Poet Seeks Words

Unraveling Y, acrostic poet, Amy Heath,

Amy Heath. Sojourner, tinker, acrostic poet.

Amy Heath is a writer, poet, and artist. The past few years she’s lived a somewhat nomadic life, exploring ways to sustain herself while being true to her spirit.

I met Amy when she was a children’s librarian and children’s book author, back when I spent a lot of time in the picture book section with my four kids.  I was drawn to her friendly blue eyes and gentle manner. I cherished our brief, always lively conversations. I’d walk away thinking how much I’d like us to be friends but I was too shy to ask if we could get together because she was older, vastly cooler, and far more fascinating than I’d ever be. Fast forward to the last few years, when Amy befriended me. I’m giddy about it in a can’t-believe-my-luck sort of way.

One of the many things Amy is up to lately is a poetic challenge. About a year ago she decided she’d write an acrostic poem a day. Being Amy, she amped up the challenge by making a rule for herself that the acrostics must be composed around words chosen at random from a book or words others chose for her.

a·cros·tic   (ə-krô′stĭk, ə-krŏs′tĭk) n.
1. A poem or series of lines in which certain letters, usually the first in each line, form a name, motto, or message when read in sequence.

“The main point of this project was to play with words every day until I reach 60,” she says. “Until that idea struck me, I had been writing acrostics in a more serious vein, on words like mindfulness, anxiety, patience, empathy. I have seen many people approach the Big 6-0 with trepidation. Well, I would play my way there!”

And no matter what, she vowed to post each piece on her blog, Unraveling Y. She says, “After reading the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, I decided that if I blogged these short daily creations I would feel somehow more accountable to my intention. My wordplays would be out there. And being fairly sure that very few people would read them, I felt liberated to do my best without worrying about what anyone thought of them. That’s good practice anyway. Worrying about what other people think is trespassing in their heads. Not cool.”

Amy’s poems find an inner presence in words, making each one into something so alive we can feel it breathe, as she does with equanimity.

Amy Heath, acrostic poem, pixabay.com/en/space-sky-hand-fingers-paint-636894/

Even in the space of a few syllables.

acrostic poem, Amy Heath, pixabay.com/en/background-branch-dusk-evening-20862/

She turns a word into a tale that leaves us wondering.

acrostic poem, Amy Heath, morguefile.com/archive/display/890638

She helps us understand why the Latin word for hearth has come to mean “center of activity.”

Amy Heath, Unraveling Y, acrostic poem, pixabay.com/en/fire-heiss-fireplace-cozy-heat-266093/

Amy Heath, Unraveling Y, acrostic poem, pixabay.com/en/fire-heiss-fireplace-cozy-heat-266093/

She shares little known history, explaining in her blog entry: “The lighthouse built by Ptolemy I Soter and completed by his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus was a prototype for subsequent structures. Pharos, a small island, ultimately the tip of a peninsula near Alexandria, became the root word in many languages for lighthouse.”

Andreas Achenbach, Pharos, Amy Heath, pixabay.com/en/andreas-achenbach-sea-ocean-water-85762

She’s undaunted when faced with a word like culm.

acrostic poem, Amy Heath, morguefile.com/archive/display/951061

Among my favorites is a poem she composed around the word orenda, which is defined as “a supernatural force believed by the Iroquois to be present, in varying degrees, in all things and all beings, and to be the spiritual force underlying human accomplishment.”

Amy Heath, acrostic poem, birthday poem, orenda, pixabay.com/en/background-gold-golden-texture-630417/

Amy is brimming with acrostic-related ideas. She may write a book on a single theme or compose a children’s story using words for various literary devices. She may illustrate her poems using paint or yarn or glass. The future is open for my playfully creative friend.

What is she seeking right now?

Words.

She’s continuing her daily acrostic challenge and invites you to send her a word which she’ll gladly transform into a poem. Her email is unravelingy@gmail.com

While you’re at it, I suggest you:

visit her blog Unraveling Y 

read her memoir I Pity The Man Who Marries You

share her poems on social media

contact her to let her know how much you enjoy her work

consider embarking on a challenge of your own!

A Slanty Line Approach To Learning

slanty line principle, Bernie DeKoven,

Image: feigenfrucht.deviantart.com)

 Playfulness guru Bernie DeKoven is an amazing guy. His new book A Playful Path brims with wisdom and an irrepressible spirit of delight. It’s so good I think everyone needs a copy as a reference book on How To Be Human. 

He cheerfully agreed to let me publish this guest post. Thanks Bernie! 

Bernie DeKoven wonders if you’re having fun (deepfun.com)

Bernie suggests having fun (deepfun.com)

There’s an elegant model, called the “Slanty Line” principle, developed by physical educator Muska Mosstonxiv that puts the concept of individually negotiable challenge very clearly into practice.

