Sixteen Lessons I’ve Learned Teaching Literature

When I was in high school, I asked my English teacher, “What’s the point of English class? How is “reading stories” a subject?” Her answer was lame: we read stories to build our vocabulary and so we have something to write or speak about. This helps prepare us for college.

I wasn’t sure how to articulate the question, and I honestly didn’t know the answer; but English class seemed really out of place, and besides, I was confused how one might “teach” something as personal and subjective as literature. That isn’t to say that every answer is a right answer, or that because there may be multiple ways of receiving a story that any way of receiving a story is valid. It is to say that, as far as I can tell, the only true way to discuss and write about literature and to arrive at a single grade for students, that is perceived as fair, is to test on structural elements, such as literary terms and vocabulary, or to construct detailed writing rubrics, which necessarily narrows the diversity of thought and expression.

This is probably why English classes are gravitating towards nonfiction writing. First, it’s easier to create meaningful and fair assessments using nonfiction text (although some of the same problems exist). Second, there is a gross underestimation as to the purpose of literature. I think most people would say that reading fiction or narrative nonfiction is for entertainment, or to build the kind of vocabulary that better prepares you for the SATs. Those are both true statements, but statements that vastly understates the significance of literature.

Most learning comes from experience, but there are things that we literally can’t, or wouldn’t want to, experience. Stories act as vicarious experience. We can’t go back and experience the 17th century, and most of us don’t have the experience of being a double amputee. This we could roughly categorize as “experiences of the physical realm.” Stories, like art and performance in general, also work as apertures into the nonphysical realm. It’s the closest thing to prayer that you’ll get in a public school. Or, if the idea of prayer makes you feel icky, it’s the closest thing to drawing a personal connection to the collective consciousness of all humanity, and humanity’s place within the physical and nonphysical world, both today and for all of history. Stories are peepholes that allow you to catch a glimpse of divinity. Fiction isn’t “fake.” Stories aren’t “made up.” They get to the root of who we are and the possibilities of what we may be.

It’s also overly simplistic to reduce books to a series of “lessons learned” but I’m going to do it anyway. For one, it’s fun. For another, I’ve learned a lot by “teaching” stories – way more than I ever did reading them, which is a lesson in itself. Enjoy!

How do recent graduates perceive high school – commentary

Here are three conclusions that I have come to based on a survey I gave which aimed to answer the question “How do recent high school graduates perceive high school?” (some caveats, along with the raw data, here):


Respondents’ feelings towards high school are inconsistent.

When asked what the first three words are that come to mind when thinking about high school, 41% of the words were positively connotated (e.g. fun, friends, exciting, informative), 24% were negatively connotated (e.g. boring, isolating, cruel, torture), and 35% had a neutral connotation (e.g. homework, class, rugby, ESL). In terms of this question, as well as viewing the survey as a whole, about a third of respondents gave contradicting answers in their responses. Examples include:


Fun; isolating

Hard; Easy; Fulfilling; Unnecessary

Fun; fear

[What I loved most was] teachers; [the worst thing about school was my] teacher was rude to me


Again, referring to the question that asked what the first three words are that come to mind when thinking about high school, one respondent answered boring, boring, boring; that same person claimed that gym class was the only thing they loved about school. Another respondent, who loved being able to take AP/IB classes and participate in after-school clubs, cited gym class as the thing they most hated about high school. Several people mentioned how unnecessarily long and tedious school is, both in terms of the school day and the full four years, and (I believe related) most valued human relationships and control over the curriculum – even as the second most common thread, it still was only true that 72% of respondents cited friends or teachers as the most valued aspect of their high school experience, and for some of them, those were also their most hated aspect of high school. For example, one respondent cited friends and being social as the aspects of high school that they loved the most, but also resented having to be forced into contact with people: many times you had to be in a group whether or not you fit in as the aspect they hated the most.


Most respondents see more value in human relationships than in curriculum.

Of all the respondents, 72% reported relationships with people (usually friends, sometimes teachers or teachers and friends) as a valuable aspect of high school. One respondent, who described high school as intense, amazing, growth, wrote that she loved:

The opportunity to travel, the chance to make friends from around the world, the people (especially the staff)

although she also admitted:

[What I hated the most about high school was] the ‘culture’ surrounding the things I participated in. When I think about the things I did, it was very inaccessible to many of the students in my high school. A lot of the extracurriculars were expensive, the classes were advertised as elite and for ‘smart kids’. Therefore the representation within these classes was limited. (Mind you, my school was very ‘diverse’)

and two out of three changes she would make are curricular:

First, I would have more practical class options (how to file your taxes, current affairs, math for entrepreneurship etc); Second, I would give more money to the debate program (I think all students should have access to activities that allow them to critically thinking about given subjects and topics from two different perspectives…and clearly articulate this)

Many of the 72% simply wrote friends or teachers as things they loved the most about school. It was fairly typical for respondents to be more critical of the actual school programming, more so than of peer socialization or relationships with teachers:

I didn’t learn practical skills that I could use today. I still don’t really know how to do my taxes.


[I loved] the friendships and relationships I made; [I hated] how unnecessary a lot of [high school is]


A lot of classes that I took were useless to me.


lots of busy work and not much respect for ambition


High school hardly exposed me to any career options, or to what the real world was going to be like. Also, every class lacked substance. I felt like I was taught to memorize and spit back a lot of information, but I was never asked to think about life or values or any other serious conversation. [I hated being] stressed out by things that were really inconsequential.

Respondents generally prefer freedom to choose what to learn and which classes to take, and are happier when they exercise the limited power that they do have over their curriculum.

When asked the question, “Should students have the freedom to decide how to spend their time while in school?”, 78% (n=25) answered yes and 22% (n=7) answered no. Also, respondents who stated or implied that they were in ESL, AP, IB, or explorations programs, which are all classes that have (at least the perception) of student choice, were also more likely to have a favorable view of school, overall (ESL isn’t always “voluntary”, but if you’re responding to this survey in English, my assumption is at some point you wanted to learn English, and would have elected to take ESL classes. I admit this is an inference, not hard data). Many respondents mentioned a lack of curricular choice as a negative aspect of school throughout the survey, not just in the final few questions that directly addressed this topic. 

Below is a fairly representative sample of reasons respondents gave for answering no:

A respondent, who revealed that she is going to school to be a teacher, had concerns about social media addiction:

Knowing students at this point in time, even including myself, we are all attached to our phones, laptops or any other device. By giving students the freedom to decide what they do with their time, I won’t deny that some of them would study, but some other, they would be all day in their phones.

Another respondent was more direct:

You go to school to study not to have a good time.

One respondent admitted (which I found incredibly interesting, in light of the over 5,000 hours one spends in high school):

It really doesn’t matter either way.


A fairly representative sample of respondents who answered yes:

teachers should be there to help students navigate school – not to personally drive them through it. Students are fully capable of driving themselves to answers and revelations; they may just need a little push in the right direction.

One respondent, who wrote that being stuck in class was the aspect of high school that she hated the most, that school didn’t prepare her for a good life, and that every year was the same as the last, also said:

Explorations [an off-campus apprenticeship program] senior year in an architecture firm. I worked on one project the whole year with 3 other students. And two of the employees there were our mentors. We then presented our project to a bunch of professionals at the company who critiqued us. It taught me teamwork, presentations skills, and a bit about what I do and don’t enjoy professionally, and also made for good recommendation letters.

[High school] needs to cater more to individual students and their different abilities and ways of learning. For example, I always had good grades in all my classes. I was always in AP and honors and did well. But I skipped classes a lot because being tied down for four years to the same thing was so boring. If I had more of a choice I think I wouldn’t have done that. Skipping class made me feel like I had more control – and I didn’t care that I skipped because I was still able to get the grades I wanted. Some people learn great by reading a book and listening to a teacher and taking an exam, but some students get bored of sitting still and doing the same thing for four years. There should be an option. I could have learned and passed with flying colors everything I did in high school in two years instead of four. The other two years should have been spent with something hands on, more active, and more interesting. It would definitely have done a lot more to help with the real world and college.

