Category Archives: The Greater Good

Ten. Again. Nothing. Again.

“Why do you drive yourself nuts over all this gloom and doom violence and murder? It is what it is, no matter what you think or say.”

Can’t accept it, can’t buckle under, can’t go numb. My hot buttons revolve around our kids and their future. Bullying, mass murders, apathy, stress, suicide…they deserve better, don’t you think? If I can nudge the needle just a little, I have to try. Move the needle, make a difference. The first step is awareness…help enough people understand and maybe care. A movement requires grass roots, a critical mass. We’re out there, somewhere.

All this nobody can do is drop my little pebbles into this one pond, and hope the ripples reach others. Even if I never know the effects I have to believe I’m making some kind of difference. How about you?

******

(real time) Oh great, another school shooting. I guess another rant is due. A broken record, but can’t get numb. Just had a school break, home long enough to find out about the Santa Fe, TX shooting. Ten more and counting. This time, the weapons of choice were a shotgun and handgun. IED’s too but none set off. Like the shooter was consciously trying to make a second amendment statement.

OK, maybe not by intent but that’s what is happening….”see, NOT an AR. And it’s not guns. It’s people”. Book it. And stay tuned for another lightning round of thoughts, prayers and outrage–an emotional gusher for an appropriate time then…. nothing. Again. (Update: not even two weeks later…this “event” came and went in a huge hurry. Numb)

After break, my classroom will be filling up again with 6th graders, and I can only hope that for now they are blissfully ignorant that more kids have been gunned down. It won’t ever happen here…will it?

Oh, but it could.  The kids in Santa Fe probably thought “never here”. They participated in the last protest.

I know myself well enough that I expect to have a hard time keeping it together every time I look at all the faces, kids I’ve watched get older for several years. What if….?

We’re in a science classroom. A big aquarium with a couple of painted water turtles is 3 feet away. One of them was on their rock sunning, and got startled…thumpity thump, splash. I’m on edge, I jumped. This sucks. If you haven’t been in a classroom lately, if you haven’t been painfully aware of the “what ifs” you can have no idea how this feels. I’m not a badass but I do know how I’d react if some nutjob tried to come after my kids. I think about it every day, first thing in the room it’s recon time, get the plan in place….this sucks.

Do something! Someone please….we all deserve, we all need better.

It won’t kill me to say it…it is NOT just guns, and gun control is not “the” solution—that’s just a band aid, but it’s one we need now. There, I said it OK?! It’s more than laws, policies, regulations. We cannot legislate values and ethics. We CAN use a little common sense to keep the wrong stuff out of the wrong hands. What is so stinking radical about that?

The highest priority is for long-term systemic preventive action, a resolution of this inhuman funk we’re in, starting very young in school and extending into the workplace and community, solidified in the family.

The most shocking issues: mass murders, gun violence especially in schools., followed by youth suicides. But also harassment, abuse, bullying; bias, bigotry, intolerance, hatred, polarization….HOW can we re-boot society’s ethical, values-based respect for each other and for human life?  What can we do to rediscover our humanity? It used to mean something to be an American. Now, we’re the worst of the worst.

We’re not having the right conversations, not exploring lasting solutions. We’re focused on using band-aids to fix things. Typical isn’t it? Is it because the social-emotional issues are too overwhelming? Still. ignoring the real issues is not the appropriate course of action. We need to get started. Somewhere, somehow. No other mission is more critical. And it should be simple, really….

Understand true root cause(s) -> Identify feasible interventions > Implement > Make systemic, coordinated improvements

Hold my beer, right?

People in Peril:  Excerpts from Mojo (itals)

It’s depressing but necessary to call attention to our human shortcomings. They are collectively overwhelming–we’re a mess. But we must more fully understand them. The issues have common roots; they’re one giant Gordian knot. So if we wield the right sword with the right concentrated effort we can slice the knot into pieces. Focus and effort…that’s “all” we need.