If you’re a Phys Ed teacher, one of the things you do with kids is help them develop their high-jumping skills. In “non-adaptive” Phys Ed, the way you did this was to hold jumping contests. You’d hang a high bar horizontal to a certain height and everybody would have to take a turn jumping over the high bar. If they succeeded, they’d get to the next round, and the high bar would be raised. The contest would continue until only one person was left. That person would be lavishly praised as the one who established the high jump record for the class.

The problem with this kind of competitive incentive structure is that the kids who need the most practice are the kids who get to jump the least often. The worse they are at jumping, the sooner they’re out of the game.

Try this. Make the high bar diagonal rather than parallel to the ground. This lets everybody jump over any part of the high bar and take as many turns as they want. And what do you get?

Instead of the teacher, each kid sets his/her own challenge. The jumpers who are not so good at jumping can still jump across the high bar as many times as anyone else, they just cross at a lower point. And, when they feel the need to increase the challenge they can just station themselves at a higher part of the high bar.

No one is eliminated. No one is given prizes. Everyone wins. Repeatedly.

Slant the high bar and the authority rolls right out of the hands of the teacher, out of, actually, any one body’s hands, into everybody’s. The challenge (jump as high as you can, and then jump higher) remains the same, but the challenger has changed. It’s not the Phys Ed instructor who increases the challenge, it’s the kids, themselves: the kids as a group, and the kids, individually.

A challenge that is determined by the individual player is more complex, because it requires “reflective action.” The player must evaluate not only his or her own success, but also the success of the challenge. And even though kids can get very competitive, the challenge is ultimately self-selected, ultimately guided by sheer fun.

Without an external evaluator, each kid can devise and revise the challenge. Of course, evaluation is going on, and whether the competition is inner-directed or outer-directed, the fact is that the teacher, your fellow jumpers (both higher and lower), your inner referee; somebody is evaluating your performance, challenging you to challenge your self.

Ideally, each kid should be seeking out his/her personal level of flow, driven by the natural desire for complexity into a deeper and healthier engagement with the relationships between the human body and gravity. But, in fact, there’s still something about the way the task is framed that draws the kids apart.

Even though nobody’s eliminated, even though everyone’s free to increase or decrease the challenge, even though you don’t even have to take turns, the fact is that the challenge is directed towards the individual. With the focus on individual performance, on how high who jumps; the relationship is fundamentally the same.

And what’s worse (or more complex), someone might be attaching meaning to your performance, as if how high you can jump says something about your character!

So, what if we completely redirected the challenge, away from the individual and towards the group? What if the entire class tried to jump holding hands? Or with their arms around each other’s shoulders? Or each other’s waist?

Shifting the focus of the game away from what they can do individually (ME), we focus, also, on what the kids can do together (WE) – on collective as well as individual performance.

To jump the Slanted Bar together, we need to make sure that each individual kid is going to make it. Even though the challenge is to the group, there are still plenty of challenges to the individual player. Each has to be stationed at the appropriate part of the high bar: too high and you might not get over, too low, you might make it harder for someone else. Each has to be able to ask for help, and provide help. Preparing for the big jump, synchronizing the preparatory, simultaneous squat, each individual is doubly challenged. And yet, not competing. Same slant, same task, but fundamentally shifted experience.

Raising the high bar, you intensify the competitive relationship between the diminishing few. The game, internally and externally, becomes one of increasingly isolated MEs (the “winners”) against an increasingly disempowered WE.

Slant the High Bar, and the relationship relaxes, becomes supportive, empowering, healthy, ME\WE.

self-regulating learning,

Image: excess1ve.deviantart.com

For A Fresher & Juicier Experience, Mix It Up!

This doesn’t bode well. I’ve been talked into a day-long workshop and I don’t know where to go.

There are two large conference rooms at the Cleveland Marriott. Their doors open across the hall from each other. There are also two different groups convening today, but someone has neglected to post signs at either one.

Now, to figure out which group is mine.

On one side waiters roll in carts of muffins, fresh fruit, and coffee. A tray of bright red strawberries passes tantalizingly close to me. I long to taste just one from the tray, but show uncharacteristic restraint due to the press of people entering that conference. Through those doors walk people who are impeccably dressed. Not only suits on the men but shined shoes, not only dresses on the women but elaborate hats. The attendees are all African-American.  I spy a few Bibles.  Seems to be an evangelical gathering of some sort.

