Twitter and the Real World

I’ve never noticed as great a disconnect between Twitter and the real world as I do now.

I’m not sure if the divergence has grown over time, or if I’m just more plugged in to Twitter than I used to be so I notice it more. But the real world and the Twitter world are now two entirely different places. So different that they hold mutually exclusive descriptions and assumptions about the state of the world at any given time.

I joked yesterday that my neighbors are much more sane right now than Twitter people, and wondered if any of them are also Twitter people when I’m not looking.

So great is the disconnect between every social surface in real life and Twitter that I can’t help but wonder who the Twitter people are when they’re not on Twitter. Do they morph back into the normal people I experience out in the world? Or am I just experiencing two completely different sets of people, and they’d be the same online or off? Am I a different person on Twitter than in real life? I hope not.

My Twitter feed is fairly broad and generous. I follow quite a few people (over 1,500), I’ve never muted or blocked anyone, and I’ve only ever unfollowed maybe half a dozen or so. I like having a snapshot of a pretty broad set of people. The bulk of the feed are people either interested in startups, education, careers, personal freedom, entrepreneurship, cryptocurrency, the NBA, human liberty, or parodies of the same. There are other random accounts, but most would be strongly identified with one of those buckets.

Until about the last 6-12 months, I’d say on average my Twitter feed was pretty consistently more reasonable, logical, commonsensical, and intelligent than the real world people I interact with. On average, it’s a more technical, autodidact, curious, and dynamic group than most of the flesh and blood people in my neighborhood, at the grocery store, etc. So the Twitter people tended to have what I thought was a more reasonable take on most things.

That has completely flipped.

My normie neighbors are now quite reasonable compared to the more intellectual Twitter people in my feed. By a long shot. Something weird has happened on Twitter. It used to be that there were very unreasonable corners of Twitter, but the bulk of my feed was people poking fun at them for this. Now I’m hard pressed to find any reasonable quarters of Twitter at all. And anyone poking fun is in danger of some serious social censure. It’s disconcerting.

Twitter people seem like the most frightened, panicky, unreasonable brewd imaginable, capable of tolerating or advocating almost anything, no matter how inhumane and dark, if it allays their pet fears. And it seems to be re-enforced by the very intelligence that once made them more reasonable than the common folk.

Maybe when times are good, intelligent people are better. Maybe when times are bad, intelligent people are worse.

I don’t know, but for the first time in my life, I am somewhat troubled about most of the people I enjoy reading and following. They seem to me to be becoming the monsters they decry, while my neighbors, who mostly remain blissfully unaware of monster potential at all, aren’t becoming any worse.

Maybe it’s a return from two weeks unplugged that makes it more stark. Either way, my relationship to Twitter has changed. It’s not nearly as fun and full of open curiosity and play as it was. I still like it. I’m still using it (at least for now), but I have a more hardened, distanced experience than I did.

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Yale Study: Vast Majority of High Schoolers Unhappy at School

Most high school students are not happy at school. A new study by Yale researchers finds that nearly three-quarters of high schoolers report negative feelings toward school. The study surveyed more than 20,000 high school students in all 50 US states and found widespread dissatisfaction at school across all demographic groups, with girls reporting slightly more negative emotions than boys. According to Yale co-author Zorana Ivcevic,

It was higher than we expected. We know from talking to students that they are feeling tired, stressed, and bored, but were surprised by how overwhelming it was.

The Yale findings, which were published in the most recent edition of the academic journal Learning and Instruction, echo previous conclusions about young people’s attitudes toward school. According to a 2016 Gallup student poll of nearly one million children from approximately three thousand different schools, enthusiasm for school dropped dramatically between fifth grade and twelfth grade.

In another large-scale 2003 study, psychologists tracked several hundred elementary and secondary school students over the course of a week. The students wore watches that signaled them several times a day to record, at that moment, what the students were doing and how they were feeling. The results revealed that children were unhappiest while they were at school, and happiest when out of school.

