Monday Musings (Purpose, Ownership, Architecture)

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Hi friends,

Greetings from Holland!

I’m here to rest and visit family for a few weeks before a crazy work sprint this summer.

Let’s begin with some Write of Passage news. We’re planning to hire 10-15 people by September, most of whom will be full-time. We’re looking for course directors, product managers, marketers, education obsessives, scriptwriters, video editors, and anybody who gets fired up by the thought of building a world-class writing school.

Naturally, we want to hire Musings readers. If you’re tired of corporate life and want to work with us, click here and I’ll send you an email when the job postings officially open up.

Coolest Things I Learned This Week

One of the biggest problems with school is that kids graduate without a zest for learning. For example, the average person stops reading once they graduate from college. (If you’re reading this newsletter, you’re the exception). This is largely a failure of the education system. Above all else, schools should instil a joy of learning in their students.

What do students need to love learning?

Sports provide a clue. Kids love ‘em. Unlike school, kids sign up on their own terms. They attend games and practices without coercion too. Sports benefit from two characteristics that schools would be wise to integrate: purpose and ownership.


Good sports coaches create feelings of purpose for their players by elevating the game's stakes. Think of the pump-up speeches you see out of Hollywood. In Friday Night Lights, football is about bringing a small Texas town together. In Miracle, the final hockey game between America and the Soviet Union builds upon a Cold War rivalry between two global superpowers. In both instances, the sports transcend trophies and scoreboards, bringing the players together.

Schools could benefit from a similar attitude. Too many kids learn only for the grades that show up on their report cards. I still remember a conversation in college with a smart friend, which feels too much like a parody to have actually happened. I was buzzing about an obscure fact I’d learned in a U.S. History class when my buddy said: “What’s the point of knowing that? It’s not gonna be on the test.”

He didn’t get why anybody would go above and beyond in class. He only wanted good grades to get his parents off his back and secure a good job. Learning felt like a chore to him. When that’s your attitude, why would you default to reading when you have free time?

Knowing what I know now, I would have said: “The purpose of learning transcends grades and careers. Knowing things makes life better. It makes the world pop. The more you know, the richer your experience of reality becomes. For example, cities are more vibrant when you’re familiar with their history. In New York, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building come alive once you realize they were originally two of the tallest buildings in the world. Their Art Deco architecture represents a forgotten optimism that defined the 1920s. Knowing that history adds a whole new dimension to the Manhattan skyline."


Kids are struggling, partially because they don’t have much ownership over their day-to-day. As I learned in The Self-Driven Child, between 1960-2002, high school and college students reported “lower and lower levels of internal locus of control (the belief that they can control their own destiny) and higher levels of external locus of control (the belief that their destiny is determined by external forces).”

Part of the issue is that kids lack ownership. They can choose what sports they play, but not what they study. Though I support a minimum competence bar for a variety of subjects, kids don’t have nearly enough choice over the classes they take. Here, schools should learn from sports. Part of the reason kids love sports is that they can choose their favorite ones. Everybody knows it’s hard to get excited about a sport you don’t care about. The same is true for school subjects.

Luckily, the Internet opens up many avenues for ownership. An abundance of choice means that kids won’t be so constrained in how they go about their studies. For example, say you want to learn math. Right now, you have to sit through a standard set of lectures and formulas and equations. In the future, you’ll be able to learn math through the obsession of your choice. As a kid, I would have learned math by studying the physics of baseball — from the movement of a curveball to the mechanics of a homerun swing. Others would obsess over the mechanics of SpaceX rockets or the calculus of a perfect fashion show outfit.

Ownership can go even further. At one high school in Austin, there are no teachers. Kids can work where they want and when they want. Since there are no teachers, the kids have to motivate themselves. There are standards though. Kids who don’t keep up are kicked out of school. No, the system doesn’t work for every kid. But the point is to give kids ownership over their education in a world where most kids can’t even go to the bathroom without raising their hand.

Loving school doesn’t mean you need to enjoy every micro-step. Like sports, you sometimes need to suck it up and get through the hard parts. Without purpose and ownership, people won’t become self-driven learners.

Photo of the Week

I had some time today to walk around the Old Town of Utrecht.

Though it's tough to defend the delights of old European architecture on a spreadsheet, it’s so much more human than the monstrosities that go up nowadays. People are happiest on cobblestone streets with buildings shorter than six stories, where they can walk freely without worrying about cars.

Curved streets also improve our relationship with the built environment. On straight streets, you can ignore the buildings around you. But when a street bends, you can’t help but notice the architecture. Just because something looks good to an architect on a blueprint, doesn’t mean it’ll feel right to a pedestrian on the sidewalk.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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