Our social, moral, ethical fabric is being torn to shreds, society is imploding. We’ve disconnected from our selves, each other, our environment, our basic human values. We’ve lost our humanity. We’re emotionally confused, socially isolated, ethically directionless. There’s apathy and disengagement at one extreme, and over-engagement, stress and burnout at the other. Both lead to physical health issues and emotional and social baggage. We desperately need realignment and emotional healing.

We need a visionary and ethical compass, we need compassion, we need to be part of a community that cares. But we don’t know where we’re going, and no one seems to have the ability to collectively get us back on track. Identity, community, principles and values, purpose and meaning are among the most powerful universal human drivers, right up there with love, compassion, the need to contribute to something meaningful. We’ve lost touch with those things, which has a lot to do with why society is self-destructing.

Our kids are in trouble, they’re killing themselves and each other…. The same transient blip of caring, same outpouring of thoughts and prayers magically appear every time we have yet another mass murder at a school, every time another child hurts badly enough to take their own life. But they go away. Until next time.

Out of control depression, anxiety, stress impacting kids, teens and adults alike. Death by Lifestyle. Killing ourselves and each other, both slowly and traumatically. It’s even visible….On your next trip to the store do a little people-watching. You’ll see good people soured on life, hopelessness and pain in their eyes or worse, nothing. Spirit drained, their demeanor screaming “I’m tired of this life!” Forgotten dreams, no purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment? Still, we keep isolating our Selves further from others and from being human, starting with how we raise and “teach” children into adulthood, and  the nature of work, the meaning of “success”. We’re in a constant struggle with our core human values, we’re denying our humanness. We self-inflict pain and do irreversible harm to others too. We floor it, stretching to hit 130mph in a broken down Yugo. And we wonder why we’re stressed out, miserable, killing our Selves physically and emotionally.

We’re unknowingly coerced into recklessly pursuing more and more “things” at any cost, while we juggle the demands of an endless list of urgent to-do’s. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human, paying a high price. When values and norms die problems crop up—unethical / illegal behavior, a myriad list of significant social issues, rudeness and other variations of treating each other like crap.

How did we get to such a dark, scary place?

Plenty of reasons, just a couple of starter thoughts….To me, a really big culprit is conspicuous consumption driven by capitalism without conscience. We’re brainwashed to buy, buy, buy well beyond our “needs” and beyond our means. We’re driven by Wall Street’s slick, scientifically perfected marketing onslaught.

The long-standing expectation to make sure our kids have it better is also driven by Wall Street. We take on two, maybe three jobs to deliver the goods. If we don’t we’re failures. In doing so, we rob our kids of what they really need: nurturing and love, freedom to be kids without any strings attached. We load them up with activities > shuffle them off to caregivers so we can get out there and earn, earn, earn > buy, buy, buy.

Adults obsess over STEM, driving kids toward what may be their greatest potential for earnings, but with no regard for what their real life’s passion may be. They are destined to become the hollow stares in the store, terminally miserable, another generation fully engrossed with buy, buy, buy. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

(More From Mojo)

We’ve Lost Our Humanity. Humans are by nature caring, compassionate, social / tribal. Bad behaviors are learned, and our toxic lifestyle and sick society are artificial creations; they are unnatural and incredibly destructive; Kids (big people too!) need to know they matter, that they make a difference in the world. People need purpose, vision, values and a community built on caring and compassion. Purpose, meaning, values, ethics cannot be legislated or otherwise mandated. All we can do is provide opportunities for discovery of Self.

Poor Information, Polarization. Deep ideological differences have polarized us. Misleading and dis-information have us paralyzed. Combine the two = rabid advocacy of issues / ideologies with positions supported by poor information. Who and what do you believe, who and what do you trust? No wonder we’re at each others’ throats.

So, where to start restoring our humanity? With young people? There’s plenty of rework to do with big kids too. Focus on kids in school, or adults in the workplace? The family unit? One community at a time? Society? Short answer….”Yes, all”. We’re in this together, we all need the same attention at the same time…ASAP.

What if?

