Radical Unschooling Narrative for Neophytes

In Part One Confessions of a Radical Unschooling Neophyte I shared where I feel I can most contribute to the RU movement, and why I am compelled to be involved. By explaining my intent and point of view I hoped to convince others I’m able and determined to make a meaningful contribution.

Here in Part Two I’ll describe a few specific areas where it appears to me that RU could use some clarity, especially when it comes to other neophytes. The movement needs more boots on the ground beyond practitioners and a targeted PR effort will help in recruitment.

A Rose By Any Other Name. I’ll use “RU” until the community determines whether it should be called something else. No matter which label, we need to develop a compelling narrative for RU for the uninformed general population. That’s the target, it’s the only realistic one for my level of influence and expertise.

To regular people, “radical” and “unschooling” together is a downright baffling, scary term. And people tend to avoid that which is scary. Speaking of “scary”…RU folks are a unique breed, and that’s meant in a positive way. They are visionary, insightful, committed, values-driven, strong-willed. But that can be an issue. It’s difficult for regular folks to understand much less support RU if we can’t relate to practitioners and feel we belong as a meaningful part of the movement. RU needs a broad base of support for it to be all that it is capable of, and practitioners need to reach out, be more inclusive.

Un is a state of mind where trust is key, fear is a liar, and  compassion drives respect and acceptance. (Maggie at Process)

Embrace by Letting Go.  Unschooling is getting out of the way, letting kids’ naturally inquisitive and creative nature take over, letting go of authoritarian, control-freak parenting and teaching. But silent and deep runs the Dark Side of the Force and this is a real challenge for newcomers and long-time practitioners alike. We need some serious de-schooling.

Elevate Big Un Principles (is “Attributes” Better?) to the social norms they could / should be. Some in the RU community seem to resist having clear cut principles that define RU. Would that be too close to “rules” which would be such an un-Un control freak restriction, contrary to “letting go”? Principles represent a solid potential values system, one of the essential elements of developing strong group identity. Values are a “must” for internal cohesiveness and external growth, especially critical for those debating whether it’s safe to jump on board.

There is actually an abundance of principles-looking attributes that drive Un. They’re just not yet formalized into one “official list”, again that would be so un-Un. The biggest challenge would be agreeing on which attributes to include in “the” list. Is there already a one-size-fits-all collection of Un Principles?

Do What’s Natural. Beyond letting go, the most important thing a parent must do is to better understand the basics of human nature and brain theory–how our minds process information, especially young minds. Then make sure kids attain a high state of emotional development and readiness to learn, something traditional schools largely ignore. Parents have a good deal to learn to fully embrace unschooling and it has nothing to do with reading, writing and arithmetic. But first, embrace by letting go. “Trust in the Force you must, Luke!” Interesting.

Nimowashe is a Japanese bansai gardening concept: prepare the tree for planting. It is essential to craft the right environment conducive to relaxation, learning, creativity: provide the most comfortable and stimulating surroundings possible–lighting, music / white noise, kinesthetic doodads and mind-stretching playthings. Can’t get enough.

Provide, or Facilitate, the Environment? RU is letting go, empowering the learner to explore their own path in the environments of their choosing. “Craft the right environment” above is a different level. It’s not directing the child’s thinking, but providing the surroundings that sharpen their vision and increase their thirst. Nimowashe: prepare the tree for planting so whatever the learner explores has a fully receptive, maximum capacity container. We can enhance self-directed learning effectiveness through scientifically validated methods. Not methods of instruction or specific content, but elements that enable maximum freedom, creative thinking and learning to take place.

 Live Well and Prosper. This is so critical that it can and should still be “taught” and continuously reinforced–practices that keep the mind and body at maximum receptivity. Practices should be modeled with the young learner, a great way to connect by spending purposeful time together. Some adults have trouble with physical and mental / emotional / spiritual well-being: relaxation, mindfulness, basic yoga (call it “disciplined stretching”). Start young to develop good habits without pressure, a routine of fine-tuning the mind-body relationship. Not to prep for “doing something” like studying, but treating yourselves to a regular feel-good session practitioners learn to look forward to. “Good” chemicals are released and the body and mind learn to crave them. It’s an addiction but a positive one.

If a learner chooses at some point to really dive into the spiritual stuff it sure won’t hurt them or the world a bit. And isn’t that the way this unschooling is supposed to work?

Can You Go Part Way? My paradigms are strong. I’m aware that being unable to let go of every shred of ingrained authoritarian thinking is a personal barrier. This “environment” question is a prime example. Does RU necessitate total freedom to choose and explore whatever with no influence, or is it OK to provide the right environmental elements to fully empower the learner to choose and explore? (I know, I know…the answer is “yes!”). A bigger question: is it possible for home-schoolers to ease into RU, learning and applying a few of the principles for starters to get comfortable? OR even more challenging, how does a parent make the Grand Canyon leap from traditional to RU? Isn’t a little bit better than none? Practitioners weigh in, please!

_1 Factory Model of EducMaximum potential cannot be reached in a bricks and mortar classroom where administrators and traditionally educated teachers must pay homage to The Holy Curriculum and Pedagogy.

Well-Centered. Unschooling is an individual thing, no bricks and mortar needed. Buildings can even be artificial barriers…”you must go to school to learn.” Still, I can’t shake the notion of a “center”, an infatuation I’ll admit is selfish. It would allow non-practitioners a chance to support unschooling in a meaningful way even though, like me, they are past parenting.

Maybe a center is an unschooling-friendly location with all the right environmental elements for explorers, a resource center for those who can’t provide it on their own. Or an information source for people wanting to learn more or who need a little passive guidance.  An Un Center could host informal peer coaching or information-sharing events. DANGER! The moment there is too much structure, too many programs, we cross over to the Dark Side! A fine line.

One objection to RU is that it doesn’t provide enough socializing opportunities. How about hosting group gatherings? Not planned or structured activities, simply provide the place and a reason for un learners to come together and let whatever happens happen.  (Socializing Sidebar: “socializing” in the traditional school setting typically comes with heavy baggage– bullying among peers and rampant competitiveness, making alternative education even more attractive.

These are just a few RU talking points that I feel should be developed into the right narrative for neophytes. Now I need insights from the community. Where can I be best used for the greater RU good? Keeping the target in mind, what should the narrative be? Oh….forgot to mention: I have no interest in becoming “the” messenger. I’m happy with being part of crafting the message. But if I get the chance to be directly involved in delivery, I sure wouldn’t turn it down!

There’s so much deschooling we need, so much new to learn…a little help? I recently wrote a couple of blogs on all the above and more:

1.      Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

2.      (Part Two) Living Large With This “Un” Thing.