On the other side there’s a lone table with water pitchers and glasses.  Folks are moseying in slowly. Their clothing is more diverse than their skin tone.  I spot Indonesian, African, and Japanese prints.  In front of me a man with long gray hair in a pony tail is saying something to a companion about “passing through a portal of enhanced energy.” I assume he is making an ironic comment about walking through such a blandly generic doorway, but he goes on to remark that this was the name of a workshop he’d attended in Phoenix recently.  Yup, this is my side of the hallway.

I find the friends who invited me and silently promise myself to sit still. (I’m not much for staying put.) Music starts, we sing, and I’m ready to have my consciousness raised.

I’ll give her this, the speaker is interesting.  She sets off my “Oh sheesh” meter a few times thanks to her quasi-scientific quantum physics references, but I already agree with what she’s saying. Each of us can be light workers who spread hope, and ultimately greater peace, through our daily words and actions.  We participate in group meditations, activating ourselves to take on greater responsibilities for uplifting others.  While not new, her message is certainly valuable.

But all that time we’re stuck in a meeting room. I don’t know how anyone can sit that long. I tend to wiggle and my mind wanders when my body is uncomfortable. I wonder how our brethren across the way are faring. When the fidgets get the best of me I excuse myself for a hallway ramble. I notice through open doors on the other side of the hall that those participants are also chair-bound, staring straight ahead with the glazed look that comes from hours of immobility.  Likely we are gathered in both conferences for similar purposes—-to enliven our spiritual lives and bring greater harmony to our bit of the planet.  And surely the experience is enriching.  But both meetings could be so much more if only we weren’t locked into a school-like format.

We humans learn as we make discoveries and face challenges. We learn by translating our experiences into story, song, art, into something created.  We learn through the wisdom of our bodies. We don’t learn as fully when passively sitting still and shutting up for long periods of time indoors. Opening conferences (and any educational venture) to more direct involvement lets the lessons sink in deeper, making whatever we’ve learned more easily applied in our real lives.

I’ve worked for years teaching non-violence techniques to teachers and community groups (and I hope making the workshop experience a lively one).  A key ingredient is finding common ground with those you perceive as dissimilar to yourself.  Connecting with others leads to rich possibilities.  The new combinations can be awesome.

Returning to my chair I can’t help but remember an old 80’s advertisement for candy.  Chocolate and peanut butter collide and find that together they are more delicious, creating a whole new confection that the world loves.

I imagine the doors to both conference rooms bursting wide open and the participants merging. Meditations combining with prayers.  Affirmations mixing with hymns. Our mutual dislike of sitting too long in these chairs turning into a joyous celebration that dances beyond the doors.  How much we all have to share with each other.

And yes, maybe I do imagine tasting those strawberries at last.

child

40 Ways Kids Can Volunteer, Toddler to Teen

teen volunteering, family service projects, service learning, young children can volunteer, family volunteering, kid volunteers,

“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.”  Anne Frank

 

When we make service work a normal part of our lives we don’t simply teach our children strong core values, we demonstrate these values in action.

Often volunteering isn’t “official.” A family does yard work and errands for a housebound neighbor. Or they compile information and pass out fliers to get a safety initiative passed through city council. Or they put on a garage sale and donate all the proceeds to benefit a local shelter. They are making the community a better place through their own efforts. The side effect? They give their children a wonderful dose of can-do attitude.

When families reach out to help others, their children learn that this is a natural response. After all, the word “humane” is a variant of the word “human.” The definition of “humane” includes demonstrating better aspects of the human character such as kindness and compassion and showing respect for other people’s views. The word used to define us also describes the qualities essential to forging a society based on mutual regard.

And science tells us that giving makes us happy, from toddler on up.

There are many creative ways to volunteer based on local needs and your child’s interests.

1. Regularly visit a “grandfriend” at a nursing home, assisted living facility, or in the neighborhood. Play card games, do crafts together, teach each other new skills, make up stories, exchange advice, and build a real connection

2, Volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels in your neighborhood, perfect for parent and young children.

3. Raise a service dog, typically a puppy training commitment of two years. There are many organizations. Here’s a partial list:

4. Grow vegetables and offer extra produce to people who don’t have space to garden, to new parents who don’t have time to garden, to a hunger center.

5. Set up a playgroup for babies at your local nursing home or assisted living facility. This is something I did, which started a family tradition of getting kids involved in the community.

6. Have little kids draw special pictures. Use these as wrapping paper, tucking inside them a piece of wrapped candy or silk flower, along with a note like “thanks for being so nice” or “you made my day.” Then keep these in the diaper bag and when you’re out together, stay on the lookout for a nice cashier, helpful librarian, or kind friend to hand out a surprise package. It cues kids to see goodness everywhere.

7. Let little kids offer popsicles to garbage truck workers. For more ways the smallest kids can engage in acts of kindness, check here.

