Cue Up the M.A.S.H. Theme Song…

If you haven’t picked up on it already, you’ll notice at some point soon that my most compelling personal missions are youth-related, specifically bullying and self-harm including the ultimate—suicides. A new round of reports hit the streets May 2019, with abundant commentaries batting issues around from yet another angle. More whiffs than hits.

THE NEW REPORTS MISS THE MARK

Suicides in the US have risen for three years, especially in adolescent youth, and suicide is at the top of the list for causes of 10-14 age death. New reports focus on a new trend: the suicide rate for young girls is rising faster than that of boys the same age. Why? And while that trend may provide clues for suicides generally, what does gender matter when any age, any gender is increasingly at risk?

The real issue: US suicides for all demographics have been trending upward. For how long and how much is irrelevant. Too many people are dying at their own hands. Especially disturbing to me is what groups are rising the most—young people and veterans. But even more disturbing is that our reaction is same old same old…reports are issued, problem discussed and defined until well understood. We have a pretty good idea what specifically is behind the increases. Our inability to discuss and act makes it clear we don’t appreciate or don’t care about the severity of the situation…what are we doing about it?

We’re failing our kids. And not just by allowing profiteers to rape our environment, dooming our only home to devolve into an uninhabitable hell. We’re not failing our kids just by enabling zealots and tyrants to upend our social and political systems. We’re fundamentally failing our kids by not providing what they actually need to survive the social-emotional turmoil they live in and the crazy world that awaits them. Key symptoms of the problem: bullying, self-harm, suicide.

The new articles tapped into well-established trend data and analyses from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Public Health Service. Especially relevant are findings about both risk factors and protective factors for suicides.

Focus on Risk Factors or Protective Factors? (short answer: yes)

I come out of a manufacturing environment where preventive action (keeping things running smoothly, making sure processes continue to produce the necessary quality, quantity and cost) is more preferred than corrective action (waiting for problems to crop up, slamming on the brakes, troubleshooting to find the problem then fixing the problem).

Risk factors are things that contribute to the likelihood of a person attempting suicide, while protective factors are things that buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behavior.” (CDC) So keeping an eye out for warning signs of people at risk for committing suicide is like in-line inspection. You may or may not catch the problem before too much damage is done. Or you may be too late and must scrap the product, in this case it’s dead people.

Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on protective factors and keep people from going too close to the danger zone? But from the CDC: “protective factors have not been studied as extensively or rigorously as risk factors. Identifying and understanding protective factors are, however, equally as important as researching risk factors.” I have to up the ante: leveraging protective factors will save more lives.

 Risk Factors are red flag scenarios, backgrounds, behaviors, emotions that are a strong indicator that a person is at-risk for suicide. While they may not be direct causes, there is a strong correlation of these risk factors and  suicide.

  • Family history of suicide
  • Family history of child maltreatment
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
  • Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
  • Physical illness
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

Protective Factors are things that buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behavior.”

  • Effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders
  • Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for help seeking
  • Family and community support (connectedness)
  • Support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation

Whether risk or protective, these factors are pretty simple to transform into actionable objectives. We “just” need to commit to taking action.  The need is right up there with banding together to ensure our kids have a habitable world to live in.

If the social-emotional well-being and survival of our kids isn’t a cause we can rally around, what is?

 

Links to follow later….

Advertisements

Need More Tribes? (!)

I’m a bit of a nerd. I enjoy studying social science type stuff—what makes societies work / not work, on down to the level of small group interpersonal dynamics. It’s probably one of the last great frontiers of unknowns, because human beings are so unpredictable (flaky) and when you get a bunch of them together, the result can often be exponentially increased flakiness.  And, the obvious current issue is polarization, a seemingly impossible dream of ever reconciling opposing views. It’s reached social crisis proportions.

I’m going to play with something here, most of it is so common sense it hurts. But let’s see where it takes us… it may be just a bunch of “duh” moments, in which case if it’s so obvious why isn’t it in practice? Or someone may uncover something profound buried in this. I sure don’t know yet!

Humans are social creatures, always have been. We band together for safety, togetherness, love—like-minded people who share basic values, ethics and perspectives form groups, communities, societies. If the shared values are strong enough within the group, they eventually become unspoken norms—the way members of the group are expected to behave without question, without a reminder.

A smaller tribe can get away with a gathering around the campfire to work things out—open, honest sharing of opinions and perspectives while looking each other in the face. If the tribe’s shared values are strong enough, there is a common vision or goal to agree on doing what is best for the tribe…the common good.

The larger and / or more diverse a group becomes, the greater the need for more formal structure and agreements.  Written “laws” may emerge and the troubles begin.  “One size fits all” norms are tougher to maintain, and making things more vague to fit more scenarios doesn’t get it either. So some form of “policing” emerges for those who do not “conform” to the group’s norms.

Group size eventually drives the need for some kind of more formal regulatory body, possibly chosen democratically with sub-groups of like-minded people choosing a spokesperson who shares their views. But what typically happens among the group of spokesperson decision makers is bickering, power plays, favoritism, special interests, shady alliances….the natural dark side of human nature?

You cannot use legislation to drive values / ethics / norms–the reverse must be the case. If there is a gap between the community members’ collective values / ethics / norms, and the legislation there is usually a huge mess of social issues as people cannot conform to something against their beliefs. To take it a step further…what if there is a values gap between the group and its designated leaders, including top leadership? But WAIT…how could that happen? And what is the resolution?

TO THINK ABOUT… Solution: Downsize?

What if communities become the foundational unit of democratic representation, comprised of smaller “tribes” with strong shared values / ethics / norms? Participatory councils with face-to-face open dialogue and sharing of concerns and ideas, decisions driven by the common good of the community? What if community councils had direct input flowing upward, and oversight power over the national congress of decision-makers? Would there be more accountability to be true to the will of the people?