These are work-in-process, on a low-traffic site I use to collect my thoughts and share with just a few people. If you get a chance, check them out. I do need your insights—thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Radical Unschooling Neophyte

I’m an Un uninitiate, a non-expert, non-practitioner but I’m more than an interested bystander. That’s got to change, because the radical unschooling movement mirrors what I’ve been searching for in the private sector: a creative, fun, exploration-intensive environment built on relationships of trust, honesty, respect, compassion and mutual respect. Workers deserve it and perform incredibly better under those conditions. So do kids. Data on job and academic performance, and on peoples’ overall happiness and satisfaction with life is plentiful.

Radical Unschooling (RU) is too extreme for some, or if they’re interested they may not know where to start. But traditional education is failing in so many well-documented ways that more parents are seeking alternatives. Mine field! Fads and hucksters sprinkled among genuine principles and real practitioners. Isolated local education systems are putting on “progressive” window dressings while staying mostly traditional, still bound to executing their marching orders. Limited changes = limited success, barely scratching the surface of what could be.

My outsider perspective can be useful to the unschooling movement. I’ve studied RU and have lots of neophyte questions. And my misperceptions are surely typical of other non-practitioners looking for education alternatives, or who may be Un supporters if they knew more.

This turned into a two-parter when I wasn’t looking:

  1. Where I feel I can most contribute to the RU movement, and why I am compelled to be involved. The latter will help readers understand my point of view and why I am so intent on making a meaningful contribution;
  2. A few specific areas where it appears to me the movement could use some clarity, a compelling narrative for other neophytes, an identity for the practitioner community.

Go Large. Un is a State of Mind, a Way of Life.  I’ve always been a Blue Sky Big Picture guy. What has really grabbed me is the growing school of thought that “The Big Un” references a whole lot more than unschooling. It’s a social movement and unschooling is just one element. The sweeping potential of Big Un needs clarity, and it needs to become more concrete for myself and for others. It’s the most personally compelling part of this mission.

More and more Un Believers are aware they’re making the world a better place. That bigness may scare some people off, but the significance cannot be ignored. Just for starters, if an adult is to fully understand unschooling as a practitioner, they must fully live it. And Big Un applies to big kids at work, in politics (hell, yeah) and for what ails us socially as well. Un offers the best shot we have at salvaging a better life in a more sustainable society.

Worth repeating: Big Un is humanity’s best shot at recapturing our humanity. It’s survival of the species. Practitioner parents—all of us—need prep work. And NOT in academics and pedagogy!

Looking Outward. PR for unschooling specifically and Big Un must build mainstream acceptance and support by targeting non-practitioners, everyday people. I am committed to growing awareness among others at the same beginner level of understanding as I, bridging a gap from the RU community to the general public, building broad grassroots support, possibly growing the practice of unschooling and broad adoption of Big Un principles. That is overwhelmingly compelling in its bigness. And it’s admittedly tough for me to focus in on RU only…for now.

For me to pursue this mission I first need to grow my own awareness and understanding of what’s right, what’s wrong. Maybe there’s no such thing as right or wrong, just “is”?

All of this has all been thoroughly dissected within the RU community already, and it would not only be delusional but rude to propose changes or offer grand new improvements. The goal is simpler: to promote awareness, greater understanding of, and support for RU–not within the community but among the everyday population, people like me.

We All Need a Little Good Press Now and Then

There needs to be a target adjustment for a PR awareness campaign. Why preach to practitioners and professionals? Hit the non-practitioners. Where I may provide value:

Break down the more baffling elements of Un to a basic, everyday people level:

  1. RU in general, including hefty doses of benefits selling. Short pieces for local media, presentations to local civic groups. Replicate, make readily available to others;
  2. Interpret scientific stuff that may scare potential practitioners away: brain and learning theory, early childhood development, environmental support elements. So much of that is gobble de gook to most folks, no wonder they don’t want to take the plunge.

I speak the private sector’s language and understand their thinking. Employers will more fully embrace and even come to prefer unschooled candidates when they understand what and who they will be getting. Employer WIIFM is clear: RU improves the quality and depth of the future talent pool, providing candidates with what the new work environment demands: highly adaptive critical thinkers who are creative and thirsty for new knowledge, and are more emotionally connected to their sense of purpose. No bricks in the wall here.

Make a non-threatening case for RU for the traditional education community. Our shared Mission One should target the most critical common denominator—our kids. This may be akin to juggling lit dynamite, but there are good people being held hostage by a bad system. I’m guessing some would be powerful allies, potential deep-cover operatives hidden among the hostages. Some have already managed to escape that authoritarian dictatorship and are part of the RU practitioner population. How do you converts feel about connecting with your ex-peers?

LIGHTNING BOLT….I hate internal arguments, they are not winnable. A real-time epiphany: is there such a thing as working within the system, is there value in trying to win over traditional educators? I’ve been plenty critical of the establishment, and rightly so. Is RU an all-or-none, revolutionary replacement of the current, broken system? Is coexistence at all possible?

The most compelling high-impact goal is to connect the dots: identify common themes, goals and needs among sectors. RU community > traditional education > government > community / society > private sector / business…we’re all in this together. With a systemic, all-stakeholder effort so much more would be possible. It’s more than parenting and child development. It’s a way of life and state of mind, a social transformation. But only if all understand and embrace The Big Un.

Why Do I Want to Be Involved?

We can and must do better for the kids, ourselves, society. Top personal drivers:

  • The traditional education system is doing irreparable harm to our young people. A top cause of the alarming increase in middle school suicide rate is academic pressure to perform. And to conform. Add peer bullying to the mix. America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate
  • Young people who do survive the education system are ill-equipped for college or the workplace, unprepared emotionally for life. It’s well-documented: the traditional system isn’t delivering the goods, and the system can’t or won’t respond to pressures to adapt.
  • US youth’s level of creativity and critical thinking is plummeting. Peter Gray examines this in As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity, first posted Sep 17, 2012. It’s even more relevant today with the situation arguably worsening considerably. 
  • Kids cannot perform outside of standard, canned responses, memorized answers. The US is not doing so well there either by global standards. Creativity and critical thinking are the two most essential new workplace skills, and we’ve lost our edge. Our talent pool is shallow and muddy, and our ability to compete globally is in serious danger. The private sector guy in me says that’s unacceptable, it can be resolved.
  • I love my grandkids. If I live long enough to meet them, I’m sure I’d feel the same about their kids. I want to do all I can to ensure they all have a decent place to live, a fulfilling life. We cannot get there going down the path we’re on. It’s that simple.

The Biggie Closer. Our education system continues to fail our kids, we continue to lose them. RU is powerful in part because it allows kids to connect with their Self. We desperately need to re-connect with our humanity, for the good, no the survival, of kids of all ages.

