Category: Education

“If I make you do good, will it make you good?”

Last month my family and I had the opportunity to visit the home of some good friends (I’ll refer to them as the “Smiths” hereafter). What started as a friendly conversation quickly degraded into a spirited debate on education vs. compulsory schooling. Our family shares a great deal of respect for the Smiths, and we see eye-to-eye on quite a few topics, but one topic on which we have long differed is that of education. While the Smiths are far from evangelists touting the virtues of a public compulsory school system (one which is clearly failing to satisfy society’s needs let alone meet the minimum criteria of what constitutes a successful education) they do have a healthy appetite for the “fringe benefits” of the public system and the value it brings students and families when compared against the absence of such a system.

And therein lies the chief problem: this wonderful family, a family which has produced amazing children and has had a great impact in society, has also fallen prey to one of the biggest droughts plaguing society today — the drought of imagination. Now I can’t prove what I believe, namely that the Smiths are merely suffering the deadening effects of a system that has waged war on one of our strongest differentiators from other, more brute beasts in the world. But I can say with 100% veracity that the Smiths are in nowise the minority in their lack of ability to imagine a world where compulsion is not the key ingredient in the concoction that is today more commonly sold under the label of “A Child’s Schooling.”

My personal beliefs – reinforced by the Christian values to which I subscribe – induce me to declare war against compulsion. I’m no stranger to the subject, either. I was raised in a world that was pretty much the epitome of the classical compulsive system. I attended church and school where my non-standard questions were an unwelcome interruption to the ultra-standard curriculum. I lived in a home where I was expected to behave as my parents imagined a good young boy should behave. I even consumed much of my entertainment according to someone else’s prescribed pattern. Everywhere I went, people were (sometimes passively but usually actively) telling me what I should say, how I should think, where I should go, and what I should do. Honestly, it would be better described as telling me what not to say, think, or do. Apparently, I wasn’t a very “good” boy. 😉

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m merely blaming the world for my woes. In fact, I am the first to admit that I’m as guilty as the rest of us in many ways, bestowing the burden of compulsion upon my own children, friends, acquaintances, and even myself. I, too, suffer from a lack of imagination, if only to a lesser degree. I’m not fighting the war against compulsion out of sense of superiority. I do it precisely because I recognize my own inferiority against this principle which I so despise. As is the case when overcoming any great challenge, I’ve found myself investing a great deal of time pursuing an education on the matter. It has begun with a sizable investment of my conscious thought and observation into the matter of education and compulsion over the past decade or more. I’ve also done a bit of “light reading” on the matter, and will no doubt be sharing those resources here as time goes on.

The debate that accompanied our visit to the Smith’s home last month was stirring for me. So stirring, in fact, that I decided to write a letter to them in an attempt express the many things that were not communicated (or were communicated poorly) that evening. I realized there were some key principles at the foundation of my views that weren’t even discussed. I can see how, in lieu of these basic building blocks, confusion and skepticism might abound. And so it was that I decided to write a letter to the Smiths in an attempt to clearly outline the foundation of my views. If this is indeed a true, universal principle, adherence to it will no doubt vary from individual to individual, family to family, and society to society. However, one important distinction will exist: we will cease liberal peppering of force and compulsion in the rearing and tutelage of our young minds.

I publish this letter here today because it has become clear to me over the last month that this is more than a simple communique to the Smith family. This is, more or less, my manifesto on the principle of the agency of man. This “manifesto” is certainly far from exhaustive. However, I post it here with the hope that I will either be proven irrefutably wrong in my faulty beliefs, or so the discussion can flourish and develop into real change. Either way, I want to know whether the arguments in this document are efficacious, or merely fallacy.

The conversations I’ve already shared with those who have read this have been amazing, and extremely enlightening. So I invite you to read this, pass it along, add to it, comment on it, and let me know if it has had any impact in your life, good or bad. I have felt for some time that this is a conversation we need to have in this crazy world, especially today.

