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Are you a volunteer?

"Volunteers lean into their work, they gulp instead of sip."
"Volunteers aren't given tests, they take an opportunity."
"Volunteers don't want less, they want more." 
"If you want people to become passionate, engaged in a field, transformed by an experience - you don't test them, you don't lecture them and you don't force them. Instead, you create an environment where willing, caring individuals can find an experience that changes them."
- Seth Godin

Have you ever gone out and played football? Have you ever acted in a play? Have you ever sung or played an instrument in front of a crowd? In front of a mirror? Alone? Have you ever learnt a new language? A new programming language? Have you read a book? Have you written a blog post? A diary entry? Have you attended a class at school? Taken a course? Have you taken up a project at work? Have you cooked a meal for others? For your family?

Now, which of these have you volunteered to do? And which of these have been forced on you? And how were your experiences in either case?

You can add any number of more questions to those above and then answer the last three. There will likely be exceptions, but you will see a trend - and that trend is succinctly captured by Seth Godin in his quotes that I have picked. 

I still fondly remember my primary school teachers (and my dad) over the ones I had later on because they always brought out the volunteer in me - the one who wanted to gulp instead of sip, the one who took an opportunity, the one who wanted more. 

If you knew me in primary school, I would skip play time to go sit in the library to read about chemical bonds and the origins of the Universe. But I haven't maintained the same level of enthusiasm, the same volunteer attitude, which has seen lows and highs since then. 

It is all about creating the right environment. Like I now have in my Salsa class.

I have long since felt that the way our education system is designed isn't ideal. Forget ideal, it isn't even close to reality. 
"Being good at school is a fine skill if you intend to do school forever. For the rest of us, being good at school is a lot like being good at Frisbee. It's nice, but it's not relevant unless your career involves homework assignments, looking through textbooks for answers that are already known to your supervisors, complying with instructions and then, in high-pressure settings regurgitating those facts."
- Seth Godin

Creating volunteers isn't easy. Even my excellent primary school teachers managed to create two or three in a batch of forty five. But a good proxy that leads to it is to ensure that the final work is out in the public. A lot like real life. 

Every student does what it takes to learn how to be cool, how not to be bullied, how to be liked by the people she wants to be liked. Every employee does what it takes to get a promotion, to get a pay hike, to be recognised for their work. That is the real world. 

In the real world, there are clear targets and there are guides. Much like the tests in school, I agree. But building a computer that you can sell to someone, or even use yourself to play a video game, is a different ball game when compared to scoring high marks on a school test. 

So, perhaps the approach should be to start with that clear end goal. And let the teachers be the guides in helping in getting there. And learning happens in the process. Arguably, this is how a PhD program, or an internship at a company works. 

True, this doesn't make volunteers out of students any more than the test based education system does. But, this has more potential to do so if the project that the students complete is to go out in the real world. If it is to be shipped. 

Here is Seth Godin's altMBA program based on these principles.

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