#8. Fight With Failure


fullsizerender-1My first full time teaching position was in 1991-1992. I took some short breaks from teaching since then, but for the most part, I have worked as an educator for almost 25 years.

I have been working to open my own independent, self-directed learning center for almost five years now. I assembled an amazing team and, last October, opened Ingenuity Hub, Personalized Learning Collaborative.

Self-directed learning is a simple concept – learning happens best when the learner controls the learning. This is not only common sense, it is also backed up by decades of experience and research.*  

At Ingenuity Hub – and dozens of other self-directed learning centers all around the world – we put young people in charge of their own learning. Our role is to create a space, provide time and resources for them to pursue their interests, and connect them to others in the community who offer advice, volunteer opportunities and internships.

Our goals are the same as traditional education: help young people develop the skills and knowledge they need in order to live the kind of lives they most want for themselves. But how we achieve those goals is very different. Self-directed learning looks and feels as different from traditional schooling as you can possibly imagine.

Herein lies our problem.

In order for us to grow our program and make self-directed learning available to more families in our community, we have to do two things. First, we have to do everything a new non-profit organization must do: communicate a clear mission, connect to people who need the service we provide, and build collaborations with supporters. Second, we have to address the misconceptions nearly everyone has about young people and their motivation to learn.

Nearly everyone in our society attends or attended traditional schooling. This system was built firmly on the belief that young people will not or cannot learn without being forced to. This incorrect notion is so deeply ingrained in the day-to-day operations of the system that it also forms the major lesson of the curriculum. The system teaches young people that they cannot learn on their own, and they learn this lesson well.

They then become adults who believe this about the next generation, especially their own children.

When we try to talk to parents about the ways self-directed learning can help, we are almost always dismissed out of hand. Parents of children who are struggling in school are rarely open to the idea that the solution is to put the child in control of learning.

Children who are struggling in school… This is an idea that requires a lengthy explanation, one that I will write about another time. For now, I’ll stick to the general idea almost everyone agrees with: many young people are struggling in school.

I see them every day. Sometimes their struggles involve factors well beyond my control or influence: illness, neglect, or worse. For these students, all I can do is try to create a positive environment for them to be in for up to an hour a day. I hope I do.

For many other students, though, I know I can contribute to alleviating their struggle. Often I am prevented from doing so, and I find this to be more than just frustrating. It is infuriating and painful for me. When you know you can help, but unnecessary obstacles prevent you… 

I can help three kinds of struggling students:

  1. Some kids are failing one or more classes. They may be trying their best, or they may have given up. Many of these students decided at very young ages, often as early as third grade, that they are just not “good at school.” They stop seeing themselves as the curious, natural learners all human beings are. They have talents and interests, but school does not acknowledge or value them, and worse, misses powerful opportunities to help these kids see themselves as successful, contributing members of the community. These students, by the time they are in high school, say things to me like, “Do we have to learn stuff today?” and “I don’t like to learn.” (Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in: young people who actually believe about themselves that they don’t like to learn…)
  2. Other kids are “doing school,” passing their classes, but learning very little that is meaningful or lasting. They get B’s and C’s and the occasional D, but they realize they can do this and still move on to the next lesson, the next class, the next year, and do far less work than the kids who spend hours and hours studying and doing homework, especially in subjects they care nothing about. No one ever talks about what a 60 in Algebra means, and these kids don’t even bother to think about it. All they know is that they “passed” the class.
  3. Still other students appear to be doing very well in school, getting high grades in their classes, but they’re not being challenged to go further or push their abilities farther. These students have figured out how to “do school” very well. They look at rubrics before they do an assignment, figure out what the teacher wants them to do to get an A, and then they do it. What’s the problem with that? These kids could do better or more interesting or more creative work, but they don’t even try. Many of them have never even considered that they could do better, or deeper, or more interesting and creative work. Even if they did consider it, though, these so-called “top students” develop a visceral, powerful aversion to failing. They would never willing go above or beyond the teacher’s requirements, because their attempt might not work. They might fail… and there is no worse sin a “top student” can commit in the cathedral of coercive schooling than failing. This is a disaster. These kids need to experience failure – especially in efforts that challenge their abilities – so they can test their limitations and grow beyond them. Instead, they are becoming incompetent adults: what will they do, how will they react, when they inevitably experience failure in life? Will they always avoid experiences that risk failure? What lessons will they be missing out on, and what learning will they neglect that could lead to improvements for all of us?