Too many good people are soured on life. You can see it in their eyes, the spirit is sucked out of them. Their body language screams “I hate my life!” We’re wandering through the desert and we’ve given up on ever reaching the Promised Land. No purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment, no closure. We’ve done it to our Selves from early childhood on. And that’s wrong. We must win  back our mojo. It starts with Big Un as a way of life, state of mind.

Is that being a totally drunk-on-the-koolaid idealist? I think not. We need whole-life “Un”. And I like it. That’s why I care.

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Expert practitioners, your patience in helping me grow in my understanding would be greatly appreciated. Besides parts one and two, I’ve written other blogs on the above and more. These are perpetual works-in-process, on a low-traffic site I use to collect my thoughts and share with a select audience. If you get a chance, check them out. Help me learn, please?

1.      Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

2.      (Part Two) Living Large With This “Un” Thing.

Part Two, Radical Unschooling Narrative for Neophytes is an overview of my neophyte perception of radical unschooling and the Big Un movement, and where my current understanding tells me we need more awareness and support by crafting a compelling narrative. I need your insights—thanks!

 

Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

Peter Gray got me again. As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity  was originally posted Sep 17, 2012 but just showed up again on my feed, and it’s even more relevant today. The situation has arguably worsened considerably in five years.

Gray writes: “In the business world as well as in academia and the arts and elsewhere, creativity is our number one asset.  In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs acknowledged this when they identified creativity as the best predictor of future success. It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades.”

The article details research methods, explaining how creativity had been accurately measured in the study. If you’re into analytics, read the article–I won’t elaborate here.

Findings summary: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” (there’s a reason for that!)

We have automation to do menial, repetitive physical stuff, and artificial intelligence to even do some light lifting low-level, analytical thinking. The only way for humans to add value that machines and computers cannot (yet) replicate is our unique ability to think creatively. So kids and adults alike are losing the edge we used to have, and the very capabilities the new workplace most demands.

The economy and the nature of work, for that matter the world, have all changed. Education has not, and it shows. The US workforce is seriously deficient in the new skills, and it starts with poor preparation in school.

If you’ve read much Gray you know his position on traditional education. His concerns include the serious and lasting damage inflicted on our young people by rigidity in education, standard testing, no freedom to play, to explore, to really learn.

How much damage? This came along two days after the Gray article: America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate   Research shows that “…increased pressure on students to achieve academically, more economic uncertainty, increased fear of terrorism, and social media are behind the rise in suicides among the young.” And of course bullying, most of which takes place at school, by peers.

We dump our kids into a toxic environment and expect them to learn in ways that are contrary to their natural wiring, and they are not even developing the skills and attributes that may help them survive to adulthood and beyond. And the US workplace is crippled by a poorly prepared talent pool. Related?

Hello (hello…hello…) is there anybody IN there? Just nod if you can hear me.  Is there anybody home?

You’d think we’d eventually wake up and realize this is a life-and-death social and economic problem. We’re failing our young people socially and emotionally, even doing irreparable harm, and plodding along with antiquated teaching methods and curriculum. Along the way we’re trashing the economy and our global competitiveness. It’s more than a double whammy because the two issues are connected and compound each other’ impact.

We expect conformity, we demand following rules, rigidity. We condemn creativity, freedom of expression, exploration. It’s so contrary to human nature. And the same expectations, issues and profound, lasting damage applies to big kids too—at work, in politics, in social interactions.

Gray’s writings and the education reform movement are not just about education, it’s social reform. Much, much bigger than kids in school and the education system.

I’m not an expert, not a “real” educator (full-time subbing doesn’t really count) and I’m a dozen years removed from parenting. So why should I care so much about education and parenting, the way we treat and teach our children, the way we force them to “learn”? Why should I care that society is going down the tubes? I’m old enough, I can surely ride this one out to The End.

The driving purpose behind what I do is a need to to do my part to make the world a better place for future generations. I kind of like my grand children. Haven’t met their kids, and I doubt I’ll have the chance. But I bet I’d like them too. They are why I care, and why we all must care.

Resolution?

Suicide and the skills gap share a common denominator…the two issues are one. They need to be clearly connected and framed together, then a concise and compelling narrative developed: here is the central issue and here are the impacts.

Then share the resulting narrative to build grass roots awareness and concern. The need to act must be elevated to the pressing crisis status it deserves. Emotional well-being can be life-and-death for too many kids, then there’s sustainability of our way of life for all of us. High stakes.

We must attack the issues with a consistent, coordinated focus. But here’s a huge barrier: tons of organizations, armies of concerned people, so many that none seem able to get anything of substance accomplished. Turf wars, fragmentation, over-saturation, diminishing returns. Maybe more simply herding cats, bb’s in a boxcar.  Joiners and activists are mule and Clydesdale, no offspring out of that one. Chaos, anarchy, complexity, rampant A.D.D. Experts blowing their knows all over each other, comment threads akin to meth head babblings. Very few if any groups can stay on-topic and maintain focus on progressing toward a well-articulated common goal. Crafting, sharing and staying focused on a common goal—what a concept!

We need laser-sharp focus and a coordinated attack. Activity does not equal progress.

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Post Script: I Rest My Case

There’s technical writing and persuasive writing. Dissertations and journaling on a napkin. Investigative reporting and data analysis, and editorials / opinion pieces. Some folks scream if they don’t see annotations and scads of trustworthy numbers (an oxymoron!). Others could care less about style, sources and data–they’ll look further if they want to. I’m in the latter group. I can do the first examples of writing but at a price–my sanity. But we demand more and more technical expertise, less and less creative thinking. So we get a bunch of grown people sitting around highly polished tables, all fearful of being the first to raising their hand and say “I don’t understand”. Fear and angst in school and the adult world has taken root like a fast-spreading cancer.

Suicide PSS…

I just read a story about a young woman who hung herself several years ago in her college dorm room. Written from her mother’s perspective, it was a look-back at red flags. Her mother said: “I keep coming back to one such warning sign, one that is so obvious now. I don’t know how I didn’t see it: not worrying about future consequences.”

I’ve studied engagement theory and its relevance to young people, a spin-off of my business world involvements turned toward youth and education. One key measure of engagement for kids is their feelings toward the future. I’m no expert but there may be something there.

I taught 4th-6th grade guidance classes off and on for a year, 45 minutes for each class every 10 school days, social-emotional development, bullying stuff. Not nearly enough time. I waited impatiently for the material to turn the kids inward, to help connect them with their inner feelings, put a name on what they dream about, what they hope for, what truly makes them happy. On the flip side, what makes them unhappy, what they fear most. Identify the bogey man under the bed and exorcise it. But the curriculum never went there. So I did what I could to take the kids there off-script

Our education system continues to fail kids and we continue to lose them. One of the reasons radical unschooling is so powerful is that it enables and encourages kids to connect with their Self. We desperately need to re-connect with our humanity, for the common good….no, survival…of kids of all ages. Maybe we need to strive toward making “Un” a state of mind, a way of life?

