Category: education (page 1 of 2)

taming the wolf

I’ve been revisiting some of the foundational philosophies of Western culture and seeing how necessary to our current climate these thoughts are. I can’t help but think our current American culture is what Nietzche meant by “God is dead.” We have set up a surrogate god by praising patriotism and personal rights as a virtue over treating all humans as made in God’s image. Freedom to preserve one’s personal interests is the new morality.

A cult of conservativism (or any half-blind party loyalty) cannot bring salvation to a country divided, a society whose people cannot see beyond “us and them.” Your right to keep your firearms doesn’t preserve freedom if we are raising children who become lone wolves keen to lash out on those who carry different beliefs.

Every time a mass shooting happens (which is woefully frequent these days), what’s the first thing we want to know? What is the shooter’s profile? In other words, we want the suspect to be one of them, not one of us.

If he’s not one of us we can attribute the atrocity, the anger, the violence to something clearly outside of our own beliefs. We can rationalize it as a threat outside of us. When it’s someone who doesn’t “fit the profile” in our minds, we struggle to find reasons that he isn’t one of us. We rush to find the differences between him and “normal Americans” instead of acknowledging the common denominator.

We find the ways in which he was troubled that we should have noticed sooner, the way that he didn’t quite belong. (Oh, see? He was never really one of us.) We can shift the issue to something that isn’t so threatening to our core beliefs–such as guns or skin color or abnormal psychology–instead of the deep-rooted problems within our society that we’ve cultivated for so many generations.

And yet we always insist on morality. Every time this happens the suspect is “clearly an evil man.” It is an act of evil. Of terrorism. Of Islamic extremism. Until it’s domestic. This is an act of mental illness if it’s a white man, in which case he’s the victim of something beyond his control. We insist that we should have seen that he was crying out for help.

Well, what creates the kind of person who will fly under the radar with so much hatred in his heart and an Anarchist’s Cookbook under his bed? An arsenal in his closet? What creates a person so out of touch with others that no one would notice? Why so devoid of humanity and love?

Who bred this lone wolf?

Where was that moral fortitude in his upbringing and education? Where was the failure to instill empathy? Who or what ought we to hold responsible for instilling a sense of entitlement, selfishness, and hatred in place of kindness and equality?

Hate and all of the various “isms” that stem from it is a symptom of fear, insecurity, ignorance, and selfishness. Superiority is a delusion of those who, for whatever reason, don’t know what love is and can’t see beyond their own interests. Love and inclusion require humility. Hubris divides. Hubris rationalizes gunning down dozens of innocent people.

It takes the kind of strength that only comes from humility to recognize that you are not better than anyone, that others have intrinsic value. In normal human psychology this is something we all should have learned in early to mid-childhood.

No matter what ethos you have cultivated, we must insist that human beings are more important than ideologies. If your head knowledge leaves no room for the sanctity of human life, your education has failed you. We must cultivate the life of the heart along with the life of the mind.

Otherwise, what’s the point of living?

Perhaps this goes through the minds of those who, after taking lives, decide to take their own. They may have a keen sense that something is missing, but don’t have people around them to help figure out just what that might be. They’re missing an empathy network; their heart longs for it, but its absence creates confusion. Confusion without humility results in anger. Unchecked anger without empathy creates a person capable of seeing others as disposable.

Perhaps we simply need to cultivate the ability to recognize when someone is becoming a lone wolf. That requires being actively tuned in to other people.

Secondly, we need to cultivate the courage to call it out when we recognize the lone wolf tendencies creeping up within the ranks. This applies to any kind of social injustice, from sexual harassment to gun violence. It’s easy to overlook flaws in people of your own tribe. We don’t want to see ugliness in our own. But we have to. We have to recognize and correct the bad in order to foster the good.

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deep roots make strong trees

We live in a world of instant information. Now more than ever we can access data that confirms our own beliefs; it has never been easier to live in an echo chamber. We compound our confirmation bias by simultaneously broadening our social circle to global and limiting our intake to only that with which we agree. We can have a thousand “friends” and choose to listen to only a fraction of them. Even though there’s more information than there has ever been before, we can still choose to insulate ourselves.

The instant nature of this information also means that much of it will be unfounded. It’s harder to verify. There’s little at stake when data can be made global at the click of a button the moment a thought has been had.

Anonymity also lowers the stakes of sending thoughts into the world. A twitter war with a faceless entity can make us feel entitled to express our opinions without consequence. And each side will be “right,” justified in their opinions. Divisive language happens when there is anonymous emoting (because what more can we call it when no common ground or intellectual growth is sought?)

We have to do better. We have to dig deeper. We have to be open to learning that we are wrong.

An education worth having must begin with humility. It’s important to recognize bad rhetoric; there’s a lot of it out there. A voracious reader will begin to make himself less easily duped by false or manipulative talk. Exposing oneself to a broad range of thought will make for a better thinker, a more discerning human being, and therefore a better citizen of the world.

We can’t expect to be good judges of our present if we are unwilling to zoom out and consider the wider context.