8. Create ways to share with your neighbors, from a toy swaps to co-ops. Consult the Center for a New American Dream guide and any of the great guides offered by Shareable.

9. As a family or with a group of kids, develop a program to present at a nearby library, daycare, or community center. It might be a puppet show, play, or craft project. Or get your dance class, choir, or martial arts school to give a demonstration at a daycare, nursing home, or community center.

10. Form a band or acting troupe with friends and give free performances.

11.  Make some no-sew dog toys for animals in shelters using inexpensive fleece remnants or old torn jeans. Use old blankets, pillows, or fabric remnants to make pet beds for shelters. Ask if you can volunteer to walk dogs. Raise funds to buy food, litter, and other items the shelter needs. And consider adopting a rescue animal. There are rescue organizations for all sorts of companions, from horses to hamsters.

12. Do errands, cook for or otherwise help out a someone dealing with an illness.

13. Pick up litter in your neighborhood or wildlife area. It’s safest to do this wearing gloves and using a pick up tool or a reacher. Put each piece of trash in a box or garbage bag, then recycle or throw away when you’re done.

14. Protect natural, cultural, and historical resources by volunteering for the National Park Service Youth Conservation Corps (age 16 and up).

15. Work on sets, distribute tickets, usher patrons to their seats, or perform for your local community theater.

16. Learn rehabbing skills while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Rules may vary, in our area older kids can volunteer along with a parent.

17. See if your local food shelter will let families work together to set tables, serve beverages, and clean up. If not, you can raise funds to donate food. We know a family that twice-monthly cooks an entrée for 15 people, along with several other families cooking the same entrée, so it can be served that evening at a free dinner offering.

18. Walk dogs, collect mail, shovel snow, or rake leaves for someone in your neighborhood who needs the help.

19. Serve as unofficial welcoming friends for immigrants who could use help navigating unfamiliar streets and who need assistance learning the customs and colloquialisms that aren’t in any handbook.

20. Repair and donate such items as toys, household items, bikes, or computers.

21. Volunteer with Red Cross Youth Services through your local Red Cross branch. And make sure kids and parents take a CPR/first-aid course so everyone is ready to volunteer lifesaving services if necessary.

22. Write letters to deployed service members. For more snail mail ideas, check out 38 Unexpected Ways to Revel in Snail Mail.

23. Produce a neighborhood newspaper or e-letter.

24. Volunteer to help out with Special Olympics.

25. Connect with teens around the world through Unicef-sponsored Voices of Youth.

26. Certify your backyard, even your apartment balcony, as a wildlife garden through the National Wildlife Federation.

27. Greet new people on your street with a small gift such as a houseplant or plate of cookies.

28. Network with other young people working on causes and get small grants to fund your project through Do Something.

29. Certify your dog as a therapy dog to volunteer in hospitals and schools.

30. Form a Peace Jam club and work on positive projects together. (pre-teen, teen)

31. Adopt a town monument and keep it clean.

32. Volunteer to help your library run an Edible Book Festival.  For more library-related service ideas, check out Celebrate Hug Your Librarian Day.

33. Make treats and deliver them to your local police or fire station.

34. Volunteer as a family to help at a Ronald McDonald House in your area.

35. Make warm scarves to donate. Collect clothing, blankets, toys, disposable diapers, and personal care items and donate to homeless shelters.

36. Get involved with Youth Volunteer Corps.

37. Plant extra seeds and share the plants. You might set up a seed or a plant exchange in your 4-H club, church, or other organization.

38. Organize to build a playground in your neighborhood.

39. Earn a President’s Volunteer Service Award for your volunteer work. People of all ages can sign up, track their hours, and search for volunteer opportunities through United We Serve.

40. Earn the Congressional Award, which recognizes initiative by American youth in four self-determined goals areas: Volunteer Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration. The award is earned individually or with friends, at one’s own pace. 

Portions of this post are excerpted from Free Range Learning.

  

Many More Ideas 

The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving

The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering: Do Good, Have Fun, Make a Difference as a Family!

The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference

The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change

It’s Your World–If You Don’t Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers

A Kids’ Guide to Protecting & Caring for Animals: How to Take Action! (How to Take Action! Series)

77 Creative Ways Kids Can Serve

How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist: 330 Ways to Make a Difference in Your Home, Community, and World – at No Cost!

Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play

The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking

How To Grant Wishes

fostering success, partnering for success, making dreams happen, goal group, fostering goals,

Image:helen-carter.deviantart.com

When I was a child an elderly neighbor shared her life-long dream. Lottie Borges had always wanted to get behind the wheel of a semi, start it up, and drive. I got a glimpse of the yearning that couldn’t be hidden by her apron and heavy orthopedic shoes. Years later when I heard she’d died I was sorry that the feeling of power and competence she longed to experience driving an 18 wheeler had never come to pass.

