This is bullshit: My TEDxNYED talk

Here is video of my TEDxNYED lecture about lectures as an outmoded form of education and news, in which I tweak TED.

Here are my notes (which won’t match my talk exactly). All the videos are now up at the TEDxNYED site.

  • Loved your talk. I agree very much. The way things are currently teaches us not to be innovators but mindless conformists. To keep within the shape of the tired, obsolete jello mold.

  • Wow, I just thought about this the other day in classroom. Such an outdated form of education.

  • Must say Jeff this is one cool “lecture”! Alot of interesting points. I think a collaborative open source VLE might be an answer? Sharing content across universities and systems to promote the students in their pursuit of knowledge?

  • We Love Jarvis

    I like the part where you called everyone in the room a “lost fucking cocksucker.”

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  • It is bullshit.

    What is sad is that you had a golden opportunity to practice what you preaching and you spoke “tree” when the room could have enjoyed “forest.”

    You accepted a lecture spot, so you have only yourself to blame for delivering a monologue when, instead, you could have easily produced a real-time, massively-collaborated dialogue that would have left everyone in the room smarter, including you.

    Any professor is able create a live class notes Wiki at the start of a talk and easily invite every person in the room to contribute, link, illustrate and annotate the new discussion topics.

    This type of audience-driven “un-lecture” was done all last week in newsrooms/classrooms across Canada by the person who is writing this comment.

    The tools to do this ares free and the results are liberating.

    • I do that all the time, sir. But that was not the format of this event.

      • Jeff,

        understand that was not the format. if you had a chance to red the format and thinking about the responses you received here, what concrete proposals would you make to change TED?

        should there be a call to action that would converts ideas/lectures whatever to action?

        When you look around the venue, are there opportunities to create more meaningful dialogue between people of like-minded interests? if so, then how would you configure the room?

        Thanks in advance

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  • I think a lot of what’s here makes for a good kick in the pants to uninspired educators, but doesn’t seem all that revolutionary. It just feels like what good/great teachers should have been doing all along — and what many have.

    Good teaching has always been interactive, it’s always been done with an open ear, and it’s always drawn on the best material available elsewhere. The cloud opens up lots of new possibilities to do more of that — but the basic ethic is the same.

    I went off on it at greater length here:

  • Jeff Leppard

    Largely, I agree — as a teacher, I see many more forms for participatory knowledge building. Yet, as a learner, sometimes I really do want to hear from the ‘expert’ in some field because I’m happy to admit that despite my five degrees, I don’t know everything, others know much more than me, and I really don’t want to have to listen to everyone in the “audience/participatory classroom” who thinks they should have a voice just because they’ve not spoken in 4 minutes.

  • I find the celebration of the student even more objectionable than the celebration of the professor, who, after all, has taken the time and made the effort to learn the subject at hand.

    Proposing that we stop interpreting information by recycling MIT lectures (the example you used) is a frighteningly stultifying concept. What a scary idea to have someone, somewhere, decide that a particular take on a subject (science, history, art, philosophy) is the only legitimate take on something and then recycle it (i.e. at the New School). It seems to me you are exhorting us to precisely the same thing you are cautioning against, merely changing the technology and leaving the principle alone.

    Better, perhaps, to change the principle, and I think you did a nice riff on that about ten minutes in. Not enough on that, though, IMHO.

    I completely disagree that everyone can or should teach. That feels politically correct to me, but an illegitimate idea. Knowledge, like gold, is a commodity that has never been fairly or equally distributed throughout society. We must do everything we can to spread it, but at the same time understand that not every bit of it is even of INTEREST to everyone, and not every bit of it can be understood by everyone. Pretending that we all know the same amount about everything degrades the individual while promoting a general low level of knowledge and learning.

    Ego improperly used is abuse. Ego properly tapped and in combination with higher ideals like compassion provides the energy to move us, society, and education forward.

    Memorization is a great skill! Without it, we can’t internally access what we’ve learned and come up with new ideas. Theories do flow from facts. That’s the way of the world. What we need to stop is the focus of facts that can easily be accessed and are, in any case, likely to evolve and change. There may indeed be too much memorization of nonsense, but memorization as a skill does have a place.

    • I”m not saying that you stop interpreting. Quite the opposite, I’m saying that it is better to work more directly with the student doing just that.

  • I’m with Arthur Rosenfeld, I’m afraid. The good student regurgitates successfully and gets his/her “A.” The great student pivots from the lecture material and creates something new and innovative. He/She gets an “A” along with a business plan, a patent, or maybe even a teaching post.