High school does not teach enough critical thinking skills – if it did it would have more of an impact on people.

Another student, who had previously described high school as trash and limiting, reported:

I think if we let students explore more via electives at the high school level, it will save them time and money in college

I hated reading in school, but now I LOVE it, books are the only windows into finding a better future. I would have kids read more personal development books and less “literature”. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Cal Newport will have more of an impact at a developmental stage than Shakespeare.



It’s ironic to me that so many respondents found personal relationships with friends the most rewarding part of high school, considering it has been my observation that teachers spend a considerable amount of time and energy keeping students from socializing and instead, focused on the very important task of learning those things that respondents largely found irrelevant.

Perhaps the best way to transform high school into something more universally and consistently valuable would be to allow students to define the terms of their own graduation. The median age of the respondents was 22 years old – enough time had gone by for them to think about the impact of high school, but not so long that they forgot many details. Many of them reflected that control over what goes into their brain and freedom of association with friends and adults would add considerable value to their high school experience, and that the majority of actual instruction is mostly a waste.

A second, more practical option, is described in great detail in the second half of my book. In a nutshell – even in the state of New York, with its draconian public school requirements, it is possible to offer much more freedom and choice to students and staff, while still meeting state and union requirements. It would take considerable trust between administrators, teachers, the school board, and the community, as well as a deeply held belief that the student is the most important aspect of the learning process…but it can be done.


How do recent graduates perceive high school – data

I give my thoughts on the data here – this post is the data without comment, except for three quick items:

  1. I received 32 responses (n=32) – it’s a starting point, but nowhere near a number where I’d feel comfortable generalizing results. I reached out to over 60 former students, and I also shared the request on facebook and twitter – therefore, it is probable that most (and plausible that all) respondents know me, personally. Also, 72% of respondents were female. These things may skew the data one way or another.
  2. At least one respondent was from India (my cousin-in-law reported that she had taken the survey) and a certain number of respondents were English Learners who had gone to school in the United States. My (albeit informal) research question was, “How do recent high school graduates perceive high school?” It’s likely that these different groups could have different perceptions of high school. I can infer, roughly, the number of respondents who were English Learners etc., but there is no way to know for certain, and so it was a mistake for me not to include that question in the survey.
  3. The only edits I made were to redact the names of specific places and people, and to compile data into graphs where I felt graphs made sense.

How old are you?

 Are you…

Quickly, without thinking about it, what are the FIRST THREE WORDS that pop into your head when you think about high school? First three only!

  1. Fun, isolating, structured
  2. Boring, Boring & Boring
  3. Hard, easy, fulfilling
  4. Do your best
  5. fun boring long
  6. Informative, long, dramatic.
  7. Fun
  8. Intense, amazing, growth
  9. Teachers, classes, tests
  10. Class, drama, sweeps
  11. Fun, young, Madison Ave
  12. I miss it
  13. Great experience:)
  14. Helpful Educational system
  15. Stress, acceptances,  fun
  16. Exhausting, rugby, uniforms
  17. Sports, faith, family
  18. Trash, limiting, draining
  19. Loud, cruel, torture
  20. tedious, green, academics
  21. [principal’s name], friends, falcons
  22. ESL, big,  students
  23. Fun
  24. Fun, friends and soccer
  25. Opportunity, friendship, unequal
  26. Friends, good teachers and a lot of homework
  27. Friends, class, work
  28. Lots of homework
  29. Idk , good , love
  30. Fun exciting fear
  31. easy, fun, memorable
  32. Class Math Homework

What did you love most about high school?

  1. I took interesting and challenging classes
  2. Gym
  3. The friendships and relationships I made
  4. The classes that I took and the clubs that were available to students. For example, theatre club and key club just to name a few.
  5. I enjoyed certain classes and activities…
  6. The socialization.
  7. Teacher
  8. The opportunity to travel, the chance to make friends from around the world, the people (especially the staff).
  9. Theres not really one thing you love most about high school. You usually remember moments you loved most, those moments are usually things you did with your friends.
  10. The memories made with friends
  11. The Teachers
  12. Learning new things everyday
  13. No stress learning
  14. Teachers
  15. No real responsibilities
  16. My best friend
  17. How small and close everyone was.
  18. [specific English teacher]
  19. Good teachers, ski club, getting good grades
  20. lots more opportunities than middle school
  21. My friends and teachers. It was a very comfortable environment for me. Lots of freedom for the smart kids.
  22. Teachers and friends
  23. Teachers
  24. Friends
  25. The opportunity to take AP and IB classes because they made me more ready for college. The teachers are also wonderful and very knowledgeable in their field and were  great sources for anything I needed.
  26. Esl classes
  27. Making friends
  28. Making friends
  29. Teachers and their ways of teaching
  30. Friends teachers social
  31. friends, teachers, extracurriculars
  32. The friends I made! Obviously

What did you hate most about high school?

  1. Nothing
  2. Every Subject
  3. How unnecessary a lot of it it
  4. Waking up at 6 a.m. and wasting my time at the gym. There’s no point in having gym if 3/4th of your time is spent changing.
  5. …but I did not enjoy all classes, and the day was very long.
  6. Being unable to choose classes that appealed to me.
  7. Bathroom
  8. The ‘culture’ surrounding the things I participated in. When I think about the things I did, it was very inaccessible to many of the students in my high school. A lot of the extracurriculars were expensive, the classes were advertised as elite and for ‘smart kids’. Therefore the representation within these classes was limited. (Mind you, my school was very ‘diverse’)
  9. Being stuck in class.
  10. Math
  11. The teenage experiences that came with it
  12. People being rude and judgy to refugees
  13. Cafeteria
  14. The administration system
  15. Social  pressures
  16. Listening to revisionist history classes
  17. At times how small and close everyone was, if something went wrong everyone would know so quickly.
  18. Being lied to about career prospects from guidance counselors and teachers, being advertised that school after hs was the only option, not having full freedom over schedule.
  19. Sitting still for at least 40 minutes at a time and adhering to rules about where I could go.
  20. lots of busy work and not much respect for ambition
  21. Math classes because I struggled with math. Also studying for and taking AP tests.
  22. Packed hallways
  23. Homework
  24. Homeworka
  25. The administration’s inability to handle students’ conflicts effectively.
  26. Geometry class lol
  27. Not being challenged
  28. Math
  29. Nun , it was  awesome  experience for me
  30. Lack of perspective
  31. lack of choice for classes
  32. Being stressed out by things that were really inconsequential.

What, if anything, about high school helped you in any part of your life (e.g. personally, professionally, spiritually, financially, etc.)?