NEEDS

  • Local non-partisan councils that place the greater good of their community before party affiliation, which requires community vision and shared values (Develop People Model);
  • More people with civics and current affairs savvy who are willing to be involved and make a difference. We need to educate the citizenry, with or without this little old pipe dream;
  • Communication loop grass roots / community to top / national congress;
  • Strong network of local communities to serve as the second tier of hierarchy;
  • Immediate accountability of top to grass roots of hierarchy—all lower levels.

To me, stronger grass roots democracy and an aligned hierarchy bottom to top with accountability is the true meaning of “of the people, by the people, for the people”. A chorus of Voices in harmony will always be heard over solo singers, especially if the chorus is non-partisan.  Community before politics…what a concept.

There is no need for a national organization of local councils—that’s an oxymoron and could be counterproductive to the whole “smallness” notion! Activists can advocate for a council in their own community, and the community would reap the benefits without a huge formal structure. Local elected officials would be wise to get on board and actively participate regardless of party affiliation…their jobs could depend on it.

There will always be some decisions and legislation that must be fully owned by the national congress. But bottom-up democracy has potential worth talking about…yathink?

The Information Age: Blessing and / or Curse?

This is a real-life example of one of the really disturbing and I feel deadly kinks in society, and some thoughts on things we can do to get better. I had originally wanted to just point out the importance of information and a well-informed citizenry but the current environment kept sucking me deeper into the mudslinging muck.

********

The opposition…anyone with contrary views…is “evil” and “the enemy” and sure to wreak violence and destruction on our way of life. The media is all fake save one outlet, science is fake, expert global reports are fake, the world is fake. Victims are aggressors, liars and destroyers of good, honest people. Welcome to fall 2018, midterms circus.

Time to shine a bright spotlight on information overload and starvation, and information integrity or lack thereof. Mis and dis-information abounds. Gullible throngs who know no better or choose to ignore the obvious in deference to blindly following and buying blatant lies. Maybe that’s a really high-charged political cheap shot. While I’m at it, here’s another: not too many of those sheeple / minions / deplorables (there, got the name-calling out of the way) will bother reading this so there’s little chance of offending anyone of any importance (assumption: sheeple can’t / don’t read! Gee, this is really fun!)

Polarization surrounding emotionally charged issues is at an epidemic level, fueled largely by lousy, inaccurate, sometimes intentionally inflammatory messages. Sorry, not sorry for yet another political statement, and I’m not quite done….a major contributor to polarization and inflammation is the Instigator in Chief and the administration that seized power in 2016. OK, I’ll try really hard to crawl out of this political cesspool and stay out. A secret: some of that ranting was intentional, to make a point.

I remember a philosophy of Che Guevara’s, from way back in college (!). To control a society, control the education system and what people are taught, and the media…what people are continuously told. History has proven that to be a standard ploy from the fascist playbook. And that playbook is being run to perfection here in the twenty-teens both domestically and internationally.

Social media like Facebook and Twitter, and a profusion of bloggers….truth in that old saying “if it’s on the internet it must be true.” It’s a Propaganda War. Foreign governments are involved in US elections, and it’s not just Russia. The US populace is incredibly gullible and uninformed, and we’re terminally susceptible to all that propaganda.

Stakes are high. Our adversaries know that a divided society is weak and sick, easy prey for a hungry pack of wolves. That’s why I feel so strongly that our social ills will take us down before all the “thing” issues. I’d rather stay away from getting too political. But dadgum, it’s hard. “Blood Boiling, Counting to Ten” was a blog, modified and included here as an example of polarized spin doctor stuff. OK, call it propaganda. I lean hard to the left, and my prejudices are obvious now and then. Just to make a point, I’m intentionally letting my personal views slant the universal issue of simultaneous information fest and famine. So I’m begging forgiveness in advance.

The core issues are the pressing need for a better informed citizenry, and information integrity. It’s just my opinion, along with bunches of other libtard snowflakes, that right-leaning conservative media is one heck of a lot more tilted than the left-leaning mainstream media that is flamed as fake news. MSM reports current affairs it is those current affairs that are inflammatory and negative. Facts are facts. If you feel otherwise, and especially if you have high blood pressure or heart problems, please just skip this. Better yet, try to ignore the bias and look for the non-partisan good in the next section.

Blood Boiling, Counting to 10

…three different languages didn’t work, I must need a fourth.

I just saw a Trump / White House-connected Facebook post targeting recruits to join forces against “fake news”. And the recent story about Sinclair chain news anchors being required to read a prepared piece railing against “fake news” in wording direct from the Trump playbook. “Progressive snowflake libtards” everywhere are feeling the same pain I do over these overt attacks against independent media, free press, freedom of speech…a.k.a our First Amendment rights….and they’re are downright scary. And there are several state bills making peaceful protests illegal. It’s the 1st Amendment for good reason, and it’s under serious, continuous attack. Kinda like Mojo: we may not know our freedoms are disappearing until they’re gone.

Sane people are dumbfounded that so many can freely buy into the steady stream of blatant, easy to debunk, lies. To most conscious and breathing people around the world the US president is a notorious lie-peddler, the premier purveyor of mis / disinformation and outright stupid flaming falsehoods that are too easy to debunk. His, and our, domestic and international integrity is pretty much flushed down the toilet and people who want to know the truth are hard-pressed to find it.

Trust No One….it’s our current reality, will it become our legacy?

This attack on the vital democratic foundations of an independent press / free speech, and free thought along with an independent judiciary including the FBI….“wow”. The most sophisticated intelligence community in the world is ignored, choosing instead to spew made up stuff and Fox sound bytes …he’s a really smart guy, you know. The smartest. Anything negative about him is lies and fake news, and he tries to insult and bully his way through undeniably true but unflattering information and kill the messengers in the process. He’s getting away with it, his base loves it and the Repub cohort has (so far) protected him! Mutts licking the hand, showing unconditional adoration to a cruel master, even through all the beatings.

End of Rant, What Now?

