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New Pupil: Johnny Bunko

August 17, 2008

There’s going to be a new kid in your class this year and you need to ask yourself a couple of really simple questions: “Do you have chopsticks?” and “Are you ready to teach Johnny Bunko?”

JB Cover.pngDan Pink‘s latest ‘career guide’ arrives in the shape of a beautifully illustrated Manga ‘novel’ called ‘The Adventures of Johnny Bunko’. It also rather helpfully subtitles itself as ‘The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need’. However, what struck me most strongly as I read it was that it’s not just about business. Pink’s book should be speaking to every teacher who cares enough to know that he or she could be just that little bit better…and that there are some things our pupils need to learn and which are not really covered by the traditional curriculum.

Pink’s 6 points/lessons/ideas are:

1: There is no plan

2: Think strengths, not weaknesses

3: It’s not about you

4: Persistence trumps talent

5: Make excellent mistakes

6: Leave an imprint

Over the next few days, I’m going to give my thoughts on each of Pink’s points, starting today with…

1: There is no plan

Think how many times you say to a pupil “You need to know this” and then ask yourself why you think they need to know “this” (whatever “this” is)… Is it because the knowledge will be of value to them in later life, or is it because you know “this” will come up in an assessment? I’d be willing to bet that the majority of teachers are only looking at the assessments rather than the future.

diana_career.jpgIncidentally, if you’ve seen Shift Happens, you begin to gain a real understanding of where Pink is coming from. After all, what use is a plan when you have no idea what lies ahead of you? What are you actually planning for? As Diana puts it; “X might lead to W and W might lead to the colour blue and the colour blue might lead to a chicken quesadilla” How can you possibly plan for that?

We are conditioned to believe that there is a plan, we are expected to say that our subject’s worth is measured by where it will take you, but somewhere along the way, we forget that there is true value in studying for studying’s sake: knowledge qua knowledge.

As Pink points out:

“You can do something for instrumental reasons — because you think it’s going to lead to something else regardless of whether you enjoy it or it’s worthwhile… or you can do something for fundamental reasons — because you think it’s inherently valuable regardless of what it may or may not lead to”

711579778_83af0481b6_m.jpgI suppose one of the best examples of this that I can give relates to Steve Jobs of Apple fame. In his 2005 Commencement Address to Stanford University, he recounted how he took a calligraphy class because it fascinated him. At the time, the course had no practical value, it was something he did for love. 10 years later, what he’d learned found its way into the first Macintosh computer and the rest, as they say, is history… When taking the class, Jobs had no idea what it would lead to, and similarly, when we teach our pupils, we cannot know where the lesson will resurface…

There may be no plan, but there is learning. Specifically, there is learning to be adaptable and learning that the knowledge we pick up along the way is valuable, even if we may not know why at the time. Pink’s differentiation between instrumental and fundamental reasons for doing things lies at the heart of the current debate around curriculum development. Are we teaching pupils for instrumental reasons — “You’re going to be tested on this” or are we teaching for fundamental reasons — “This is really interesting/fun/cool”?

Earlier this evening, Ollie Bray pointed me at It is, without exception, one of the most engaging tools I’ve seen yet for classroom use. Imagine what the pupils could do with GoAnimate and a copy of Romeo & Juliet… how much more engaged in the text would they be? And the ‘Bunko/no plan’ part is that they’d be learning a new skill (animation) whilst also taking part in an online community, working collaboratively, and having fun while they did so… Of course, none of the skills learned are easily assessable (though ACfE is aiming to change that), and so they will be mostly swept under the carpet or ignored or, worst of all, ignored because they’re not ‘real learning’.

This becomes frustrating because the people who are against the new tools and ways of working are those who still believe that there is a plan. When he was young, Johnny Bunko wanted to work in advertising or design, but like so many of us, he is advised to have a ‘safety net’ (in his case accounting) which takes him further and further away from what he really wants to do. His is a story that is repeated every day in schools and homes around the world… “You need a back up”… ”You won’t make money doing that”… “You need a plan!”

We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know it will be different. We need to empower those we teach, we need to give them the ability to find things out for themselves and we need to encourage them to follow and develop their own interests — in short, they need to learn how to learn because there is no longer a plan to follow.

Next up will be lesson 2: Think Strengths, Not Weaknesses, but until then, feel free to comment or go join Johnny Bunko on Facebook!

Ja Mata!

Credit: Calligraphy by kebella : flickr cc
2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2008 1:25 am

    Learning is great. So are late night blog posts.
    At this time of night it’s hard to engage fully but I think I understand your thoughts.

    Teaching or learning something which is currently useless or irrelevant is sometimes not the easiest thing to justify, but learning should never need justification.

    It’s pretty clear that currently schools teach ‘Instrumentally’, with little to no ‘Fundamental’ learning. Whilst there is probably some need for the former, I think learning about things just for fun, just for knowledge is much more important. It teaches people to enjoy learning. With a wide variety of interesting and fun learning, something will stand out, and, what I do is to then indepentently find out more on a topic. Though probably my favourite areas of learning is maths, most people probably aren’t lucky enough to be inspired by a core subject taught at school. For these people, teaching to pass on varied and interesting knowledge whilst not being bothered about where it falls in academia is what is needed.

    And we need fewer tests!

  2. August 22, 2008 12:36 am

    Thanks for the kind words about Johnny’s Adventures, Neil. Much appreciated. I’m especially thrilled at your connecting Lesson 1 to Steve Jobs most excellent Stanford commencement — the only speech I’ve ever asked one of my kids to listen to.

    BTW, if you’re a glutton for punishment — or an insomniac — check out my attempt to turn some of Johnny’s lessons into a commencement speech of my own:

    Dan Pink

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