Is There a Better Way?

Perhaps these results are not surprising. School isn’t supposed to be fun, right? Kids have to deal with the drudgery of school, buckle down, and do the work because that’s life. Or so the thinking goes. What a horrible message to send to children, and to internalize ourselves: Life is drudgery, work is drudgery, and the sooner people learn this in school, the better off they will be.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For young people who are educated outside of forced schooling environments, learning can be engaging, rewarding, and yes, fun. Free to pursue passions, explore talents, and set individual goals, young people who learn without schooling or who are educated in other non-coercive learning environments, retain and expand their curiosity and autonomy.

It’s the lack of freedom and personal agency that leads to negative emotions toward school or life. When individuals are empowered to take charge of their living and learning, negativity diminishes.

Parents should take seriously these negative emotions in their adolescents, particularly as youth anxiety, depression, and suicide continue to soar. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found a correlation between adolescent suicidal thoughts and actions and school attendance, reporting that these tendencies decline during the summer months and spike at back-to-school time. This is an opposite pattern to that of adults, who experience the highest rates of suicide during the summertime.

In sharing the results of their latest survey on high schoolers’ negative feelings toward school, the Yale researchers suggest that later school start times might help by allowing young people more time for sleep; but this merely puts a Band-Aid on a much deeper wound. Teenagers don’t like school because their freedom is tightly controlled, they are micro-managed by adults, and they have no or little input in what, how, where, or with whom they learn. On the brink of adulthood, teenagers are increasingly treated like toddlers.

Not only is it dangerous to dismiss adolescents’ antipathy toward school as normal and expected, it avoids an honest look at the impact of coercion on human flourishing. When people are free, they thrive; with force, they flounder.

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Jojo Rabbit: A Choice Between Authentic and False Community

“You’re not a Nazi, Jojo. You’re a ten year-old kid who likes dressing up in a funny uniform and wants to be part of a club.”

Jojo Rabbit

“Love is the strongest thing in the world.”

“I think you’ll find that *metal* is the strongest thing in the world, followed closely by dynamite, and then muscles.” 

Jojo Rabbit

You know it’s a good movie when you clap spontaneously, laugh like a maniac, and feel your heart torn to shreds in the same two-hour stretch.

Jojo Rabbit is that movie.

Saw it last night and have a lot to say about it. If you haven’t seen this wonderful movie, stop reading, watch the trailer, and get your tix. If you have seen it and want to discuss, keep reading.

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SPOILERS BELOW

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This is a movie about the choices between authentic living and belonging and the false kinds of life and belonging offered in conformity to the mass. In this case, that mass is totalitarian Nazi Germany’s obedience and death cult.

The Default: Belonging to the Mad Collective

The movie starts with young Johannes (Jojo) heading off to summer camp to “become a man,” (despite not being able to tie his own shoes) sprinting away to the delightful tunes of The Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” in German.

Turns out summer camp is more like a Hitler Youth training camp for 10 year-old soldiers. The sad (and hilarious) absurdity of the Nazi’s doomed experiment is quickly apparent, even though Jojo tries to go along with it all.

But he refuses to do one thing: when ordered to kill a defenseless rabbit, he refuses. That earns him the nickname “Jojo Rabbit” from the older Hitler Youth bullies in one of the first scenes of overt monstrousness. In an attempt to strike back, Jojo decides to double down on the “brave Nazi warrior” thing and wounds himself with a grenade.

We see that Jojo is evidently different. He is gentle. He is sincere (if sincerely brainwashed). And he isn’t exactly fitting in – he has precisely one real friend.

Did I mention his other friend is an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler?

Jojo heads into this story longing for acceptance and belonging in the suicidal death cult that is his culture. It’s hard to imagine that so many other kids shared the same backdrop for growing up, but that’s why this film is so important.

The Choice

We soon learn about one big reason for Jojo’s decent heart.

