Struggle

Honest love is born from the struggle / it’s lived in the valley as much as the hill

Mark Stone

I saw a young man driving a supercar in Vancouver – he was too young, I thought, to have earned it – and I thought “poor guy.”

In giving him the world on the plate, I realised, his parents had rendered his life weightless: too light winning makes the prize light. His wealth had robbed him of something priceless.

This raises all sorts of questions about the good starts, leg-ups and help we give to others.* Looking back, how much struggle would you have chosen? How much would have been good for you?

*Education and training, community development and parenting are the first three areas that spring to mind.

Debt to society

If you want to talk about our debt to society – the question of what we owe the other people who share our culture, and share the planet with us – it’s helpful to start with this: without other people, you’d be dead. Even if you’d somehow managed to be born on your own, without other people you’d never have made it.

But ‘debt to society’ is the wrong way to frame it. It helps to think less about giving-up-what-is-rightfully-ours because of what we owe (though we do), or because we feel guilty or obliged (though perhaps we should), or because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t (though there might be good reason for this).

What do we want?

Let’s talk instead about contributing towards what we want, and the benefits we might expect to enjoy if we lived in a kinder, more generous society. A society – just for example – in which as many people as possible get a leg-up when they’re just starting out (by being born, or starting school, or starting their careers), and the hand-up that makes all the difference when they’re down. We know that these things don’t just make it better for other people’s kids, but for our kids.* A better society is better for all of us: no-one wants unhealthy, poorly educated, tormented neighbours. (And no-one wants selfish neighbours either).

We all do want human flourishing, and most of us want it for everyone. We don’t even disagree that much about what it looks like, just about how to achieve it** and sustain it. And most people want to contribute towards achieving it.

Better

If we focus on “better”, if we say the words and describe it, it becomes much easier for people who usually disagree with us to say, “Actually, I want that too – but I think we’ll get it by doing this...” And it becomes easier for us to agree to try one way, then the other – or to find a different, better way.

And focusing on contribution towards building something better is a great story. We can feel good about what we’re giving, a part of what we’re building, and hopeful about what we’re moving towards.

*And at the end of the day, they’re all our kids.
**Perhaps particularly about whether a
flourishing life is something that can be given.

How tools spread

How do tools – ideas and understandings, practices, and real physical tools – get to the people who need them?

Some tools may only need to be seen to by copied and spread. A tool will spread if it is:

  • Visible – people need to see it (or hear, or read about it)
  • Beneficial – people need to see that the tool brings benefits too
  • Acceptable – isn’t in some way taboo*
  • Doable – simple enough to understand and apply
  • Accessible – people can get hold of what they need to start using it
  • Affordable – in terms of the physical, mental and emotional resources** and time needed to learn or use the tool

Further reading:

*Taboos may prevent one or both of the first two from happening
**”Can I afford the social or emotional costs of using this tool? Is it worth it?”
***The copyright section of which reads as follows:

You have permission to post this, email this, print this and pass it along for free to anyone you like, as long as you make no changes or edits to its contents or digital format. In fact, I’d love it if you’d make lots and lots of copies. The right to bind this and sell it as a book, however, is strictly reserved.

Scrapbook: Niall Ferguson on culture, text-for-profit, libraries, search and literacy

Niall Ferguson was speaking at the Long Now Foundation, responding to a question from Stewart Brand about how ads and the profit-motive influenced the nature of search and the internet echo-chamber.

Google and Facebook in particular are platforms driven by user-engagement and time-on-platform (the source of their ad revenue) and as a result tend to give us more of what we like or agree with already, filtering out sources that might challenge our views. 

If you look back on the way the printing press developed, there was a for profit wing that ultimately did finance itself by selling ads, and it evolved into newspapers and magazines.

But that was only a fraction of all the printed content that was out there. Most printed content was accessible free through things called libraries, and libraries were non profit.

Public libraries gradually began to spread in the protestant realms because remember, Protestantism insisted on literacy. A country like mine, Scotland, went from very low literacy to very high literacy because of the reformation. Schools had libraries. Books were regarded as a public good. And this meant that most printed content was not provided by profit making institutions. It was essentially free, and crucially, catalogued in increasingly effective and – I’ll call them objective – ways.

Anybody who’s spent time in one of the great libraries of the world, say the Cambridge University Library, knows that the books are sorted in such a way that you find the book that you’re after, and next to it are books on similar topics. This is an incredibly valuable thing if you’re doing serious research. 

Google is not like that. You may think that Google is like that, but you’re wrong, because that is not how search works…

Niall Ferguson – The Long Now Foundation – Networks and Power

Deep literacy: Kevin Kelly on more than reading

… producing books with ease on Gutenberg’s press did not fully unleash text. Real literacy also required a long list of innovations and techniques that permitted ordinary readers and writers to manipulate text in ways that made it useful. For instance, quotation symbols make it simple to indicate where one has borrowed text from another writer. We don’t have a parallel notation in film yet, but we need one.

Once you have a large text document, you need a table of contents to find your way through it. That requires page numbers. Somebody invented them in the 13th century. Where is the equivalent in video?