    You suggest that there’s a “best lecture on capillary action” somewhere. My question is, what if it hasn’t been given yet? Are we more or less likely to invent it if everyone’s watching the “blessed’ version out of MIT?

    Or, more to the point, since education should “start with the student,” can there be a “best lecture” for me that is different than a best lecture for someone else? Maybe I learn better with diagrams and someone else learns better with words. Maybe I need a lecture peperred with funny anecdotes to keep my interest, and someone else wants the old man in the three-piece suit with the extendable metal pointer and the pre-written slides?

    Recently, a bunch of kids on my block all learned to ride their two-wheeled bicycles. One parent took the pedals off the bike to teach the kid balance. Another put the seat all the way down so the kid could stand flat-footed if she lost her balance. I ran alongside my son with one hand on his back and some encouraging words. All the kids learned the same skill. Were we being inefficient? Should we have shown all of them the same YouTube video and then sent them out on their bikes to experiment and collaborate? (There aren’t enough band-aids and icepacks in the world for that, but I digress…)

    Teaching (and news, and manufacturing) can be interactive without being totally decentralized. Different schools (and news sources and products) can be better matches to certain students (readers, consumers) than others. Variety breeds competition, which breeds choice, and eventually, quality. In your rush to “define the new paradigm,” I feel you swing the pendulum too far in the other direction. Why? To be heard above the din, perhaps? To be invited to places like Davos and TED? Or simply, as you put it, ego?

  • I worked for a year in a national education certificate vending authority and I’m happy to report that they would agree with most of what JJ has said in this lecture. All new employees in the authority were instructed to disregard misconceptions about the role of the Certificate. I quote: “The Certificate Only Proves An Exam Pass” That is, it does not warrant that the holder of the certificate is a licensed expert in that topic. Nor does it automatically improve their career prospects. Employers, employment sourcing and recruitment experts would all agree that the applicant’s “Achievements” are the most accurate indicator of their proficiency and expertise. Not their academic qualifications.

    As for the Education sector itself – it was not designed this way, we inherited it this way.

    Universities in Europe were founded in the middle ages on the grounds of monastic orders. They taught from the lectern and apprentices learned to memorise; from The Bible which was held to have Absolute Authority with Absolute Certainty. So from that basis in education, correct recall from memory is Absolutely vital.

    Just the individual giving a lecture may be guilty of pride in his ego for repeating the task – the education institution itself is equally guilty of pride in it’s prestige. While everyone will eventually link to the best lecture given through on-line media; I would stress that scepticism is still needed to avoid being trapped by prestige elitism selected by the consumer – who is, I believe, more subject to brand loyalty on the Internet than they are on the High Street.

    God forbid the thought of it, but: Google might yet get something wrong…

    We should never be led to believe that the majority of Internet consumers are necessarily correct – for this is just as likely to enforce a faulty idea through convention as a jealous and fascist institution.

  • Jeff,

    Thanks for the excellent observations and example in your TEDx talk. At GameChangers, we use improvisation as the basis for the learning we offer our clients. Last month, I did a workshop for a respected MBA program. I felt as if I was on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. In front of me I had a lectern, two side tables, a projector, a video camera aimed at me, an ethernet hookup, three screens behind me, a microphone, two bottles of water, an overhead (yes it’s true!) projector and a laptop computer that wasn’t mine. The classroom was arranged amphitheater style, with 60 students arranged in a multi-tiered arc, each with his or her own microphone, nameplate, and ethernet hookup. A giant pillar in the middle of the room blocked 20% of the students from making eye contact with one another. It’s similar to a lot of college lecture rooms. Here’s the thing that drove me crazy…there’s no floor space for students to collaborate, to form ad-hoc groups, to huddle. No ‘stage.’ And it is excruciating to get students out of their seats and down to the front of the room. Compare this to a typical improvisation rehearsal space…completely open…no barriers between coach and team…everyone at the same eye level with clean lines of sight, (when we broke the 60 students into teams, they had to huddle at two different levels). The gulf is huge. And it symbolizes how far we have to go…

  • Ironic to note that this talk took place at The Collegiate School, a bastion of the formal SAT geared education Jarvis derides. Also, however, the alama mater of Taylor Mali. Hope some of these ideas stuck on the walls at Collegiate.

  • Hans

    You are right, school should be incubators, business schools, journalism schools … but should every school be an incubator ?

    Would you feel confident with your doctor if he checked out every one of your symptoms on Google ? if he discussed the way you were coughing with his colleagues.

    Would you be able to read a news paper / blog / email if we all hadn’t been thought how to write according to a ‘factory like’ norm ?