His mother Rosie (played by Scarlett Johansson) is a woman of kindness, independence, ferocity, humor, and imagination. In other words, she is everything the Nazis are not. Humor and imagination are bulwarks against tyranny in Rosie’s home, and her playful, loving interactions with Jojo are some of the most touching moments in the film.

We also learn that Rosie is part of the German resistance, and (much to Jojo’s horror) she is hiding a young Jewish girl in Jojo’s deceased sister’s bedroom.

Determined to write a book on Jewish people (all the better to defeat them, to his mind) Jojo begins to get to know the young woman, whose name is Elsa. Terror turns into curiosity, curiosity turns into tolerance, and tolerance turns into friendship – and later a serious crush.

As Germany falls apart in the latter days of the war, Jojo experiences a central transformation: from imaginary friendship (with Hitler) to his true friendship with Elsa. He finds true belonging in a human relationship with an unconquered individual with a rich inner life. At the same time, the false sense of belonging in the world of Nazi-dom loses its luster.

Then Rosie is hung for her participation in the resistance, and the Nazi dream (nightmare, rather) of Germany is falling apart all around Jojo’s ears. Kids, civilians, and old German shepherds (actual shepherds, not dogs) are conscripted to defend the city in a last desperate fight. Little boys who stayed in the “club” of the Hitler Youth are used as cannon fodder – a horrifying look at where inauthentic “belonging” ends up.

Authentic Living and Belonging

When the dust settles, Jojo and Rosie have each other. And though Jojo is afraid, he makes the decision to set Rosie free.

Before he does so, a brain-spattered Hitler – once his imaginary friend – warns him that unless he chooses the totalitarian way, he will end up in a “desert of insignificance.” It’s notable how the affable and goofy Hitler of Jojo’s earlier imagination has become something truly worthy of hatred and resistance.

Jojo responds appropriately: he kicks imaginary Hitler out the window with a well-placed foot to Nazi nuts.

In a perfect closing of a loop, he ties one of Elsa’s shoes for her as she prepares to step outside.

And then they dance.

Jojo goes from being his society’s false idea of “being a man” to “doing what he can” (as good a definition of true manhood as any).  Elsa, who had a childhood denied to her, found her imaginative inner life in Jojo and now takes a step into free womanhood in the outside world.

But more importantly, both found what it meant to live authentically and to belong authentically.

This movie shows life’s resilience and beauty despite tremendous evil. Rosie knew that:

“As long as there’s someone alive somewhere then they lose.” 

When evil seems most powerful, we all have to remember to keep our inner lives alive, as Rosie did, as Elsa did, and as Jojo did.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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How Micro-School Networks Expand Learning Options

Technology has the potential to decentralize K-12 education and make it more learner-directed, upending a top-down system in favor of individual autonomy and self-determination. But the technology can’t do this alone. It requires a learning environment that fosters creativity and curiosity, using digital platforms and supportive adults to facilitate exploration and discovery. The entrepreneurial educators at Prenda, an Arizona-based network of micro-schools, think they have uncovered the right mix of powerful technology and warm, nurturing learning spaces that could help to transform education.Like many education innovations, Prenda began with a parent who was looking for something better for his child.

Like many education innovations, Prenda began with a parent who was looking for something better for his child. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kelly Smith sold his software company in 2013 and moved back to his hometown of Mesa, Arizona, where he began hosting weekly, after school computer coding clubs for his eight-year-old son and other children at the local public library. The enthusiasm for these clubs swelled, and before long Smith was supporting code clubs in libraries across the country, reaching over 10,000 children in 30 states. “The energy of these code clubs was astonishing,” Smith recalls.

Smith estimates that he personally worked with about 2,000 children during his time of running the code clubs and he was increasingly fascinated by his observations about how people learn. “Learning is a very different thing when a human being wants to learn something than when a human being doesn’t want to learn something,” says Smith.