The solution for these students is not more traditional school. Telling these students to try harder in school will not work. Offering them rewards or threatening them with punishments to do better won’t, either.

Almost all of these students would do better in a self-directed learning environment.

We need their parents – and other adults who have control over their lives – to let them try. Give them the time and opportunity to decide for themselves what  to learn, how to learn, and why to learn.

We need parents to challenge themselves, to put aside the notion that, “My kid can’t do what he’s told to do now in school. If I let him make decisions about learning, he’ll just sit around and do nothing all day.”

We know this is simply not true. When given the support, time, and resources, young people rediscover their natural curiosity and hunger for learning that all humans possess. It may take them some time to rediscover these qualities, but they are young. They have time. The time it takes them to figure out what and how and why to learn is the best investment we can make for them. Because once they do, they cannot be stopped. They begin to engage in learning that is deeper, more meaningful and lasting than what they were pretending to learn in traditional school. 

Traditional school works for many kids, but my 25-year journey through the field of education convinces me that for a growing number of other young people, it simply does not. Continuing to force them to “do school” won’t improve their lives. They deserve access to an option that will work better for them. Let them try.
Please contact me at admin@ihubma.org to begin the conversation about how self-directed learning can help your teen or a teen you know.

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*I’ve written elsewhere about the research that backs up self-directed learning. Contact me if you’d like to know more about it. If you don’t, you have to just admit I’m right.

# 7 Fight With Words

Another entry about the importance of words. And my hunger for them. I grfullsizerender-1ew up surrounded by words – spoken and in print. Four brothers. A million cousins. Books on shelves in bookcases in every room. Words, talking, laughing. What had happened in school that day. Encyclopedias. Fighting. Shouting. Calling for the ball – for some cousin to throw me, no me, the football so I, no I, can catch it diving into the warm sand of the beach on Plum Island.

I was quiet. My father was, too.

I hope I am like my father in many ways. I know I am not. My father was not a man of few words – ask him about his children or fishing or plate-and-frame heat exchangers or buying a used car – and he would execute a master lecture that could change your life. But he spoke efficiently, even of those things. He was a mechanic.

In other things, my father was a quiet man. He had somehow gained the wisdom to keep silent about things he knew little. Smart enough to know where you’re dumb kind of wisdom.

I’m quiet, too, and talkative in the ways he was. I can talk of my children… I can talk of my wife though she’d kill me if I did. I can talk forever about my experience being in the classroom for over 20 years. I can talk about language. I can talk of the politics of our day. Of other things, I have very little to say.

People have asked me, “But if you love words so much… why don’t you talk more?”

It’s because I love words that I am so quiet. One does not toss out lightly and without consideration the thing one loves.

I want to be precise. Precise the way William Carlos Williams is precise. The way Bruce Springsteen is precise. Precision requires deliberation.

Or I’m just lazy.

I am comfortable with half-formed thoughts. I prefer questions to answers. Answers are fine, don’t get me wrong. They’re satisfying, just not for very long. Questions linger the way you want things to linger. Why are some things so delicious? Is there anyone alive out there? Have we lost the American idiom? Or destroyed it?

This slows me down, too. Rafts of phrases and clauses ride the current of the Meander.

But once they harbor safely together in my mind, now complete thoughts, I am not shy about sharing them. I do not often think I am right, but when I have decided I am, I can be an asshole about it. My positions are logical, and I invite my reader(s) to test them.

So yes, I believe it is important that we fight with words. I believe words are a way to time travel – a way to send our thoughts and ideas and our stories into the future. There’s no promise anyone will ever read them – or be able to – but we can leave a record of our attempts to do right by them. To talk to them. To prove we wanted to protect them, we wanted to leave things better than we found them.    