I’ve been involved in developing a model of workplace prep for our future workforce, extending through working adults. Needed: systemic intervention, all of a community’s stakeholders playing an active role. “Real-world Prep School”…information is here:

(one) Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

(two) Potholes to Repair—Intersection of Education and Workplace

More critical than “systemic intervention” is the need to focus on the right things: People First, then process. If you don’t take care of people issues you will never, ever, achieve maximum “thing” results. It’s been studied, measured, verified, validated: how well people are socially and emotionally adjusted directly impact results. S-E well-being even affects physical wellness, and not just a little.

Last consideration: there’s a difference between an in-charge authority figure demanding compliance to marching orders, and developing full commitment to vision, mission and goals. One works considerably better than the other—academically, in the workplace, personally, socially….guess which?

Here’s a radical sci-fi epiphany: what if the right values, goals and actions were shared community-wide among education, employers and organizations, community members and even (gasp!) politicians? What if an entire community focused its efforts, all stakeholders on the same page? Synergy, reciprocation, constant reinforcement would kick in. The broader the ownership and collaboration, the greater the sustainable impact becomes. With a big enough lever, we can move the world.


An earlier blog has been referenced a bunch here, as the theme has been with me for some time. Go here, read the whole thing and let me know what you think…. Searching For Our Mojo

While you’re at it, all this social-emotional stuff is well represented in something I’ve been deeply involved in for years, engagement theory. Emotional intelligence, mindfulness, social-emotional development in education, and engagement…they’re all pretty much the same thing, the same basic human motivators and values. We ought to be able to leverage the similarities.  See Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots

 

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Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

I Had a Dream Last Night…

….a wickedly delicious dream. My small town had somehow pulled together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared community vision, ethics and goals. We had even taken significant coordinated actions with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. That alone was strange.

What is this thing called “Real World Prep School”? It looked like education, employers, parents, community, civic leaders—all the players—were doing their part, shifting delivery and budget burden away from the overextended education system. Collaborative needs analysis, co-design and delivery by employers, community leaders and educators ensured actual workplace needs were met. It was working…our town was booming! I saw a banner at City Hall, kind of a vision statement-looking slogan:

We are a vibrant, economically and emotionally prosperous community. Our model of development is a magnet for economic growth, attracting families with children, new employers, and working adults to our community.

A smaller wall chart beside the banner had the header “Shared Community Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “is this Utopia, or what?” At the very least it seemed to be a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow. The objectives:

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

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

Hold my beer, right?


Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the nasty issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been deeply involved in repairing potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education. There are many issues in the interface between the two, or more appropriately the lack thereof. While academic and workforce issues are well known, I’ve documented a few here. But first…Potholes to Repair: Intersection of Education and Workplace (go here and come back…will make more sense)

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

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

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

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

Real-world Prep School > Community Growth. RWPS is the education component of a broad social well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the macro focus, and it extends into the working adult population and the community’s families.

The Dream Grows Legs: Details

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

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

The RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector subject matter experts as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, providing course content unavailable in a traditional education curriculum, and tapping the private sector for much-needed subject matter expertise and adjunct resources.

STEM + SED: Target = Develop People and Save the World

Teaming and STEM-based project assignments are all that right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They have not had the soft skills development needed to ensure success.

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

Workforce Prep–More Than Job Skills

RWPS coursework is balanced between (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. People before process:

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

It is essential to balance how we prepare learners for the real world. Technology is here to stay, but so is the need for emotionally grounded people. The two are not a one-or-the-other proposition.

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

Employer WIIFM

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

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

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

Parting Shots

Workforce skills have been a long-time career focus. I saw the immediate need fifteen years ago and was closely involved in skills development. We also addressed demographic projections due to baby boomer retirements. RWPS is the original focus of my “career crowning achievement”. And I have a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from extensive involvement in the classroom, but especially because I’m a crazy grandparent who wants to leave behind a better world for my grand kids. RWPS and SED are a powerful combination that can re-engineer this broken society and world.

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

Here’s my greatest frustration. There is so much going on out there, huge initiatives and some of them are really, really good. But they may be just a bit off target here and there, and there’s no real concentrated focus driving things. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and in spite of lots of people with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening!

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

11-2017 New Model

Potholes to Repair— Intersection of Education and Workplace

 (Preface to Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?)

