top of page

Ford, Ferrari, and...Education?

In my effort to watch as many Oscar nominated films prior to February 9, 2020, I have been spending an unreasonable amount of time in front of the screen (which my Apple stats confirm...). I will not make any Oscar predictions here (although, Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Joker and if he doesn't win for Best Actor, I'll be shocked), but I do want to discuss one film in particular: Ford v Ferrari. As the title of the film suggests, the plot revolves around the Ford motor company building a race car to rival Ferrari at the 24 hour Le Mans race held annually in France.

For the purpose of this post, the race itself is immaterial. Rather, I want to focus on two scenes happening near the beginning of the film or, for my Literature geeks, the inciting incident and resulting plot line.

Near the beginning of the film, we see Henry Ford II (Henry Ford's grandson) overlooking the car factory floor and has the entire assembly line unceremoniously shut down. He then speaks to his workers, "Hear that? That's the sound of the Ford Motor Company out of business." He then regales his crew with a tale of how his grandfather came up with the inspiration that would revolutionize the automobile industry only to have his success disintegrate because of another car company's design and marketing success.

Ford then offers the following challenge: "The man who comes to my office with an idea, that man keeps his job."

Shortly thereafter, we see Lee Iacocca in Ford's office, surrounded by a number of suits, making a pitch for change. He sets the context of who their buyers are; Ford's buyers are the 17-18 year olds born after the war. He paints the picture,

"Those babies have grown, they've got jobs, and they've got licenses. But they do not want to drive the same, dull, 50s cars their parents drove. See, kids today they want glamour, they want sex appeal and they want to go fast. Gentlemen, it's time for the Ford motor company to go racing."

Ford pushes back and says they're already in racing, but Iacocca quickly points out they race in Nascar and that it's regional. When people think of racing, they envision international luxury and Iacocca is quick to point out, "James Bond does not drive a Ford."

So, what can we as educators learn from Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca?

Well, first of all, we need to be like Ford and publicly recognize the system as it exists is failing to address the needs of our current learner demographic. And, like Ford, I think it's a model of shared leadership when educational leaders invite others to offer solutions to the problems. A leader does not need to have all the answers. A leader needs to be transparent and open to suggestions that may come from other stakeholders. In the movie, we are told Iacocca was in charge of the marketing department responsible for less than stellar results in automobile sales. Perhaps education's next brilliant idea to change a failing system may come from a student who is underperforming in what we have determined to be an adequate learning activity. We need to move beyond accepting adequate and call for others to contribute excellence. We never know what we'll get.

Secondly, we need to follow Iacocca's example and get a handle on who we're teaching. Iacocca demonstrated an understanding of who the new wave of buyers were for Ford cars. They wanted something different than their parents' cars. I think today's learners are practically BEGGING to have a different learning experience than their parents or grandparents.

Elmore (2017) described today's learners as the first generation to not need an adult to stand in front of the class to deliver information. Learners have ready access to any piece of information they could possibly need via Google, YouTube, Instagram, wherever. What students need, however, is guidance for how to navigate and interpret the information.

Pousson and Myers (2018) expounded on the need for instructors to help students navigate learning material by designing experiential learning opportunities for students which provide context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. In other words, what will students DO with the information? What problems will they solve? Elmore (2017) advocated Generation Z inherently want to make a difference in their world. Are we designing opportunities for them to not just learn information but to apply what they're learning in their greater context? What might that look like?

I applaud the storytelling in the movie where they present a formidable leader of an iconic company inviting others to bring forth innovative ideas. Then for the screenwriters to develop an entire story around one man's moonshot idea to address changing needs, challenge the status quo, and transform the Ford company as a whole. I'd like to see any stakeholder in education challenging the status quo to transform learning for students today. Just imagine the races we could win.

What might this scenario look like in a classroom? In a school? In a district? In a country?

If you have personal stories where you've seen this in your classroom, school, or district, please share! I'd love to hear your stories.


Elmore, T. (2017). Marching off the map: Inspire students to navigate a brand new world. Atlanta, GA: Poet Gardener Publishing.

Mangold, J., Chernin, P., Topping, J. (Producers), & Mangold, J. (Director). (2019). Ford v Ferrari [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

Pousson, J. M., & Myers, K. A. (2018). Ignatian pedagogy as frame for universal design in college: Meeting learning needs of generation z. Education Sciences. 8(93). doi: 10.3390/educsci8040193

bottom of page