Pinellas County Schools Can Learn A Lot From Starbucks

coffee wall plaqueI love coffee. I drink it all day long. From the time I get up in the morning almost until I go to bed at night, I’ve got my coffee.

Almost all the people I know drink coffee, too. Maybe not as much or as often as I do, but they enjoy their coffee. Each one of them seems to have their own favorite way of drinking it, too. There must be almost as many different ways to drink coffee as there are people.

Just hang out at your local Starbucks sometime and note what people order. See how many ways people want to have their coffee. Nowadays people expect to be able to customize almost any product or service they buy or use so that it fits their individual needs, and rightly so.

Then imagine yourself at Starbucks and this happens when you order: “I’d like my usual special deluxe soy/skim mixture latte’ macchiato with lite whipped cream and no-sugar-caramel topping in the thermos cup so I can sip on it while I drive to work,” and the barista says something like, “Sorry, this week everyone receives our most popular coffee, café Americano. Would you like cream and/or sugar?” You say, “What is going on here? I’d like my usual please.” (S)he says, “This is the 3rd week in September and Starbucks has scheduled everyone to have café Americano all week.” “Next week you get Brazilian.” “Cream and/or sugar?”

“This is absurd,” you say as you leave holding a large paper cup of café Americano with 2 sugars and 2 creams. “This isn’t the coffee I wanted.”

If it sounds absurd, it should. Maybe fifty or sixty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, when top-down hierarchies and bureaucracy were the norm, it was common to have to take what you were given without asking questions. But that was then. Nowadays we expect to get a say in things that affect us, right?


Then why do we allow public schools to patronize us in the same way today that they did in the 50’s? Why do we accept the way public schools teach our children: according to a centrally planned, predetermined schedule in a predetermined way, without allowing children or parents or even, for the most part, teachers to participate in creating the learning experience?

Back in the 50’s learning and coffee were pretty much the same: percolated; continually cycling the brew through the grounds until it’s ‘done;’ standardized; bland; unimaginative.

Thankfully, since then coffee has evolved. Public schools haven’t. They still teach pretty much the same way that they did back in the 50’s.

We need for schools to change. Schools need for students, parents and teachers to participate in creating the educational experience. It’s called co-production. Another name for it is democracy.




About Freedom to...

Consultant helping people and employers in health care, education and government to see and understand how their organization works and how to change them to improve performance.
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