Could Brand New Just Have Unearthed the Next Big Educational Trend?

“Start your own band,” cries Jesse Lacey at the end of every recent Brand New concert. Here’s how crazy this is: unbeknownst to him I am a 28 year old teacher who has been a fan of his since he started his own band, who went to school near the band’s hometown, and who grew up chanting the angry yet eerily poetic lyrics of songs such as “Seventy Times Seven” and “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad”. I, like every other fan of Brand New as well, have been anxiously awaiting the release of their newest album in six years, and I’ve been closely following all the recent action with the release of the band’s first new songs since then, “Mene” and “Sealed to Me.” So, I’m watching set videos of Jesse singing these songs for the first time at the band’s recent shows, and hear it once: “start your own band.” I hear this phrase once and realize that this simple phrase encapsulates the entirety of what I’m trying to do with my educational career, and what I believe every school in the country should begin focusing on helping students achieve.

Start Your Own

It’s not completely based on music. “Start Your Own Band” is really just a call to this generation’s attraction to starting one’s own anything. It doesn’t actually matter what it is. The only rules are it has to be real, and it has to be scary. I like to tell my students, “if something you’re starting isn’t scary to you, then you’re not thinking big enough.” We built the entire computer science program around this concept. The goal from day one is to prepare students to build their own internet companies out of their garages, like so many of the stories we hear. The reason these stories are told is because they’re true, and if students were just helped towards a skill set needed to develop these products, then they could join in the action. Our model in computer science works, and in just the second year of study for students we’ve had products collect over 100,000 hits per month.

This phrase is a call to action for a young person. The purpose doesn’t have to be academic for the lessons a student learns in the process of “starting their own” to be deeply rooted in academia. The goal doesn’t have to be complicated, buzzword filled, and composed of edu-babble to have deep reaching effects and provide a rich and valuable learning experience. I find it ironic that most of the standards we write into things like Common Core and Vision of the Graduate-type documents are in language that students don’t relate to, considering that they’re the people who these documents are directed at. There’s a reason young people relate to “start your own band” much more than “students will demonstrate critical thinking skills while reading a persuasive essay.” It’s because of the language used to write it, and the appeal it has to something everyone wants to do.

Measuring this is easy as well. Did the student make a valuable contribution to their product’s targeted community? If the answer to this question is yes, then the merit of an exercise such as starting your own anything is proven. Many students will graduate high schools without ever accomplishing this task. How could we possibly say that we have provided students with a good education if they leave high school without ever starting something that has a positive impact on someone else?

A Framework for #StartYourOwn

If I were to implement this in a school, here’s the framework I would use. The goal is simple. Start your own anything: band, company, app, small business, service, anything. The rules are also simple:

  • You must finish what you start
  • You must advertise what you start to your peers
  • You must make money by either selling your product/service or by writing for a grant for your product/service
  • You must blog weekly about your journey and what you do on your product each week
  • You must create a website for your product/service
  • You must present your findings at an end of year expo
  • Your product must have a positive effect on its targeted community

That’s it. So many projects involve having students design analogs for real products in class, and you know what? Kids are sick of that. Kids don’t want to hear, “in the real world, it’s not actually done like this, but it’s pretty close.” Young people want to impact the real world. They don’t want to feel important, they want to be important. I think it’s about time our schools gave them a chance to, instead of preparing them for college with increasing futility.

Have a #StartYourOwn story to share? Tweet us @SlateAndTablets or reply in the comments! I’d love to hear insights about how you’ve guided students through creation of their own products.