Monthly Archives: July 2017

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?