What if Seaspiracy was called ‘Overfishing Awareness Documentary’?

Is education’s biggest problem it’s victorian branding?

I hated school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people around me, or I didn’t like the teachers. I was a pretty easy-going kid (although my school reports tell me I was a bit loud and irritating, but isn’t every child?).

No, the reason I didn’t like school was because I couldn’t understand why everyone who was teaching me anything insisted on making everything so. incredibly. boring.

The textbooks. I always think the textbooks in schools were the perfect encapsulation of a generally very boring wider experience. I would spend the entire french lesson flicking back and forth through the textbook desperately looking for illustrations of croissants that were mildly interesting and photos of french people that didn’t look like they were taken in the 70s. And when that was unsuccessful I would scan the room desperately for something interesting on the faded posters on the walls. Sadly, rien.

As I got older I realised it definitely wasn’t the teachers — they were just being given bad tools to work with. And any attempt at innovation coming from the teachers was instantly stamped down by the traditionalism of the institution. It was the excessively dull branding of education. The textbooks I was using at school were representative of the benchmark for the level of interesting the rest of the system was aiming for. It was so far away from the things that I was interested in at that age. It was like they had done everything they could have done to make it as boring as possible.

What was I interested in? The same as every child approaching or in their early teens: fashion, gossip, music, films, tv and everything else of that ilk. Not hard to guess. So why wasn’t school leveraging those angles? If they had done, I would have been hanging on the teachers’ every word.

If you think about the purpose of a school, it’s to educate children on the things that adults insist they need to know. I mean, there is an entire book I could write on the dissection of this purpose and indeed, I have produced a podcast about education reformation (it’s a collection of experts talking about what just doesn’t make sense and how we could change the system). But I can’t get into that now. What I want to get into is how school is taught and how disconnected it is with the style of communication children clearly, actively want to pay attention to.

I cannot get my head around the completely bizarre collective blindness of adult society — apparently we literally cannot connect the dots together to see a clear path through entertainment to education. The two, according to ruling society, forever more must remain utterly mutually exclusive. No overlap. School is for learning. Victorian style. And you mustn’t enjoy a second of it.

Education Tik Tok has been a real eye-opener. If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve seen comments across the internet saying ‘I’ve learnt more on tik tok than I have in my entire time at school’ then I would be as rich as a tik tok influencer. Surely this is all the proof we need to start injecting more entertainment into our classrooms? If we’re hearing it from the kids themselves, is this not justification enough to rethink our victorian styles of learning?

This article is titled ‘what if Seaspiracy was called ‘Overfishing Awareness Documentary’?’ It’s a genuine question. Imagine it was called Overfishing Awareness Documentary and it’s cover wasn’t the dramatic image of a world in a fishing net with an ominous sky behind it, but this image:

“Title: Overfishing Awareness Documentary”

Not quite as appealing, right? Thought so. This is the power of branding in education. Seaspiracy was an educational documentary about the impact of fishing on the environment. I’m gonna call it, this doesn’t sound like it would have a wide appeal on paper. But it was lifechanging for a colossal amount of people. It made global news. Its impacted political conversations and decisions. I maintain that was because they made an appealing first impression on the Netflix homepage and created a competitive image that stood up against all the non-educational entertainment that existed alongside it. People chose to watch it above anything else on that page, over and over again.

Let’s talk about history quickly. In 2019, only 27% of Americans under the age of 45 demonstrated a basic knowledge of American history. This means 73% of Americans did not find the history lessons they were having at school interesting enough to pay attention to. Relaying history to people is literally storytelling. Telling the stories of people from the past. Americans are consuming stories in all other formats — 71% watch films, 68% read books, 60% are streaming TV and Americans spend 52 minutes a day having a gossip (the oldest form of storytelling). It’s safe to say that the appetite for Americans to learn about stories from history isn’t small, but their reluctance to consume it in the classroom format that exists in schools is high. And it’s the same globally (most likely apart from Finland, who are just fantastic in all educational areas).

So what’s the suggestion? A big ol’ rebrand. Let’s make education look like something that a young person would like to consume. Let’s bring entertainment and storytelling to the front of the classroom. Let’s take inspiration from Seaspiracy and move away from instructional labelling. Bring in current references, drama, new imagery and let’s finally get rid of victorian habits. Stop reverting back to the weird childish illustrations and beige play-it-safe schemes — let’s make it modern and colourful. Why shouldn’t education be entertaining?

P.S. if that rant isn’t enough for you to think twice about the way we teach, I learnt French for 8 years and by the end of it I could still barely say 2 sentences and I blame it fully on the boring textbooks. It’s the only possible explanation.

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Co-founder of ERIC. Likes writing, loves listening. Immersive experience obsessive.

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Samantha Hornsby

Co-founder of ERIC. Likes writing, loves listening. Immersive experience obsessive.