OK, that was an over-the-top example of the bile-dripping polarization that’s out there in abundance. See disclaimer at the beginning of “Count to 10”. Regardless whether I feel that way, it’s an example, OK? The very serious point: there’s growing noise about our democratic system being a completely corrupt failure. Won’t go into the why’s and what for’s here, it is what it is. The big question: can either party clean up its act enough to be considered worth keeping around? Or is it time for a third party? My opinion, shared by a growing number: We the People deserve better choices in representation, and We the People demand real representation for our votes.

We the People need to get OUR act together to stop this madness. There’s no Lone Ranger on his or her way. How can we identify those candidates that stand for what we need? They’re too busy slinging mud to have any ad $$$ and time left for real talking points! Now THAT would be some cool campaign reform: outlaw negative attack ads. Do not allow spin doctoring of an opponent’s positions. Demand truth in advertising!

Something a whole lot more in our control: gather and disseminate real information.  Questions du Jour:

How can the general population get the information needed to make quality decisions? What Can WE Do, Here and Now?

Salting the Idea Mine

Real information is a powerful lever: valid sources, clear messages, meaningful subject matter builds knowledge, understanding, awareness, involvement. The right people cannot refuse to do something. But what about the hard core “other side”? Cut ‘em loose, minimize losses, refuse to engage in mindless fight-provoking pissing matches. There will be no winners, only losers. The “other side” has chosen to be on the wrong side of history, arguing is a waste of energy. There’s plenty to do without them, plenty of good people to cover their absence. Choose our battles wisely.

ACTION: collaborate on building an anonymous information clearinghouse, a closed group FB page? A source of real information that is snowballed out via individual social networks. Discuss elsewhere, just gather information, clarifying and validation when needed. Collaborating contributors all have different favorite sources, so leverage strength in numbers. When sharing, tag with the mantra “share if you care” (or whatever) to encourage broad dissemination.

Also, serve as hub / point of entry to various progressive movements / organizations, featuring only valid players! Have contact information available and occasionally promote them.

I’ve been obsessed with the notion of building “Caring Communities”, leveraging human development to grow the Greater Good and build a sustainable future. Grand Visions die hard, and CC hasn’t gone away. But baby steps are more in order…right-size the grand notion to something like Citizens with Conscience. We need a healthy heart and soul before we can truly care about one another, and we’re running in quicksand in that respect. Sure, there are plenty of good souls out there, but as a whole humanity pretty much sucks.

A community with conscience requires shared values and ethics, strong and healthy norms…human mojo. That’s my real passion. But we also must be well-informed so we can make intelligent decisions, have civil and meaningful dialogue with others, get more involved in making a difference. The human mojo thing will take some serious work, but improving our information base is just busy work. So here’s the latest….

ACTION: create a network of sources and individuals serving as a behind-the-scenes watchdog / information-sharing group. BIG objective: grow and support peaceful resistance through a guerilla organization that can withstand the really nasty assault that would be sure to come if the group had a high profile and was “found out” by the Bad Guys.

This sounds highly subversive, cloak and dagger. Serious point: it’s a good idea to be very careful in publicly espousing crazy goals and values! Email and PM’s may be a good idea? Shared google docs?

 Mojo Group Goals

  • Shine a bright and constant spotlight on the political and private sector power base. If they won’t volunteer transparency, we can help see through the bull;
  • Hold policy shapers and decision makers immediately, publicly, loudly accountable to truly represent their constituents / the general public rather than special interests and big business;
  • Increase social, political, environmental, economic awareness and commitment to change;
  • Skip the Spin! Let the quality and integrity of the information and its sources stand on their own merit;
  • Disseminate credible information to group members, to share via their personal channels.
  • Become a credible one-stop portal for quality information;
  • Promote good news as well as “gotcha” news; identify and call out fake bullshit and develop counterpoints to share. Not another Snopes, just a focused source of independent, fact-intensive validation.

That’s a Wrap

The core issue has no slant, no bias: we have a pressing need for a better informed citizenry, and information integrity. We need credible sources of factual information. We need a much better informed population that pays attention to those credible facts. We need objective, non-partisan, open-minded and grown up discussion and we need to rediscover the awesome power of coming to mutually agreeable conclusions. We especially need to be allowed to come to our own conclusions without spin doctors brainwashing and gaslighting us.

Pipe dream, or high potential? One man’s “vision” is delusional, need a compelling case to change! Imagination, innovation, creativity, passion….we used to be pretty good at it. Let’s try it again.

The Frog’s Pot is Near Boiling

Global warming…a crisis that is one critical example of a real need for information flow. Copy, paste, share or issue your own manifesto…it’s tipping point time and doing nothing is not an option!

Last night I heard an in-depth report on the new dire warning released on the status of global warming. This is not sky-is-falling or conjecture or “maybe” stuff. IT IS OUR GUARANTEED FUTURE, AND IT’S NOT A FIFTY YEAR PROPOSITION. At stake is sustainability of life on earth, survival of our species. The need for significant and across the board action is NOW. Much of the world is on board, the US is not. We’re headed with breakneck speed in the wrong direction, with special interests and their bribe money securing dangerous deregulations and incentives for the fossil fuel industry, and buying the sabotage of alternative energy’s ability to compete with the fossils’ monopoly on providing for our energy needs.

We cannot wait to dump Trump and his gang in 2020, we must neuter the madmen in the midterms.

Global warming should be THE hot button that triggers a massive midterm progressive wave. Or blue if that’s the only game in town, although the democrats’ non-platform is not exactly impressive. But the media and the public are so totally diverted that this species-ending threat is getting no attention. There is no clear, compelling case being made for immediate action, no message that targets everyday people…voters…who need to wake up NOW. We need to-the-point, simple, fact-filled and credible, no-holds-barred and rightfully scary quick-hitters specifically targeting the concerns of key groups of voters, especially new or non-voters. Examples:

  1. Parents and grandparents need to see a clear picture of the dismal life, if any, their kids and grandkids will have;
  2. Young people need to understand the drastic, life-threatening changes they will experience in the prime of their lives;
  3. Caring, thinking, feeling human beings who want to see the human race continue still need to fully understand the clear and present danger, and need to wake up and fully engage in the battle.

