There’s lots of chat about schools and how they need to adapt for the 21st Century. Some of it is good, some of it useful, but a lot seems to be edging towards something that was said almost 14 years ago, the Cluetrain Manifesto
Cluetrain.com went live in April, 1999. It was written by four very brilliant men: Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, and Rick Levine. And it was a manifesto for how companies could sensibly engage with the new internet-enabled markets that were springing up, markets which were often smarter than the companies.
It was, I think, ahead of its time. It is, I think, still right on the money. It is still something I return to every now and then. But it is not something I hear educators “getting” in their conversations online. A lot of the chat, Twitter and beyond, seems to be people wrestling with how best to explain the changes that are happening in education and it struck me that it might be an interesting/useful experiment to translate the whole manifesto to the education sector. For markets, read learning; for corporations, read schools etc.
It doesn’t fit 100%, but the wisdom of Locke, Searls, Weinberger and Levine still shines through. Here goes a translation, a Schooltrain manifesto, so-to-speak.
Education is a conversation.
Education consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted
in a human voice.
Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting
arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open,
People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that
were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
In both internetworked educational institutions and among
intranetworked learners, people are speaking to each
other in a powerful new way.
These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of
social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
As a result, learners are getting smarter, more informed, more
organized. Participation in a networked education changes people
People in networked education have figured out that they get far
better information and support from one another than from
institutions. So much for school rhetoric about lectures and
There are no secrets. The networked learner knows more than
schools do about their own educational provision. And whether the news is
good or bad, they tell everyone.
What’s happening to students is also happening among staff. A
metaphysical construct called “The School” is the only thing
standing between the two.
Schools do not speak in the same voice as these new
networked learners. To their intended online audiences,
schools sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of
education — the sound of mission statements and
league tables — will seem as contrived and artificial as the
language of the 18th century French court.
Already, schools that speak in the language of the pitch, the
dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
Schools that assume connected learners are the same learners that
used to sit in their lessons are kidding themselves.
Schools that don’t realize their learners are now networked
person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined
in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
Schools can now communicate with their learners directly. If
they blow it, it could be their last chance.
Schools need to realize their learners are often laughing. At
Schools need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously.
They need to get a sense of humour.
Getting a sense of humour does not mean putting some jokes on the
school web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little
humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
Schools attempting to “position” themselves need to take
a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their
learners actually care about.
Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the
preeminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position.
Schools need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to
the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
Parent Relations does not relate to the public. Schools are
deeply afraid of their parents.
By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant,
they build walls to keep learners at bay.
Most parent engagement programs are based on the fear that the parent
might see what’s really going on inside the school.
Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious
School loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the
breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are
networked, smart learners are able to renegotiate relationships
with blinding speed.
Networked learners can change education providers overnight.
Smart learners will find education providers who speak their own language.
Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlour trick. It
can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.
To speak with a human voice, schools must share the concerns of
But first, they must belong to a community.
Schools must ask themselves where their academic cultures end.
If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have
Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about
The community of discourse is the education.
Schools that do not belong to a community of discourse will
As with networked learners, people are also talking to each other
directly inside the company—and not just about rules
and regulations, directives, and exam results.
Such conversations are taking place today on school
intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
Schools typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR
policies and other corporate information that staff are doing
their best to ignore.
Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are
built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct
something far more valuable: an intranetworked school
A healthy intranet organizes members of a school community in many meanings of
the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any
While this scares Schools witless, they also depend heavily on
open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They
need to resist the urge to “improve” or control these networked
When school intranets are not constrained by fear and
legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds
remarkably like the conversation of the networked learners.
Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully
understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work
orders could be handed down from on high.
Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect
for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
Command-and-control management styles both derive from and
reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of
Paranoia kills conversation. That’s its point. But lack of open
conversation kills Schools.
There are two conversations going on. One inside the school staffroom. One
with the community of learners.
In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost
invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete
notions of command and control.
As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are
broken. Command and control are met with hostility by
intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in
These two conversations want to talk to each other. They
are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s
Smart Schools will get out of the way and help the inevitable
to happen sooner.
If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ,
then very few Schools have yet wised up.
However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online
perceive Schools as little more than quaint legal constructs that
are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.
This is suicidal. Learners want to talk to Schools.
Sadly, the part of the school a networked learner wants to talk
to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of
language that rings false—and often is.
Learners do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to
participate in the conversations going on behind the staffroom door.
De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those learners. We
want to talk to you.
We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and
strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will
not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block
with eye candy but lacking any substance.
We’re also the staff who make your Schools go. We want to
talk to learners and parents directly in our own voices, not in platitudes
written into a script.
As learners, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting
our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless annual reports and third-hand data studies to introduce us to
As learners, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You
seem to be speaking a different language.
The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the
press, at your conferences—what’s that got to do with us?
Maybe you’re impressing your governors. Maybe you’re impressing
OFSTED. You’re not impressing us.
If you don’t impress us, your governors are going to take a bath.
Don’t they understand this? If they did, they wouldn’t let
you talk that way.
Your tired notions of “the learner” make our eyes glaze over. We
don’t recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps
because we know we’re already elsewhere.
We like this new learning arena much better. In fact, we are
You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the
door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it
something interesting for a change.
We’ve got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some
better service. Stuff we’d be willing to pay for. Got a minute?
You’re too busy “doing business” to answer our email? Oh gosh,
sorry, gee, we’ll come back later. Maybe.
You want us to pay attention? We want you to pay attention.
We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic
self-involvement, join the party.
Don’t worry, you can still get us good grades. That is, as long as it’s
not the only thing on your mind.
Have you noticed that, in itself, grades and levels are kind of
one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
Your lesson broke. Why? We’d like to ask the guy who made it.
Your school strategy makes no sense. We’d like to have a chat
with your Head. What do you mean she’s not in?
We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one
reporter from OFSTED
We know some people from your school. They’re pretty cool
online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they
come out and play?
When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you
didn’t have such a tight rein on “your people” maybe they’d be
among the people we’d turn to.
We’d like it if you got what’s going on here. That’d be real
nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we’re holding our
We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll
change in time to help us learn. School is only a part of
our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it:
who needs whom?
We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the
light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive,
more interesting, more fun to play with.
Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting
than most assemblies, more entertaining than any lesson, and
certainly more true-to-life than the textbook problems we’ve
Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies
and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Schools that
have no part in this world, also have no future.
We’re both inside Schools and outside them. The boundaries that
separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but
they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down.
We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.
To traditional schools, networked learners may appear
confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than
they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow
We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But
we are not waiting.