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Rhetorical Analysis Essay Example

What is School for?

“Have you thought at all, as people on the cutting edge, as people who are interested in making school work again, about a very simple question: what is school for?” (Seth Godin). In the Ted Talk Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin explains that as a nation, not only are we not answering this question, but “we are not even asking it.” Only through leaving our previous assumptions behind and agreeing on both where our education system started and where it is headed can we begin to answer this question. Godin speaks about this controversial topic hoping to change the unchangeable: the public education system. He believes that the only way to determine what school is for is through understanding how and why it was created, and how to fix the faults within it. Additionally, he argues that as a country, we are fascinated with learning about new and interesting things while ironically, in the public education system, we spend our time teaching the exact opposite. The system squashes creativity and makes students want to be normal and assimilate instead of being creative and wanting to stand out. Godin argues, using evidence from interaction with the audience and examples in history, that the public school system is modeled after an industrial factory, causing students to “hold back”, “fit in”, and obey.

Godin immediately grasps his audience’s attention with an argument about the history of why the universal public education system was created. It was not formed to produce creative thinkers, children who have a passion for learning, or students who want to stand out. Instead, it was created to teach children to obey:
The people who ran factories had two huge problems. Problem number one: they looked around and said, “we don’t have enough workers. We don’t have enough people who are willing to move off the farm and come to this dark building for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and do what they are told. If we can get more workers, we could pay them less, and if we can pay them less, we’d make more money. We need more workers.” And so, the KKK went to industrialists and said, “You need to get those kids out of the factories, those people you’re paying 3 dollars a day, ‘cause they’re taking our jobs.” And so a deal was made, and the deal was universal public education whose sole intent was not to train the scholar of tomorrow, we have plenty of scholars. It was to train people to be willing to work in the factory. It was to train people to behave, to comply, to fit in.

Here, Godin discusses the troubling reason why the education system was molded after a working factory. Today, public schools have desks in organized rows, strict schedules and unkind punishments, barely leaving room for creative thinking. His belief that the public schooling system was created to model an industrial factory is argued through his statement that children were taken from one factory setting and placed into another. This attention-grabbing example is an unconventional theory about the history of education and is the basis for his Ted Talk.

In addition, Godin uses Frederick J. Kelly as an example of how society does not tolerate those that want to alter the public school system, even if it would be for the better. He uses the following event in history to prove that the education system does not like those who wish to stand out or have ideas that are not considered “normal” or “conventional”:
The number 2 pencil is famous because Frederick J. Kelly made it famous. Back around World War 1 we had a problem, which was that there was this huge influx of students ‘cause we’d expanded the school date to include high school and there was this huge need to sort them all out. So, he invented the standardized test and an abomination. And he gave it up ten years later, when the emergency was over, but because he gave it up, because he called it out, because he said the standardized test is too crude to be used, he was ostracized and lost his job as the president of a university, because he dared to speak up against a system that was working.
Through this historical example Godin argues that for over one hundred years, the public school system has stayed the same. Furthermore, those who speak out against it are viewed badly. He believes in an education system that inspires students to be creative and different, not one that encourages students to be similar and unimaginative. Through his argument, Godin shows that throughout history, the education system has not tolerated those who think differently and stand out.

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Additionally, Godin interacts with his student-filled audience to prove that the education system of today teaches students to hold back. Through this personal interaction, his audience members are forced to recognize that they have been affected negatively by the education system:
So let’s try a little experiment here. I’d like everyone to go ahead and raise your right hand just as high as you possibly can. Now please raise it a little higher. Hmm. What’s that about!? My instructions were pretty clear and yet you all held back. How come? You held back because you’ve been taught since you were 3 years old to hold a little bit back, because if you do everything, if you put all out than your parents, or your teacher, or your coach or your boss is gonna ask for a little bit more, aren’t they?

This test that Godin conducted with his audience supports his argument that the students of the public education system today do not perform to the best of their abilities. From a very young age we are taught to hold back, in the event that an authoritative figure would ask us to give more. Although Godin’s audience was asked to simply hold their hand as high as they could, they did not. This speaks volumes about what they are learning in school and supports his claim. Overall, through making his audience participate in this activity, Godin displays how the students of today fear the vulnerability of putting themselves out there and trying their best.

Throughout the Ted Talk, Godin uses sarcasm to instantly connect with his audience. For example, he makes fun of one of the most common educational tools we use today: textbooks. He shows that the way students are taught today does not encourage them to have a natural love for learning, which is crucial for creating the “scholars of tomorrow”:
And then we came up with this: the textbook. Now if you want to teach somebody how to become passionate about, I don’t know, American history, why would you give them this? Do people walk into Barnes and Noble and say, “I’m really interested in that latest gripping thing that’s going to get me all engaged about the Civil War. Do you have one of those textbooks in stock?

Godin believes that making students memorize ridiculous amounts of facts causes them to look at learning purely as work. He emphasizes how important it is for students to view learning as fun and explains some of his ideas. Many of the changes that Godin wants to see in the public education system are every student’s dream, particularly his belief that homework should be completed inside of the classroom while lectures should be assigned to be completed outside of the classroom. Furthermore, Godin appeals to the audience members’ emotions, changing his tone frequently to make them laugh. Overall, he effectively argues that the tools we use in the public education system today do not promote a love or passion for learning.

Godin gives examples of historical events and interacts with his audience to highlight the faults he has found within the current public education system. Additionally, he explains his new ideas, varying his tone in order to appeal to his audience. All of his ideas work together to prove his main argument: there is something wrong with the way students are taught today. In this eye-opening Ted Talk, Godin explains that the public education system was not created to help children become the “scholars of tomorrow,” but to take away the competition that children and adults had for jobs. Through his convictions on why and how the education system was created, Godin creates a thought-provoking presentation, sparking answers to the puzzling question, “what is school for.”

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