(Part Two: Living Large With This “Un” Thing)

 

Living Large With This “Un” Thing

(July 24 REVISION NOTE) Maggie blogs about unschooling from a practitioner’s perspective and more at Process. She and I have batted definitions and concepts around online, in both public and private conversations. I’m a newcomer. She has become my go-to practitioner and sounding board, so I asked Maggie to reflect on an almost-final draft of this article. The result: a synthesis of her reactions, and my re-reflections on her input. Whose is whose? A lesson. Must be “ours”. This is all Maggie’s fault…thanks, Maggie. I mean that, seriously.

Defining “It”…A Snipe Hunt?

Deming said we must operationally define something before we can truly understand it. Same meaning for everyone every time. So, what the heck IS “radical unschooling”? Is it a subset of alternative education? Some form of extreme homeschooling? I’ve learned that saying stuff like that is likely to put a radical unschooling practitioner on the offensive right off the bat, simply by expecting them to clarify and define what “it” is. Doing so is evidently so…. un Un. Maybe you need to really live “it” to really understand “it”?

The philosophical counter is “the question isn’t ‘what IS it? The answer is what it ISN’T”. OK…do we even need a definition? This is a whopper of a dilemma: terms drive perception, perception drives acceptance, acceptance leads to action which triggers change. To which my friend Maggie observed: “Terms are innocent little beings. Conditioning about the terms drives perception.”

One of Maggie’s recent posts was a quote from Beverley Paine, a practitioner in Australia, used with permission: “Radical unschoolers take the principles of unschooling and apply it holistically across all areas of life, not just to the ‘education’ of their children. It’s not simply living without school and the whole school paradigm of education, and it’s way more than living without ‘boundaries’ and ‘rules’ – it’s living with trust and respect, relationships and connections as the drivers of all actions.”

My first response:  Nice! So it IS a social-cultural evolution (revolution?), and it is truly a radical one. Can you imagine a “traditional” business going Un? Politicians “living with trust and respect, relationships and connections as the drivers of all actions”?? An un-society?! Maybe the holdup with broad acceptance is how do you “do it?” (dammit, there I am needing a roadmap again…) Waiting for the instruction manual, a cookie cutter recipe. But then, you don’t “do Un” do you?

Maggie’s reply: In the early days, I’d say, “Instead of rules, we have principles.” It starts with raising babies with responsiveness (instead of reacting to the baby) and compassion (instead of “training”). The longer you do it, the more you realize that if everyone in society did this, government would transform or not be needed at all. Enter voluntaryism, (a mindset not an action) that mindful living with respect that softens the harsh stereotype that follows misunderstood anarchy around!

There is no cookie cutter recipe, dear society, you know why?? Because it requires going within, deschooling internally and accepting one’s own self healing from patriarchy, and then spiraling out as the gifts we give to the world. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. But, as individuals not matching cookies.

Seems the RU community struggles with definitions too, although many just say “defining it is so un-Un!” Maggie has been “…trying to evolve towards new terminology.” One descriptive phrase is “whole life evolution without school.” And another: “…unschooling is really unconditioning (breaking away, deprogramming) from the authoritarian paradigm…to apply it to all of life for me and for (son) Sean, I am choosing the term evolution. For now. That’s the thing about RU, the process IS continuously evolving. The mold cannot be static.”

I’m well aware I am in full-tilt-boogie unconditioning (deprogramming?) mode, and that my personal evolution is bound to continue. Evolution…maybe that’s what this is all about?

When a practitioner talks about why unschooling works…the “principles” if you will, it always strikes me. These are a mirror of principles of effective leadership, building strong relationships, creating a society that’s vibrant and alive. There’s a whole lot more than “radical unschooling” here.

What attributes and knowledge might hasten humanity’s collective evolution? These are pertinent areas where I feel we need a whole lot more understanding. Add yours, please!

  • Exploring the human condition, understanding human behavior on both the “me” and “us” level: what makes me who I am, what makes us who we are? Where do I want to go on my journey, how we can take the journey as a tribe? Because humans are naturally social creatures, and it’s a lot more fun when you’re in good company too!
  • “Diversity” on Steroids. Inclusion, individuality, valuing differences….each person is a sovereign individual with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…do we really buy into those words? If so, why is the notion of following our intrinsic motivators, of identifying and exploring our own unique path so objectionable?
  • The social sciences, as opposed to stuff-in-a-beeker science only;
  • Understanding how humans really learn and promoting the right methods and learning conditions that allow each individual to grow and thrive rather than being so intent on restricting our natural state and stuffing ourselves into standard compartments;
  • Civil discourse. Advocacy helps to get your point of view recognized…but how much? Senge, Bohm and others have explored the roles of inquiry and advocacy in meaningful dialog. Without getting too conceptual, fact is we’re lousy conversationalists and even worse at effective group decision-making. And isn’t that what makes democracy and society go around? Passive, aggressive, or assertive: which is ideal? In middle school, it’s taught that door #3 is the grand prize. But the school environment produces passive kids and is teeming with aggressive teachers. Physician heal thyself)
  • Re-awakening, re-connecting, becoming fully aware individually and collectively;
  • Civics, government (used to be “social studies”)…what it means to be an informed, involved citizen in a democratic society. Learning how awake and aware people can and must work within the system to change the world. Know the ropes, make a difference.

Sidebar: it says above that “people can and must work within the system to change the world”. To which Maggie replied “But I’m working outside of the system right now, and making a difference!” I think what I’m thinking is driven by impatience to see something of substance take hold and move mountains. Individual practitioners are fiercely independent, as they should be. It takes personal commitment and action, no cookie cutters allowed! But is there such a thing as influencing others’ evolutionary process, of influencing society? If so, would it be more feasible working from within?

We’re sadly ignoring the above crucial learnings for the most part, swimming upstream against our human nature. And it’s sapping our strength. That cluster of esoterica enables explorers to fully embrace the three R’s with a purpose. Why not go with the flow, let the game come to us? Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic must take a back seat. We’ll more completely master the three R’s only if and when it serves our purpose to do so. Otherwise it’s non value-adding noise, and force-feeding begets stress, burnout, failure. This is really tough for traditionals to come to terms with; it flies against the winds of authoritarian education, relationships, society.

Un doesn’t just apply to kids and unschooling. What are the impacts of un un behavior (read that carefully) on the workplace, government, society? Un-un leads to stress, burnout, failure, dysfunctional relationships, and toxic, me-first competitive and confrontational environments. Sounds familiar?