While academic and workforce issues are well known, I’ve documented a few heavy hitters here.

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

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

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

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

Paradigm Buster! It’s not just education’s responsibility. Why not some front-end partnering and ongoing collaboration, including delivery, among education, employers, and community?

Education and Workplace Prep Issues High school graduation rates are unacceptably low. Grads aren’t ready for college rigor or are unable to attend for various reasons. Our obsession with standard test performance and common core is under fire. The battle cry: “we need a new education model” but academia is painfully slow to change. It’s the nature of the education system.

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

Real-world Prep School (RWPS) is driven directly by employer-identified needs, so content is relevant and timely. The high school RWPS curriculum may therefore be of more value than a post-secondary academic degree.

Wait…There’s More

Economic, demographic and political issues all point to the need to take a different approach to preparing young people for their post-high school lives, especially how we prepare them for life itself and as future workers able to meet the moving target of workplace expectations.

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

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

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

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

Employers are part of the problem, imposing artificial “degree required” stipulations even for low-paying entry level positions. As RWPS is built around employer input, it provides pre-job skills training which could be of more value than a degree. Alignment is needed: collaborate with employers to determine realistic pre-employment job requirements: what knowledge and attributes would most likely ensure a new hire’s rapid assimilation?. While we’re at it, help people redefine “good career choice” (hint: “me” is key, not others’ expectations, and values-based is the key to “me”). We also need to redefine higher ed’s role: when is it of value and for whom / what career paths, and what should it consist of?

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

Case Study: Right Here In River City

A local legislator pointed me toward a state-wide education and workforce prep initiative, and some relevant in-process legislation. My original thinking has been critical and confrontational but as RWPS needs allies not enemies, focus must be “Improve on a Good Effort”! Future Ready Iowa (FRI) is here to stay, it’s established, but it can be better. It’s not that “nothing is getting done”.  FRI is a stellar example of good stuff developed by good people with good intentions. It just needs better focus. I am bound and determined to do what I can to help focus and bring this to meaningful action!  You can see the original here: Future Ready Iowa Alliance’s Final Recommendations. There are a few bumps in the FRI highway…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough

The Google Epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or search engine optimization.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded (Google) on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities. (see end: Wa-Po source)

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998.  Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle were the result.

“The seven top characteristics of success at Google are soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” (Project Oxygen report)

“Project Aristotle, a study released by Google (spring 2017), further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams.” Findings: “…the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Google people are masters at collecting and analyzing data and translating it into meaningful information. We’re so used to command and control, being shoved in a box, fear of failure…all disengaging and counter-productive…that it’s no surprise the top impact on team effectiveness was  psychological safety: “…a group culture that Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up…It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” (NYT source)

Project Aristotle has significant intersects with mainstream engagement theory. So all this is nothing new, no big secret. But how do you “do” psychological safety? Another way of saying it: what helps people feel comfortable with fully engaging? These Universal Engagers are a few proven “hows”.

We’ve known it for some time, but are so painfully slow to embrace the obvious. Unless you’re totally on your own or are work-at-home you’d best be good with people and be well adjusted socially and emotionally.  Google stumbled across the keys to organizations, effective teams and people leadership. The keys are standard practice non-secrets. What IS incredible is that a tech giant had this voluntary epiphany that soft stuff is at least as critical as tech skills!

Google is a tech giant, so Project Aristotle’s findings are likely to be relevant to the tech industry overall. Still, Education continues its obsession with filling the STEM hard skills pipeline. There’s still little attention given to social-emotional development, interpersonal skills, stuff for whole-life survival. Education needs to catch up in a hurry, and it wouldn’t hurt to partner with its customers in fully defining needs and meeting them. Our productivity and global competitiveness is at stake, as is quality of life and, even more importantly, our physical and emotional well-being, our love of being happy with our lives.

It’s A Man’s World (NOT!) Silicon Valley has been under fire for a grossly uneven gender playing field and recently, both covert and more subtle gender-based harassment and discrimination (search for “silicon valley good old boy culture” and look around). Remedy: a booster shot of decency in the form of social-emotional development…equal inclusion, understanding, respect, acceptance, dignity for all.