Please find the PDF below:

On Compulsion – A Manifesto on Agency and Force (PDF)

Only the educated would read this. My guess is it will go unread.

That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen

by Frederic Bastiat, 1850


“In all times, but more especially of late years, attempts have been made to extend wealth by the extension of credit.

“I believe it is no exaggeration to say, that since the revolution of February, the Parisian presses have issued more than 10,000 pamphlets, crying up this solution of the social problem. The only basis, alas! of this solution, is an optical delusion – if, indeed, an optical delusion can be called a basis at all.

“The first thing done is to confuse cash with produce, then paper money with cash; and from these two confusions it is pretended that a reality can be drawn.

“It is absolutely necessary in this question to forget money, coin, bills, and the other instruments by means of which productions pass from hand to hand; our business is with the productions themselves, which are the real objects of the loan; for when a farmer borrows fifty francs to buy a plough, it is not, in reality, the fifty francs which are lent to him, but the plough: and when a merchant borrows 20,000 francs to purchase a house, it is not the 20,000 francs which he owes, but the house. Money only appears for the sake of facilitating the arrangements between the parties.

“Peter may not be disposed to lend his plough, but James may be willing to lend his money. What does William do in this case? He borrows money of James, and with this money he buys the plough of Peter.

“But, in point of fact, no one borrows money for the sake of the money itself; money is only the medium by which to obtain possession of productions. Now, it is impossible in any country to transmit from one person to another more productions than that country contains.

“Whatever may be the amount of cash and of paper which is in circulation, the whole of the borrowers cannot receive more ploughs, houses, tools, and supplies of raw material, than the lenders altogether can furnish; for we must take care not to forget, that every borrower supposes a lender, and that what is once borrowed implies a loan.

“This granted, what advantage is there in institutions of credit? It is, that they facilitate, between borrowers and lenders, the means of finding and treating with each other; but it is not in their power to cause an instantaneous increase of the things to be borrowed and lent. And yet they ought to be able to do so, if the aim of the reformers is to be attained, since they aspire to nothing less than to place ploughs, houses, tools, and provisions in the hands of all those who desire them.

“And how do they intend to effect this?

“By making the State security for the loan.

“Let us try and fathom the subject, for it contains something which is seen, and also something which is not seen. We must endeavour to look at both.

“We will suppose that there is but one plough in the world, and that two farmers apply for it.

“Peter is the possessor of the only plough which is to be had in France; John and James wish to borrow it. John, by his honesty, his property, and good reputation, offers security. He inspires confidence; he has credit. James inspires little or no confidence. It naturally happens that Peter lends his plough to John.

“But now, according to the Socialist plan, the State interferes, and says to Peter, “Lend your plough to James, I will be security for its return, and this security will be better than that of John, for he has no one to be responsible for him but himself; and I, although it is true that I have nothing, dispose of the fortune of the taxpayers, and it is with their money that, in case of need, I shall pay you the principal and interest.” Consequently, Peter lends his plough to James: this is what is seen.

“And the Socialists rub their hands, and say, “See how well our plan has answered. Thanks to the intervention of the State, poor James has a plough. He will no longer be obliged to dig the ground; he is on the road to make a fortune. It is a good thing for him, and an advantage to the nation as a whole.”

“Indeed, gentlemen, it is no such thing; it is no advantage to the nation, for there is something behind which is not seen.

“It is not seen, that the plough is in the hands of James, only because it is not in those of John.

“It is not seen, that if James farms instead of digging, John will be reduced to the necessity of digging instead of farming.

“That, consequently, what was considered an increase of loan, is nothing but a displacement of loan. Besides, it is not seen that this displacement implies two acts of deep injustice.

“It is an injustice to John, who, after having deserved and obtained credit by his honesty and activity, sees himself robbed of it.

“It is an injustice to the tax-payers, who are made to pay a debt which is no concern of theirs.