But WHO is going to champion this? No time to wait. The task of crafting and delivering the right urgent message NOW is daunting, the challenges and barriers of doing so are overwhelming. There are deniers who will not change, there are self-serving people in power who have been deafened by the roar of money and special interests. Forget about them. Data clearly shows that broad involvement is the remedy—a huge army of untapped potential voters will easily sweep them away…IF we are energized and organized and vote.

This is not open for discussion and analysis. Deniers, save your breath. Sane people don’t have time to mess with you, you are irrelevant. The frog’s pot is bubbling, it won’t be long before it boils. We need to jump out. If we don’t act now, starting with the midterms, nothing else will matter.

More Info? Search: new UN study on global warming

Good background article…  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

What YOU can do….https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/climate-change-what-you-can-do-campaigning-installing-insulation-solar-panels

Let the Rabbits Run

If memory serves…this was written by an educator circa 1940’s . His peers surely ostracized him, forever banishing him from the traditional education brick-making factory.

Imagine there is a meadow. In that meadow there is a duck, a fish, an eagle, an owl, a squirrel, and a rabbit. They decide they want to have a school so they can be smart, just like people. With the help of some grown-up animals, they come up with a curriculum they believe will make a well-rounded animal: running, swimming, tree climbing, jumping, and flying.

On the first day of school, little rabbit combed his ears, and he went hopping off to his running class. He was a star! He ran to the top of the hill and back as fast as he could go and, oh, did it feel good. He said to himself, “I can’t believe it. At school, I get to do what I do best.”

The instructor said, “Rabbit, you really have talent for running. You have great muscles in your rear legs. With some training, you will get more out of every hop.”

The rabbit said, “I love school. I get to do what I like to do and get to learn to do it even better.”

The next class was swimming. When the rabbit smelled the chlorine, he said, “Wait, wait! Rabbits don’t like to swim.” The instructor said, “Well, you may not like it now, but five years from now you’ll know it was a good thing for you. Be ready to get in the water tomorrow.”

In the tree-climbing class, a tree trunk was set at a 30-degree angle so all the animals had a chance to succeed. The little rabbit tried so hard he hurt his leg.

In jumping class, the rabbit got along just fine; in flying class, he had a problem. So the teacher gave him a standardized test and discovered he belonged in remedial flying. In remedial flying class, the rabbit had to practice jumping off a cliff. They told him if he’d just work hard enough, he could succeed because he would have to.

The next morning, he went on to swimming class. The instructor said, “Today we jump in the water.”

“Wait, wait. I talked to my parents about swimming. They didn’t learn to swim. We don’t like to get wet. I’d like to drop this course.” The instructor said, “You can’t drop it. The drop-and-add period is over. At this point you have a choice: Either you jump in or you flunk.”

The rabbit jumped in. He panicked! He went down once. He went down twice. Bubbles came up. The instructor saw he was drowning and pulled him out. The other animals had never seen anything quite as funny as this wet rabbit who looked more like a rat without a tail, and so they chirped, and jumped, and barked, and laughed at the rabbit. The rabbit was more humiliated than he had ever been in his life. He wanted desperately to get out of school that day. He was glad when it was over.

He thought that he would head home, that his parents would understand and help him. When he arrived, he said to his parents, “I don’t like school. I just want to be free.”

“If the rabbits are going to get ahead, you have to get a diploma”, replied his parents.

The rabbit said, “I don’t want a diploma.”

The parents said, “You’re going to get a diploma whether you want one or not.”

They argued, and finally the parents made the rabbit go to bed. In the morning the rabbit headed off to school with a slow hop. Then he remembered that the principal had said that any time he had a problem to remember that the counselor’s door is always open.

When he arrived at school, he hopped up in the chair by the counselor and said, “I don’t like school.” And the counselor said, “Mmmm, tell me about it.” And the rabbit did.

The counselor said, “Rabbit, I hear you. I hear you saying you don’t like school because you don’t like swimming. I think I have diagnosed that correctly.”

“Rabbit, I tell you what we’ll do. You’re doing just fine in running. I don’t know why you need to work on running. What you need to work on is swimming. I’ll arrange it so you don’t have to go to running anymore, and you can have two periods of swimming.”

When the rabbit heard that, he just threw up!

As the rabbit hopped out of the counselor’s office, he looked up and saw his old friend, the Wise Old Owl, who cocked his head and said, “Rabbit, life doesn’t have to be that way. We could have schools and businesses where people are allowed to concentrate on what they do well.”

Rabbit was inspired. He thought when he graduated, he would start a business where the rabbits would do nothing but run, the squirrels could just climb trees, and the fish could just swim. As he disappeared into the meadow, he sighed softly to himself and said…

“Oh, what a great place that would be.”

 

(Related: School and Work—One Big Prison System?)

Cipher in the Snow, Revisited

I first came across a short story called Cipher in the Snow by Jean E. Mizer in a 1970’s college textbook that has been long lost. Even though it was fiction, Cliff Evans has haunted me since. Is this fiction all too often too close to reality?

An administrator once told me the toughest thing to accept for any educator is that you cannot win every battle. But the story of Cliff Evans drove me every day, not those cautions. What did they know?

This is what drives me, the burning question that stays with me still as posed by Mizer in this passage from Cipher:

How do you go about making a boy into a zero?

The grade-school records showed me. The first and second grade teachers’ annotations read “sweet, shy child;” “timid but eager.” Then the third grade note had opened the attack. Some teacher had written in a good firm, hand: “Cliff won’t talk. Uncooperative. Slow learner.” The other academic sheet had followed with “dull;” “slow-witted;” “low IQ. “ They became correct. The boy’s IQ score in the ninth grade was listed at 83. But his IQ in the third grade had been 196. The score didn’t go under 100 until seventh grade. Even shy, timid, sweet children have resilience. It takes time to break them.