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  • Brian Merritt

    OK, I confess that I stood up in Speakers Corner and having practices your stolen speech I delivered it to the crowds here in London.

    The results:

    1 dog (male) cocked a leg and filled my shoe with warm liquid

    2 alcoholics attempted to participate in the monologue, but both left soon after when I gave them a fiver each

    3 different political party groups converged on my soapbox and asked who I was gong to vote for. When I explained I am an American living in London they attacked me with their lapels for wasting their time

    0 people thought giving a lecture about not giving lectures was the slightest bit ironic

    So Jeff – you were right! It really is bullshit!!

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  • I wouldn’t worry about Jake being put through the meat grinder (college). With a father like you I have a feeling that he will see through the bullshit of the system on the first day of class. Excellent lecture Jeff!

  • Harold Hart

    Interesting, point of discussion. As a product of the assembly line of education and nearly 57 years young I remember well those days to rote instruction and how mind numbing and “passing” the test oriented we all became as students. My only question is how do we change the current system to reflect the ideals you spoke about and foster a better outcome?

  • Tom

    Jeff, I know you were just trying to make a point, but seriously, we need teachers. And while I know this was not your goal, you really demeaned the work that teachers do by characterizing it as B.S.

    There are right and wrongs in our society. We don’t get to make up facts as we go along.

    Again, I have to believe there was a larger point that I must have missed, because I know that you know my previous statements are true.

    So, what is your point?

    • Show me where I said we don’t need teachers. Really: quote it. I don’t say that. I say that we shouldn’t base our educational system on one-way lectures and teaching to standardized tests. I say we need more tutors: MORE teaching.
      I don’t say anything about not having facts. Show me where I say that. Link to it.
      Pay attention, class.

      • Tom

        Jeff, do you need B.S.? No, right? You described what teachers do as B.S., so while you didn’t say the words, “we don’t need teachers”, it’s an implication made by your characterization.

        Now, let’s get to what I actually said, which was that I KNOW that you DON’T believe that we don’t need teachers, and that I thought there was a different point that you were trying to make, I just didn’t know what it was.

        Even though I disagree with some of your points, I don’t think you’re insane, which is what you’d have to be if you actually believed that teachers are unnecessary. What I was wanting to know was what you’re overall point was, because I feel like I must have missed something.

        • Listening comprehension issue here, my friend. You are reading an implication — you are projecting your fear — onto what I did not say.

        • Tom

          Jeff, you really resort to insulting one’s intelligence (listening comprehension issue) if they challenge your ideas?

          This is generally the problem with ultra=liberals like yourself. Instead of having a conversation with someone who disagrees with them, they call them dumb.

          Bottom line, when you characterize what teachers do (lecturing) as B.S., you’re saying what they do isn’t needed. You may not like that, but it doesn’t make it untrue, and it doesn’t make me mentally challenged.

        • Tom,
          Once more: You’re not challenging my ideas, you are mischaracterizing them.
          But, aha, you now type me as an “ultra-liberal.” Jeesh.
          You are simply wrong about what I am saying. You want me to say what you want to disagree with. Sorry to disappoint you mate. Now can we please move on? I will.

  • Haven’t finished listening to the talk (too passive an activity, for me) and have yet to read the notes. Just thinking about the broader context.
    Seems to me, there’s momentum building for BarCamp-style unconferences. Even in academia. And, for teachers, it’s now easier to spend “classroom time” in discussions instead of straight lecturing (which was the main point of a dean interviewed by The Chronicle in a piece misleadingly called “Teaching Naked”). There’s still room for TED or O’Reilly, despite all the groupthink and lack of critical thinking. But we’re transitioning toward several new models, many of which make the old-school “ideas worth spreading” worldview less prominent.
    Glad you’re taking this on, Jeff. Thanks to you, it can reach the ears of those who need to hear it instead of remaining as murmurs among people tired to hear the same-old Industrial Revolution tirades about “The Press as (representative) Democracy.”

  • Tom


    I only described you as “ultra-liberal” is because I’ve heard you describe yourself that way on TWIG, (which is a great podcast) which must have been a joke that I missed, so again, my bad for being wrong. I meant no disrespect.

    And as far as me missing the point, I’ll take you at your word on that, I just didn’t know how else to take it.

    And consider us moved.

    • Tom

      Not sure how this post got up here.

    • Once again, you misquote and mischaracterize me. I have never described myself that way. Show me where I have. Give me facts. You don’t have them. You just have sloppy and — underneath it — nasty, in your view, characterizations. Stop writing about me and start writing about substance and ideas and facts. Or be gone.