We need a serious dose of unadulting.

Sidebar Two: the term “the three r’s” is obsolete as all get-out, and I’m dating myself. Traditional education’s methods and curriculum are obsolete too. We may as well still be doing the three r’s.

Back to Defining The Big “It”

  • “It” is basic stuff—leadership attributes, engagement and motivation theory;
  • “It” is science and research-based: brain research, learning theory, music therapy;
  • “It” is spiritual–mindfulness, flow, yoga, meditation;
  • “It” is personal–social-emotional development / emotional intelligence.

“It” is a virus, we’re all carriers. “It” is leveraging what we know about all that stuff to illuminate the path toward sustainable fulfillment, first for ourselves then for our kids and anyone around us. “It” is sharing firsthand accounts of how Un has truly made a difference in our lives, “it” is drinking up our human nature, because it tastes amazing. “It” is helping others to more fully understand because we need them. Individuals can accomplish things, but only when we reach critical mass will we enable the continuing evolution of human consciousness on a grand scale. Just my opinion!

I’ve been soap-boxing this over and over forever, because I truly believe it’s a species survival issue. We have a desperate need to reconnect with our self-worth and our humanity, with our Self, with others, with the world around us. Once connections start growing, the healing begins and the good spreads. Crossover kicks in once the Self is well-connected. Like a brain’s pathways healing after a stroke, other connections come so much easier. It’s natural, it’s the way we’re wired.

Big Bucks Questions….

So you can’t “do” radical unschooling without first changing your Self and your little corner of the world. Makes sense. But, how can you further the cause with others? How can you help fence-sitters and non-believers see the light and, better yet, engage? Go back to the para after the bullets.

Why stop at “unschooling”? Un is a state of mind and a way of life–a movement. It may sounds a little crazy, but let your latent creative Self connect with that grand notion and envision what it would be like to step up to the all-you-can-un, no time limit buffet. You may not want to leave.

It Starts With Me. I’ll take one big honkin’ plate…just one at a time.

Part One connects rising youth suicides and the workplace skills gap, here.

Talkin’ Loud Sayin’ Nuttin’

What a field day for the heat, thousands of people in the streets.

Singin’ songs and carryin’ signs, mostly sayin’ hooray for our side.

(Buffalo Springfield, 1969)

The traditional activist role is experiencing growing pains. We’re not just on campus shouting slogans and waving signs, we’re deeply involved in actual change…at least trying to get involved. Therein lies the rub for many of us, especially when it comes to social media.

  • I know I can make a difference, but how and where the heck do I start?
  • These kids won’t let me play—they’re so much smarter…and better…than me.
  • I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do…so I’ll leave it up to you. (Lee)

I’ve said all those, a lot. And a whole lot of other wannabe’s feel the same. We are needed. It takes numbers to make a difference so any cause must attract a critical mass of do-er activists. More activists buy in more fully when there is a clear opportunity to channel their good intentions and energy. It’s human nature, and classic engagement theory: I know that what I’m doing matters, I’m making a difference. I’m earning my way.

With social media specifically, stuff is in the way of regular people getting engaged at a meaningful level. Here are a few examples of barriers, please add to or refute these observations

(first, before I forget again…thanks to The Godfatha for the post title and really righteous song)

The real barriers to social media-based activism are not in the stuff that activists are trying to accomplish but in the human interactions and organizational issues encountered along the way. We can be our own worst enemy. I’m a student of organizational effectiveness, from a group dynamics / human behavior angle. Not a credentialed expert, just studied and lived it. There’s a lot of research and lots of data that indicates if you don’t tend to people issues—navigate the human complexities and needs—you won’t even come close to maximizing task effectiveness and results. It’s the same obsession with process over people in the work world. Task-first applies to social media groups too.

Git-r-done, git-r-done.

But what are we doing?

Dunno… git-r-done, git-r-done.

Social media is addictive, both an upper and a downer. There’s great food for thought for anything you want to learn more about, but it can be maddening trying to find a clear path toward resolution. All that deep thinking has you hooked and it’s impossible to find a way out. It’s the nature of the medium more than anything. Information–sharing and do-er groups can both be extremely high-traffic, so much so that excellent input is lost in the shuffle. Serious attention deficits are common as the group’s focus moves on to the next hot topic mid-conversation.

Social media has brought together an overabundance of conceptuals, inventers, deep thinkers–a whole lot more than builders and grunt labor. Broadly, there are two types of social media activist groups: (1) information and idea-sharing sites, usually heavily populated with intellectually engaged people who are not overly committed to action-oriented involvement. Highly educated experts can be incredibly possessive of their brain babies. Then there are (2) doing groups which is where serious activists congregate, bringing their strong emotions and passionate commitment. Alpha members may be more common than in information-sharing sites. In a nutshell, that means do-er groups, with exceptions, can get really nutty and prone to power struggles.

It’s rare for thinking and doing to come together on one site. Please share if you’ve found exceptions. While it’s a real rush cruising at 50,000 feet most activists need to touch down now and then and stretch their legs. Information-sharing groups just aren’t geared up to promote action planning and manage the related human issues. Even with a proliferation of contributors’ profound revelations, there’s rarely a clear path to action. But that’s the nature of the media to a large extent.

It’s hard for a non-expert nobody to crack the inner circle. Most of my wannabe activist friends and I grass roots folks—no special initials or formal titles before or after our names. It’s tough to get accepted, especially when it comes to well-established, heavily fortified causes. Castle drawbridges are not lowered for just any commoner, only petty barons at minimum from loyal and subservient fiefdoms are allowed in. Serfs can’t scale the castle walls, the moats are teeming with gators to boot.

To hold together in cyberspace, social media groups require a clear, compelling narrative that is shared among community members. Narrative provides stickiness, purpose, focus, motivation, and group identity both internally and for the rest of the world. Narrative is vital to the sustainability of teams, movements, organizations, nations, societies. A group may have a narrative, at least in words. But when it comes to staying on message, it’s pretty much like herding cats. Most sites have “what-is” statements in their About section but not the compelling, clear call-to-action narrative do-ers need.

Social media activism is a grand new experiment and we’re just not too good at it yet. We’re better suited to sitting cross-legged around a campfire and talking things out before decisions are made. But we outgrew tribal norms and structures long ago, in my opinion not necessarily a good thing. Along comes the internet, the 21st century version of passing the pipe around the campfire—incredible potential power, but largely misdirected so far. We’re still small bands of nomad hunter-gatherers.

