Hold the Line

As upright mammals, all of our fighting implements – fists, feet, nails, and teeth – are to the fore.  Our back and sides, unarmored and unprotected, remain exposed and vulnerable during combat.  However, aligned side-by-side, friendly warriors, barring those on the line’s very ends, can protect each other’s flanks and rear.  When one warrior fights, holds her position in line, those around her can focus their effort on striking out at the opponent. Without having to fight any harder, by simply fighting together, every warrior is more effective.

The line is a feature of warfare in all its forms and epochs.  However, its length, shape, continuity, the distance between neighboring warriors, or the number echeloned are relatively un-important characteristics. These geometrical dimensions have varied across societies, through time, and even throughout the duration of a single engagement. The key characteristic of a line is its perceived permanence. Does a warrior believe the line will hold?

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7 Books for Becoming a Change-Making Animal

When I am on my deathbed, I want to be able to look my loved ones in the eyes and say with a smile “I kicked some ass.”  If you do too, then read these books:

1. “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” by Seth Godin

Inside all of us is a Change-Making Animal. But, for a lot of us, it’s been tamed and caged by our standardized-testing-industrial complex. So, how do you return to your natural feral state of creative destruction? Read this book. Read it again and again and again. Read it until the binder breaks. Dog-ear it into an accordion. And, freely fill its margins with thoughts like “Let’s go break something!”

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Owning that ‘Fro

We wage an epic struggle within ourselves each and every day. It is a struggle between our souls and the corporeal shells that contains them. Our bodies want to be fed, watered, and sheltered.They want to be warm when its cold. They want to be cooled when its hot. They want to be kept dry when it rains. They crave comfort. They crave security. They crave the physical contact of others. We cannot supply all of these things all the time on our own. We need the assistance of others. We need to be part of a group. So, we worry about what others think. We worry about being accepted. We desire to be accepted. The survival of our corporeal shells depends on the uninterrupted supply of these things. Fear that these things will be taken away has us taking actions that are not always in our best interest. Fear distracts us from our purpose.

What is our purpose?

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Four Steps to Becoming a Change-Making Animal

Grab a piece of scrap paper and a pen.

On the left-hand-side of your paper draw a doodle of who you are right now in this moment, in your context, in your comfort zone. Try not to think. Just doodle.

On the right-hand-side of your paper draw a doodle of who you were born to be. Strip away all the expectations and all the armor. What do you look like? What does your spark look like?

In between these two images draw the obstacles, the landscape, and the demons (fear, self-doubt, insecurity, perfectionism and shame) that keep you cloistered in your comfort zone.

Mine is above (full size image here).

For most of us, I think it is fair to say that we are divided individuals. “Who we are” and “who we are meant to be” do not match.

That is not how it is supposed to be.

We need some Rewilding.

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An Invitation

Come along.

“Where are we going?” you say.

We’re going to where your demons live.

You know the place.

They live in the space that separates who you are from who you are supposed to be.

You had a hand in creating this space. It was a long time ago. You may not remember.

It is the space just outside your comfort zone.

You need to leave it. Your comfort zone, that is. It will be hard. I know. It is an island of calm. The sun is always shining. The grass is green. And, the birds are always chirping. It is orderly. It is peaceful. You clock in and you clock out. You go with the flow. You go through the motions. You are warm. Your belly is full. And, you are entertained. There’s no need to take any risks. So, you never do. You never skin a knee, get a cut or endure a scrape. It is a world without Band-Aids. It is a world of well-paved roads, guard-rails, and lane-departure warning systems.

It’s comfortable there. I know. But, it is a cul-de-sac. All you can do is ride in circles.

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Rewild Your Students

If you are reading this blog, you are a modern human. You are a Homo Sapien. So am I. We have been around for 200,000 years.  For ninety percent of that time, we were hunters and gatherers. It was only 12,000 years ago or so that some of us picked up a hoe and became farmers. And, it was only about 250 years ago or so that some of us invented machines, launched the industrial revolution, and initiated our great migration from farm to factory.  And, I am going to guess that it was only 60 years ago or so that a large numbers of us decided to fully participate in today’s highly specialized consumerist societies – societies in which we specialize in doing one thing and one thing only and buy the goods and services we specialize out of from other specialists.

Before the emergence of our consumerist societies, most of us did a fair amount of making, building, and constructing. We shared hand-me-downs. And, instead of replacing thing that broke, we repaired them. Before the mall, before the industrial revolution, and before becoming farmers:

  • If we wanted to be warm, we had to know how to build a fire.
  • If we wanted to be dry, we had to know how to construct a shelter.
  • If we wanted to be clothed, we had to know how to sew.
  • If we wanted to drink, we had to know how to fetch water.
  • If we wanted to eat, we had to know how to hunt and gather and cook our meals.

We could not buy our comfort. We had to make it.

We had to know how to carve out an existence in a harsh environment.

If we were going to survive, we needed an education.

So, how did those who loved us most go about getting us to know what we needed to know?

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Dear Graduating Class,

I know I wasn’t invited to give a speech. But, I am going to give you one anyway. And, unlike those other speakers who promise to keep it short but never do, I will keep this short. So, here we go.

There once was a deal. You agreed to this deal as soon as you left the womb. This deal was between you and your parents, grandparents, neighbors, extended family, principals, teachers, coaches, counselors, religious figures, business leaders and your politicians.

According to this deal, you were expected to go to school, sit still, stay quiet, do the pledge of allegiance, obey the rules, raise your hand, ask for permission to leave the room, perfect your handwriting, memorize your multiplication table, learn your vocabulary, turn your homework in on time, get a sticker, pass our tests, win the spelling bee, participate in extra-curricular activities, volunteer, take AP courses, hire an SAT tutor, fill in the ovals, maximize your score, and get accepted to college.

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Pedagogical Puberty

A syllabus is a contract. It is a promise. It is an expression of the teacher’s pedagogy. And, in the wrong hands, in my hands, it can be an overly structured soul-sucking instrument of oppression.

How so? I give my students what they want. I tell them what to do. I tell them when to do it. I scan and post my lecture notes. My assignments have overviews. There are lists and lists of expectations. There are also helpful hints on how to succeed. I make available my grading rubrics. Points are broken down into various categories. And, for each category, I give my students a brief one sentence explanation of what it means to earn an A, B, C, D or F.

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What did I learn from the GRE? I learned how to be an ass. How so? Bulking up on your vocabulary is fundamental to doing well on the GRE. We all know this. And, like many I set up a system to memorize as many GRE-words as possible. I used note cards and other tricks of the trade. Yet, I learn best by doing. So, I decided to use my GRE-words during as many social interactions as possible. At the dog park,  someone would complain “my dog will not wear out!” and I would reply with “Yeah, my dog is indefatigable as well.” At dinner parties, someone would spill wine and our host would scrub the table cloth and exclaim “This stain is stubborn!” and I would sympathize with “Indeed, that stain is recalcitrant.”  At football games, someone would call the offensive coordinator “useless” and I would concur by saying “Yeah, he is a feckless son of a bitch!”

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