“Will any one say, that Government offers the same facilities to John as it does to James? But as there is only one plough to be had, two cannot be lent. The argument always maintains that, thanks to the intervention of the State, more will be borrowed than there are things to be lent; for the plough represents here the bulk of available capitals.

“It is true, I have reduced the operation to the most simple expression of it, but if you submit the most complicated Government institutions of credit to the same test, you will be convinced that they can have but on result; viz., to displace credit, not to augment it. In one country, and in a given time, there is only a certain amount of capital available, and all are employed. In guaranteeing the non-payers, the State may, indeed, increase the number of borrowers, and thus raise the rate of interest (always to the prejudice of the tax-payer), but it has no power to increase the number of lenders, and the importance of the total of the loans.

“There is one conclusion, however, which I would not for the world be suspected of drawing. I say, that the law ought not to favour, artificially, the power of borrowing, but I do not say that it ought not to restrain them artificially. If, in our system of mortgage, or in any other, there be obstacles to the diffusion of the application of credit, let them be got rid of; nothing can be better or more just than this. But this is all which is consistent with liberty, and it is all that any who are worthy of the name of reformers will ask.”

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners
I wish someone told me.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.
But there is a gap.
For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.
We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.
We all go through this.
And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is
Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap
and your work will be as good as your ambitions
And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.
It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while.
You’ve just gotta fight your way through it.
– Ira Glass

More of this, please.

The paradox of our age
We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgement;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness;
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street
to meet the new neighbor.
We built more computers to hold more information
to produce more copies than ever,
but have less communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods
but slow digestion;
Tall man but short character
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room.
…His holiness the 14th Dalai Lama


December 9th, 2009 Permalink

Check out the latest addition to my web portfolio, Superchrome. Image

The MoonHave you noticed that the moon, when settled near the horizon, is an extraordinarily large, clear, and gorgeous astral sphere? If so, then you’ve no doubt been amazed at the detail that’s present, and the immense beauty that seems to be lost when the moon is high in the sky. On the horizon, the moon is incredibly full, bright, dripping with clarity, and – probably most amazingly – it’s not any larger than when it is directly overhead. Your eyes are merely being tricked by what’s referred to as the “Moon Illusion”.

That’s right, in reality the moon is closest (and measures largest from our Earthly perspective) when it’s high in the heavens, and not when it’s “down to Earth” on the horizon.

You no doubt won’t believe me. That’s ok. Test for yourself and you’ll see that the moon is smaller on the horizon than at it’s zenith (this is because the moon is actually around 4,000 miles farther away from you when sitting on the horizon than when it’s right above you).

So why does it look so much bigger on the horizon? It’s simple: Relatability. If you can’t relate to something, chances are your mind will misperceive it.

Ebbinghaus IllusionTake, for example, warm water on freezing feet after you’ve had them in the snow or cold for an extended period of time. Your mind knows the water is an appropriate temperature. You’ve even tested it with your hand. However, your feet aren’t used to being so frigid when they feel warm water, and therefore your nerves tell your mind the water is scalding hot. Same goes for optical illusions, like the one with two circles surrounded by other circles of either larger or smaller size. Your mind is used to judging size based on what’s nearby. That’s why the lower center circle in this image looks larger than the upper center circle. What a mouthful!

These principles of perception apply to most everyone. We know that people OFTEN make decisions based on their own level of comprehension. We also know that one’s perception is ALWAYS (and only) based on past experiences and those things which are familiar. If your business is seen like that moon surrounded by a body of blackness and a mist of sparkling specks, then your charm will likely be lost on a great portion of your market. To put it another way, we recognize the moon as a prodigious body when it’s laying next to the mountains, and trees, and buildings because we – Earth-bound humans – can relate to mountains, and trees, and buildings. The moon is no more mighty on the horizon then it is in the night sky, but since we’ve seen plenty of these earthly objects from a variety of perspectives, we now have something, quite simply, to relate it to.

Who cares?

