How do we put the ‘cool’ in school?

Some interesting questions about education, raised by (of all people) actor Tony Danza

There are beautiful questions and then there are more banal ones that occasionally get used as titles of TV sitcoms. I’m thinking, for example, of “Who’s the Boss?”

It wasn’t one of my favorite shows, let me state that up front. And though I always liked the show’s star, Tony Danza, with his natural, nice-guy-with-rough-edges style of humor, I certainly never associated him with substantive issues or profound questions. But lo and behold, I came upon “What I Learned Teaching Your Kids,” an editorial written by Danza in USA Today on the subject of education. Danza has published a book on this (I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had [Crown]), based on his recent experience of becoming a teacher for a year at a public high school in Philadelphia.

The overall editorial is definitely worth reading and I’ll bet the book is, too. But this particular BQ from Danza jumped out at me:

The question I still wrestle with is, ‘In the midst of a tough economy and continuous budget cutting, how do we send a message to students that being in school and making the most of their time there is important?’”

Later in the article, Danza writes, “As a society, we have to make it cool to be smart. And kids have to understand that it’s their responsibility to do well—no matter who their teacher is, or the quality of their school. The bottom line: Kids need to want it. We can’t want them to get an education more than they want it for themselves.”

How do we do a better job of engaging students?

These are big issues and questions Danza is raising. Lots of people in the education world are currently grappling with them. The answers are not yet clear, but one thing we’re starting to figure out, as a society, is that the old factory-style model of running schools doesn’t cut it anymore. (For more on this, and for examples of exciting new models of education, be on the lookout for One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School, a book published this week (9/5/12) from AMBQ team member Nikhil Goyal).

Whether it’s achieved by changing the structural model of schools or innovating some of our teaching and testing methods, somehow we need to do a better job of engaging students—of encouraging them to keep questioning and exploring as part of the educational process. Many kids seem to begin their early years of schooling full of curiosity and questions—but by sometime around junior high, a lot of those same kids have become disengaged. When kids stop being curious in school—when they stop wondering and asking—they tune out. That’s when school becomes uncool.

I’m covering this a lot in my book, getting insights from people who, like Danza, have spent time in the educational trenches. They’ve seen what’s working and what isn’t. And more and more of them are now asking, How can we reinvent our approach to schooling? Can we learn new ways to learn?

» 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…

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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

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  1. Warren Berger @GlimmerGuy
    Twitter: GlimmerGuy

    As part of his PR campaign for his new book, I noticed this week that Nikhil wrote a provocative letter to the NYTimes about transforming our schools, and sparked a Sunday Dialogue discussion at


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