I watched 20-something Dan Brown’s compelling 6.5-min. “Open letter to educators” on YouTube this morning after an educator I admire and follow on Twitter, Tom Whitby, tweeted about it. In it, Dan, aka pogobat, very engagingly asks what it means to receive an education now, in these discontinuous times, and explains how the institutional education we’ve long revered is beginning to fail many students, including him. “I dropped out of school because my schooling is interfering with my education.” As of this writing, nearly 200,000 people have watched Dan’s “open letter” since he posted it a little over a year ago. Probably like you, I wanted to know who this guy was. So I surfed around his YouTube channel and learned a lot about this young vlogger (video blogger) and his background from his poignant post about going back to Nebraska (from San Francisco, where he now lives) to see his dying grandfather this past winter. There’s also his own response to his YouTube community’s question, “Who is Dan Brown?“, which he vlogged two years ago, when still a teenager. Three days later Dan posted a follow up that has gotten almost as many views, “RE: RE: An open letter to educators,” in which he clarifies that he wasn’t telling peers to drop out of college. “Institutional education does a lot of great things for a lot of great people. All I’m saying is that the world is changing very rapidly. We’re in the middle of very real revolution, and if schools don’t change along with this revolution, it’s going to make sense for more and more people to drop out of school in the way it made sense for me to drop out of school,” Dan says, adding: Follow your passion if your passion supports you.” And his passion does support him; he says he makes a good living vlogging, but that doesn’t mean he might not some day go back to school.
Pushback on YouTube
Quite a discussion followed his original video, including a pretty pedantic response from another very popular vlogger screennamed thunderf00t, who seems to have gained a lot from studying one of the sciences when he was a university student. He makes some entirely valid points about the training scientists get at universities, but he seems to be dissing more than debating Dan/pogobat with references like universities not being “expensive daycare,” and he didn’t appear to catch Dan’s follow-up.
Support from ‘real world’ educators
And the YouTube-based discussion very much echoes that of the offline world. But it’s Dan/pogobat, not thunderf00t, who resonates with some of the most forward-thinking educators. Chris Lehmann, founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, said recently in a videotaped talk, “In education right now, what we can do [for students] and what we’ve been asked to do are in total disconnect.” Will Richardson, shortly before Dan’s post, wrote in his blog about “the decoupling of education and school.” And way back in 2007, Alan November spoke of the “3 skills students need to succeed” in these times. He said we need to teach them: 1) how to deal with massive amounts of information, add some value and move on; 2) how to work with people all over the world, organize people all over the world to solve problems (global communication skills); and 3) to be self-directed – not need a boss to tell them what to do. “The American school system was not designed to do those things,” November said, adding that what students know (e.g., learn in school) is no longer sufficient.” All of which is exactly what 21-year-old vlogger Dan Brown was talking about. [See also "The new normal" from Will Richardson.]
But I don’t think a complete sea change is what Dan or any of the above educators are calling for. What’s being called for more than anything else is openness of thought – to the views of people like Dan and today’s highly interactive students, to using the social technologies they love in teaching traditional subjects, to collaborating with young people and facilitating their growth and learning rather than always treating them as partial persons or adults in training and potential victims. Does that require a revolution? I’m also hearing November talking about civic engagement, new media literacy (see newmedialiteracies.org), and global citizenship (which already inspires youth because it supports agency, participation, and collaboration – see this). These can be folded into existing curricula with a little open-mindedness, can’t they? Please?
* If you’re interested in what (thoughtful) vlogger discussions are like, check out the responses to Dan’s “open letter” from “sweetkellygirl,” a pre-K educator, “Mickeleh,” and “HowTheWorldWorks.” This is a great example of the kinds of discussions going on in social media which could be used to spark lively in-person or in-wiki class discussions in teaching media literacy or social studies.
* “How 2 teach w/ Twitter”
* “Toward social media tools in school”
* “Can this be played in school? Please?