I would watch these kids come to the club complaining about how much they hated school and how they were bad at math and then I would see them figure something out in computer programming that was much harder than anything their teacher would ask them to do.

He began to see the importance of free will and choice in learning. Smith continues:

My experience and my kids’ experience in traditional education is that it was things done to you against your will. You may do fine, some kids do fine, but you’re not really going to learn unless you choose to learn. There is this agency, this humanity, at the bottom of it. It may sound fluffy but it’s a profound insight.

The Micro-School Movement

Smith started to wonder what would happen if school were like his coding clubs, fostering agency and eagerness for learning, without coercion. In January 2018, he launched Prenda to create the type of school he envisioned. Prenda is part of the larger micro-school movement, an educational shift occurring over the past decade in which entrepreneurs and parents create intimate, mixed-age learning spaces, often in homes or local organizations.

A blend between homeschooling and private schooling, micro-schools retain the curriculum freedom and schedule flexibility characteristic of homeschooling, while relying on paid teachers to facilitate the classroom experience. Micro-schools are typically a fraction of the cost of a private school and educate no more than 10 to 15 students at a time. Prenda, for example, caps enrollment at about 10 students per classroom with one teacher, or “guide” as they call them, and costs $5,000 per child per year.

Prenda began in Smith’s home with seven children spanning kindergarten to eighth grade, with a focus on self-directed learning tied to mastery in core academic subjects. As the children’s excitement for learning grew and more parents became interested in Prenda, Smith built an integrated software platform to support and scale his emerging model. The software emphasizes three broad, daily categories of interaction and introspection: Conquer, Collaborate and Create. In Conquer mode, the learners set daily goals for mastery in basic skills, such as reading, writing, math, and other core subjects.

The students use various online learning programs, including Khan Academy, No Red Ink and Mystery Science to build competency, and the Prenda software helps to track their progress against their personal goals. In Create mode, the learners work on individual projects, while Collaborate mode emphasizes group projects, Socratic group discussions, and critical thinking and reasoning skills in core subject areas. The Prenda software buttresses these activities by offering resources and a structured framework for the guides, as well as tools and transparency for students and parents.

Today, Prenda micro-schools operate in 80 locations throughout Arizona, serving about 550 children. Smith expects to expand Prenda beyond the state, and double its enrollment, within the next year. He attributes Prenda’s massive growth over the past few months to the rising number of parents who are looking for alternatives to conventional schooling. Smith says:

It turns out that there are a lot of parents who are asking: Is the traditional approach to education going to do it for my child? Maybe their kid is doing fine, getting good grades, but in their eyes parents see the love of learning draining out of them.

Most of these parents are not interested in full-time homeschooling or some other unconventional path, says Smith, but the Prenda micro-school model offers the best of schooling and homeschooling. According to Smith:

I think the real reason we have been able to scale so quickly is that we are able to offer something that parents have been looking for.

Prenda San Carlos School

Some of those parents include members of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. Located in a rural section of the state, the education options available to the children on the reservation are limited. The reservation’s public schools consistently receive “F” ratings with the Arizona Department of Education, and student proficiency scores are strikingly poor, despite annual per-pupil spending of nearly $17,000 in 2018, or about 70 percent more funding per pupil than Arizona’s average of $9,900.

Two private, religious schools on the reservation provide alternative options for some Apache children, but most families have no choice but to send their children to the failing public schools or leave the reservation. “Arizona is leading the way in school choice and charter schools,” explains Cota. “It’s crucial we keep this going.”For Jeremiah Cota, a tribal member, this was unacceptable. In August he helped to launch two Prenda classrooms on the San Carlos reservation using borrowed church space. The school currently serves 22 students, with the goal of expanding to meet mounting parent demand.