  1. My courses prepared me for success in college- note-taking skills, writing skills, exposing me to topics of interest, time management
  2. Nothing
  3. I learned to have conversations with people. I learned that no matter what my initial thoughts were, that I could overcome anything that I put my mind to
  4. Being in the IB program definitely helped me a lot with my academic work. Because of it I’m able to ease my way into college. Taking those AP and IB classes at the high helped a lot in writing research papers and how to cite them.
  5. I gained at least a couple of mentors through high school. I also began tk develop as more of a social person.
  6. My HS was diverse – I was well-prepared for the diversity in the ‘real world’ and the cultural sensitivity I would need.
  7. How to write
  8. Personally and professionally; I believe I found my voice in high school.
  9. Explorations senior year in an architecture firm. I worked on one project the whole year with 3 other students. And two of the employees there were our mentors. We then presented our project to a bunch of professionals at the company who critiqued us. It taught me teamwork, presentations skills, and a bit about what I do and don’t enjoy professionally, and also made for good recommendation letters.
  10. Nothing
  11. Being able to see your closest friends so regularly
  12. It helped me grow as a person
  13. Communication skills
  14. Personally and educationally
  15. Networking, access to AP and IB curses; these allowed me to graduate college in 3 years and earn my masters by the time I was 22.
  16. My junior year English teacher and job shadowing opportunities
  17. My HS helped me build my faith, by introducing me to the right people, who really helped me build my faith when I had doubts.
  18. Interactions with people form a variety of backgrounds.
  19. English – improved my writing dramatically. AP classes trained me for the rigor of college classes.
  20. AP classes
  21. High school taught me a lot about the real world in terms of diversity, poverty, racism. I also built really strong interpersonal relationships.
  22. Having the opportunity to have a really good counselor such as [specific name] that helped me so much with college applications and making sure to have the necessary financial aid
  23. “Personally: I met great people that are still my friends and helped me always.
  24. Professionally: I decided to be a teacher because of great role models in HS “
  25. Professionally
  26. ***** High’s diversity has influenced my personality in many ways. My teachers and friends I have made have taught me so much during my time at *****. I have learned to be more open about others ideas, beliefs and customs.
  27. More self confidence
  28. Teachers who invested their time in their work
  29. Learning
  30. Spiritually and professionally
  31. High School help me spiritually
  32. Exposed me to a diverse group of people, Made a lot of positive connections
  33. I made a lot of great friends in high school, and got a lot of inspiration from a couple of my teachers

What, if anything, about high school hurt you in any part of your life (e.g. personally, professionally, spiritually, financially, etc.)?

  1. I was isolated and didn’t have friends. That wasn’t high school’s fault though
  2. Nothing
  3. Initially balancing sports with my heavy course load caused me to have minor anxiety attacks. Somewhat stressful
  4. I didn’t talk to a lot of people in high school. I felt intimated to approach the people in class so that hindered me from making new friends. I can say that I’ve carried that part of me through college.
  5. It, along with middle and even elementary school, pushed me too hard to try to be ‘the best’ and Im only just unlearning this.
  6. My high school career was during the same upswing as the social media craze we currently live in. I think that screwed it up because we were all concerned about likes, followers, and sharing stories online.
  7. Some bad teachers
  8. Socially; I went to a really big high school, but took classes with the same ~10 people for 2 years. It makes no sense to me when I think about it now. I wouldn’t say it hurt me per-se, but it has contributed to the way I interact with people and who I chose to interact with. I am thankful that this is something I am conscious of and willing to unlearn.
  9. Writing Skills. It doesn’t teach you writing skills. Maybe if your in AP classes, but thats only because the people who take AP classes already have better writing and reading skills then most. Not having good writing skills hurts a lot more in college and later on in life ( Even if your majoring in science or math) because you don’t know how to articulate your thoughts well. Thats a life skill that is really helpful and needs to be taught early on.
  10. Nothing
  11. I can’t think of anything
  12. None
  13. Limited choices made me fall behind
  14. None
  15. Body image was a huge deal, it took me so long to get over the “accepted and coveted” body type.
  16. Bullying- body image issues.
  17. I really had a positive experience in Hs.
  18. Teachers telling me that computer science was stupid and that ” I would never find a job” with it, having my worth being based only on the amount of aps I took, just in general being lied to about the world
  19. Too much sensory stimulation overwhelmed me and made my sensory processing disorder and depression worse.
  20. busy work took time
  21. I didn’t learn practical skills that I could use today. I still don’t really know how to do my taxes.
  22. N/a
  23. Personally, sometimes bullying
  24. I failed 2 classed
  25. The only thing I had a problem with at ***** High was administration. They could not handle certain issues students faced in a timely and effective manner.
  26. Math teacher was being rude to me
  27. Nothing that I can think of
  28. Feeling confused
  29. Non it did not hurt me at all
  30. High School was not brought enough many times you had to be in a group whether or not you fit in
  31. N/A
  32. High school hardly exposed me to any career options, or to what the real world was going to be like. Also, every class lacked substance. I felt like I was taught to memorize and spit back a lot of information, but I was never asked to think about life or values or any other serious conversation.

In what ways did high school prepare you to lead a good life?

  1. Same as before, set me up for career success, and I met my husband!
  2. Nothing I Was Prepared Since Middle School
  3. I learned a lot of life lessons that I learned from my teachers that were not part of any curriculum
  4. To be quite honest, it didn’t really teach me a lot about leading a good life. For the most part, I learned that through my own mistakes and trials. To a certain extent though, health class in high school does have an influence on some of the decisions I make here at college.
  5. I’m really not sure. I’m inclined to say the social skills thing again but I’m not sure that’s what this question is looking for.
  6. It’s where I cultivated the life-long friendships that I currently have.
  7. Teach how to become good human being
  8. I’m not quite sure yet. Considering that I’m still in school, I can’t really say.
  9. It didn’t.
  10. In no way that I can think of
  11. IB prepared me for college; the teachers prepared me for life
  12. It taught me how to work hard
  13. In a way that I feel more prepared. It gets you into another level in your life.
  14. I met  my life partner and best friends in h.s who all continue to be a strong  support system  for me.
  15. Professional development and interpersonal skills.
  16. When I left HS I left with a strong faith, which really helped me lead a good life.
  17. I learned how to learn things quickly, apply pareto principle to diff aspects of life.
  18. Actually, high school prepared me to lead a hard life. I was pleasantly surprised when i discovered it gets better.
  19. AP classes
  20. It made me a very well rounded student and person. It also kept me from being sheltered from the negative aspects of the real world.
  21. With college courses
  22. By giving me experience, and knowledge about our world.
  23. Edu
  24. *****‘s diversity has opened my eyes to a variety of cultures and types of people. Taking AP classes has prepared me for the rigor of college courses. Friends and  teachers’ advice are ones I’ll hold for the rest of my life.
  25. The education and help I got in high school from all the teachers especially the ESL teachers made me have more knowledge and experience and made me strong to face the real life
  26. Taught me to be open-minded
  27.  Getting me prepared for the next step college.
  28. Prepare me for college improvement in my language and life experience
  29. The groups that I was a part of in the service that I was allowed to conduct made me into a better person
  30. Pathway to college
  31. Mostly, high school prepared me for college.

If high school could change in any way, what changes would you make?

  1. No standardized tests! I didn’t think that then, but I do now
  2. Everything
  3. To focus more on subjects and ideals that will actually benefit a young adult once they graduate. For example, filing taxes. Or the reality of applying to college and the trials and tribulations that come with that stressful journey.
  4. The environment needs to be more welcoming. By this I mean that the teachers and the staff needs to be more open minded. ***** high is a diverse place and if you’re going to be a close minded person, then don’t teach there at all. It takes patience and kindness to teach students who are abused at home or students who are still assimilating to this country. Teachers need to realize that not all students are the same. Overall, I just wish there was that one teacher that you can trust and be able to talk to.
  5. Cut the day shorter. Less homework. More time devoted to challenging students to think differently.
  6. The focus on testing would subside.
  7. Help students and understand more
  8. First, I would have more practical class options (how to file your taxes, current affairs, math for entrepreneurship etc); Second, I would give more money to the debate program (I think all students should have access to activities that allow them to critically thinking about given subjects and topics from two different perspectives…and clearly articulate this); Third, I would have more community events and programming to have people surrounding involved and invested (Keeping in mind that parents/guardians work for long hours, I would therefore provide passive ways for them to be involved).
  9. Not make it so repetitive each year. Students are there for four years. You go from being a pre-pubescent kid to being an adult in one place. Its such a significant amount of time and every year should not be the same.
  10. Let the students make more choices of their classes and what they want to learn, instead of being forced into a certain curriculum
  11. If there was a way to make more students succeed, id want that
  12. The way students look at the refugees
  13. Making students pick what they want to learn
  14. They should put more attention on students needs.
  15. Uniforms! Haha This would alleviate some of the stigmas/ sefl-sonsciouness, and bullying for poor, overweight, underweight, less fashionable students.
  16. Standardized testing as a measurement for aptitude or knowledge.
  17. I wish that there wouldn’t be such a stigma for going and getting extra help. I remember I would never get extra help ( even when I needed it) because I was scared of how that would look to my peers.
  18. I hated reading in school, but now I LOVE it, books are the only windows into finding a better future. I would have kids read more personal development books and less “literature”. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Cal Newport will have more of an impact at a developmental stage than Shakespeare.
  19. Not requiring students to sit still for 40 minutes. School not starting so early in the morning
  20. earlier support for ambitious academic students
  21. More practical classes to help students post graduation.
  22. More space, smaller classrooms
  23. Making acomodations for students with disabilities and also by having more cultural sharing between students, this way it won’t be any stereotyping about any culture.
  24. Way to teach
  25. – Better administration -more AP/IB or college credit courses
  26. I think it would be better if all high schools have school uniforms.
  27. Teach kids to be more responsible
  28. More options for subjects that will help us With our everyday.
  29. Changes in the   Regents exams I think it is hard for the people who speaks second language even tho the school do offer   Translator  in person , maybe as an small idea could make different exams for ENL Students
  30. More opportunities to give back to the community and have the older students teach younger students
  31. More academic freedom/ open curriculum
  32. I would make sure that there was more of an emphasis on having students discuss values and how to be a good citizen/human being. I think the emphasis here should be on discuss; I don’t want schools to be teaching that, but students should get the chance to develop their beliefs and ideas, not just be taught facts.