The bigger the group the more structure and rules evolve, inviting power struggles, special interests and other slimy political stuff.  Numbers are needed but there can be weakness in numbers (chaos and anarchy?) too, frustrating to anyone driven to make a meaningful contribution toward real action. And alpha activists can become that which they abhor…the establishment.

Following are a few specific examples of think tank goldmines with incredible insights that too often lead to nothing. No slam-these sites are among my favorite hang-outs.

Peter Gray’s regular columns in Psychology Today explore my #1 avocation–alternative education and social / education reform. Gray has an impressive following of well-educated, responsive and vocal readers. He will sometimes write an article in response when a hot topic / recurring theme surfaces with readers. But while Gray’s articles and the comments are plentiful and jammed with insights, to what end?

But wait! Maybe an exception to the Talkin’ Loud, Sayin’ Nuttin syndrome? The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a favorite meeting place for self-directed education thinkers including Gray followers. And there are apparently outlets for do-ers too:

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a grassroots, nonprofit organization devoted to advancing the SDE movement…We’re creating a world where Self-Directed Education is a normal, effective, and accessible educational path that any young person can choose.

As a member of the Alliance, you’ll have access to a vibrant online community and real-life local connections, too.  You’ll also have opportunities to interact with well-known SDE visionaries through a variety of live events.  Best of all, you’ll be able to make a difference by participating in our SDE advocacy projects — or starting your own projects with support from the member community.

My vision is to play even a small role in an action-triggering initiative that leverages the rich outpouring of expertise and passion out there. The Alliance may be headed down that road, must learn more.

The Great Transition Initiative is a thought incubator that explores saving the world from humanity—pretty big stuff. Officially:

The Great Transition Initiative is an online forum of ideas and an international network for the critical exploration of concepts, strategies, and visions for a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and a resilient biosphere. By enhancing scholarly discourse and public awareness of possibilities arising from converging social, economic, and environmental crises, and by fostering a broad network of thinkers and doers, it aims to contribute to a new praxis for global transformation.

GTI publishes a pretty elite group of writers, it’s a bountiful hunting ground for thinkers. While “fostering a broad network of thinkers and do-ers is in the “About” statement I haven’t found a visible linkage that promotes organized action. And while I’d love to get involved in the think tank it’s a select group and a grass roots everyman guy like me can’t expect my club application to be accepted. At least that’s the way it appears…am I wrong?

The Greater Good Science Center and Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning are other expert academic sites I like to frequent. Both sites espouse the importance of systemic inclusiveness in implementing social-emotional and other cutting edge learning. Yet the research, models and highly informative articles have decidedly education-only content. Academic silos crafted and guarded by highly credentialed educators, targeted at expert peers. What’s missing: any kind of benchmarking or involvement from key stakeholder puzzle pieces—grassroots citizens, public and private sectors. And do-ers. No linkage to do-ing…..

There is all kinds of how-to advice in the GGSC and CASEL articles and material. But contributing to the dialogue, adding to the body of knowledge or sharing practices at any meaningful level appears to be experts-only. Can’t find the doorway.

In Defense Of…

Social media sites attract mega traffic. Site owners must manage huge amounts of input, especially in an open contribution format. Site managers must right-sized purpose, scope and objectives / deliverables and stay focused on what they can realistically deliver. Understandable.

So the dilemma remains: HOW can the grass roots make a contribution? And especially…HOW can the great concepts and ideas be put into meaningful action? Maybe the doors are out there and I’m looking in the wrong places. But I’m here to tell you, they’re way too dadgum hard to find.

Priority What-if #1: what if there was a collaborative central meeting place for do-er’s to develop and champion initiatives for any number of worthy topics? Activists’ playgrounds partnered with the appropriate think tanks that provide insights and focus with access to top-rate relevant input. Thinker sites send do-er activists to the action planning site, do-ers refer thinkers to their conceptual counterpart. The burden of supporting action planning and dealing with do-er activists stays off think tanks’ plates, and vice-versa. Better focus and powerful synergy if the collaboration is truly two-way and well-managed.

So much for the “what-if” for now. What are your observations? Am I missing something? What do you think would help grow do-er activists’ opportunities be actually become active in a meaningful way?

I smell a Part Two with a whole lot more “what” and “how”. Sneak Peek: there’s a tricycle involved. Needs some thought. Yathink? A little help?

US Health Care–Missing the Obvious

No comment on the piracy that’s rampant in the US health care system, and the grave dangers in the path our representatives are headed down….except this: INFORM, INVOLVE, RESIST! If you care, do something. Add to and change this as you see fit, copy / paste what’s below. Or share the link if that’s easier. DON’T just “like”. I don’t need credit—it’s the info that is important, but please tag me if you copy / paste, as I want to keep track of this one. And encourage others to spread the word too.

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UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE? (GASP!!) WE CAN’T DO THAT IN THE US!

Why not? Seems to work well for the rest of the world so there are abundant models to benchmark. Yet, except for that wild-haired radical from out east no one dares bring up the obvious. WHY?

A wild guess…power brokers and profiteers have something to do with it. Where we are now and the direction the railroad is taking us is blatant financial robbery and class warfare. But worse than being fleeced, we’re being cheated out of a chance at a longer, healthier, more productive and fulfilling life. That is obscene, it’s immoral.

PURGE THE PROFITEERING

Among the most powerful and well-funded lobby sectors: finance / investments, fossil fuel, and …health care. Google it. The number of politicians who are heavily invested in health care, and who stand to gain (or lose) big bucks from health care, is embarrassing. Google it.

Big pharma, big insurance carriers, even big providers are ruled by the bottom line. Our health and general well-being…our lives…are being held hostage while the profiteers decide whether there’s enough margin for them to treat what ails us, or whether we should just crawl out of sight and die somewhere.

WHAT WE NEED: Shift Priority From Treatment to Preventive

A lesson to be learned from manufacturing. One big difference in philosophy is what led to the Japanese kicking US manufacturing’s ass for a decade. Run the equipment like crazy and wait until something beaks down, then fix it? Or, keep it from breaking down in the first place? Build it right the first time, or inspect substandard stuff out and rework what can be fixed?

There’s far more to the story, but the bottom line: assuring quality and preventive action is much more cost effective and delivers a far superior product than reworked stuff that is caught by the quality cops.

Guess what? The same thing applies to the ultimate machine–the human body. The machine runs better, last longer with fewer breakdowns, and costs less to operate with preventive maintenance and quality assurance. Decades of manufacturing data verifies a huge net gain when more preventive dollars are spent. Better bottom line because there are fewer costly breakdowns and down time, less substandard output to either scrap or rework, fewer post-sales failures in the field, fewer lost or pissed off customers, fewer demoralized, disgruntled, disengaged employees. Read that last line with our health as your focus.