My brothers and I have wrist bands with the letters LTBTYFT on them. L T B T Y F T: Leave Things Better Than You Found Them. It’s what my father taught us. I hope I do this for my children and all the young people I have shared a classroom with all these years. I hope I leave things better than I found them.

I fear I have not.

#6. Fight With Facts

 

I like facts.fullsizerender-1

I like the word “fact.” I like the initial soft infinite /fff/’ and how the hard /k/ clicks and the plosive /t/ spits, simultaneously separate, a fraction of a pause between them, and then connect.

Say it slowly: fff-a-c-t

I like the hard-to-get nature of facts, like a women I’m in love with who turns away and smiling gives me her cheek when I try to kiss her.

I like the ease with which facts stand tall and still between angry opponents, unswayed either way by the winds of bias and misinterpretation.

I like the quiet confidence of facts – they know who they are and never, never forget.

I like their sense of humor.

I like their love of freedom.

I like their stubbornness.

I like their pack mentality, how they hunger for each other, and fit together to build the universe around and inside us.

Facts swim together tight and close, a school of fish darting and dashing through the sunlit water hunting and being hunted.

Facts smile benignly on our beliefs, like wise old teachers who do not speak because their presence is enough of a lesson, even when we make a mistake, or get it completely wrong.

What I like most about facts is their arrogance, their disdain, their appropriate disregard for our attempts to interpret or apply them to our lives. They know we must, but they are aloof.

No. That’s not what I like most about them. I like that a lot, but that’s not my favorite.

I like… I love the company of facts. I love being near them. The closest feeling I have to that is my own children. I always and at any time want to be close to my children. Facts, the same way.

Facts aren’t boring – only boring people think so. Facts say things like, “Just because it’s accurate, doesn’t mean it’s valid.”

I worry that many people hate facts. They like lies better. Lies are easier. Lies feel good.

I’d like to introduce some of these people to facts, though. Sure, you need to give them a chance, get to know them. But when you do, you’ll see that they make you feel so much better than any lie can ever lie about making you feel.

Don’t take my word for it. Introduce yourself. Say hi. Shake hands. It won’t be long before you are as in love with facts as I am.

#5. Fight With the So-called

fullsizerender-1Of all the things coming from the White House these days, I find one in particular most disturbing and damaging to our fundamental democracy. The current chief executive recently referred to a federal judge who ruled against him as a “so-called judge.”

When anyone claims that a federal judge is illegitimate, he implies our democratic, lawful system is a fraud. When that claim is made by the Chief Executive, it is more than an implication. It is a declaration that feeds into the general distrust and lack of confidence many people have in our system, which then discourages them from their responsibility to participate in our democracy.

I do not understand why his own party and more of his own supporters refuse to speak out against this kind of attack on our government – by the leader of our government. How can they not see that this weakens their own efforts?

I can no longer refer to him as President.*

But I can refer to him as our so-called president. If he can get away with referring to a federal judge (who by the way was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 2004) as a “so-called judge,” then I can refer to him as our so-called president.

I will from now on. So there.

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*He is. I disagree with those on my side who say “not my president.” It’s silly and hypocritical, in my opinion, to claim to believe in democracy and then suggest the man who was legally elected to the office isn’t “our” president. The pilot of the plane I’m on might be an ignorant egomaniac who brags about grabbing pussies… does it make any sense to say he’s not my pilot? But let’s fight with that idea another day.

#4. Fight With Refugees

 

I watch and listen with shame and dread and anger to the president implement extreme immigration policies. My perspective on this issue is formed by my professional experience. I have worked with many hundreds of immigrants, most of them refugees of one kind of another. The resolve these people have shown to overcome crushing obstacles and make a better lives for themselves and their children… makes my life better… and the life of our nation as a whole.