Should students have the freedom to decide how to spend their time while in school?

(OPTIONAL) If you’d like, explain your answer to the previous question.

  1. I’m not exactly sure what you mean. I think students should be given choice in their studies and that classes should be cover more current events and real world issues
  2. We Shouldn’t Have 2 Learn What We Are Told We Should Learn About What We Are Going To Be In The Future
  3. Students sometimes aren’t able to focus in class due to a variety of reasons. But I feel as though once given the opportunity a student can definitely push forward. Also having someone in their corner that they know they can always turn to for advice and consolation.
  4. By yes I mean to a certain extent. If you let them decide how to spend their time, of course they’re going to decide not to learn. With modern technology, they’re likely to be ok their phone all day. I mean take study halls for example, some students study but for the majority, they either go on their phone or talk. If you give them the freedom completely, might as well cancel school and let them stay at home. So for the most part, no students should not have the freedom in deciding how to spend their time. They should be there to learn materials that will help them later in life or in college. However we do need to let them choose their way of learning. It’s also pointless to lecture in front of a class if the students aren’t learning anything. The resources are just wasted. Learning should be more innovative and fun for students. So students should have the freedom to decide the way they want to learn. We already have study halls to let them decide how to spend their time so we don’t need more of that.
  5. I think there’s much to be said here, and I’m not sure I’ve thought about it enough to meet that challenge. My inclination, though, if abstract, is that teachers should be there to help students navigate school – not to personally drive them through it. Students are fully capable of driving themselves to answers and revelations; they may just need a little push in the right direction.
  6. With limitations – some students have a very clear idea of what they want in life. We should let them follow those threads within reason.
  7. It definitely should not be a free for all. But, it needs to cater more to individual students and their different abilities and ways of learning. For example, I always had good grades in all my classes. I was always in AP and honors and did well. But I skipped classes a lot because being tied down for four years to the same thing was so boring. If I had more of a choice I think I wouldn’t have done that. Skipping class made me feel like I had more control – and I didn’t care that I skipped because I was still able to get the grades I wanted. Some people learn great by reading a book and listening to a teacher and taking an exam, but some students get bored of sitting still and doing the same thing for four years. There should be an option. I could have learned and passed with flying colors everything I did in high school in two years instead of four. The other two years should have been spent with something hands on, more active, and more interesting. It would definitely have done a lot more to help with the real world and college. (Especially because most kids only have half a day of classes their senior year and waste that year away.) In short, High school DOES NOT need to be four years.
  8. If kids had the option to focus on subjects and matters that interest then, less time would be spent in the hallways or bathroom. School would be more enjoyable for everyone.
  9. It really doesn’t matter either way. I only said no so that students can be introduced and baseline educated in most subjects in high school so that they can get a feel of what they want to pursue in college. They’ll be making their own decisions for classes then anyway. But there will always be those students who are so psstionate about a subject- science for example- and would’ve been better off in high school if they could’ve spent a few hours a day in a lab.
  10. A lot of classes that I took were useless to me and I wish I had more freedom to pick what I really needed to learn.
  11. No, simply because the majority of the students they don’t really see high school as a way of getting more esucated and success in life they see it as a choice. Meaning they go there and hope to pass just because everyone does it and that’s it not because they understand that might be helpful for themselves in a future.
  12. Within reason. Students should be given some form of autonomy to choose what to do with their down time. This gives them practice for real life decisions and a sense of self. Choice is immensely important in life.
  13. Not everyone is set on one path and to funnel kids into thinking they have to go one way or another (into business, into stem) really discourages. Let kids find what they love and equip them to make it into a career.
  14. I think if we let students explore more via electives at the high school level, it will save them time and money in college
  15. it makes sense to still offer structured classes, but offering greater flexibility in choosing classes – like college – would have been better
  16. Some students at my high school would take advantage of this freedom and would not use it wisely. Ideally, I think that freedom should start in elementary school.
  17. You go to school to study not to have free time
  18. Knowing students at this point in time, even including myself, we are all attached to our phones, laptops or any other device. By giving students the freedom to decide what they do with their time, I won’t deny that some of them would study, but some other, they would be all day in their phones.
  19. If students didn’t care about their education, they wouldn’t show up to school. Sometimes giving a little more freedom (like allowing students to leave campus during lunch and free periods) might solve a few problems like truancy.
  20. A lot of students will choose to play and have fun rather than studying and doing what they should do. Giving them the freedom to choose how they will spend their time in school will make them choose the wrong decisions
  21. Yes within limits. They should given options that will benefit them
  22. They should have the freedom to study what they like starting from high school.
  23. ! Student should be able to do independent studies and truly do critical thinking for themselves and pray and I left it where they’re doing self learning and project-based learning yet the learning they’re doing cannot be done in the classroom
  24. My only caveat would be that there should be some standard/limit on how students spend their time while in school. If a student can’t read, do basic math, or know basic facts about history and how the government works, that might be problematic. That said, the model of having 4 totally structured years like we currently do is pretty bad.

 (OPTIONAL) Is there anything else you’d like to add about your high school experience?

  1. I believe that having a structured school experience is beneficial, but the burden of standardized testing is what makes it go wrong
  2. I loved high school. But I can’t decide if i miss it. College is a lot different and I don’t know if I was fully prepared. I feel like I walked in blind, especially because I am a first generation and I feel as though I am a point of reference for anything college related for my younger brother who is now sending out applications and filling out FAFSA
  3. Overall my high school experience was like a roller coaster. There were ups and downs and mistakes to learn from. I just wish I had taken the opportunities that I had at the high. If I could go back, I would try to join every club possible and maybe even convince my teachers to open up a new club. But overall, high school was fun. It’s like weaving yourself through a forest. Some of us make it out alive and some of us stray from the path and give into the wolves. There is no right or wrong. It’s how much you’re willing to fight to see the best of yourself.
  4. Not directly related to the question but I’ll take this opportunity to recommend you read, or at least look into, Jacques Ranciere’s *The Ignorant Schoolmaster*. I’m not certain you’ll agree with Ranciere’s politics, but I think you’ll find fascinating his discussion of teaching methods, and scathing critique of rote explication.
  5. IT WAS AMAZING! I don’t think I would trade it in for anything in the world. Even though somethings make me really upset (I’m pretty sure my high school has been the most clear example of systemic racism).
  6. High school does not teach enough critical thinking skills – if it did it would have more of an impact on people.
  7. ” My ESL teachers did a great job with students like me and myself personally. Most of their students are enrolled in college right now and some of them are already graduates.
  8. So, that talks for itself. Also, my advisor was one of the greatest person I had ever met in High School. I have to thank her so much for the support professional and personally. “
  9. I wouldn’t change a thing! Some of the best years of my life and so grateful to my teachers for having helped shaped me into the person I am today.
  10. N/a
  11. It’s was a great stage of life, here you learn and choose your future.
  12. It was great experience I really loved it and won’t forget the teachers there, i felt really bad because they moved some teachers to a different school and they separate the new ENL or ESL Student . I think they should keep them all at the same place and try to communicate with the other student it will help them better than just separating them all of them Together with different languages and cultures they will be better if some one  encourage  them to communicate.
  13. Teachers really don’t understand the impact they have on students. If you don’t like your job or you’re just there for a job it’s so important that you give it up and allow somebody who truly wants to change the world be able to have that opportunity
  14. Was general very positive. I am grateful for a lot of the opportunities ***** High provided me.


