frog design: Meme-ingful Education

frog design: Meme-ingful Education

Education is, historically, full of memes. The ones that are successful (i.e. spread well) capture fundamental needs at a subconscious level and communicate them.

  • 29 september 2010

“Warning: This book contains a live mind virus. Do not read further unless you are willing to be infected.” Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind, The New Science of the Meme

“We are a bucket filling school,” announced the memo sent home to parents on the schools’ decision to adopt Carol McCloud’s book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? as the new moral guideline. Not only would the students be reading the books in class, but the teachers would be engaging in a book study on the adult version by Tom Rath. That week, buckets appeared on the teacher’s desks, kids were writing endearing messages to fill up the buckets, and my daughter started talking about her feelings as buckets (i.e. “He dumped my bucket when he ran away from me on the playground today.”) So, I scurried to the bookstore, unfamiliar with the book’s contents, and found every copy sold out. Well, damn.  Someone should have told Barnes & Nobles that a new meme was sweeping the nation.

In 1976, Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene in an attempt to describe the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Memes, he defined, could be any unit of information such as a melody, belief, trend or process and their primary goal is to self replicate – and not always on behalf of society. Twenty years later, Richard Brodie took this one step further by capturing the field of memetics in an easily digestible, provocative book that’s been purposefully spread by enthusiasts through the Amazon Hot 100. Education, of course, was a ripe topic. What is education after all but a meme designed to spread knowledge and beliefs? Brodie very thoughtfully stuck it in the final chapter called, “Disinfection.” You see, he contends the only way to a meaningful life is a meme-ingless one – or at least one in which we create our own memes or get to choose what memes we want to be infected with.

Education is, historically, full of memes. The ones that are successful (i.e. spread well) capture fundamental needs at a subconscious level and communicate them. Consider the idea of “kindergarten” which came about in the early 1800’s to serve as a transition from home to a more formal schooling and in which children are taught basic skills through play and socialization. Cultures joined in a mission or common goal to provide children the opportunity of early learning, the feeling of belonging, approval when they learned well and an early structure for obeying authority. The concept of kindergarten takes advantage of tradition (each child that is six years of age), evangelism (every child should attend kindergarten) and faith (that early schooling is the right thing to do for children). The idea of Kindergarten is a fit meme, Brodie would argue, because by conveying fundamental needs (all those in italics above) it has spread across cultures, proliferated within a given society, and is now a core belief for a large percentage of the populace. Alternatively, we see a movement like Ebonics fail (at least thus far) because it was not a fit meme. Why? First, new memes are often met with skepticism, but the Ebonics resolution passed by the Oakland School Board in 1996 did not take into account tradition, familiarity, or faith. It did not push the core buttons of a crisis or danger. It did not capture our need to belong or seek approval. Finally, as originally presented, it did not make sense. Just consider Jesse Jackson’s comment, “I understand the attempt to reach out to these children, but this is an unacceptable surrender, border-lining on disgrace.”

The last decade has produced a meme-littering playground. What are these memes and how have our children been impacted by them? An obvious meme would be “No Child Left Behind,” which according to the media and many teachers I talk to, have led us to reduce standards rather than raise them. Apparently, as nationalized testing is on the rise, so is rote memorization. This was also the decade of the “blue ribbon generation” where every child is a winner – regardless of if they won or not. This year The Futurist published findings that today’s graduates lack foresight to help chart their path to a successful life, TIME suggested kids aren’t getting enough serious play and, according to Newsweek, we are now left with a creativity crisis.

In response to the historical impact of those experiments (ahem, memes), we are seeing new ones emerge: the S.T.E.M. Coalition (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), monetary reward for good grades, merit pay for teachers, Radical Unschooling, and techno-literacy, to name a few. A recent conversation with a middle school math teacher suggests a “related to life” meme has started. Students demand to know for each subject’s curricula how they will use that information in real life and if a teacher doesn’t have a good or quick answer, the student has no interest in learning the material. Her example was the Pythagorean Theorem. And while she emphasized learning how to think, perhaps if she had told her students they could calculate the power of their social networks, she would have seen a renewed appreciation for an ancient algorithm.