How about outside of education? How much influence does giving a “ranking” to employees drive the reality of who they are and how they perform? Can we make people a “zero”? We seem to be obsessed with doing so, starting very early in the education system and continuing on with traditional competency-based development.

All in all, we’re just another brick in the wall. (somebody I know named Floyd…)

Yesterday I decided it was time to revisit Cipher. It was easy to Google as I had never forgotten the story’s title, or the lessons it imparted. Or Cliff Evans. But I had forgotten just a little how powerful Ciphers really is. The piece follows below, as it is a prime example of the importance of connecting.

How could a person not care?

Educators have a moral obligation to connect with kids, to encourage them to more fully engage in their education and in their own futures. They do so by having truly meaningful conversations, one-on-one. And by showing a genuine interest in students and their well-being.

Cipher in the Snow by Jean E. Mizer

It started with tragedy on a biting cold February morning. I was driving behind the Milford Corners bus as I did most snowy mornings on my way to school. It veered and stopped short at the hotel, which it had no business doing, and I was annoyed as I had come to an unexpected stop. A boy lurched out of the bus, reeled, stumbled, and collapsed on the snow bank at the curb. The bus driver and I reached him at the same moment. His thin, hollow face was white even against the snow.

“He’s dead,” the driver whispered.

It didn’t register for a minute. I glanced quickly at the scared young faces staring down at us from the school bus. “A doctor! Quick! I’ll phone from the hotel.”
“No use. I tell you he’s dead.” The driver looked down at the boy’s still form. “He never even said he felt bad,” he muttered, “just tapped me on the shoulder and said, real quiet, ‘I’m sorry. I have to get off at the hotel.’ That’s all. Polite and apologizing like.”

At school, the giggling, shuffling morning noise quieted as the news went down the halls. I passed a huddle of girls. “Who was it? Who dropped dead on the way to school?” I heard one of them half whisper.

“Don’t know his name; some kid from Milford Corners,” was the reply.

It was like that in the faculty room and the principal’s office. “I’d appreciate your going out to tell the parents, “the principal told me. “They don’t have a phone and, anyway, somebody from school should go there in person. I’ll cover your classes.”

“Why me?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it be better if you did it?”

“I don’t know the boy,” the principal admitted levelly. “And in last year’s sophomore personalities column I note that you were listed as his favorite teacher.”

I drove through the snow and cold down the bad canyon road to the Evans place and thought about the boy, Cliff Evans. His favorite teacher! I thought. He hasn’t spoken two words to me in two years! I could see him in my mind’s eye all right, sitting back there in the last seat in my afternoon Literature class. He came in the room by himself and left by himself. “Cliff Evans” I muttered to myself, “a boy who never talked.” I thought a minute; “a boy who never smiled. I never saw him smile once.”

The big ranch kitchen was clean and warm. I blurted out my news somehow. Mrs. Evans reached blindly toward a chair. “He never said anything about hem’ ailing.”

His stepfather snorted. “He ain’t said nothin’ about anything since I moved in here.”

Mrs. Evans pushed a pan to the back of the stove and began to untie her apron. “Now hold on,” her husband snapped. “I got to have breakfast before I go to town. Nothin’ we can do now anyway. If Cliff hadn’t been so dumb, he’d have told us he didn’t feel good.”

After school I sat in the office and stared blankly at the records spread out before me. I was to close the file and write the obituary for the school paper. The almost bare sheets mocked the effort. Cliff Evans, white, never legally adopted by stepfather, five young half-brothers and sisters. These meager strands of information and the list of D grades were all the records had to offer.

Cliff Evans had silently come in the school door in the mornings and gone out the school door in the evenings, and that was all. He had never belonged to a club. He had never played on a team. He had never held an office. As far as I could tell, he had never done one happy, noisy kid thing. He had never been anybody at all.

How do you go about making a boy into a zero? The grade-school records showed me. The first and second grade teachers’ annotations read “sweet, shy child;” “timid but eager.” Then the third grade note had opened the attack. Some teacher had written in a good firm, hand: “Cliff won’t talk. Uncooperative. Slow learner.” The other academic sheet had followed with “dull, “ “slow-witted;” “low IQ. “ They became correct. The boy’s IQ score in the ninth grade was listed at 83. But his IQ in the third grade had been 196. The score didn’t go under 100 until seventh grade. Even shy, timid, sweet children have resilience. It takes time to break them.

I stomped to the typewriter and wrote a savage report pointing out what education had done to Cliff Evans. I slapped a copy on the principal’s desk and another in the sad, dog-eared file. I banged the typewriter and slammed the file and crashed the door shut, but I didn’t feel much better. A little boy kept walking after me, a little boy with a peaked, pale face; a skinny body in faded jeans; and big eyes that had looked and searched for a long time and then had become veiled.

I could guess how many times he’d been chosen last to play sides in a game; how many whispered child conversations had excluded him; how many times he hadn’t been asked. I could see and hear the faces and voices that said over and over, “You’re a nothing, Cliff Evans.”

A child is a believing creature. Cliff undoubtedly believed them. Suddenly it seemed clear to me: When finally there was nothing left at all for Cliff Evans, he collapsed on a snow bank and went away. The doctor might list “heart failure” as the cause of death, but that wouldn’t change my mind.

We couldn’t find ten students in the school who had known Cliff well enough to attend the funeral as his friends. So the student body officers and a committee from the junior class went as a group to the church, being politely sad. I attended the services with them, and sat through it with a lump of cold lead in my chest and a big resolve growing through me.

I’ve never forgotten Cliff Evans nor that resolve. He has been my challenge year after year, class after class. I look up and down the rows carefully each September at the unfamiliar faces. I look for veiled eyes or bodies scrounged into a seat in an alien world. “Look, kids” I say silently, “I may not do anything else for you this year, but not one of you is going to come out of here a nobody. I’ll work or fight to the bitter end doing battle with society and the school board, but I won’t have one of you coming out of here thinking himself into a zero.”

Most of the time—not always, but most of the time—I’ve succeeded.