The Google Epiphany alone shouldn’t trigger a mad rush into a significant direction shift in education. But Project Aristotle isn’t the first or the only study to indicate the significance of soft stuff. From the Wa-Po article: Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers …which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization…

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

We cannot dump STEM entirely because we need 21st century technical skills to compete. But we can do better at balancing hard and soft. When should young people as potential employees be trained on specific, necessary hard skills? Each company / situation / position has unique needs and skills, and Education cannot possibly hit so many targets. Why not focus on prepping students to succeed in life in general, to cope with what they will face emotionally and on the job, to be able to adapt and quickly pick up on the specific skills they will need to be a high contributor…but only after the skill gaps are more clearly understood. Hire for the intangibles: potential, the right attitude, soft stuff mastery.

What’s at Stake, Really? From Social Science Fiction

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

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity.

Envision a company using its considerable influence to help provide a stabilizing force in the local community. Consider the impact on social issues if employees feel a sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, an island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence of their lives.

That community happens to be the company’s current and future talent pool. A forward-thinking company that champions the social-emotional well being of its host community would realize huge bottom line improvements. Not a hunch, it’s been validated over and over. Now, what if shared values were embraced throughout the community? All-community stakeholder alignment would exponentially boost isolated company impact. Conclusion: a broad collaboration to impact the greater good would boost our well-being, the social condition, and our economic prosperity.

Epiphany: capitalism’s Job One isn’t economic prosperity, competitive advantage or global market superiority—all outcomes—but to impact the human condition. People-first is a high-return endeavor that assures sustainable social-economic success and personal well-being.

Barriers

What S-E material should be used, and who will lead the charge? Good questions! There’s already an overabundance of material, but spotty half-hearted efforts. I’m concerned with what I’ve seen of social-emotional learning in education, and I’m also concerned with how a revitalized initiative would be handled. This is not a condemnation of education, just observations of the current state:

  •  Academia is not capable of real-time responsiveness to market needs for S-E or any other subject matter;
  •  No polite way to say it: educators can be a closed and protective group. As a result academia tends to suffer from inbred thinking, country clubbing, not-invented-here;
  •  Lack of funding is a huge constraint: no staff, no resources to give the necessary level of attention to soft stuff. Academic demands are stifling—educators’ hands are tied;
  •  S-E is more than a dinner garnish, it must be recognized as a main course;
  • Real-world practitioners are best suited to design and co-deliver real-world subjects. Even though the help should be warmly welcomed, Education would likely not embrace outsider meddling and would likely push back.

Education isn’t market or needs-driven, is slow to respond demanding validation, research, papered educator / expert design, academic rigor. How to sneak the Trojan Horse past the guards at the gate?

Resolution? We’ve missed the real-world skills target. Kids need much more in the social-emotional development a.k.a soft skills department. Employers have a vested interest, and we’d be improving the chances of kids having a much more fulfilling life. Proposed: don’t call it social-emotional development. Work around the associated baggage and NVA connotations by providing real-world prep skills. As such, it only makes sense for the future employers to step up to the plate and pull their weight.

Too Much of a Good Thing. Our STEM obsession is counter-productive and is potentially detrimental to young people who are herded into STEM education and careers regardless of their talents, passions and interests. We can do so much better for them, for ourselves, for the world.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.” (from the Wa-Po article)

SOURCES

The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students   Washington Post December 2017, by Valerie Strauss

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team  by Charles Duhigg Feb. 25, 2016

In Search of Lost Mojo: The Series   (lots of embedded links)

Loops

(this article is a high-level summary of an in-process pdf that is (will be!) linked here: Loops . Please take a look when it’s available and comment. Download the pdf if you’d like but if you share it please leave the  contact information intact so people can connect to discuss)

I’ve always been process-focused, a product of an environment in various private sector roles. Focus morphed over the past several years into education and whole-person human development. It was a natural progression to dive into systems thinking, especially causal chains, process interrelationships, reinforcing loops.