Each one of us has dreams. Sometimes they’re suppressed for so long that it’s not easy to remember them or the spark of vitality they once roused in us. We forget because we’re busy funneling our efforts into accomplishing what what our families need, what the boss wants, what amusements can fill the moments we have left over. We set aside the goals we once held dear. They are not gone, just dormant.

Our culture emphasizes personal effort. It’s assumed that failure to achieve our aims lies entirely with the individual. But that’s not how wishes usually come true. They happen in the context of relationships. When we talk about our goals with people dear to us we infuse our ideas with energy. It’s a way of activating a network of people who, along with us, envision our dreams taking place. That network may help bring about the exact circumstances necessary to achieve the goal. Perhaps if my former neighbor had shared her wish with someone other than a child she might have found a truck driver who’d have gotten a kick out of letting her take his rig for a run around a backlot.

A few years ago I got together with a group of friends and on the spur of the moment we decided to write down our long-held wishes. We laughed, wondering if old fantasies (such as running away with a teen idol) should be included. But the challenge was compelling, so we started writing. When my friends shared their goals I saw sides to them they rarely revealed. Here are some of their wishes:

  • I will get a lead role in community theater.
  • I will travel to Ethiopia.
  • I will master class 5 white water rafting.
  • I will record my parent’s reminiscences.
  • I will have a graphic novel published.
  • I will get a master’s degree in library science.
  • I will become a foster parent.
  • I will take a class in conflict resolution.
  • I will paint wall-sized murals.
  • I will build a clay oven in the back yard.
  • I will finish the quilt my grandmother started.
  • I will learn to speak Russian.
  • I will be elected to city council.

We realized that we should meet occasionally to support each other’s dreams. By discussing what we are doing to reach our goals and how we can help each other, we’re more likely to turn intention into reality.

If you’re interested in our wish granting process, here’s the method we’re using.

1. Get together with at least one other person with whom you have a mutually supportive relationship.

2. Brainstorm. Call up the longings you had as a child, the grand plans you envisioned as a young adult, the places your mind wanders when you daydream.

3. Write down those yearnings. Word them concretely. It is easier to check off a goal such as “Complete a pottery class” than a vague listing such as “Try making pottery.” Instead of vowing to “appreciate people more,” expect yourself to “Write letters to six people telling them why you appreciate them.” Include a range of possibilities— creative, professional, interpersonal, physical, and inspirational. Make some challenging, some just for fun.

4. Make the list as long as possible. Shoot for 50 or 100. Pushing yourself to write so many goals forces you to look inward, uncovering deep desires that you may have buried.

Such a list will take some time, but you may find that long-suppressed dreams ease back into your consciousness only after you’ve written down goals that seem silly or impossible.

5. Put stars by at least five of the most important dreams. Remember your list isn’t a set curriculum. It can change as your goals evolve. Keeping this list is a reminder that you are in charge of your life’s direction.

6. Talk about what steps you need to take to accomplish them and how can you support each other in these steps. Often it’s helpful to plan on baby steps, starting small and recognizing there may be tumbles as you work your way up to bigger steps.

7. Write yourself a note to be opened three months from now. Or write an email using Future Me timed to arrive in three months. This note should be in present tense and action oriented, “I am saving $50 a week towards my trip” or “I am practicing Russian each evening and looking for a native speaker to build my language skills.” This is a great way to promote progress. Then write another message to yourself, to be opened in another few months.

8. Keep the wishes shared by others alive through encouragement but also through your belief that the goal will be reached. Continue to pay attention to circumstances that may be helpful to others as you work toward your dreams together.

Something happens when goals are written down. When we make a conscious decision to guide our lives in the direction of our dreams, possibilities begin to open. And when we share that process with others, we have the delight of helping them make their wishes come true.

By the way, the wish lists written with my friends are already adorned with check marks.

We Don’t Need No Age Segregation

open-source teen learning, active learning, teen unschooling,

My teenaged son just spent the day with middle-aged guys he met online.

Let me explain. Before he could drive, my son earned enough money shoveling out horse stalls to buy a 1973 Opel GT. Or what was left of one.

The car sits out back in a dark barn, its classic little outline like a rough sketch waiting for functional automotive details to be filled in again. He is restoring it himself, but not alone. He’s in touch with an online community of automotive enthusiasts from around the world. They eagerly share experiences and resources on forums. They also boast, complain, and talk about their interests just as any friends do.

My son and his father have met some of these folks at auto meets and car shows. When my son discovered an Opel club not far from our family farm he was invited to join. Today he and his older brother drove out for a day-long gathering. Although my boys were the youngest by decades they enjoyed an open-hearted welcome.