 

From Wiki: Cipher in the Snow, written by Jean Mizer, an Idaho teacher, counselor and guidance director, was first published in the NEA Journal, 50:8-10, 1964. It won first prize in the first Reader’s Digest/NEA Journal writing competition.

In search of the author to get permission, hopefully still alive so I can offer a heartfelt thank you.

Biological Foundations of Learning-Gray

I’m a big fan of Dr. Peter Gray’s thinking on self-directed learning and how humans really learn most effectively. A good deal of scientific study validates the notion that the principles of self-direction are how we maximize our learning and performance. But while there are plenty of reasons for self-directed learning to go prime time and there has been plenty of success, true self-directed learning remains on the fringes. Ninja sneak attack time…I’ve been studying how to infuse proven principles of self-directed learning into mainstream, traditional education.

Why Can’t We Accept and Leverage Our Human Nature?

Dr. Gray posted an article nearly two years ago that describes “….four powerful drives that exist in all normal children:  curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and planfulness.  The foundations for these drives are encoded in our DNA, shaped by natural selection, over our evolutionary history, to serve the purpose of education.  Our standard schools quite deliberately suppress these drives, especially the first three of them, in the interest of promoting conformity and keeping children fixed to the school’s curriculum.”  

These four drives are critical to human development and to lifelong learning. WHY can they not be incorporated into the methods and materials of a traditional academic curriculum?

A related question: what is the relevance of these biological foundations for “big” kids? Are they important to us too, do they represent basic human nature regardless of age? What if leaders in the workplace were mindful of these? I’m seeing a direct correlation to elements of high engagement (see Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots) which have been proven to boost morale, job satisfaction, productivity, overall performance, and even social-emotional well-being, physical health and longevity. You suppose there’s something to all this?

Read Dr. Gray’s piece. It’s short, and it’s not crammed full of scholarly mumbo-jumbo. Once again, Gray has done a great job of capturing the essence of what learning, and life, could and should be. Come back here and offer your thoughts: what are the barriers to mainstreaming? And what are the resolutions that will help us work around those barriers?

 Biological Foundations for Self-Directed Education

Here are four powerful, innate drives that lead children to educate themselves.

Posted Sep 28, 2016  Peter Gray

All-Community Development: Vision, Delusion or Simple Pothole Repairs?

Replaces two earlier “RWPS” posts, re-tooled with Part Two worked in here rather than separate, for continuity. But now it’s a big honkin’ Tolstoy. Hey, if it grabs you, you’ll still find enough time.

I Had a Dream Last Night…

….a wickedly delicious dream. My community had somehow put together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared vision, ethics and goals. We had even initiated a well-coordinated action plan with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. Very strange.

What is this thing called all-community development? It apparently involves education, employers, parents, civic leaders—all the players—doing their part. Burden had partially shifted away from the overextended education system. Collaborative needs analysis, co-design and delivery by employers, community leaders and educators ensured actual workplace needs were met. It was working…our town was booming! A banner inside City Hall was kind of a vision statement-looking slogan:

We are a vibrant, economically and emotionally prosperous community.

Our model of development is a magnet for economic growth, attracting

families with children, new employers, and working adults to our community.

A smaller wall chart beside the banner was titled “Community Strengths and Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “pinch me! No…don’t!” This looked like a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow together:

  • Well-stocked Talent Pool! We have a highly skilled, fully engaged world-class talent pool co-developed and fully utilized by local employers;
  • Community retention and recruiting! New families and new businesses stand in line to come here. Strong, stable generational roots have rejuvenated-our young people have a reason to stay;
  • Employability among learners and the current workforce is assured. Free and meaningful “higher education” and skills updating for adults is provided with targeted, relevant topics leading to a great position with an excellent company that is a pillar of the community;
  • Equal opportunity to develop and grow! Each person is enabled to reach their full potential along their chosen path, maximizing the probability of a long, fulfilling life on their own terms;
  • Strong relationships community-wide! Mutual respect, appreciation and inclusion are the norm regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social / economic stature;
  • Well-informed and highly involved community members! The community’s greater good is held above individual gain, and citizens are fully engaged in civic matters. There is ample opportunity for all to contribute toward community goals, regardless of status or position as long as the willingness is there. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Ubuntu!

Can you imagine? Must remind myself…it’s only a dream. I didn’t want to wake up but I did. Grabbed a pad and pen and scribbled down details before they faded. As I wrote, the fuzzy dream became more clear.  Then I got to thinking…“why not? ”

Hold my beer.

***********

Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been trying mightily to get involved in repairing just a few of the multitude of potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education, and Life. There are many issues in the interface among these, or more accurately the lack thereof. While the academic and workforce issues are well known, there’s a Grand Canyon of a gap between knowing and doing. Here are a few of the heavy hitters.

Potholes Needing Repair—Intersection of Workplace, Education and Life

People Issues Poor prep for post high school life: (1) socially / emotionally; (2) for the workplace; (3) for higher education. All ages: hopelessness, lack of direction, apathy…why bother? Increased stress, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide; youth bullying, workplace harassment, social polarization.

Economic, job market, demographic and political issues all point to the need for a different approach to preparing young people for post-high school life, as future workers able to meet the moving target of workplace expectations but especially how we prepare them for life itself (social-emotional needs).

System Issues  Education budget and school resource cuts, talent pool skills shortage, poorly / unrealistically defined workplace skills needs, unrealistic expectations of “degree required” by employers; higher ed identity crisis, rising cost of higher ed, inaccessibility and irrelevance. Real-world expertise is outside the academic wheel house, and education resources are too thin to change.

EMPLOYERS:  “Our talent pool is a mud puddle. We need job candidates who are better prepared!”

EDUCATORS: “But we’re doing a-b-c already, and x-y-z too. We’re doing what we can the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.” It’s just not enough. The Big Question: is it the right stuff?

Paradigm Buster–You want it? Help make it happen! It’s not just education’s responsibility. Need front-end partnering and ongoing collaboration on design and delivery among education, employers, and community.