WHAT WE NEED: Weird Works Wonders

It’s in process, need more. Boost awareness of the more spiritual side of humanity, weird voodoo stuff that is proven to be powerful health and longevity boosters, incredible elixirs for the human spirit. It’s more than eating bean sprouts and regular exercise. Basic mindfulness, yoga, social-emotional strength, purpose and values, and meditation are not airy fairy pixie dust. The WIIFM is backed with buckets of studies and data, and “me” intensive: longer and higher quality of life.

Closing thought…..study this link, really study it. This is from 2010, but still relevant and raises two key points:

(ONE) The US is abundantly prosperous. And we spend far more on health care than any other country, yet our life expectancy doesn’t reflect it. Why? Lousy return on investment? Or profiteering?

(TWO) The US and Mexico are the only two countries with red lines on the graph, indicating no universal health care. Why?

Are the two points related?

School and Work—One Big Prison System?

Two hypotheses: (1) Forced education and the world of work is one big system of involuntary servitude with compulsory, menial, downgrading labor. Children are sentenced to school until they reach the right age, complete their probationary period and move on to the next sentence. They’re finally granted work release but if they can’t conform to the conditions of probation they are busted down and forced to start over elsewhere. (2) For society to survive we have to re-learn how to behave more like children.

I’m in search of the right way to make a meaningful contribution toward saving the world. My long-time belief is that you must tend to “people” needs or tasks won’t get done nearly as well as they could, so while ecology and environment are in the mix my priority has been the social-emotional state of the species. We’re a mess. The natural focal point is kids’ social-emotional (s-e) well-being, through the education system. But it’s got to be more than kids and education. The roots of our social issues are much deeper. A casual swim turned into a cliff dive into human development—murky! My personal passion has morphed into a big honkin’ project that targets whole-community well-being. Stay tuned.

Peter Gray is no stranger to those who are into education improvement. They’re all good, but two of his articles really grabbed me. In The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It Gray makes the case that children learn the most valuable lessons with other children, away from adults. He explains that children are biologically designed to grow up in a culture of childhood. But we’re bound and determined to go against that natural design.

In Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education, Gray likens the current education system to a compulsory prison sentence.  Harsh, right? Accurate? Pretty much.

It’s much bigger than the education system, and the larger issues are daunting. Many of the social problems adults face are not just rooted in but are shared with childhood. Parenting and the education system, private sector management and organization, social norms, even government…all are impacted by the same forces that are working against our human nature.

One section of Gray’s “Culture” article is subtitled “The adult battle against cultures of childhood has been going on for centuries.” So has a brutal war against adult individuality, creativity, fulfillment and the ability to develop to our full potential. Pink Floyd had it right in Brick in the Wall, the movie excerpt is prophetically dark.

The Floyd Boys didn’t consult with me, so I don’t know for sure if it was by intent. But the song pertains to a whole lot more than kids and the education system. We’re all bricks. Docile, content, mediocre people are much easier to control. Good enough students, good enough employees, good enough soldiers, good enough citizens. But good enough isn’t good enough. We’re collectively being held back from greatness and some feel (I’m one) it’s actually become a survival of the species issue.

The war against children’s culture started in earnest with Francke’s system of compulsory schooling in Prussia, in the late 17th century, which was subsequently copied and elaborated upon throughout Europe and America. Francke wrote, in his instructions to schoolmasters: “Above all it is necessary to break the natural willfulness of the child. While the schoolmaster who seeks to make the child more learned is to be commended for cultivating the child’s intellect, he has not done enough. He has forgotten his most important task, namely that of making the will obedient.” (Gray)

In the early 20th century Frederick Taylor opened another huge skirmish line to break the human will in the exploding industry sector, with his theory of scientific management. “Taylor’s philosophy focused on the belief that making people work as hard as they could was not as efficient as optimizing the way the work was done.” (a simple exploration)

Taylor advocated breaking physical tasks down into the most basic elements possible, throwing an army of mindless man-machine laborers at the work. No thinking needed, just do the same exact task over and over and over. “The Principles of Scientific Management” was published in 1909, and Franck’s factory model of education was the perfectly efficient machine to produce ample bricks in the wall.

The attributes of a children’s culture are vital elements of human nature, not just for young people. Those attributes also have a great impact on adults in their parenting role as well as at work and in society. But they have been stifled. Who needs all that stuff since we’re destined for prison anyway?

School and Work—Life Sentence, No Chance for Parole

Here is a very brief summary of Gray’s reasoning that forced education is prison. I’m buying the whole package with one slight twist…the same issues are prevalent in the workplace and in society. It’s a scary thought: we’re born into incarceration and we die that way.

(one) Denial of liberty on the basis of age, and compulsory movement of an entire group of inmates (sorry, students) as they get older, provided they comply with the conditions of each sentencing period. Passing out of a grade, early probation for good behavior, valuing capability over tenure is rare. The system won’t allow it, isn’t geared up to process one-off exceptions.

(two) Fostering of shame on the one hand, and hubris on the other. Non-stop testing, formal and informal evaluations, observations, grading…all promote peer pressure and competition, coercion and admonishments from parents, teachers, management. Students and employees are either proud or ashamed of their performance, either self-assured or full of angst over their status.

(three) Interference with the development of cooperation and nurturance. Humans are social creatures; we are naturally wired to cooperate with and nurture others. But our competition -based system of ranking and grading works against the cooperative drive…helping others may even hurt the helper. (Gray, Forced Education). Further, age segregation eliminates opportunity for older to younger nurturing and increases bullying. The human tendency to care for and help each other is inhibited at an early age and these inhibitors’ damages continue through adulthood, into the workplace and society.

(four) Interference with the development of personal responsibility and self-direction. Command and control management is rooted in contemporary teaching and parenting practices. Childhood, education and employment are all incredibly disempowering when teacher, parent and boss all resort to “because I said so, that’s why!” It’s easy to fall into a comfort zone: waiting for orders and blindly complying to them. Initiative is effectively squelched, leaving behind compliance, complacency, mediocrity, lost potential. A powerful lesson: ”if you do what you are told to do in school everything will work out well for you.” (Gray) By the same token if you shut up, do your job at work and obey the law you’ll keep drawing a paycheck. You may even stay out of jail.

(five) Linking of learning (and work!) with fear, loathing, and drudgery. Along with our adventurous spirit, we’ve lost our joy. Tests generate anxiety in most….threats of failure and the shame associated with failure generate enormous anxiety…a fundamental psychological principle is that anxiety inhibits learning (Gray) Anxiety also dead-ends creativity and productivity and can lead to dangerous levels of emotional and physical stress. Lesson learned: “you must do your work before you can play” (Gray) …”how can ya have any pudding if ya don’t eat yer meat?” (Floyd)… “this report is due, don’t go home until it is.” (insert-kahuna-name-here)

(six) Inhibition of critical thinking. Even though building critical thinking skills is a stated priority in education, “most students—including most ‘honors students’—learn to avoid thinking critically.” The grading system is a huge barrier as students understand the real goal at school is to get good grades. Period. They quickly learn that the way to do that is to figure out what answers the teacher wants to hear, no matter what the student thinks. Sounds a little like the workplace doesn’t it?