Yes, I realize there are significant concerns about teens talking online with adults, let alone meeting them. I try to keep those concerns in perspective. Studies of online behavior by youth indicate the biggest risk they face is peer harassment, not sexual predation. Today’s young people are much more overprotected than previous generations even though violence against kids has markedly decreased and the overall crime rate continues to plummet. Overly cautious, restrictive parenting practices actually inhibit a teen’s growth toward maturity and responsibility. So I watch, ask questions, and recognize that my son benefits from online friends and mentors.

It’s a pivotal coming of age experience to be accepted by elders one admires. Until that time it’s hard to feel like an adult. These experiences are frequently depicted in movies, but children and teens in our culture are almost entirely segregated from meaningful and regular involvement with adults.

These days kids spend their formative years with age mates in day care, school, sports, and other activities. So their adult role models are largely those whose main function is to manage children. This subverts the way youth have learned and matured throughout human history. Children are drawn to watch, imitate, and gain useful skills. They want to see how people they admire handle a crisis, build a business, compose music, repair a car, and fall in love. Separate kids from purposeful, interesting interaction with adults and they have little to guide them other than their peers and the entertainment industry. That’s because our species learns by example. Ask any child development expert, neuroscientist, or great grandparent.

There are plenty of educational initiatives to bridge this gap, particularly for teens. These programs connect students with mentors or bring community members into schools to talk about their careers. While these efforts are admirable, such stopgap measures aren’t the way young people learn best. They need to spend appreciable time with people of all ages—observing, conversing, and taking on responsibility. Real responsibilities, real relationships.

Because my kids are homeschooled they’ve have more opportunities (and a lot more time) to hang out with interesting adults. My daughter volunteers for hours each week alongside a woman who rehabilitates birds of prey. Another of my sons has played bagpipes for years with an 80-something gent who once served as a Pipe Major for Scotland’s Black Watch. The age range of my kids’ friends spans decades. Natural mentors such as these are a rich source of authentic experience. And they’re in every community. It’s not hard to find them.

Along with other homeschooling families, my kids have also taken a close look at the workaday adult world. The owner of a steel drum company explained the history and science of drum-making, talked about the rewards and risks of entrepreneurship, then encouraged us to play the drums displayed there. An engineer took us through his testing facility and showed us how materials are developed for the space program. We’ve spent days with potters, woodworkers, architects, chemists, archeologists, stagehands, chefs, paramedics and others.

People rarely turn us down when we request the chance to learn from them. Perhaps the desire to pass along wisdom and experience to the next generation is encoded in our genes. Age segregation goes both ways–adults are also separated from most youth in our society. After an afternoon together we’ve gotten the same feedback again and again. These adults say they had no idea the work they do would be so interesting to kids. They marvel at the questions asked, observations made, and ideas proffered by youth that the media portrays as disaffected or worse. They shake hands with young people who a few hours ago were strangers and say, “Come back in a few years, I’d like to have you intern here,” or “We could use an engineer who thinks the way you do. Think about going into the field,” or “Thanks for coming. I’ve never had this much fun at work.”

So today my teenaged son hung out with fellow Opel aficionados. They trust he will drive his car out of the dark barn and into the sunlight soon. It will be a shared accomplishment, the kind of thing that happens all the time when young people aren’t separated from the wider community.

unschooling teens, homeschooling teens, teens free to learn,

I wrote this piece nearly two years ago for Shareable.com. Since then this son of mine has become a mechanical engineering student at a private college. His fellow classmates brought with them years of advanced placement math and science classes. The advantage he brought? Lots of hands-on experience, an active approach to learning, and insatiable curiosity. He’s at the top of his class.   

Without (or Beyond) College: 24 Tools For Success

resources to skip college, careers with no college, collaborative success,

Free to explore options. Image: iateyourbubbles.deviantart.com

What doesn’t add up

It’s easier to teach an old dog new tricks than it is to change old mindsets. Like the one that insists that all the years up to 18 are preparation for college. After that a bachelor’s degree or higher must be obtained because college is THE ONLY route to success.

This dusty way of thinking relies on old figures showing that college leads to high-earning careers. That’s true for people who become doctors, engineers, and lawyers. Oh wait, that’s not so true for lawyers now either. New law school grads can’t find jobs  and their average student debt hovers close to $100, 000.

Equating college with success doesn’t take today’s realities into account. In thirty years the consumer price index has increased two-and-a-half times while the overall price to attend college has risen sixfold.  Today’s students can’t simply work their way through college. This was possible back in 1970.  A student could easily work 14 hours a week at a minimum wage job to pay for an education at a public institution. Today a student would have to work full time at minimum wage, leaving very little time to fit in those classes.