Voluntary Socialism

Here is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I’m not sure I have a handle on it, so I welcome your thoughts.

On one hand, for virtually everybody, the world is the safest and most comfortable its ever been. It is less violent than it was a thousand or a hundred or fifty years ago. There’s more food, technically enough to feed the world, despite there being 7.6 billion of us. Virtually everyone has electricity and electronics. Houses with heating and cooling technology. Cars and planes. Flush toilets and running water. Despite all the doom-and-gloom rhetoric (which one might scribe on their ipad, connected to Starbuck’s wifi, whilst sipping a soy latte), this is objectively, in a real measurable way, the easiest time for a person to be alive on this planet.

On the other hand, so many of us are miserable, lonely, and living without purpose. The rates of suicide and depression are up. A third of us are obese. We think nothing of giving our children up to agents of the state from ages five to eighteen, and if they resist too much, we tell them that they have School Refusal Disorder. Then we think nothing of sequestering our elderly away in geriatric daycare centers, effectively sweeping under the rug our past and our future.

Take the phenomenon of mass shootings, and especially school shootings (this is related, so bear with me). I’m not interested in arguing about guns or gun laws or SSRIs/mental health at this moment – try, if you can, to clear your mind of such things, and just think about why mass shootings have such a profound effect on our collective psyche. Many other shootings besides mass shootings happen all over the country. Today is January twelfth – so far, in the month of January, seventy-seven people have been shot and eighteen killed in Chicago alone (there were 675 homicides in Chicago in 2017). Or, even more mundane, the US dropped a 500 pound bomb meant to kill two ISIS snipers, and (whoopsie) killed over a hundred civilians.

Mass shootings of the type that have most grip our imagination – I’m talking of the Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Columbine variety – do not compute. That’s why we talk about everything else – access to firearms, mental illness, pharmaceuticals, bullying, etc., because what else do we say? What do you say about the level of nihilism it takes for a person to coldly kill as many unarmed people as possible, sometimes children, before killing themselves? We understand gang wars and ISIS snipers. We don’t like it, but we understand it.

And how do we reconcile that nihilism with the unbelievable, unprecedented comfort and prosperity that nearly everyone on earth enjoys? And especially the ones doing the mass shootings? Look at the top twenty deadliest mass shootings in the United States – nearly all of them were committed by middle class or wealthy people, a bit more than half of them white, all of them men, and most of them born in America. It doesn’t get much more comfortable than that.

This planet is more safe and comfortable compared to any other point in history because technology has rendered tribalism obsolete. We don’t need our children or our elderly around us for survival, and they don’t need us. We literally could live to a hundred and go our entire life without a meaningful relationship with anyone. Not only is it possible, it’s probable, since we don’t need anyone to get the things we need for comfortable survival, there is no incentive to build these relationships. A return to tribalism isn’t the answer, either. Where great violence and genocide still exist, it is made possible by unyielding allegiance to some religious, or political, or social, or some other ideology.

A policy of individualism makes the world a safer, more just place. The choice of living only for yourself absolves you of responsibility and gives life little purpose. It leads to anxiety and depression, in many cases leads people to medicate (or self-medicate), and in extreme cases ends in suicide. Which is why I’m playing with the idea of “voluntary socialism”, with the understanding that I’m not using the word “socialism” in a precise way (“collectivism” sounds worse, and “tribalism” might connote violence). Pick a different word, if you’d like.

I think this could only work with a relatively small group – forty-ish people, maximum. An extreme manifestation of “voluntary socialism” might be some kind of communal living with extended family, or several extended families, all on the same farm or in the same apartment complex. A few simpler, more practical suggestions might be:

  • A community lawnmower/snowblower. Have one set of these common items in a centralized shed that everyone on the block uses and is responsible for maintaining.
  • Monthly gatherings of people in the neighborhood: parties, barbecues, work groups, semi-social self-betterment clubs, book clubs, etc.
  • Homeschool cooperatives.
  • Community gardens.
  • Neighborhood sports clubs.
  • Maybe monthly dues, or an emergency fund, that goes towards a community member in the event of a fire, car-emergency, caved in roof, etc. Not exactly sure the most equitable way of running something like that, but the idea of the group taking on responsibility for a member in trouble, particularly with their home or transportation, is appealing.

I’ll conclude with an emphasis on voluntary. If someone doesn’t want to join, it is not ethical to force them. If someone wants to leave the group, you have to let them. This is why “socialism” isn’t a precise word – coercion is built into socialist systems. However, choosing a community to take responsibility for, who reciprocates by taking responsibility for you, is making the choice to build strong relationships with a relatively small group of people, and to live for something bigger than yourself. It gives life joy and meaning. The great thing about a free society that focuses on the importance of the individual is that it gives us the opportunity to make choices that are good for ourselves and our family. Choosing to live for something bigger than yourself is a smart choice.

The culmination of these seemingly insignificant choices will define you

I believe it’s the culmination of life’s seemingly insignificant choices that will define me as a person. This strikes me as significant, in terms of being the primary male role model for my sons. Here are choices that I have decided are simple to understand, rewarding though difficult to live by, and are worthy of putting out into the universe:

  1. I can control what I can control, and I can discern that which is within my control. I can control my attitude towards that which I cannot control, so therefore, everything is to an extent within my control.
  2. I know when to go with the flow, and when to swim against the current. Stillness and action are both virtues, when timed correctly.
  3. I am a seeker. I understand that my perception of truth is not truth, but even still, that is not an excuse for ignorance. I discriminate value from rubbish. I am principled, but am willing to test those principles against anything. I am not scared to listen to either irreverent or mainstream ideas. Virtually nothing offends me.

The five things that I will explicitly teach my boys

My wife Ramita and I don’t “unschool” our five- and seven-year-old boys in the strictest sense, but I’d say our family has the spirit of self-direction. With the exception of violin, we don’t go out of our way to give them structured lessons in anything that they don’t ask for. We read to them almost every day, we try to get outside as much as we can, and we put them in sports and swimming lessons, all of which they look forward to and love. They do math worksheets, puzzles, writing, science, and lately a ton of sewing and embroidering, all on their own.

That said, there are five things I’m going to explicitly teach my boys, with or without their consent – and not just a single lesson, but many sneaky little lessons. I’ll slip into their psyche like a ninja and calibrate their sense of normalcy, without their permission, even if I have to give up my Self-Directed-Educator’s-Card to do it.

For ease of understanding, I’ve put the lessons’ content objective in red.

War Memorials & War Movies

The first time I ever really noticed how many statues commemorating war there are in our area was two summers ago. My oldest was in an art class, so I took my youngest on a walk around the city. There were at least six in a half mile radius. Now that I’m paying attention, there are war memorials everywhere.

I’m not hating on veterans (I am one). I’m just saying – is there any other possible thing in our community we could commemorate? A philanthropist? An explorer? An inventor? A self-made millionaire? A poet? Anything?

