the damaging impact it is having on our wellbeing, on the very core of our humanity. How odd then that, as an educator, I quite often feel sheltered from this fast-paced life. The reality is that schools are frequently bubbles in which change is slow and the version of the “real world” we serve up to our students is little less than a contrived simulation of reality. Schools are an anachronism in a world in which our learners are demanding change. Too often we placate ourselves with the excuse of perfection while we busy ourselves codifying systems to prepare young people in artificial ways designed by adults.
Even in independent and international schools, this rapidly-changing world notion can, in real terms, go largely unnoticed. For those in public or state schools, change can be a very distant prospect. Learning remains prescribed by a curriculum in which the what, when, how, and why of this activity are perpetually documented. The newest technology is used to do some of the oldest things. An inordinate amount of time is spent talking about science and mathematics rather than solving actual problems of students choosing. It is not surprising for people to grow frustrated with these situations and dream of meaningful change. Some write about these things in blogs that are read and forgotten by good people who briefly glimpse themselves only to remember that change drips slowly in schools. You see, you’ve got to get it right before you dare to do anything. Schools leave nothing to chance and, as a result, sometimes end up with exactly that. At almost every turn, dedicated teachers save the day, yet the rigid structures remain.
It was with such thoughts in mind that I read designer, James Victoire’s latest book, Feck Perfuction: Dangerous Ideas on the Business of Life. In his inimitable way, Victoire calls out the things that hold us back. His words serve as a rallying cry to all learners, especially those who work in schools. Here are some lines that resonate:
You weren’t born to fit in, ready to accommodate every relationship, every situation … Don’t contort yourself to fit into a box or a square or a cubicle. The world has enough safe, bland, dull crap. You are an artist and a genius. Don’t fit in. Don’t even try.
New and innovative work comes from the unexpected places, not the “right” answer, and it’s our childlike sense of wonder, curiosity, and play that makes it possible.
You just have to start. Waiting till you’re ready is a form of self-sabotage, a good excuse to quit while you’re behind. Experience is great, and practice has its place, but boldness makes way for action.
Is your work emotionally fulfilling? Basically: What do you cry about in the shower? Setting your own terms for success is how you form a purpose-driven life. Without these standards in place, you live the clichéd life, passive, unfulfilled, and on the losing end of compromise. You surrender the pursuit of happiness to chase a paycheck.
Following a career does not mean that you leave behind joy and play—it means you now get paid for it.
The better you take care of what is within your reach, the farther you can reach. This is how you affect others. This is how you change the world.
In thinking about this, it really isn’t just the “rapidly-changing world” and the usual digital culprits that are detrimental to our wellbeing. It’s our helpless paralysis in the face of an illusory perfection that leads to a fear of taking action on the things we believe in. Our obligation in schools – for each of us – is to question the way things are and to advocate relentlessly for the way they should be. There’s no excuse that justifies inaction in today’s world, especially in the very institutions charged with preparing young people to live there.
It’s time to stop thinking so hard. As Victoire reminds us: “You know what’s better than perfect? Done. Done is better than perfect.”
Victoire, James. Feck Perfuction: Dangerous Ideas on the Business of Life. Chronicle Books, 2019.