So students go into debt. The average graduate gets a diploma along with more than $25,000 in debt. Payments are expected to begin right after graduation or the student will begin accumulating additional interest as well as penalties and damaged credit. The pressure is on to find a job.

Except the job market sucks. While a greater share of 18- to 24-year-olds are in school than ever before, the employment rate is worse. Half of today’s young college graduates are either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t require a degree. Since the 2008 recession, the largest job growth has been in the lowest paying jobs. Some of the biggest projected employment openings are in low paying, lower-skilled positions such as home health, waste hauling, and transportation.  The problem isn’t just in the U.S. Twenty-five percent of young people are unemployed in the Middle East and North Africa, more than 50 percent in Greece and Spain.

What does add up

In the real world, grades and tests actually don’t correlate with adult accomplishments.  We know there are fresher, more interesting ways to learn. Our experiences teach us to pursue success on our own terms. That has to do with crafting a life based on our passions, our integrity, and the unique vision each of us brings to the world. That’s true whether we’re lifting a hoe or a conductor’s baton.

The college highway is actually one of many roads to the future. People everywhere are finding ingenious and collaborative ways to flourish, with or without a degree. Here are some of those ways.

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Learning Empowerment Tools

1. ZeroTuitionCollege (ZTC)  is an online community of self-directed learners. If that’s not inspiration enough, it offers information for travel, building a portfolio, finding a peer community and much more. ZTC was founded by Blake Boles, author of Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree, a manual with thought-provoking and empowering information on each page.

2. It’s My Life: A Guide To Alternatives After High School is a free e-book put out by the American Friends Service Committee. It includes a rich array of information about apprenticeships, service work, travel learning, and careers both inside and out of the mainstream.

3. UnCollege is packed with information and advice, like “How To Learn Anything” (complete with downloadable sheets to write your own personal learning plan). UnCollege was started by Dale J. Stephens, whose book Hacking Your Education will be published next year.

4. Intern Match helps you locate paid and unpaid internships in your area of interest.

5. BackDoorJobs connects you with short-term job adventures around the world.

6. Volunteer Match helps you get experience doing what you care about.

7. Idealist lists all sorts of internships, volunteer opportunities, and jobs.

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Learning Exchanges

8. Trade School is a barter-based learning space, meaning you don’t have to pay to learn.

9. Citizen Circles are small groups of people who meet to learn together, with an emphasis on collective learning and action. No fee.

10. (un)classes are casual ways to meet and learn from people in your area.

11. Skillshare is like the eBay of local education. You can learn what you want from someone in your community as well as teach others what you know. Fee. 

12. P2PU is a grassroots global community working together to learn by completing tasks and providing feedback. Free.

13. FreeSkool is whatever participants create. Some are informal gatherings to share knowledge, others are networks brimming with activity happening in parks, living rooms, and community centers in IthacaSanta Cruz, and dozens of other cities in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Check out piece in Shareable about how to set up a FreeSkool

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Collaborative Solutions

14. Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis is co-written by 20-somethings who are developing collaborative consumption networks and connecting via “lattice” rather than scrambling over each other to climb the corporate ladder. Get this book for free by “paying” with a tweet.

15. Generation Waking Up empowers young people to connect and create a thriving, sustainable world.

16. The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community This book helps people find practical and legal solutions for scaling down their work hours, possessions, and expenses by sharing everything from childcare to cars to living space.

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Free and Nearly Free College Online

17. Coursera pairs with top universities to offer full courses to a global network of students.

18. Khan Academy has a free and ever growing library of 3,200 videos in the sciences to humanities, along with exercises to help learners practice what they are seeing.

19. University of the People is oriented toward awarding degrees to students all over the world, using online courses and charging only an admission fee. It has accepted 1,500 students from 130 countries

20. Academic Earth offers free online classes using video lectures from leading university professors. It’s possible to sign up to earn an online degree, fee unknown.

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Guides

21.  Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree by Blake Boles

22. Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will by
Dale Stephens

 

23. 40 Alternatives to College by James Altucher

24. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education by Anya Kamenetz

The Future Belongs to the Curious from Skillshare on Vimeo.

Who We Are In A Crisis

how people act in disaster, survivor, true survivor behavior,

Versions of Survivor are watched all over the world. Forty-five countries have pitted contestants against the odds and shows are still filmed in Denmark, Croatia, Italy, Norway, Serbia, France, India, Israel, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the U.S. These series drop people in inhospitable places with minimal resources and ask them to cope successfully with unexpected challenges. It’s called “reality” television, although people in the real world face harder challenges every day.