I know boys crave adventure, excitement, and risk. I know I did, and I know my boys do. They are already asking me about war, and telling me that they can’t wait to go themselves, and I’ve literally told them nothing about my experience. I’m firmly against this country’s never-ending aggression and occupation of countries that have no means of attacking us; however, the military often is a valuable experience for young people. It was for me. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be the only option on the table. There are dozens of ways that a boy can become a man besides military service, but that’s hard to see when you’re raised in the shadow of thirty foot tall war memorials.

Social Media & Dopamine

It is very possible that I am wrong on this one. I say that because there are many people in the SDE world, who I consider to be extremely intelligent and well-read, who believe that the dangers of screen time for kids is overblown, and that most kids will learn to self-regulate after a few days or weeks of over-indulging. Maybe that’s more true of video games than it is of social media (Peter Gray argues for the cognitive benefits of playing video games). I don’t play video games anymore, but I played plenty as a kid, and I doubt as though they are tearing away the fabric of society. However, if the argument is that social media is completely innocuous, then I disagree – that is, it may be true that some kids can do that, but I don’t think most can (many adults struggle, too). I can boil it down to two points:

  1. There are people who are being paid millions of dollars whose expressed job is to get you to stay on social media for as long as possible. They are exploiting dopamine loops and literally rewiring your brain. These are brilliant people whose job it is to alter your chemistry to make it more difficult to put down your device. I don’t think kids have a realistic chance at resisting this
  2. Many of the top paid tech people do not allow their kids to have devices, do not use social media themselves, and send their kids to Waldorf schools. Don’t trust a skinny chef.


“We compound the problem. We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals – hearts, likes, thumbs-up – and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity, that’s short-term, and that leaves you – admit it – more vacant and empty than before you did it. Because then it forces you into this vicious cycle of ‘what’s the next thing I have to do now?’…You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed.” ~Chamath Palihapitiya

College Loans & Credit Cards

You sign on for a hundred grand or more in student loans and you are agreeing to serfdom. Credit cards are poisonous. I don’t feel like I need to explain these points further.

Fast Food & Other Garbage

Similar to the screen time/dopamine argument – a young kid or a teenager has no defense against sugar. We are programmed genetically to like sweet and salty, but that was never a problem because in our evolutionary past we could never get our hands on too much of it. Now they dump forty grams of sugar or so in a soda, which is basically just water and carbonation, and charge a couple bucks for it. How are you supposed to fight that as a seven year old? You can’t, and that’s not an accident. They want you hooked. According to the .gov, a third of Americans are obese. BMI is unreliable, so call it a quarter of us, if you’d like. Fast food and other manufacturers of garbage food care about how much of their product you buy, not about your health.

Automotive Safety

OK, so not as sexy as war memorials, but a huge concern. When I let my kids outside by themselves, which I think is important, I’m not worried about sexual predators or kidnappers even a hundredth of how much I worry about them getting hit by a car. When they get older, odds are that they or a friend will have the urge to drive recklessly. When I was fifteen, I told my parents I was going one place and I wound up going another. I got into a car with a sixteen-year-old who, long story short, flipped the car over twice. My hand got caught between the roof of the car and the road, although somehow all I lost was a fingernail. We were both extremely fortunate, however, nothing can change your life quicker, and more permanently, than a bad car accident.

Why isn’t Daryl Davis a household name?

“Why I, as a black man, attend KKK rallies.”


If you’ve never heard of Daryl Davis, he’s a damn superhero. He is a black man who is directly responsible for forty members of the Klan giving up their robes, and indirectly responsible for about 200. By “giving up their robes,” I mean they literally handed Davis their Klan robe and quit hating people on the basis of race or religion. He has a closet full of Klan robes, and he got them by sitting down and speaking with actual Klansmen, beginning with the question, “How do you hate me if you don’t even know me?” and followed by a lot of active listening.

Part of what I love about Davis is that he’s “real.” He’s non-aggressive, but not necessarily non-violent. He isn’t interested in self-immolation or martyrdom. He physically fights when he’s attacked (you can hear how tense it got in the first meeting he had with the Klansman in the above video). However, he doesn’t carry weapons, and so long as they don’t attack him, then he’s willing to listen, and respond calmly, to anything a member of the Ku Klux Klan says to him.


“I was not seriously injured. I’ve faced knives and guns and of course fists. I’ve had to physically fight upon occasion, but that is not my first resort. I did not carry any weapons to my interviews. On one occasion, it was only one Klansman who attacked me. On another, it was 3 of them. I won, both physically on the street and legally in court.” ~Daryl Davis, retrieved from Wikipedia


There is an incredibly powerful lesson to be learned here, and my sense is that we are resisting it. I don’t know why. I’m not being facetious when I ask “Why isn’t Daryl Davis a household name?” He should be – regardless of your world-view, you can’t argue with the simple effectiveness of Davis’s technique. Who else has converted 200 Klan members? How many lives did that save? I don’t mean merely physical lives (although those too) – I mean imagine how many people were freed from senseless hate, who will now raise children who are that much less likely to join the Klan?


“Davis’s father, the retired senior Foreign Service officer William B. Davis, believed that his son engaged with the Klan because he needed to make sense of their hatred, to seek common ground. He remarked to The Washington Post that his son ‘has done something that I don’t know any other black American, or white American, has done.'” ~retrieved from Wikipedia


I don’t know if there is exactly one reason why this man’s story isn’t front page everywhere, and I don’t know if I have all the answers. There are definitely political and commercial interests that benefit from demonization; certainly people are easier to control when they perceive half the country or more is out to destroy them and their family. I don’t know if social media is in on this divide-and-conquer strategy, or if it just naturally exasperates it, but I’ve run out of groups to be disgusted by: libtards, alt-right Nazis, millennials, white supremacists, social justice warriors, toxic males, refugees, Mexicans, free-speech-absolutists, Islamophobes, homophobes, billionaire 1%ers, statists, anarchists, communists, sexists, ableists, feminists, racists… It was a lot simpler when we were just the Greasers and the Socs.

Or it’s that some people are uncomfortable with putting the onus on the “victim class” to fix the sins of the “privileged class,” which is fair, although maybe they are also concerned about those distinctions fading away, leaving them nothing to opine about. Some people believe that the country is too deeply racist and violence too imminent for a “kumbaya” moment to have any effect, however even as I’m writing this, I can’t help but to believe these latter two points are directly tied to political and commercial interests more than they are serious reasons why open dialogue can’t serve as an inoculation against stupidity and hate.

In Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe, he states that mental health professionals have an easier time treating PTSD in rape victims than in war veterans. The difference is that there is absolutely nothing about the experience of rape that is good, while the same can’t be said about the experience of combat. In the military, the comradery is so baked into the trauma that you might even argue it’s the same (I wrote about this last veteran’s day). Maybe it’s just a lot easier for us to wrap our psyche around an evil, destructive, completely irredeemable group, then it is to sit down with them and find out they’re human, too. Because if you sit down with a Klansman and discover that they’re human with some redeemable attributes, and you know that you’re human and share something in common, then you have to make sense of sharing a value or two with someone who is in the Klan. That is definitely going to challenge your own sense of identity, your ego will rebel, and so out come the placards and the chants.

The goal shouldn’t be to agree on everything – the goal should be to not hate each other, especially for no other reason than “they’re different.” It’s in our best interest as a society to listen to one another and to recognize that we’re all, in some sense, on the same team. We all want what’s best for our kids, we all want clean air and water, we all want to be the hero of our story. The alternative is to put everyone in some group-identity category, which is a great thing to do if you’re sick of thinking for yourself, and you’re just itchin’ to destroy whoever isn’t just like you.