Cota, who grew up on an Arizona Apache reservation, says that many parents in tribal communities are frustrated by their limited options. At an information session he hosted at the San Carlos reservation before opening Prenda, more than 200 parents showed up, concerned mostly about ongoing bullying and safety issues in the public schools. They were also frustrated by a lack of academic rigor and a curriculum that lacked cultural relevancy. “Parents thought their only other option was to send their children off the reservation, but we can do this here in our community,” says Cota.

We can have ownership. We can have a world-class education that’s culturally appropriate, that’s within our own context.

The flexibility of the Prenda model allows for both academic rigor and a culturally appropriate education. For example, daily individual and group projects at the Prenda San Carlos School involve bringing in guest speakers from the reservation or doing hands-on exploration of the tribal lands. “We are very connected to our land, our wildlife, and we want to continue to teach children how to preserve and protect our land,” says Cota.

Prenda’s accessibility and expansion have been abetted by Arizona’s robust climate of education choice. For instance, many of the children participating in the Prenda San Carlos School use funds available to them through Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account, an education savings account (ESA) available to many tribal members, as well as other eligible children throughout the state. For Prenda students who are not eligible for an ESA in Arizona, they are able to access Prenda through the state’s Sequoia Charter School network, which supports hybrid learning models.

“Arizona is leading the way in school choice and charter schools,” explains Cota. “It’s crucial we keep this going. Without this flexibility, we couldn’t do this.” He is optimistic about the growth and replicability of the Prenda model to serve many more students, including those who have historically had limited access to education choices. “It gives hope and empowerment to these communities,” says Cota.

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Learning Machines

Nobody asked but …

I, just this morning, got involved in a debate about in which forms the standard curriculum should be designed.  My position is summed up in the question, “what forms would nature design?”

Well, nature has already designed and implemented all of the necessary forms of education among all things.  A thing exists because it can learn how to exist in its environment. Pertinent to our concerns is that every human being can learn to cope with his or her environment.  All humans are learning machines.  Nature’s design was that humans would evolve, both within one’s lifespan and through generations.  Learning is the process by which this happens.  Nature has optimized all things to experience at will, and to retain conclusions thereby — the process is trial and error and correct incrementally.  To correct incrementally means to remove all confirmed falsities, layer by layer, until only truth remains.  As Arthur Conan Doyle put these words into the mouth of Sherlock Holmes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

We often observe that young children are amazing learning machines, motivated by boundless curiosity.  But we forget that all humans are amazing learning machines, they have just been tampered with by more-or-less well-meaning sticklers.  Walk around the sticklers.  There are two types of beings in the world — those who are more rigid than you and those who are less rigid than you.  Do not be discouraged by the first group, know yourself, be encouraged by the second group — and learn by observing the trial-and-error of all three.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Finding Groundedness in the Age of Anxiety

We live in uncertain times.

Actually, things have always felt uncertain to the people who live in those times, but these days it might feel even more heightened, with the hyperconnectivity of the internet, social media and constant messaging, comparing ourselves to everyone else, and a very tense, divisive political situation (not just in the U.S., but in many countries).

It’s enough to drive anxiety through the roof for many people. I coach hundreds of people through my Sea Change Program and Fearless Training Program, as well as 1-on-1 … and anxiety seems to be a huge problem for many people I work with. I’ve seen it in my extended family and friend circle as well — anxiety seems to be on the rise, or at least it can feel that way to many.

So what  can we do to deal with this anxiety?

There isn’t one simple solution, but there are some habits we can form to help us cope — even thrive — in the middle of chaos and uncertainty.

The Causes of Anxiety

In short, our anxiety is caused by uncertainty. It’s a feeling of alarm, of stress, of fear or even slight panic, when things feel unsettled, constantly shifting, out of control.

We feel this kind of groundlessness, this out-of-controlledness, all the time at some level. But there are times when this feeling is heightened:

  • We lose our job or feel like our job is unstable
  • We get into deep debt or feel like our finances are out of control
  • Someone we love has a crisis (like health crisis)
  • We get sick
  • There’s a death in the family
  • Someone we can’t stand gets elected to the leadership of our country (this has happened in multiple countries, I’m not talking about anyone in particular)
  • You move to a new home in a new city

You get the idea — they’re all times of heightened uncertainty, and so the feeling of anxiety starts to increase.

