Back in 1999, when most of us were just getting used to this thing called the internet, The Cluetrain Manifesto was published. With 95 audacious theses, it declared the end of business as usual.
When the book was published a year later, its authors started by reminding us of how the world used to be.
A few thousand years ago there was a marketplace. Never mind where. Traders returned from far seas with spices, silks and precious, magical stones. Caravans arrived across burning deserts bringing dates and figs, snakes, parrots, monkeys, strange music, strange tales. The marketplace was the heart of the city, the kernel, the hub, the omphalos. Like past and future, it stood at the crossroads. People woke early and went there for coffee and vegetables, eggs and wine, for pots and carpets, rings and necklaces, for toys and sweets, for love, for rope, for soap, for wagons and carts, for bleating goats and evil-tempered camels. They went there to look and listen and to marvel, to buy and be amused. But mostly they went to meet each other. And to talk.
But things changed. Somewhere along the way, they argue, we stopped talking. We were too busy mass-producing stuff to tell stories anymore. And the more we produced, the more we built walls to protect our ideas, our businesses, and the small corner of the market we felt was our share.
In short, markets were no longer places to tell stories, to learn, or to marvel. They had become war zones in which everyone was grabbing as much as they could and, ultimately, everyone was trying to eliminate everyone else from the picture.
Twenty years later, looking around at the state we're in as an education industry, I respectfully offer five additional theses into the mix. Each one builds upon the central idea of The Cluetrain Manifesto - that markets are conversations - and maybe even reminds us of a better version of ourselves.
Schools markets are places where families can wander and wonder. Families should no longer be insulted by the sound of our hollow, flat pitches. The passion for our craft should be enough to attract attention.
Families don't want to hear us criticising our neighbours. They would much rather we commend the wonderful things each school can provide for its students.
We talk about helping families find a good fit, but most of the time people know we are lying and that we just want to fill our seats. It's time to start really helping.
The phrase “competitor schools” should be banned. Forever. We should stop for a moment and think what this kind of behaviour is modelling for our students.
There is always enough space for another school in the market, even if that means we choose to take up less space. There is nothing good about being the only school in town.
For what it's worth, this is my working manifesto.
It's a vision of the learning market as a place where we can start talking again.