What secondary school could learn from Joe Rogan


“Here’s the craziest thing about life. This is the thing that nobody really considers: You know as much about what life is all about as anybody who’s ever lived, ever. That’s the craziest thing about us. We’re all just kinda wandering through this, going, “You know what you’re doing?” “Yes” “Oh, I do, too. I know what I’m doing.” “Okay. Good, then.” But really no one has a fucking clue.” ~Joe Rogan


The Joe Rogan Experience podcast is a long form conversation hosted by comedian, UFC color commentator, and actor Joe Rogan with friends and guests that have included comedians, actors, musicians, MMA instructors and commentators, authors, artists, and porn stars. By “long form” they mean up to three hours of conversation. It’s a wildly popular podcast – Rogan has said he gets thirty million downloads a month. Besides the content itself, there are a number of things that schools could learn from the Joe Rogan Experience:

It’s three hours of conversation

Joe Rogan’s audience are obviously not a bunch of dummies, but there’s nothing to suggest they are all serious academics. About 10% of us have been diagnosed with ADHD, so out of thirty million downloads a month there may be three million who have been told they can’t sit still without medication, listening to up to three hours of Joe chatting with hunters, fighters, musicians, professors, scientists, authors, medical doctors, conspiracy theorists, actors, and all manner of folks who have been fired from their jobs. At thirty million downloads a month, statistically speaking, most listeners are probably just regular, everyday, curious people.

What schools could learn from this is that it’s not necessary to structure secondary classes at 45 minutes each, with five minutes of an “anticipatory set/do-now”, ten minutes “direct instruction”, fifteen minutes “release the lesson”, ten minutes of assessment, and five minutes for an “exit ticket.” In school, it’s common practice to not stay on one thing for any amount of time, because the assumption is that teenagers are incapable of focus. Teenagers are definitely more impulsive and (especially young men) more prone to risk-taking than grown adults, but I’d argue that they are more adult than child. I’ve run an after school program that was basically a “Socratic Seminar” that lasted for three hours at a time, and the fifteen-years-olds reported that time flew by.

In other words, they aren’t antsy because they are incapable – they are antsy because (mostly) they are being forced to engage with irrelevant and uninteresting factoids that are completely devoid of context.

Rogan is not married to a particular line of questioning

The word “knowledge” actually means “to take some action with the things we know” and had a spiritual or religious connotation (from

“early 12c., cnawlece ‘acknowledgment of a superior, honor, worship;’ for first element see know (v.). The second element is obscure, perhaps from Scandinavian and cognate with the -lock ‘action, process,'”

Rogan has boundless, genuine curiosity – I believe that’s how he’s attracted such an eclectic mix of guests on his show. I also believe that’s part of the reason why so many people tune in – we are all curious creatures, by nature. However, he has also embraced this definition of “knowledge.” He does not abstain from facts – he has an assistant who fact-checks online in real time. But his show isn’t simply a lecture on the things that we all already could find on a google search. It is an action or a process, such as a journey, with his guests and with facts as we know them. He positions himself as a seeker as opposed to a knower, which I believe is both a more enlightened, and a more pragmatic, way to approach education.

What schools need to recognize is that we’re doing the opposite. We are positioning ourselves as knowers (“content experts”) who have an agenda for students (“content and skill objectives”) and we already know the answers to the test that’s coming at the end of the unit. It’s all a dead end.

I don’t want to give the wrong idea – we don’t want to Socratic-seminar our way through brain surgery or piloting a jet. But we only have one brain, one body, and five senses, with which to experience this universe. These are ultimately our tools for doing things such as surgery on brains. We aren’t computers to be programmed – we’re humans, and as the word “knowledge” once connoted, it is a form of honor and worship to take the things we know and to have sport with them.

It’s consensual

Nobody has ever tried to bribe or threaten me with grades, detention, suspension, or “honor roll juice and bagels” to coerce me into listening to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. Somehow, despite the conspicuous lack of a report card, JRE gets thirty million downloads a month.

Four nonprofits who are getting my money in 2018

‘Tis the season for giving, and in that spirit, I’ve decided to plan ahead of time who will be the new stewards of a portion of my vast mountain of wealth in this new year.

Disclaimer: when I was raising money for local refugees I received 99% support and encouragement, but the 1% who were critical of what I was doing all had the same complaint: “But what about the veterans?!” “But what about the homeless?!” “But what about the inner city kids?!” “But what about the [insert group who you care about enough to tweet out your support, but not work for]?!”

This is my list, that I’m sharing with you. If you don’t like my list, then make your own list…and share it! Three out of four of these organizations I’ve only heard about this year. We all need to hear more about the good work people are doing!

Mike Rowe Works

ARE YOU PROFOUNDLY DISCONNECTED®? A trillion dollars in student loans. Record high unemployment. Three million good jobs that no one seems to want. The mikeroweWORKS Foundation started the Profoundly Disconnected® campaign to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.

A few years ago I had a student named Raj (not his real name) whose family was from Afghanistan, but who was born and raised in India. He had only been in the United States for a few years, but had earned all of his credits and passed all of his tests. I would mark him “present” and send him across the street to autotech – he had had enough Hamlet and was ready to be useful.

I went over there once to see what all of the fuss was about. Half the class was taking autotech to get their elective credit and were doing the minimum.  Raj and his cousin, however, were busting their ass – they were working as if they owned the garage. Teachers and older students would bring their busted, uninspected cars in, and Raj and his cousin would fix and inspect them. The teacher was standing to the side, his arms crossed, some weird piece of car-gut in his hand, and said smiling, “You know they’re here all day?”

Grandpa Huskie. Middle row, fourth from the left.


My grandfather used to talk all the time about how, when he was a young man in South Troy, you could learn a trade in high school. He said it saved his life. It was the Depression and they were broke in a way that people don’t go broke anymore, at least in America. Grandpa went on to be an electrician’s mate in the Navy and worked for GE for around forty years.

Grandpa told me that to be part of a large Polish family with an alcoholic father was to be worthless. He was fighting, not just against Great Depression level poverty, but for self-respect and self-worth. Dignity that comes from being useful. Raj was also an alien, albeit in a more literal way. India never recognized him as a citizen, even though he was born there. He was new to America and not yet a citizen here, either. He was fighting for something more than “college-and-career-ready”.

There is a practical argument for supporting the trades as early as high school. In a fraction of the time, for the fraction of the cost, students could be trained for jobs that exist, that desperately need to be filled, and that pay well. College takes a long time, is very expensive, and (one might argue) continues the indoctrination that began in high school so students know who to blame when they’re twenty four years old and unemployable.

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to normalizing and legitimizing Self-Directed Education, to make it available to everyone who seeks it.

Self-directed education makes some assumptions about students and learning that are self-evident to anyone willing to push aside society’s veil and look at things as they really are, such as:

  1. School is optional. You can, for example, be educated (and go to college) without a conventional high school diploma.
  2. Learning and curiosity are natural for all humans. So long as we’re in an environment of mutual consent, with the opportunity to express ourselves, and we have a sense of purpose or importance, it is not necessary for extrinsic motivation to be delivered by trained professionals in order to prevent teens from being perpetually idle.
  3. Teaching is more a function than it is a profession. The search for truth, meaning, and importance is yours alone, and as you continue on this quest, teachers and mentors will appear.
  4. Just because a student complies doesn’t mean they are engaged; just because they can recite data doesn’t mean they’ve gained knowledge or wisdom; their grade, whether high or low, is not a reflection of their capacity.
  5. A teenager is not a child. They are ready for real responsibility. Suggesting that they, for example, should be required to obtain written permission to use the bathroom is a humiliating affront to their dignity. The same goes with force-feeding Shakespeare and algebra.
  6. An underdeveloped prefrontal cortex (the biological reason why teenagers are impulsive) is as much a gift as it is a curse. Teenagers are built that way for a reason. Risk-taking is good. Danger is good. Adventure is good. You don’t get to be old and wise unless you are young and dumb. Cutting teens off from adventure produces adults who are timid and neurotic.
  7. “Education” is not something that only happens in certain places at certain times with certain people. Lifelong learning happens no matter what. Independent thought and action is our human right.