The thing is, if you go through just one of these things, it’ll increase stress and maybe anxiety … but then if things calm down, you have a chance to recover. But if you’re constantly going through these kinds of things, it doesn’t give you a chance to recover. You’re constantly in a fragile state, and everything becomes more stressful.

The key is not to eliminate uncertainty and stress in your life … but instead to increase your resilience by allowing yourself to feel grounded even in the middle of a stressful, uncertain event. Then things become not such a big deal. They might stress you out a bit, but they won’t be the end of the world.

Six Habits that Lead to Groundedness

The basic habits that lead to this kind of resiliency, and a feeling of groundedness, are things you can practice every single day:

  1. Let ourselves feel it. When we’re feeling uncertainty, instead of rushing to solve it … or to distracting ourselves or comforting ourselves with food or shopping … we can let ourselves feel the uncertainty. I’m not talking about engaging in a narrative about what the uncertainty is like and why it’s so bad — but instead feeling it physically in your body. Where is the feeling located in your body? Can you give it some attention and curiosity? Can you stay with it for a few moments? This habit of letting ourselves feel the uncertainty and stress is transformative — every bit of anxiety becomes a place to practice, an opportunity to be present with ourselves. It becomes a chance to create a new relationship with our experience.
  2. Learn that it’s OK to feel groundlessness. You are feeling anxiety because of the uncertainty of your situation. But that’s because uncertainty becomes a reason to freak out. What if, instead, we learned that this groundless, uncertain feeling is actually just fine? It might not be completely pleasant, but it’s nothing to panic about. In fact, it can be an opportunity to find joy and appreciation in the groundlessness — what is there to appreciate in this feeling of complete openness? Start to shift how you see and react to this groundlessness, embracing it rather than panicking about it.
  3. Give ourselves love. In the middle of stress and uncertainty, instead of engaging in our old habits of shutting down or avoiding, of worrying and fretting … can we try a new habit of giving ourselves love? This is a way of being compassionate and friendly with ourselves, no matter what we’re doing. It’s like giving love to a child who is in pain — the compassion and love pour out of our hearts. Can we practice this for ourselves?
  4. Simplify by being fully present with one thing. We have so much going on that it can all be overwhelming. Can you simplify by focusing on just one thing right now? Trust that you’ll take care of the other things when it’s needed. Instead, be fully present with this single task. It can be something important, like working on that writing that you’ve been putting off for days. Or it can be something small, like washing this one dish, or drinking this one cup of tea. Be fully with it, and savor the experience fully. This leads to a feeling of groundedness, and helps us to not feel as frazzled.
  5. Find the joy in being fully present and savoring. The item above, of simplifying by doing one thing, can feel like quite a shift for many of us. It might feel like sacrifice, not constantly switching tasks and being on social media and checking phones. But it can be a way of opening up to the moment, treating yourself with a little focus, joyfully savoring whatever you’ve chosen to do with this moment of your life.
  6. Learn to love being resilient. Resilience is a matter of saying “No Big Deal” to any kind of uncertainty that arises, of savoring and being present, of giving ourselves love and being present with whatever uncertainty is coming up for us. Resilience is not blowing everything up to End of the World level, just because it’s not under control. Resilience is feeling grounded in the middle of chaos (even if there’s stress present), and finding a joy in being in that uncertainty. Resilience is taking a breath and then savoring that breath. It can be a wonderful thing, if you learn to love it.

Try these habits today, whenever you notice stress, anxiety, uncertainty. They take practice, but with time, they lead to a feeling of being centered and grounded.

If you’d like to practice with me, try my new Fearless Training Program — we’ll train together.

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