AMBQ collaborative team member Nikhil Goyal talks about his vision and his book
Last year, a new book came out that raises some profound questions about our educational system. One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School is written by Nikhil Goyal, a student at Syosset High School on Long Island, a contributor to publications such as The New York Times, and—last but not least—a member of the volunteer team of contributors helping out on my A More Beautiful Question project.
I caught up with Nikhil in the midst of whirlwind promotional efforts for his book, and asked him a few questions about education, questioning, and being a young author.
Nikhil, why did you get so interested in the educational process?
My mere curiosity by asking questions triggered my interest in the educational process. I had a rich fascination with the ecosystem of learning, creating, and doing. From when I was very young to today, I have always self-directed my learning. It’s changed the way I view the world and my life.
How did you go about researching a subject as big as this—where did you begin? Did you find people in the education world were receptive to your inquiry? And do you think your age made any difference (either positive or negative) in terms of how people responded to you?
I began by scouring the archives of every major newspaper, magazine, and journal, reading many books on education policy and entrepreneurship, and attending conferences. From there, I compiled a list of people I should reach out to for an interview. Yes, many people in the education world were very receptive, because they were thrilled that a student was voicing his opinion on the issue, something you rarely witness. I always strive to be the youngest in the room. Age has helped me enormously, but it can only go so far. Your ideas needed to be grounded in evidence and research.
Give us two examples of schools/programs that seem to be doing it right—and what is it they’ve figured out?
One school that seems to be doing everything right is the Brightworks School in San Francisco. For weeks on end, students will focus on a specific topic, like cities, and examine every single component of it through field trips, discussions with mentors, and projects. After finishing their projects, they present it to the public and put it into their digital portfolio. Kids aren’t grouped by age, but by ability, creating a mentorship-like setting where older and younger kids help each other. John Dewey’s philosophy of “learning by doing” prevails.
Olin College in Massachusetts is another school that is certainly working well. Through project-based learning and interdisciplinary classes, the institution is radically re-defining learning. Their website notes: “Our curriculum will never be a finished product—we’ll keep adapting it in pursuit of our vision of continual improvement.” Exactly. The students are doing work that matters in the real world. You certainly don’t see that very often in universities.
As you know I’m obsessed with questioning, so I must ask, where do you think questioning fits within the proposed changes in teaching/learning—what needs to be changed, in terms of the role of questioning in classrooms?
Instead of arranging the classroom around finding the answer to problems, we must shift to letting kids ask great questions. One of the most important skills we need to have is developing a layer of skepticism. Teach kids not to accept anything at face value. Question everything. As Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
If you were to look at the education challenge and frame it as a beautiful question, what would the big question be?
The question would simply be: How can we light the fire of learning inside every child?
Lastly, tell us what’s the next big challenge/question you plan to tackle?
I plan on starting a crusade to revolutionize education by bringing all the stakeholders together and pinpoint specific proposals that the country and schools can adopt. In the future, I eventually desire to go into politics.