I Want Students to be Better Consumers

“We need kids to be creators, not consumers.”

I’ve heard this statement so many times at conference and in Twitter chats and in blog posts. I get it. We want students to be creative. But is consumption actually a bad thing?

See, every person I have ever known who has been creative has also been a critical consumer. I’ve never met a chef who says, “I really don’t like to eat food and I could care less about what I eat.” I’ve never met a musician who says, “Yeah, I really don’t listen to music.”

People who love making stuff are also critical consumers of the very same stuff they create. Authors read. Chefs eat. Painters go to galleries. Engineers pay attention to the physics of the world around them. Academics read journal articles.

I recently listened to an interview with Dave Grohl. I’m not the biggest Foo Fighters fan., but I love hearing Grohl talk about music because he talks about it like a music nerd in a record store who legitimately loves listening to music.

That’s what I want for students. I don’t want them to be makers who don’t consume. I want them to be critical consumers. I want them to develop a taste for what they are consuming. I want them to watch movies in the way that The Nerdwriter watches movies. I want them to read books with the same kind of intentionality as Maria Popova. I want them to consume art in a way that goes beyond saying, “That’s weird” or “that looks nice.”

I want them to experience that moment when they listen to a song or read a book or see a process and it sparks an irrational excitement in them where they can’t help but go out and do the same thing – knowing, all the while, that what they are making is a cheap counterfeit, but who cares, because it’s art and it’s beautiful and the act of making is part of what makes life awesome.

That’s what I want for students.

See, I think we misunderstand the word “consume.” Somewhere along the line, it became a bad thing. A commercial thing. An economic thing. We defined it as something passive and mindless. But look at the etymology and it actually means something profound. It comes from the Latin word consumere, which meant “to use up” or “altogether.” We still get a sense of this term when we say “consumed by fear” or “consumed by guilt.”

I wonder what it would mean to view consumption as more than a passive activity — as this powerful interplay between making and taking, where you are actively creating meaning as you pull in something from the outside. I wonder if maybe when we consume, we can also be consumed — consumed by awe, by wonder, by empathy, by confusion. The best books I have ever read led me to a place of being lost in another world while also being more present and acutely aware of the human condition.

This is why I don’t want students to avoid consuming. I want them to consume in a way that’s mindful. I want them to geek out about what they’re consuming. I want them to fall in love with a novel where they feel completely lost in another world. I want them to chase the rabbit trails of questions they have when they look around at their world. I want them to develop a taste. I want them to have convictions. I want them to analyze and pick apart ideas. I want them to someday feel what it feels to be at an opera and the sheer emotion of the human voice moves you to tears.

I want them to consume in a way that rocks their world.

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

3 responses

  1. John, we agree on literally everything. It's quite amazing.

    I often feel teachers think consuming and creating are somehow mutually exclusive. They are in fact absolutely symbiotic.

  2. Hey Pal,

    Just a quick note to tell you that I dig this bit and I'm grateful for your thinking!

    Rock on,

    1. Thanks, Bill!

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