(seven) Reduction in diversity of skills, knowledge and ways of thinking. Only the tiniest sliver of what is really needed out there in the real world can be even touched on in school. So our logical conclusion: everyone needs to study the same thing because we don’t have the resources to do anything else. Enter “standard curriculum”. Private sector entities, especially larger ones, are driven by the same standard practice principles, making it easier to expand managers’ spans of control. The overflowing cornucopia of individuals’ unique capabilities is homogenized, distilled, compressed into uniform bricks all who have an acceptable level of competency.

The factory model is so deeply rooted in our society and economy that we’ll play hell replacing it.

What Can Adults Learn From Kids? Can We Still Learn?

Peter Gray is a highly vocal and credible critic of forced education. He advocates alternative education methods of home schooling and unschooling, at the very least a drastic modification of current educational structures and methods. This really should be a Part Two, but a second Gray blog is just too interrelated to look at separately. Apologies for the length.

One Big AHA from Gray’s Children’s Culture  (also linked in the intro) is that the more adults learn from children and adapt their interactions with children to meet the children’s needs, the easier it will become to change our views and practices on “raising” kids in a manner that is a vastly better fit with kids’ natural wiring. Kids are better off raising themselves by interacting with their peers. So what is it about that peer interaction that works? Does it apply to adults too? I think so.

My first focus in processing Gray’s children’s culture piece was to make the connection between the elements of a children’s culture as they relate to the adult world: what can adults learn from children’s cultures? How can adopting more of a child’s perspective impact individual learning and group dynamics at home, at work, in society?

I figured it might be a bit of a stretch. But it makes perfect sense. Some children’s culture attributes we already know as elements of effective group behavior but we simply choose to ignore them because “we’re all grown up now and things are different”. Subverting natural human attributes is doing a great deal of harm not just to kids, but all ages.

Gray’s thoughts are noted by bold italics. I’ve added some ideas on adult relevance for parenting and family relationships, and work and in society.

For starters: Children are biologically designed to pay attention to the other children in their lives, to try to fit in with them, to be able to do what they do, to know what they know. That, in a nutshell, is the most powerful key to effective group behavior, any group.

Children’s cultures can be understood, at least to some degree, as practice cultures, where children try out various ways of being and practice, modify, and build upon the skills and values of the adult culture.

Adult groups are in continuous growth and change mode, at least they had better be! The worst thing that can happen to any group is to stagnate or fail to adapt to the changing environment. The social-emotional health of the group is paramount. ACTION: groups must continuously monitor their interpersonal dynamics and values. Consider initiating a conscious, formal and frequent process of checking for values alignment, interpersonal barriers, any opportunity to learn and improve the group.

My family moved frequently, and in each village or city neighborhood to which we moved I found a somewhat different childhood culture, with different games, different traditions, somewhat different values, different ways of making friends. Whenever we moved, my first big task was to figure out the culture of my new set of peers, so I could become part of it. (Gray)

Individuals change, group membership changes. It sucks to be the new kid on the block, it still sucks as grownups. The new kid asks “who are these people, what do they expect of me? Will they like me? What am I supposed to do on this job?” One of my private sector roles was to help groups transition through changes in leaders, members, roles, assignments. But why wait to react to changes? Already noted: groups should proactively assess not just progress on their goals and meeting deadlines, but most importantly their dynamics. In doing so, any group’s odds of succeeding skyrockets.

Children learn the most important lessons in life from other children. Gray lists several key lessons. All are important and relevant, all are too rich to dissect into highlights here. Read the original!

  • Authentic Communication
  • Independence and Courage
  • Creating and understanding the purpose and modifiability of rules.
  • Practicing and building on the skills and values of the adult culture.
  • Getting along with others as equals.

A Common Thread

Several of Gray’s attributes of a children’s culture pertain to group dynamics and the individual’s efforts to fit in. The same thing is true in the adult world so this macro AHA applies equally to kids and adults whether in education, a work group or any social unit: the interpersonal dynamics of a group and its collective and individual s-e well-being must be elevated in importance for any group to flourish.

It can’t be individual effort from a newcomer or the group’s leader. The whole group must be mindful that without the right interpersonal dynamics and without a high level of individual and whole-group social-emotional well-being, any group will struggle to stay cohesive and meet its goals. When the team wins every player wins. Exceptional teams even strengthen the entire league. That is vastly different from the “me” focus where the best students get scholarships and awards, and in the private sector where promotions are won or lost based on which individual looks most impressive.

This isn’t just about small groups. The same is true for the collective well-being of communities. We’re talking about global society – a network of interconnected individual communities separated only by distance and bound by shared human values and awareness of our global brotherhood.

Crazy Issues Call For Radical Response

It’s ironic. To reach our full human potential it seems we need to unlearn lots of preconceived notions we’ve formed while “growing up”. We pretty much need to relearn how to behave more like children.

There’s a lot of work to do to unseat the deeply held beliefs we have about parenting, to turn away from the factory model of forced education, to counter the traditional principles of workplace boss / follower management, to get rid of the worn-out rugged individualism of the cowboy culture and to replace it with a cooperative, collaborative children’s culture. It truly takes a village, one village at a time. That’s been the evolving focus of the Caring Communities project.

The thought is painful –our humanity is being drained from us, leaving behind empty shells of compassion-challenged, bigoted and hateful creatures. But it’s a self-inflicted illness and it is in our power to kill or at least slow down the mojo-sucking parasite. Education and work systems combined with a fast-food lifestyle beyond diet are partially responsible for the physical, mental and emotional social issues plaguing us. I’ve long thought that resolution starts with children, that we need to carefully guide them along a path of shared human values. Maybe that would help bring us out of this values-challenged skid. But how can we send an army of young, hopeful converts to the new religion out into a hostile land of godless heathens? We can’t realistically expect seeds of genuine compassion and caring to grow in our children when we are sowing those seeds onto barren, toxic soil.

Pipe Dream?

The Caring Communities project promotes social-emotional development for all ages. The intent is to have an impact on making humanity human again through providing readily available support and materials to build a stronger society one community at a time. Standard Quixote save-the-world stuff. More to come, promise.

Coming Soon: More Hugely Radical Future-Perfect Musings

This dovetails into an all-work-no-play  (huh?). Check it out if you’d like