The moon can afford to rarely stand out – nobody is trying to put the moon out of business. You, on the other hand, are not so untouchable. Failing to show your absolute best side – in a way that’s easily relatable to your target market – can make or break your chance of success. The moon is unfathomably awesome. I doubt there are many people on the planet who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to venture to the moon just for the chance to stand on it’s surface. Yet, somehow, the moon is a little too distant, and a bit too drowned out by the vast night sky for most humans to give it much thought. Likewise, if your corporate demeanor is aloof, forbidding, or formal, your days are now numbered. Trying to create a barrier between the inner workings of your company and your customer merely creates confusion and questions. Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Sallie Mae, and AT&T, among others, have operated on the premise that you need only hand them your money, and they’ll do the rest. This attitude of “what we do is too big to understand, son – take your lunch, say thank you, and move along” was the chime of industry 10 short years ago. Now, it’s the death knell of these monoliths. Your customer is wanting to know the REAL you, not just your glossy exterior. If you won’t tell them who you are, what you believe, why you’re here, and what your driving passion is, then they’ll find someone who will.

Customers today are seeking a friend, someone to trust, and someone to champion. Don’t misunderstand, this is not an invitation from your customer to slack off and just talk. Unquestionably, you still have to rock their world if you want their attention. Nobody champions the mediocre – your extraordinary business must continue to be extraordinary. But this is the information age, and everything has changed, including the customer. They are ready to see you in a relatable environment, and just like the moon, the better you look in their familiar setting, the better chance you have to garner their interest.

Are you using today’s technologies and tools and help your customer put your awesomeness into perspective? Are you showing them not only that you’re great, but how great you are compared with what they’re familiar with? In other words, get them to see how great you are compared to their baseline, and your business will experience an explosion of both loyalty and growth.

If you’re not actively inviting customers to love you, you’re missing out on the chance to create brand evangelists, generate free chatter, and improve your bottom line. Most of all, you’re missing out on the chance to solidify a New Relationship™ with your customer, something which only a handful of companies will survive without over the next few years.

detergentOne last note: comparing yourself to your competitors used to make for great advertising. Remember all the detergent ads in the 90’s? Today, making your focus one of comparing yourself with a competitor is ineffective at best, and suicide at worst. What’s to say your customer relates to your competitor any better than you. Instead of leading your customer down an unknown path, figure out where their interests and your offerings intersect and laser beam your full focus on that. The customer no longer wants to know why you’re the better brand. They want to know why your the BEST brand FOR THEM. It’s not about you. It’s not about you compared to… It is all about your customer, and for the first time in history, they know it.

Do you?

Now, go be relatable.

I haven’t told you this before, but I’m a sucker for good quotes. I love em, and can’t get enough. I happened across one of my most cherished belongings years ago as a twenty year old – an old leather bound book published in 1910 called Old Friends Are Best, which contains hundreds of some of the finest quotes I have ever encountered. These come from some of the greatest poets and writers we’ve known, such as Longfellow, Emerson, Dickens, and Twain, with plenty of wonderful additions from less known intellects as well.

I’ll share a few quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson tonight, but before I do, I want to tell you that if you ever want to make my year decade, or if you’d like to extract from me ten times your actual costs, then present this book to me in good condition and the leather bound edition. You won’t bring me more humility or gratitude with any other earthly gift, I think.

And on to the words:

“Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force; that thoughts rule the world”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

And probably my favorite of the evening is the following:

“Every brave heart must treat society as a child, and never allow it to dictate.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a quote from C.S. Lewis which I found pertinent to our current state of education:

What I want to fix your attention on is the vast overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence — moral, cultural, social or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how ‘democracy’ (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient dictatorships, and by the same methods? The basic proposal of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be ‘undemocratic.’ Children who are fit to proceed may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s [of the same age] attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT. We may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when ‘I’m as good as you’ has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway, the teachers — or should I say nurses? — will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men.

– Author: C. S. Lewis, Source: Screwtape Letters