Education and Workplace Prep Issues

High school graduation rates are unacceptably low. Grads aren’t ready for college rigor or are unable to attend for various reasons. Our obsession with standard test performance and common core is under fire. The battle cry: “we need a new education model” but academia is painfully slow to change. It’s no one’s “fault”: it’s the nature of the education system.

“College is the new high school.” But college is out of reach for too many. The relevance and value of higher education is being challenged too, with over-priced and under-valued degrees (“diploma inflation”). Employers set unrealistic demands for “degree required” even for entry-level jobs when there is no real position-based need. Many positions simply do not require a degree as much as they require specific job skills training. Result: degree or not, employers consistently hire what they feel is unprepared workers and education, counselors and parents still push young people into college-or-bust, especially into STEM fields. The real issue is our perception of “well-prepared” and unrealistic expectations of how much an academic education can prepare the future workforce.

A high school education with an accurately defined curriculum could be of more value than a post-secondary academic degree….if Real-world Prep School (RWPS) is driven directly by employer-identified needs, to ensure content is relevant and timely.

Wait…There’s More

There is no longer any luster in providing a service or making things people want and need …“that’s blue collar, not good enough for my kid.” No matter if the work is skilled, pays well and has a huge upside. “Get a degree so you can get a professional position” is the only game in town. No matter if you’re miserable jockeying a desk the rest of your life, if you manage to find a desk. No matter if you end up owing a ton of money for the privilege of being miserable. Everyone deserves fulfillment.

“Free college” is a sexy political hot potato initiative, but deeper questions need to be answered. Relevance and affordability are an issue. For starters, is a degree even necessary for a field, realistic position and required job skills? A trades program may meet immediate workplace needs better than a STEM education and degree. Mike Rowe isn’t an often-quoted academic expert. But he’s a highly regarded champion of workforce skills development. Mike feels that we’ve created much of the skill gap problem ourselves. He points out that we’re millions of workers short for existing jobs in high-paying occupations:

     This is the great, underlying fiction that’s allowed the skills gap to widen. It’s the reason vocational arts have vanished from high school, even as those same vocations now go begging. It’s the reason we now hold 1.3 trillion dollars in student loans. And it’s why we continue to lend money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist.

The skills gap is real, but it’s not the problem — it’s a symptom of what we value…. we have to stop elevating one form of education over all the others, and begin treating all jobs for what they truly are — opportunities.

Employers are part of the problem, imposing artificial “degree required” stipulations even for low-paying entry level positions. As RWPS coursework is built around employer input, it provides targeted pre-job skills training that is of more value than a degree. Need alignment: stakeholder collaboration to determine actual, realistic pre-employment job requirements: what knowledge and attributes would most likely ensure a new hire’s rapid assimilation?

Also needed: help people redefine “good career choice” (hint: “me” is key, not others’ expectations, and values-based is the key to “me”). We also need to redefine higher ed’s role: when is it of value, for whom and for what career paths, and what should it consist of?

It’s wrong to recruit, coerce or mislead students into choosing a STEM career path, turning them away from a more desired career choice. While a STEM degree may be of value, technical skill sets vary too much from employer to employer. Fine-tuning job training may be more ideally provided after a high-potential candidate is placed. And, tech giants are realizing that social-emotional “soft” skills can be a greater indicator of employee success than STEM-related capabilities. See Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough. This Google epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or SEO…surprise!

Case Study: Right Here In River City

It’s not that “nothing is getting done”.  FRI (follows) is a stellar example of good stuff developed by good people with the best intentions. It just needs better focus. A local state legislator pointed me toward this state-wide workforce prep initiative, and some related in-process legislation. My original reaction was critical, but as RWPS needs allies not enemies focus must be “Improve on Existing Effort”! Future Ready Iowa (FRI) is politically vested, it’s here to stay. But it can be better. I am bound and determined to do what I can to help focus and bring this to meaningful action!  The original is here:  Future Ready Iowa Alliance’s Final Recommendations.  Following: a few potholes in the FRI highway and how a community development approach may smooth out a few of the bumps.

FRI is driven by projected workforce skill shortages in STEM fields and high-paying, targeted industry positions. The related goal is 70% post-secondary education or training by 2025. This is my biggest concern. While lofty and noble, the post-secondary goal ignores the entry-level jobs–a more realistic starting point for grads. It’s dangerous to assume that even an advanced degree is a reliable indicator of capability to succeed in a specific position. College-for-all is often not necessary or appropriate, and too many people take on half a lifetime of college debt but still miss the employability mark.

The FRI model is based on industry sector and / or region needs. Not an effective education / training design driver–it’s too broad, too big! And even with a convoluted mashup of agencies and players there has been only minimal action! A terminal case of complexity, overkill, programitis.  The need is for more local employer need focus. The RWPS community model is scaled down from FRI, key players are directly connected and involved, coursework is designed to more tightly meet specific needs. Do what makes sense, when it is necessary to do so. Too many times the tool controls the craftsman, the process is sacred and the users’ real needs become secondary. While it is a solid resource, FRI appears to be too overly complex to fully embrace without significant help.

Employers are asked to contribute to a broad pool for scholarship / grant funding: to provide financial support for unknown recipients, unknown studies. Contributors may or may not see a direct benefit. RWPS ensures early relationships / first contact with high potentials. RWPS increases the odds of a better employer-to-candidate fit than FRI. RWPS builds relationships from middle school on, with young people in the local community talent pool. High potentials learners are known to employers early on, and knowing they are being “scouted” for a future job is a powerful motivator for learners!

Along with direct and early interface with their most likely future talent pool—local students—employers need direct input to the local education / training curriculum and process, more control over their talent pool’s preparation.

Front end employer input kick-starts the RWPS model: define actual position skills requirements and realistic requirements to be met with a degree program. And workplace must align with coursework.

Employers aren’t done once they simply provide a list of needs and contribute to scholarship / grant funds. In-depth involvement is ongoing, from needs assessment to co-design, co-delivery and determining placement. Smooth handoff must be seamless from academia to employer, from education to internal training and development.