Senge took us on a loops deep dive in The Fifth Discipline, exploring all kinds of different archetypes. I was given a copy shortly after its release, and loved it. Systems purists and academics really glammed on to the whole “systems thinking” thing and the resulting gobble dee gook is, in my opinion, a huge roadblock to furthering systems awareness and everyday application.

Loops are closed causal chains: a sequence of events where one thing leads to another, “closed” because the chain eventually links back into itself. Per chaos theory, if you look out far enough any loop is closed. Closed loops are self-perpetuating, or reinforcing: they tighten and gain strength on their own. There are good loops, sometimes called virtuous circles, and there are bad loops-vicious cycles. Bad loops can be straightened out with awareness and action. Good loops can be leveraged and are usually a whole lot more fun!

My big take-away was, simplified here for mortals like me, loops. Add a few key points to go along with those loops. There’s a lot that needs to be learned and accomplished.

  1. People Needs—social-emotional development, well-being etc—rule the roost, validated by decades of study and data on engagement and impacts on academic and workplace performance data. Can’t optimize “doing things” results without first meeting people needs;
  2. Human development, personal satisfaction and maximizing performance are interrelated in one big, lifelong reinforcing loop;
  3. We’ve thrown a monkey wrench into things starting with the way we raise and educate our children, through our adult working lives. Self-imposed authoritarian systems and potential- limiting practices have drastically suboptimized our ability (our right!) to be all we can be.

Big deal, right? Yes it is. We’re causing our own mental and emotional challenges up to and including increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, suicides even among middle school children. Declining social health and spikes in significant social problems: opioid addiction, violent crime including mass murders, and intense rudeness and insensitivity…terminal redneck behavior. It’s fair to say our social fabric is tattered and torn, locally and globally. Emotional well-being, physical health and economic effects of these problems are profound.

Fall 2017 Impacts Profundity Update

We’ve been on a roll. Nationalism, race supremacy…random and planned lone wolf attacks. Most aren’t terrorists on jihad. ISIS is not the only group radicalizing, recruiting, hating. Newtown still wipes me out. And the Vegas slaughter was a whopper. Where do these people come from? Are there no warning signs? Neighbors and relatives said the shooter and his girlfriend were quiet, normal, stuck to themselves. So…why? My opinion: it comes down to chronic disconnection, self-imposed solitude. We’re social creatures and we must reunite with our tribe, badly. But that’s just part of it…..

Late addition, fall 2017: the huge spike in allegations of sexual harassment (see “Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass”)

Is the species simply dumbing down? From Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

It’s not just poor education or inadequate preparation for the workplace or not becoming an acceptable member of society. Go back to #2 and #3. We’ve become skilled saboteurs of the loop of development > satisfaction > performance that would potentially ensure we realize our potential.

One major monkey wrench: compulsory education and command and control work environment–authoritarian practices, precision amputation of children’s and adults’ ability to think creatively, to freely explore the world around them, to develop and fully utilize their human capabilities. (see School and Work–One Big Prison System.) We’re posing a substantial threat to our selves and doing irreparable harm, making these issues high priority to address. It’s tough to see the subtle relationships behind these issues without a systems thinking view.

A Loopy Vision: make a positive impact on the greater good, improving social well-being through values-based and environmental interventions in all sectors of the general population: home, school, work, community. (1) Build a broad base of grassroots awareness, support and involvement to ensure  across-the-board, all stakeholder engagement. (2) Study, understand and leverage shared motivators, perceptions, attitudes and values that originate with basic human nature. And, (3) realize and leverage the existence of loops to formulate a systemic action plan.

This is nothing but incoherent babbling without first envisioning a systems and loops perspective.

The Greater Good Loop: closed loops connect me and others and connect employers, communities and society. If we are aware of the loops, we can consciously leverage them.

Do you buy into the notion that the Private Self and the Work Self are distinctly separate people? Sorry, it doesn’t even make sense. We’re not two people, we can’t somehow magically switch between them. We’re at work for the lion’s share of our adult lives, so it stands to reason that personal norms and belief systems are impacted by the work environment. And workplace influence does not exist just at work; it carries over to personal, home, social environments. To isolate them is to push any conflict under the surface, but only temporarily. What would really help things is if employers understood the systems relationships and took an interest in making sure there was no opportunity for conflict within its people.

