A blueprint for reinventing our schools

AMBQ collaborative team member Nikhil Goyal talks about his vision and his book

Nikhil Goyal with new bookLast 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.

» Interested in this topic? Click this graphic to read articles on this site about Kids & Questioning, and check out my popular Edutopia article “5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners.”


How can we keep the questioning going as adults? See this fast-click blogshare…

Tags: , , ,

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter!

About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of 12 books, including his three books on questioning: A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas; its follow-up THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead; and BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Transforming Classrooms Into Cultures of Curiosity and Inquiry. Warren’s writing has appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, and he writes the “Questionologist” blog for Psychology Today. He lives in Mount Kisco, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts

2 Beautiful Comments

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Leena Madan says:

    An approach to improving teaching that would be less effective but more likely to gain teacher’s union support: Have prospective teachers trained by master K-12 teachers rather than by university professors who are too often theoreticians who have never taught K-12, let alone been masters at it.

  2. chieflo says:

    A 6 minute animation that offers an answer to the big question Nikhil poses