I want more people to reconsider the plight of those seeking a better life here. Right now, poor people, victimized in their own countries by wars we played significant roles in starting, and manipulated through fear and violence by corrupt political leaders, are now potentially being victimized and manipulated here in our country by ours. They find themselves unwanted, unwelcome, blocked from entering our country because of a short-sighted, facile argument that banning all refugees will make us safe. Then extremists who cowardly hide behind religion in their region of the world say, “See, the Americans hate us because we are Muslim. They deny us the rights they claim for themselves. We must fight them.” These poor, disenfranchised people are pawns, and it works. Some of them will believe what they see and hear – what appear to be true, like so many Americans do, too.

The terrorists’ main goal is not to kill Americans. It is to manipulate us into changing how we live our lives and how we interact with each other and the rest of the world. Our President’s recent immigration policy decisions plays right into their hands. We are doing exactly what they want us to do. We are the pawns, and the next move is theirs. I am afraid it is going to be a terrible one.

The facts about immigration provide overwhelming evidence that helping refugees and inviting them to enjoy the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness benefits our country. But I won’t go into the facts right now. It’s just too exhausting and demoralizing to have to present facts to an opposition that finds them offensive or elitist. Maybe another day I’ll try that approach. (No, I can’t. The facts are clear: immigration to this country is near net neutral and has been for years. Most people here who are undocumented did NOT enter illegally. A wall will have no impact on this. Refugees entering the U.S. from the Middle East go through the most strenuous, torturously long vetting process, and the vast majority of those who try are denied permission to enter. The fear that some of my fellow citizens have that terrorists are going to “sneak in” with refugees is unfounded. Sure, no one can absolutely 100% guarantee it will not happen. But the cost of trying to prevent the entry of a tiny number of enemies by shutting our borders to potentially millions of allies is foolish. And the horrible truth is that there will be more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil despite the efforts of the strongest military and intelligence machine the world has ever created. I fear it will be soon, and Trump and his fear-mongers will use it to manipulate more of my fellow citizens to fear and hate the “wretched refuse” “yearning to be free.”)

For now, I want to express just one idea, one that may make some people angry. I am not a religious person, but I was raised by good, decent, kind, loving Catholic parents who sent my brothers and me to Catholic schools our whole lives. One of the most powerful lessons I learned from that education is about the power of love. I was taught that love is the best response to hate. I have seen this lesson work in my own life, and in my examination of history, especially the history of my own country.

I think it’s time we start trying that approach again.

What do you think?

#3 Fight With Myself

 

I am going to make a mistake. Again.

Writing for me has never been about having an idea and then getting it down on paper. It’s been a way for me to figure out what I think and understand and, less often, believe. (Beliefs are hard to come by for me, but more about that another day, perhaps.)

Usually when I write, I have a dialogue with myself. This dialogue.

I write about writing and why I am writing and how I’m going to write. It may not be so efficient, but I have to do this almost every time I write anything. You might think that I wouldn’t have to do this anymore: that after so many years of writing that I’d know by now what, why and how to write stuff. But I don’t.

Every time I write something, I have to go through this process. I have a fight with myself about writing. I have to convince myself that I should even try to go through the trouble of trying to develop an original idea, or my own take on the ideas of others. After all, who I am? Why should anyone ever bother to read anything I have to say?

Often I conclude that they shouldn’t. These times my writing stays personal and private.

Other times, rare times, I get to something important or relevant to the lives we are living and the world we are living in. I think. I hope. I want others to read it. I want to expose a certain kind of experience. I want to share my own and maybe connect with others.

I know I get to this point because I reach a state of mind called “flow” (a term coined by the great psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihlayi.) The world becomes quiet, everything goes away except for the words I’m writing.

Then I go back and I eliminate all the introductory dialogue I have with myself. I cut out all the parts where I am writing about what and how and why I am writing, and I leave only the writing. It should stand on its own. If the reader finished and doesn’t understand what, why and how I wrote it, then I shouldn’t have published it.

Except now, today, in this blog entry, it’s all I am writing about. I do want to share my process, this time.

Future entries will get back to “stuff.”

