Interview with Nikhil Goyal

Student voice has become a popular rallying cry from both the corporate education reformers and the alternative schooling movement. Often, I've been disappointed by a lack of depth and a failure to articulate the nuances of education ideas and policies.

Therefore, when I first started getting to know Nikhil Goyal over at the Cooperative Catalyst, I found his approach to be intelligent, nuanced, passionate and humble. He recently wrote a book One Size Does Not Fit All where he spells out not only the issues in education but some of the solutions we might want to consider. It is not surprising that he has been featured in many media outlets and spoken up in various forums. He embodies the humble, human, confident student voice we are often missing in education reform circles. The following is an with Nikhil Goyal:


What was your main motive in writing this book?
My main motive in writing this book was to first, demonstrate to the public and my readers that there is a feasible and attainable solution to our education woes if we think sensibly and second, put forth a youth perspective on the issue, something that is rarely represented.

At what point did you find yourself interested in advocacy? And why advocate for education reform?
I don't think I woke up one morning and decided that I was interested in advocacy. It was a length process. I've always been fascinated by politics and education reform. Both are dear to my heart. For education particularly, I could not stand to watch young people continue to be suppressed by the system.

Educational reform is often seen in terms of a narrative. In your reform narrative, who do you see as the protagonist, conflict, antagonist and theme?
The protagonists are the stakeholders -- the students, teachers, parents, administrators, policymakers, and concerned citizens. They are in the trenches day after day. The antagonists are the people who believe in the status quo -- those who want more testing, privatization, teacher-bashing, and corporate takeover policies. The conflict includes a number of things. One is obvious -- the attack on public education. The other is overcoming the obstacles behind truly reinventing and redesigning education for a new age. The theme is educating the up and coming generation.

It seems that the process of writing a book is educational in itself. What insights about educational reform do you have from doing a large project? Do you see a place in school for larger projects like this?
I've treated the project as one of the many things I've completed in the self-directing of my learning. I'm learning all the time. I'm communicating with some extraordinary people. And I'm honing the skills that are indispensable for this planet. The last thing you could do is quantify the experience I've had. That would be utterly disastrous. It's an organic and fluid process.

In a few sentences, how would you describe your own philosophy of education?
My philosophy of learning is built on the notion that all children are natural learners. That we all have this gush of creativity, curiosity, and imagination within us all. As some had said, education is something that is done to you while learning is something you do to yourself. I treat cities and communities as classrooms and laboratories. Make school real life itself.

Can you describe one of your most powerful educational experience, either positive or negative?
My most powerful educational experience without any doubt would be writing my book.

If money weren't an issue, what are five solutions you would offer a school to make it meaningful and relevant?
1. Allow for every single child to travel to a foreign country and volunteer for a period of time.
2. Reduce class sizes to historic lows.
3. Transform the design of the school from brick and mortar to startup-like -- open, sleek, and collaborative.
4. Ensure that the school is constantly adapting to the technologies of the world.
5. Pay every teacher at least $150,000 a year salary.

You make great use of both traditional and social media. In what ways do you find yourself having to adjust your message to each medium? To what extent will the medium ultimately reshape the course of education reform?
Social media is transforming the way the education community has engaged with one another. I wish every teacher and student in America had a Twitter account and a blog. Imagine how rich and vivid our education conversations would be. We need to tap into this potential. Twitter and Facebook are simply not a frill; they are tools to adapt to uncertainty, uncover possibilities, and engage with like-minded people.

The tone in both the alternative and the traditional movements can often get pejorative. In what ways can we change our approach so that the discourse is still authentic but also respectful? 
We need to shift the approach from "anti-this" and "anti-that" to demonstrating people the true and ideal models of learning that are happening around the world. Most of the public have never experienced an education system any different that the one currently established. There are some great pockets of schooling that need to be drawn attention to.

You can contact Nikhil on Twitter or LinkedIn



John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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