The New York Times just published a special issue on Education. One particular article caught my attention, “Learning By Playing: Video Games in the Classroom” by Sara Corbett. In it, she describes a school created by Katie Salen called Quest to Learn. The idea is that life is very much like a game and kids are taught how to build their own version. “If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work.” While our platforms may differ Katie, Richard and I are all in agreement. Fundamentally, we believe in a future where children learn how – and have the opportunity – to be inventors of their world, whether it’s games, memes, or design.

Last week I finally got a copy of Have You Filled A Bucket Today? and while it’s intention is how to spread happiness, it’s actually the perfect analogy for spreading memes. It’s major criticism, and one I agree with, is the book’s suggestion that other people can fill or empty our buckets but completely ignores the fact that we can (and should) fill our own bucket first. While I don’t fault the school for trying to provide morals, I just wish we had been given a choice in the matter.

That would have been much more meme-ingful.

By Laura Seargeant Richardson

Reprinted with kind permission from design mind, a publication of global innovation firm frog design.


Dubai And The Future Of Humanitarian Design

Design & Architecture
Technology october 21, 2016

Concept Camera Designed To Only Take Unique Photos

Camera Restricta is tool that prompts photographers to only capture one-of-a-kind images

Design & Architecture october 21, 2016

Fragrance Will Release The Smell Of Data If Your Private Information Is Being Leaked

The device is designed to create a physical cue for the potential dangers lurking online


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Retail october 21, 2016

LYNK & CO Is A New Auto Brand That Promises Mobile Connectivity On Wheels

Online access and mobility sharing are driving the company to disrupt the auto industry

Related Expert

Winka Dubbeldam

Architectural Design

Travel october 21, 2016

Become A Citizen Of The First Nation In Space

Asgardia is a new concept for a floating society above Earth

Entertainment october 21, 2016

Speaker Displays Song Lyrics As Music Is Played

The device is able to generate the graphics on a translucent screen and retrieve the words from a connected database

AI october 21, 2016

Travel Assistant Scans Your Emails To Make Planning Easier

This AI add-on will sync with your inbox and sends reminders to make sure you don't miss anything important


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed october 17, 2016

Home Depot Green Energy Expert: Americans Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use

Green tech expert Jennifer Tuohy discusses new home energy tech and developments for renewables in the US

PSFK Labs october 21, 2016

PSFK Picks: Top 5 Performance-Enhancing Wearables

Our new report looks at innovations pioneering the future of performance through intelligent activewear and predictive analytics

Millennials october 21, 2016

FOMO Survival Kit Helps Millennials Cope With Social Anxieties

The satirical product is meant to be a playful diversion for people who feel like they are missing out

Food october 21, 2016

New York Restaurant Uses Tomato Sushi As Its Newest Meat Alternative

fresh&co is using sous vide Roma tomatoes to create a vegan option that has the texture and taste of tuna

Advertising october 21, 2016

Red Bull Converts Sao Paulo Payphones Into Data-Driven Bus Schedules

The booths allow city residents to check local transit times through a simple toll-free phone call

Work october 21, 2016

Health Expert: Nutritional Meal Replacements Are A Solution To Corporate Wellness

Ample Foods Founder Connor Young explains why supplements are the next food trend coming to the workplace

Retail october 21, 2016

Why Experiential Events Could Replace Trade Shows

Marketers are seeking creative and impactful new ways to connect with influencers

Children october 21, 2016

Modular Kit Teaches Kids How To Make Their Own Robots

MODI features magnetic modules and a platform for programming to encourage experimentation

Infants october 21, 2016

Work Table Doubles As A Baby Seat

Designer Kunsik Choi created the furniture to facilitate emotional communication between between parents and their children

Technology october 21, 2016

Album Turns Into Something New Each Time It’s Streamed

Bill Baird's new album explores the relationship between time and music through a website crafted by design team, One Pixel Wide

No search results found.