Our work life helps shape our personal lives. A community’s social well-being certainly impacts the workplace, the sustainability of organizations that exist within a community. And a company’s success and results are driven by its internal culture, which is the collective influence of the individuals who work there. These are all two-way streets. Work, society and me: one big reinforcing loop. It may be a virtuous circle, may be a vicious cycle. One leads to prosperity, the other to failure.

https://onepondripples.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/virtuous-circles-aka-reinforcing-loops/

Organizational Loops: People Generate Profit (gasp!)

It’s human nature to search for a connection, to belong to something bigger than “me”. An employer is very probably the most influential force in peoples’ lives, just because of the amount of time we spend at work. Organizations and their leaders are capable of exerting significant influence not just on employees, but on the surrounding community through their employees.

Consider the potential of an organization with a strong values base and principles-centered, ethical leadership that helps people feel a sense of purpose, belonging and stability, people with something to care about. Think about the impact on social issues when employees have a strong sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, a values-anchored island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence around them.

Oh, the bottom line…a company with a winning sustainability strategy has values and principles-based organizational expectations for leaders and followers alike, and sets its sights on being a normalizing force in the community. Doing so beefs up the local talent pool, and the existing workforce is highly engaged. There is an encyclopedia full of studies that validate the direct relationship between level of engagement and performance.

Teaser: it should go without saying: community activism builds a strong democratic society. Later.

What About “Me” Loops?

My work environment and society both continuously shape me, that’s easy to buy. But the thought that it’s a two-way street is a bit tougher to embrace. You’re telling me my company and even society is impacted by me? Only when I mess up really bad! Truth: balanced, personally aligned individuals impact both the workplace and society. A culture and its norms are depend on people with strong values who, by intent or accidentally, impact others. So collectively, we enable culture to survive and thrive. DANGER: this could instead be a toxic culture. Both are self-sustaining, reinforcing loops.

Individual community members are the foundation of society, therefore culture. As the workplace influences people, employers have a direct and significant influence on community social well-being. Employer impact potential is much broader than an individual’s, impacting an entire region’s or even country’s ethical foundation, economic stability, way of life, quality of life. The collective influence of people undeniably shapes company culture. So no matter how insignificant an individual’s impact may seem, the reality is more than a bit humbling:

My values and integrity have direct influence on society’s norms!

There are three levels of proven payback from social-emotional well-being:

  1. Individuals: less stress and longer, healthier lives with greater personal satisfaction;
  2. Social problems: well-being in general is an amazing antidote and it’s preventive vs reactive;
  3. Companies and the economy overall: a highly engaged workforce is more productive. Oh, and that physical health thing…have you seen the cost impacts of health issues lately?

At least one of these are wildly important things for most of us. They should all be, because of the  Me > Community > Employer loop, but it goes deeper. A closer look…

Social Impact: the Greater Good

The main traditional socializing institutions where norms are established and reinforced—church, education, family—have all lost impact on influencing people. Social development and norming are not good to leave to natural evolution, but there is a huge void in the socializing process.

People need a sense of community, of belonging to something larger than they are. The workplace has a chance to reach people on a regular basis and people will gladly embrace what the workplace offers. But it’s the reciprocating nature of influence within our personal and our employer’s virtuous circle that is the scary proposition:  how can we as individuals and even a large, powerful company, expect to influence society? The real question:

How much are individuals and companies willing to commit to impacting society?

The potential is limitless but there are both risks and rewards. No company can survive long-term without a vibrant community. No community can exist without solid norms. Communities with staying power eventually become the building blocks of culture. Communities, even entire cultures, without a solid base are destined to crumble and fall. I take that back…what risks? A sure bet?

The workplace influences me, I influence my workplace and environment. The workplace and individual both impact social well-being. We need to better understand the interdependencies, whether we have earned calling them virtuous circles or reinforcing loops. Key components: engagement and well-being; satisfaction and contribution, (maybe explored later in greater depth in TWO: Loops and the Greater Good.)

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?