      • Tom


        That was a pretty harsh response considering the conciliatory nature of my comment.

        You called yourself a “crazy liberal” this week on TWIG while discussing Facebook’s new features. If that comment was made in jest, then I missed it. But you did say it. FACT.

        But to the rest of you reply, “What in the world are you talking about?”

        You posted a lecture that seemed to sum up what you believe should change in our educational system, NOT a fact based seminar outlining the affects these changes would cause shown by verifiable data. Therefore, don’t tell me to bring facts when the your post wasn’t based on facts, but opinions.

        Also, when someone has a strong opinion about a given topic, one has to expect that those responding to their opinion will try to figure out what led a person to arrive at their opinion, thus, they must talk about the PERSON who has the opinion in order to accomplish that.

        And I will once again reiterate the fact that you are using an ultra-liberal tactic, whether you are ultra-liberal or not. I say this because you feel that you should be able to set the parameters of a discussion, which one would have to be an idiot to allow.

        Even though George Lakoff has some insane views, one thing I learned from him is never to let the other person frame the debate, which is all you’re trying to do, because frankly, you’re losing.

        I challenged your characterization of teacher’s lectures and instead of responding, you attack me in an attempt to change the subject.

        If you’re really as “open” as you say you are, why not have a real debate instead of constantly reframing the discussion?

        If you’re really as “open” as you say you are, why accept the fact that you may be wrong?

        Your move.

        • You keep characterizing ME (vs. ideas) with mischaracterizations. Yes, I burp at that. That’s the last comment I’ll make on this. Move on or out.

  • Lou

    All the videos are now up except Sara Silvermans video…

  • Very interesting talk, decrying the outmoded concept of a lecture through a lecture. The good news is that we don’t have to get everyone on board with this, just enough to tip the scales and expose the system of talk and copy for what it is…BS. Saying that, I will blindly copy and paste your lecture onto my blog without original comment.

    P.S. I am so glad my 3rd-6th grade teachers harassed me into writing all of my notes and assignments in cursive! Such a useful skill that I could never live without…

  • John Lamont

    With 3 kids in education we do see the regurgitation and checkpoint process in action again. The best learner is one that knows how to use a library and a book. Perhaps now it is how you use google to get a correct answer. In Scotland there is a move away from cookie cutter (tell me what I’ve told you) methods. It’s called Curriculum for Excellence and spans from I think it was 4-18 years. We do need to question learning and collaboration methods more strongly than ever. It’s natural to question what you have experienced and suggest ways to improve it.

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  • My 14 year old said she had to get ready to go back in time when she left for school the other day- It’s time for reverse mentoring- for the kids to teach the teachers- for the teachers to coach the kids! Quit making the kids put their phones away and sit quietly- make them use the tools and TALK to the world about learning BIG JUICY NUGGETS! It’s time to go BACK TO THE FUTURE!

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  • Donald Lee

    I absolutely agree that our current educational model is not suited for today. People like yourself will drive the change and I’m confident that the shift is coming rapidly. Though we would all wish that this change could be implemented tomorrow, I do believe that we are at the forefront of a transformation in societal attitudes to learning. Various state and local governments are just now starting to recognize access to the internet as a utility, whereas 5 years ago, or even 2 years ago internet as a utility was just a thought in a thinktank somewhere.

    Computing at home and in the classroom is finally to a point where it is ubiquitously available just about anywhere and everywhere. I don’t think I could say that computers were ubiquitously available to any and every student in the U.S. Even today there are institutions that may not have Google at their fingertips, but that is happening. The next decade will provide for interesting observations as classrooms shift.

    There was a point you made about memorization that does worry me. “Why do we need rote memorization in the age of Google?” or something to that extent.

    I do believe that memorization as pointless as it seems, is absolutely necessary for all students both today and tomorrow. It isn’t that memorization serves to replace the rapid lookup that is possible though Google, but that it serves as the basis for which our minds synthesize information and create original works. It is only after we input raw data, that over time that raw data grows into more than just a list of informational atoms. They serve as the basis for an even larger permutation of possibilities post-synthesis. As a master of your craft, I am sure that you have encountered your ability to wander within the depths of your mind during a long walk or drive. Linking one atom to another in ways that you may not have before and encountering a permutation not-once visited. The depth of one’s ability to explore within their mind always will be preceded by the consumption of that data. Consuming more provides greater depth in the future.

    However, I would say that I do not believe that our students should be judged by their ability to regurgitate, but honing their ability to regurgitate will plant the seeds of information that will grow into beauty.

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