Longer texts require an alphabetic index, devised by the Greeks and later developed for libraries of books. Someday soon with AI we’ll have a way to index the full content of a film.

Footnotes, invented in about the 12th century, allow tangential information to be displayed outside the linear argument of the main text. And that would be useful in video as well.

And bibliographic citations (invented in the 13th century) enable scholars and skeptics to systematically consult sources that influence or clarify the content. Imagine a video with citations. These days, of courses we have hyperlinks, which connect one piece of text to another, and tags, which categorise using a selected word or phrase for later viewing.

All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, remix ideas, quote experts, and sample bits of beloved artists.

These tools, more than reading, are the foundations of literacy.

Kevin KellyThe Inevitable

Seth Godin: Homeschooled (2)

There are choices that parents make all the time. They range from enlisting your kid in a team sport that’s based on compliance, instead of encouraging them to engage in an individual sport that’s based on establishing standards and then surpassing them.

Or perhaps it’s about setting a standard about what gets talked about at the dinner table. What tools are in your kids’ hands? Yes, you can afford that eighty-dollar tablet from amazon. Did it end up in your kids’ hands from the time they were two, eating chicken fingers in a restaurant and watching videos ’cause it’s more convenient?

How often are the kids in your family challenging the status quo of ideas and having intelligent conversations with you about what they think and why the think it?

How do we deal with failure?

How do we deal with challenges?

How old should a kid be before she publishes her first poem online?

Homeschooling kids in the afternoon, homeschooling kids at the weekend, doesn’t mean helping them get better at the test …

… we need to be significantly more overt in the culture we seek to create at home, and I don’t think we have to pull our kids out of school to do it. I think we have the chance to recognise they’re in school every time we’re with them.

Seth GodinAkimbo Connect the Dots

Learning between the lines

You can’t ever just teach one thing.

Whether we like it or not there’s always other stuff going on: we’re teaching what we think of our students, whether we value other people’s time or feelings, how we think we should speak to people, how a person might be in the world…

All the time – consciously or not, or both – teachers are sending messages about what it means to be at school, about what education is for, whether this stuff we’re learning is part of the thrill of a lifetime or a necessary chore.

We play a huge role in determining whether or not our students like school, and the qualities that we reward and emphasise – risk taking or obedience, creativity or following the script, delight or the humdrum, kindness or indifference or worse – shape our kids’ days and so – their futures.

As with so many things, what we do and how we do it speaks louder than what we say.

What are you teaching today?

What else will you be teaching?

Education for the future (5): tools and the wielder

Recap: a foundation for life

Education – formal education at least – is concerned with equipping people with tools: skills, knowledge and ideas that will empower them them to live a flourishing life and achieve their purposes in the world.

We’ve talked about the importance of sharing a vision of the flourishing life with our kids – the best that we are able to give – and a definition of success that includes writing their own definition.

We asked “Who are we empowering?” and looked at the importance of being aware that as we share knowledge and technical skills, we’re also shaping the people who will use them. Value-neutral education is impossible and undesirable – our kids need to learn values and ethics, and its far more important that they see these in action than hear them articulated, although both is best.

If we think of skills, knowledge and ideas as tools in a person’s hand, the questions so far are all about who will be wielding these powerful tools, and what we hope they’ll be wielding them for. 

Attributes

There’s a second set of important qualities I’m calling attributes. These are the qualities that determine how effectively a person might be able to use their tools for a given purpose. In ourselves and others, most of them lie within our influence but outside of our control. Here’s a shopping list, with a bit of repetition. The lines are blurry at best – values, attributes, and tools are very intertwingled – but I’m giving it a go.

  • A reflex to kindness
  • Determination – persistence – grit – and the will to succeed
  • A sense of hope
  • Mental robustness
  • Curiosity and a desire to learn
  • Creativity and resourcefulness
  • Integrity and ‘right honesty’ (blurring the line back into ethics here)
  • A love of fun
  • Physical health
  • Energy
  • Stamina
  • A positive but clear-eyed outlook – hope
  • Confidence
  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Positive regard and right respect for others
  • Empathy and compassion
  • An inclination towards teamwork and helping others
  • Reliability
  • Humility and the ability to receive help
  • Tact and social grace – courtesy and politeness
  • Self control
  • Diligence
  • Courage (“the virtue without which none of the other virtues matter”)
  • Assertiveness
  • Some balance between caring what others think and really not
  • Initiative
  • A sense of peace
  • A sense of humour
  • Gratitude

What have I missed?

**edited 05/12/2018 to add ‘a sense of humour’ – thanks to Mas K

Starting line

Where’s the starting line?

Sometimes we’re a few steps further down the track than the people we want to take with us:  we’ve given it more thought, we’ve done it before. We want it more.

We’re so keen to get people over the finish-line that we don’t notice that they’re still milling around at the start – or even that they’ve chosen to stay in bed.

How far away are you? How many steps backward will you need to take if you want to take them with you?

What do you need to communicate? What are the thousand other important things that you don’t?

When are you going to stop talking about techniques for crossing the finishing line and help them to put on their shoes?

 

*see also: Clarity. Simplicity. Focus.