I recently sat with a family whose son was not doing well in 7th grade. He is bored, his grades are low, he’s hanging out with the wrong crowd, and his teachers…how do I say this…are feeling the pressure to prioritize keeping students quiet, well-behaved, and passing tests, more than they are to inspire.

He would have been a perfect candidate for homeschooling, however, I had to recommend (against my own instincts) that he stay in school. The fact was, he would have had nowhere to go and nothing to do. There’s no self-directed learning center or community of homeschoolers where he lives. There’s one small library that’s closing in a few months. There’s almost no industry. He’s only 12 years old, his mother is pregnant with twins, English is her second language, and she works a lot. I just couldn’t see how home school would work, so I gave him my e-mail, and tried to coach him into finding some after-school activities with positive role models that might make school worth attending. Unfortunately, he told me, most of the after-school activities were not as advertised, e.g., “Robotics Club” is a teacher watching students watch Youtube from three until four.

I envision a world where kids who are suffering in school have options for community, exploration, and adventure, and the ability to exercise their own free will – not to mention contact with a wide variety of adults. Nothing against teachers, but the vast majority of them were good at school, went to college, then went to graduate school (full circle) to become teachers in a school. That’s not to say don’t have value for students – it is to say they are a fairly homogeneous group. I would love to see retirees of all kinds, tradesmen, athletes, college students, veterans, mothers, fathers, and both starving artists and self-made millionaires, all working for, or volunteering their time, to talk to or work with young people.

Black Guns Matter

The Black Guns Matter mission is to educate urban communities on their 2nd amendment rights and responsibilities through firearm training and education.

My first year teaching I had a student who shot and killed a little girl (his defense was “I didn’t mean to shoot her, I was aiming at someone else”). When asked where he got the gun, he answered, “It’s a community gun. We all use it.” He had picked it up from a flower pot, and I’m pretty sure it was never recovered. He was in my class for a month or two after that, before he was arrested – he’s one of three killers I’ve had in my classroom in my career, before they were arrested. Another young man who was a former student was shot and killed by his cousin – it was an accident, they both had been “playing” with a gun they had found.

My support for Black Guns Matter follows simple logic:

  1. 81% of gun homicide happens in urban areas. Related, black Americans are eight times more likely to be shot to death than white Americans.
  2. As best as I can tell, there isn’t a “gun culture” in black communities the same way there is in many white communities – that is, gramps isn’t passing down his old hunting rifle and parents aren’t showing their children how to properly handle and clear a weapon.
  3. Black people have just as much right to defend themselves, their family, and their property, but until now, as far as I know, there hasn’t been an organization willing to provide both technical and legal education, as well as safety training and experience operating firearms. Maj Toure calls himself and his followers “solutionaries” – they are providing just such education and experience.

I’m not a “gun nut.” I own a couple of rifles and a shotgun, and they’re locked in my basement, where they’ve been for years. I’ve never owned a pistol, and I’m not particularly interested. However, if I lived in a place where there were a much higher risk of violence, my shotgun would be in the closet next to my bed.

I’m a peace-loving guy – I’m willing to sit down and have a coffee (or a whiskey) and hash out differences with literally anyone (Daryl Davis is my model in this regard). However, if you threaten violence on me or my family, then I have the right to meet force with overwhelming force. There’s no reason why black people shouldn’t have that same opportunity. Urban areas can be dangerous places, and Black Guns Matter is doing their part to give good people the tools to defend themselves and their families.

No One Left Behind Foundation

I am alive today because of my translator.

There’s an Afghan man who translates for students in the district. When he was in Afghanistan he worked for the US military. Because of that the Taliban had thrown a grenade into his house, a bomb was placed in his car, and his entire family was constantly put at risk. He would travel back and forth to Pakistan, but there were so many Taliban informants in Pakistan that Afghanistan was actually safer for him.

We soldiers put our lives on the line for a tour of duty. They put their whole family at risk up and until they can get the hell out of their country. The man who I spoke with lost 3 friends, fellow interpreters, while waiting to get authorization to come to America. I saw it while I was in Iraq back in 2004, and I’ve heard similar stories over the past ten years from students who come from those countries. If you so much as gave an American GI a haircut, there was a possibility the insurgency would, at some point, pull your family out of their house and select a couple to be taken away forever. Or else, they’d execute them on the spot.

At least during the occupation, there was more-or-less a green zone. But when our main fighting force pulled out, we left a lot of those guys there. “Paperwork is going to take a year or two,” we said, to which they respond, “We’ll be dead in a day or two.” This picture is from my tour – masks in 90 degree heat. No One Left Behind works to get former interpreters visas – it’s the right thing to do.

Faith in Humanity

I deeply respect Carol Black for her tireless advocacy of unschooling, and I enjoyed her movie Schooling the World (just last week I recommended it to a couple of coworkers, who have since seen it). However, I have to disagree with Black for calling for the Alliance of Self-Directed Education (ASDE) to distance themselves from the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) or (if I’m reading between the lines properly) frequent contributor to FEE and ASDE board member, Kerry McDonald. There is nothing wrong with the information Black posted on twitter and facebook ; it’s good to know those things about FEE. My disagreement stems more from characterizing “we” as distinct from “them”, and then suggesting that we remove ourselves from dialogue with them.


“This is a political opinion that does not reflect the views of most unschoolers. We oppose regulation but not for these reasons.”

~Carol Black


There is a pretty obvious case why we shouldn’t frame ourselves as the righteous defenders of justice in an eternal war against some dark money billionaire’s war for an unsustainable world. These sorts of things are usually the precursors to hate and violence. How many stories are there of peaceful neighbors who turn around and slaughter each other after shifting their personal or group identity from temporary or descriptive to permanent? Muslims and Hindus in Bangladesh; Shia and Sunni in Iraq; Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. My first platoon sergeant was in Vietnam when MLK was assassinated, and he said it instantly polarized black and white soldiers in his unit. There is spiritual and evolutionary programming that makes it easier for us to hate those from whom we distance ourselves.


There is a difference between describing yourself as a Hindu or Sunni or Hutu or an electrician’s mate, as a description that’s subject to change, as opposed to a definitive, “I am this, which means you must be that.” I seek what I am as opposed to I know what I am, because when you get to the point that you know something for certain, that’s when you become a fanatic. When you see your identity as a description, then you can enter that description into a broader conversation with other peoples’ ideas of themselves and of you, and you can move and change. When you know truth for certain, you remove yourself from conversation, which naturally leads to polarization, demonization, and aggression.


Kmele Foster did something interesting at a panel discussion at Rutgers. He asked everyone in the audience who was afraid that malevolent, racist rhetoric on the internet/social media would turn people into racists to raise their hands. A good number did. He then asked anyone who was concerned that hearing a racist thing on the internet might turn they themselves racist to raise their hands. Of course nobody did. Because it’s reasonable that when most people enter into a mode of seeking, rather than a mode of knowing, that they can also discriminate between good and bad ideas. Whatever evil may lurk on the pages of FEE I’m not too concerned about; I have more faith in humanity. I have tremendous concern that people are willingly removing themselves from entire spheres of thought, and encouraging others to do the same, thus significantly limiting the breadth of ideas one could possibly be exposed to, and increasing feelings of animus and distrust with people they don’t know. Ideas will be accepted or rejected on their merits, but only if one comes in contact with those ideas.


It’s also worth noting that taking a position of bubble-wrapping ourselves in our own little echo-chamber is what got us a Hillary Clinton and a Donald Trump as presidential candidates, and is also the reason why a major minority are waking up to the dangers of group-think. Gary Johnson, a mere shadow of the candidate Ron Paul was, also earned 4.5 million votes in 2016 to Paul’s 432,000 votes in 1988, the most successful libertarian candidate to ever run. And he wasn’t even that great a candidate by libertarian standards. It’s self-defeating, exacerbated by social media, to hide in homogeny. I’m not saying unschoolers should align with this or with that, but I don’t think it’s coincidental that the liberty movement in general is correlated with the child liberation movement specifically. It’s something worth thinking about.

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