Survivor shows have to be carefully structured with authoritarian rules and imposed competition. Otherwise contestants might resort to a very natural state. Not Lord of the Flies levels of cruelty and exclusion. No, something far worse for ratings. Cooperation.

In our non-reality TV lives we don’t live as separate entities battling for limited resources like wanna-be stars on an island bristling with cameras. We humans are wired to live in interdependent networks of people based on mutual support and compassion. Ninety-nine percent of humanity’s time on earth took place while we lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers, a time when we did not make war against each other. Anthropologists tell us that our species never would have survived without structuring our lives around sharing food and resources. This responsive caring is basic to who we are.

But somehow, after years of schooling where collaboration is redefined as cheating and recreation where play is turned into supervised competition, we adopt the idea that people are essentially selfish. Popular culture feeds this concept by elevating what’s superficial and materialistic, the better to shape us into perpetual consumers. Worse, we seem to think that selfishness can easily erupt into brutally dangerous behavior when disaster strikes. According to a remarkable book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, the opposite is true.

Author Rebecca Solnit takes a close look at disasters including earthquakes, floods, and explosions. She finds tragedy and grief, but something else too, something rarely noticed. During and after these horrific crises there shines from the wreckage something extraordinary. People rise up as if liberated, regardless of their differences, to act out of deep regard for one another. They improvise, coordinate, create new social ties, and pour themselves into work that has no personal gain other than a sense of meaning. Such people express strangely transcendent feelings of joy, envisioning a greater and more altruistic community in the making. Even those suffering the most horrific misfortune often turn around to aid others and later remember it as the defining moment of their lives. This is a testament to the human spirit, as if disaster cracks us open to our better selves. As Solnit says, “The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.”

Disaster is often compounded by those who believe that human nature is selfish and cruel. In many cases this is the drumbeat sounded by the media and acted on by authorities. An analysis of disasters shows that official efforts to deal with disaster tend to focus on this aspect, suppressing the efforts of ordinary people to help one another while increasing militaristic control. This deprives people of helping one another and compounds the crisis.

Solnit says that the enlivening purpose that truly comes to the fore as a result of disasters tells us something about ourselves. “Each of us enlarges the world by idealistic passion and engagement. Meaning must be sought out; it is not built into most people’s lives. The tasks that arise in disaster often restore this meaning.”

No one wants their blessedly ordinary lives wiped away by something unimaginably horrible. But it’s good to know, as Solnit says, who we are in a crisis gives us a “glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become.”

who we are in a crisis, humanity at its best in crisis,

This article first published in Wired

Global Village Construction Set

It’s possible to plant 50 trees in one afternoon.

To press 5,000 bricks from the dirt beneath your feet in one day.

To build an affordable tractor in six days.

It’s possible thanks to the members of Open Source Ecology (OSE). They aren’t armchair visionaries. These engineers, farmers, and developers are dedicated to making communities sustainable and self-reliant. They’re taking on scarcity and inequality with open source enthusiasm

OSE got its start when Marcin Jakubowski’s tractor broke.  Well, lets back up a little. After Jakubowski earned a PhD in the physics of fusion energy, he bought a farm in Missouri where he grew fruit trees and raised goats. One day his tractor broke. He didn’t have the hands-on experience to fix it himself. But he hauled out some can-do attitude along with his welder and torch. He realized a tractor is simply a box with wheels, each powered by hydraulic motors.  So he bolted together square steel tubing to make one from scratch. It worked.

This inspired him to look beyond pricey, commercially made machines. He began to come up with versions that were hardy, low cost, and constructed out of locally sourced or repurposed materials. His posted designs generated lots of enthusiasm and input. Participants began showing up to help build prototyles on project days, becoming OSE collaborators.

The idea evolved. They considered what it takes to build independent, sustainable communities that support farming, construction, small manufacturing,  and power generation. They came up with a list of the 50 machines most important for modern life including a hay baler, bakery oven, laser cutter, drill press, solar concentrator, and truck.  Low cost, industrial strength, DIY versions of these machines became known as the Global Village Construction Set.  The motors, parts, and other fittings of these machines are designed to be interchangeable. All the 3D designs, schematics, and instructional videos are posted on the OSE Wiki.

On average, constructing these machines costs about eight times less than comparable machines made by industrial manufacturers. As Jakubowski explained in his recent TED talk, “Our goal is a repository of published design so clear, so complete, that a single burned DVD is effectively a civilization starter kit. ..The implications are significant: a greater distribution of the means of production, environmentally sound supply chains, and a newly relevant DIY Maker culture can hope to transcend artificial scarcity.”

So often hope seems abstract.  This is tangible hope, made of steel. It puts independence and equality in reach for people in both the developed and developing world.  Welding never seemed so inspiring.