But this blog will not be about one kind of thing: just politics – although there will probably be a lot of that over the next four years. It will be art and philosophy. Sometimes it will be non-fiction. Sometimes I will work out fiction, or poems. I will attempt to work out my own struggles. I will be personal, autobiographical, reflective. Other times I will try to be global. I will attempt to write about religion and science and who knows what. 

That might be a mistake. It might be easier to develop an audience by delivering a consistent product. But I can’t do that. It’s not what I want to do. It’s not HOW I write. I’m writing this blog in part for my own selfish reasons, but also because I (arrogantly?) believe some of the things I have to say should be shared.

I’ll continue to fight with myself over this. But for today, I think that fight is over. I’ve said my piece. I’ve shared my process. I felt it was necessary for me – and fair to you – to make this part of my writing public.

Thank you.

#2. Fight With Voters

Today we inaugurated the 45th President of the United States of America. 

I have tried several times to write about the results of the 2016 presidential election. It’s been extremely difficult for me to do so. This entry – and the next few ones – will be focused on my continuing attempts to… figure this all out.

 

I’m posting this anticipating it will be read by few, but motivated by the certainty that it will be available to millions. I want this to be public. I believe the future will require an accounting of us. Here’s mine.

First, I need to address you who voted for the winner of the electoral college.

I saw the same candidate you saw. I heard the same candidate you heard. I heard him say that America is not great. You heard him too. I heard him say he was going to make America great “again.” You heard him too. I heard him say that America is a place that builds walls.  I heard him say terrible things about people I’ve known and cared about for a very long time. I saw him manipulate the basest fears of vulnerable people, rather than call all of us to rise above our fear, the way great leaders in the past have done. I saw him refuse to release his tax returns, to hide information from the people he was asking to lead. I saw him lie over and over again about the national origin of our country’s first black president. I heard him deny climate change, which is not only established by overwhelming scientific evidence, but is also widely recognized by organizations all the world, including our own nation’s military, as our greatest existential threat. I heard him praise a foreign leader who has invaded sovereign neighbors and in his own country suppressed democracy through brutal and criminal methods, including torturing and murdering journalists, artists, and dissidents. I heard him threaten the rights of many underrepresented and minority groups in this country. I heard him make speeches full of every kind of logical fallacy imaginable. I saw him cheat his own employees and contractors, outsource labor to foreign markets, manufacture products in foreign countries, and then I heard him say he would stand up for working class people. I heard him unable to quote scripture from the major religious text of a faith he claimed. I heard him call people names like a middle school bully. I saw him brag about the size of his penis on national television. I saw him fuel the anger of his supporters in the most manipulative ways. I heard him bragging about using his fame and alleged fortune to sexually assault women. I heard him threaten journalists. I saw him endorsed by the KKK.  

You saw and heard all these things, too. You had to. And then you voted for him.

I am angry about that. I saw and heard what he said and concluded that he is the antithesis of what this country is supposed to stand for. You saw and heard what he said and concluded that he should lead it.

I don’t know what is going to happen in the next four years, but I am very worried. Based on what I have heard and seen, can you logically and reasonably tell me I shouldn’t be?

#1. First Fight With…

My name is David Lane. This is my newest attempt at a blog. I decided to call it “Fight With..” because it is one of those strange phrases in English that can be used in opposite ways:

Why do you always fight with your sister?

I will fight with my countrymen against the oppressor!

So “fight with” can imply a struggle between or against two forces, or it can suggest an alliance.

I like this ambiguity. Sometimes I will write about my fight against other forces, and other times I will write about my alliances.

Additionally, “fight with” can be used to explain what specific weapon a person is using in battle:

The rebels will fight with sticks and bottles if they can find no other weapons.

I am not an aggressive person. I believe in the power of non-violence. The only weapons I will ever fight with are logic, reason, the written word and dialogue.

I sense that we are living in times that will require us to fight with each other – in the fight with hate and alienation – in which I will fight with the weapons of reason and dialogue.

Welcome to the Fight With…