Reading great works from those who came before us gives us roots. The ideas of past geniuses broaden our own network of ideas. When a strong wind of someone disagreeing with us comes along, we can take that view into consideration without fear that it will uproot our entire system of beliefs. The roots are deep enough and broad enough to take on new ideas and weigh them against existing ones. We needn’t be threatened by new ideas because we are equipped to look at them critically and with an open mind. More importantly, we have trained ourselves to learn from everything with humility.

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baby steps

Slow and steady wins the race. Action beats inaction. Taking small steps is so much more important than thinking about big steps. Sometimes I have to remind myself that tiny positive things add up and that’s so much better than stressing about making big progress (which adds up in a negative way).

I think of it like driving veeeerrrry slowly in your car: eventually you’ll get further than just sitting there revving the engine and wasting gasoline.

I have a huge project ahead of me, and it’s daunting. It’s so big that sometimes it’s paralyzing. But I know that I need to chip away at it a little bit at a time.

So I am making a bit of a pivot in the content of this blog, and I want you to know what you can expect in the future. I will still be writing about creative resistance, but it will be more along the lines of what I’m specifically encountering in my current creative projects.

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the idea of overlapping (working a day job for financial stability while you work on what you’re passionate about on the side until it can support you), I highly recommend the book Overlap by Sean McCabe.

My passion is to make big ideas accessible to young people. I believe that the ability to think critically is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on future generations. I’m writing and illustrating a series of young adult and children’s books making the ideas of the Great Books (Plato, Dante, Augustine, et al) super digestible. I want to normalize what used to be a standard education but has unfortunately become very rare. Everyone is capable of learning big things and no one should be scared or ashamed to be exposed to “smart people things.”

I want to get kids excited about reading through book related products, as well. Hand-lettered bookmarks, handmade book bags, and crocheted animal plushie characters that introduce kids great literary characters and their authors.

I’m making myself publicly accountable for making this vision a reality, and documenting the process. I invite you to follow along, to sign up for updates on the book release, to join the conversation in whatever way you’d like and ask questions about what makes actually doing creative things so dang hard sometimes.

It will be messy. Most things are before you get to the finished product. And that’s okay, because perfect is an illusion that keeps you from doing the important, messy things. Thanks to those who have stuck with me thus far, and thank you/welcome to those who are newly jumping in.

I invite you to make messes and take baby steps with me. 🙂

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on creating good humans

I’d like to talk about the importance of critical thinking.

Attention spans get shorter with each advancing generation. It’s the age of instant gratification and approval addiction. Digital natives run the risk of being digital dependents. We are more connected globally than ever, yet never have we been more ill-equipped and unwilling to engage with people face-to-face.

Of course, that cultural immersion in technology can certainly be an asset. Research, if filtered through a critically thinking mind, can be done anywhere at any time. The world is at our fingertips. Creativity has more possibilities than ever before. Coding has become part of the cultural language as early as preschool. There is so much good that can be done in this age that we find ourselves in.

But to do good, the tools need to be in the hands of good people.

Frankly, we live in a divisive time, with the internet serving as an incubator. We can express opposing views behind the protection of a screen. I think there’s a danger of an empathy disconnect when you can’t physically be in the presence of the person with whom you are communicating. If there’s no face on the receiving end of your words, it becomes easier to speak to them like they are not a human being worthy of love and respect.

Respect and empathy must be taught and nurtured. It is everyone’s responsibility to raise up the next generation. It takes a village, as they say. I feel very passionately that we need to foster strong critical thinking skills in our young people well before high school, and certainly before they are old enough to vote, especially when there is so much bad rhetoric being thrown around; especially in an age where there is so much uncredentialed information readily available, an age in which anything can be counterfeited.

Training virtuous people with discerning minds is the key to a better world.

We need kids who are too smart to be duped by bad rhetoric and propaganda, and who have a willingness to work hard in the pursuit of truth. It is my dream that we raise up generations who are so wholeheartedly pursuant of goodness, truth, and beauty that it doesn’t occur to them to be selfish or litigious or lazy.

I want to see a generation rise up who have learned skills with their hands, who are scrappy and don’t feel naked without their electronics and the internet; a generation both content with solitude and silence and delighted by intimate in-person fellowship.

who live for the good of others;

who humbly seek truth and are open to all viewpoints;

who know why they believe what they believe;

who aren’t combative about their beliefs or their identity, and whose identities are not wrapped up in socioeconomics or gender labels or race or social media presence;

who see others for their spirit and character rather than societal labels;

who seek responsibility and shun excuses;

who wish to improve their character every day;

and who are motivated by love and commonality rather than our differences.

It’s never too early to teach kids how to be good citizens of the world, and you don’t have to be a parent or educator to be an influence. Children notice and absorb everything. They see how people treat one another, and will love or hate in the way that they consistently see those around them loving or hating.  They will pick up habits that they are rewarded for.

So read a lot, in front of and with your kids (or your friends’ kids). Encourage them to ask questions. Praise them for being polite. Let them play in a whole lot of different ways to explore what their gifts and interests are. Take an active interest in their individual learning style.

We need people in the world who can think for themselves and love others. Don’t think any idea is too big for them; give them the chance and they will rise to the occasion and become good people.

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