The need: a co-designed model that promotes systemic change. All we stand to gain is community prosperity, social well-being, personal attainment and whole life satisfaction. Social-emotional development is critical to the greater good.  Community-level action is the key, with the catalyst or enabler being a collaborative effort among community stakeholders—education, employers, legislators / local gov’t / civic and community leaders, families. Shared vision and goals. The RWPS model includes adults, not just kids in school.

Families, employers, learners, education, legislators, community…we’re all in this together.

What’s Really At Stake? (from Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass)

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, we have no purpose or meaning in our lives and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity. Harsh? Reality usually is.

“Big” community development targets are a sub-surface iceberg. These are the critical issues: bullying, harassment, youth (all ages!) suicide; lack of civility anemic values and ethics, social and political polarization, inability to discuss our differences. Apathy, disengagement, low awareness of civics and issues = no community involvement. We can and must do better.

For more on the absolute criticality of social-emotional strength, especially for our kids, I hope you’ll take a little time to read Searching For Our Mojo which describes my personal WIIFM…why I am so passionate about S-E development. Focus on our “people” needs and all that economic prosperity stuff will come along for the ride.

The Dream Grows Legs

RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal / social-emotional development and workplace preparation / hard skills.  Modular design is based on employer needs and works within the school’s constraints, ranging from quick-hitter stand-alone lessons to ongoing projects and full-term coursework. Lessons provide resume-worthy bullets in lieu of job experience and learners are continuously coached on how to increase their employability, building portfolios with specific examples of their work.

Initial focus may be on high school students unable to go to college, students nearing graduation or recently graduated from college; employed, unemployed or underemployed adults needing an upgrade of workplace knowledge, skills and abilities.

Important: the RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector experts for much-needed subject matter expertise as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, as it provides course content typically unavailable in the education curriculum.

RWPS Nurtures Community Growth. It is the education component of a broad community well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the true focus, and it extends into the working adult population and community’s families.

STEM + Social-Emotional Learning: = Develop People, Save the World! Current Shortcomings:

(ONE) Team-based learning and project assignments are the rage right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They don’t have the soft or hard skills needed to ensure project success. Teachers and kids are not natural-born project managers—they need development. A related issue: schools and employers call the same basic tools and techniques different things. The simplest resolution: learn a common language!

(TWO) A huge concern is bullying and the growing numbers of youth suicides. And bullying morphs into big kid bad behavior…harassment. Society is a mess, there is general disregard for how to treat each other, human life is de-valued and there’s a huge void in ethical leadership to get us out of our funk. Current social-emotional development in education isn’t effective. It’s not deep enough, it’s too infrequent, there’s no ongoing adult coaching. And we need to reach out to the adult population too.

(THREE) Social-emotional development (SED) is typically provided for elementary age kids, if at all, then it stops. Nothing for teens, even though adolescence is a particularly tough road to navigate with future blues, social issues, peer pressure, raging hormones. Teen years are high-risk and common sense says there should be more and deeper attention given to their social and emotional development.

Workforce Prep: More Than Job Skills

It is essential to balance how we prepare learners for the real world. Technology is here to stay, but so is the need for emotionally grounded people. The two are not a one-or-the-other proposition. RWPS coursework includes (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. Priority order is people before process:

  1. People: purpose / vision, values, social consciousness. Help people develop emotionally and socially; guide learners in personal branding, and in establishing a meaningful connection to themselves, others and their environment. Only then can skills development truly take hold;
  2. Process: toolbox mastery / workplace skills preparation. Provide hands-on experience with mainstream workplace tools and techniques, and include direct interface with employers.

Employer WIIFM

Employers are a key stakeholder group, and their commitment and direct participation is essential. But there is plenty to gain for them, a hat trick (three!) of benefits in RWPS involvement: (1) additional internal development resources; (2) community Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that matters; (3) goodwill and connection into their future talent pool, extending into earn while you learn, a highly effective internship program.

Employers develop a workforce committed to strengthening the company and community. A cohesive, sustainable culture grows, and future employees come on board already aligned with the culture and vision. My community is a good example: three employers are green industry, all three have high turnover making productivity levels unsustainable. A community-wide, shared Green Movement vision would be a natural: fight environmental destruction especially atmospheric / climate damage, and health problems from fossil fuel production, transport and usage. Go for the emotional jugular by adding “leave a world worth living in for your kids.” This shared Green vision could boost employers’ retention and recruitment and drive community growth and cohesiveness.

The long-range community and economic development potential: once RWPS is established, it is a highly marketable economic development magnet for additional employers, younger families with school-age children, and working adults (see “Develop People” model). This is CSR on steroids with substantial employer WIIFM. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.

Parting Shots (FINALLY, Right?)

Workforce skills have been my long-time private sector focus, being closely involved in skills development. We saw the demographic projected impact of baby boomer retirements as well as the changing economy and workforce. RWPS was to be my “crowning career achievement” and I’ve grown into a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from my involvement in the classroom. But I’m driven especially because I want to leave behind a better world for my grand kids. RWPS and SED are a powerful combination that can re-engineer this broken society and save the world.

I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. These wild notions have evolved for over fifteen years, it’s my passion. It still needs in-depth analysis to make sure it makes sense. It’s not a natural partnership to marry theoretical, research-based eggheads with pragmatic, results-driven managers. I understand the issues and needs through both sets of eyes, and speak both languages.

My greatest frustration is not inaction. It’s that there is so much being attempted, huge initiatives and some are really, really good. But they’re just a bit off target here and there, or there’s no real focus or cohesiveness and no shared, systemic effort among a broad base of stakeholders. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and even in spite of all kinds of experts with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening! No results.

I want to help bring things into focus and make it happen—a catalyst / liaison who brings the players together, a resource that is shared among education, employers, community. Most of all, I want to be a proud grand parent who is reasonably sure we’ve done all we can to make things right for our kids.

 Additional Thoughts and Support