Inventing Your Own Path, The Refusal to be Broken, The Limits of Solutions, & Free Market Schooling

Inventing the path rather than identifying the path

What and how

In this brief but compelling post, Seth Godin writes,

Small dreams work this way: figure out what’s available, then choose your favorite.

Important dreams are based on what needs to be done, and then… find your how.

It’s always easier to order off the menu. Is easier the goal?

There are two distinct approaches to career-making: one is scientific, the other artistic. The scientific approach places emphasis on discovering preexisting facts and choosing to work in harmony with them. The artistic approach places emphasis on making things up. When an artist composes a song or choreographs a dance, he/she doesn’t approach this process in the same way that scientist conducts an experiment in the lab. The artist is not merely attempting to discover what is real. The artist is endeavoring to introduce a new possibility into the world. Both approaches are needed and there is much overlap, but there it seems that the scientific mindset has dominated the way we think about work in many ways. We start with facts and then we try to pursue and educational path that will help us best take advantage of the already existing facts. What Godin seems to be encouraging here is more of an artistic approach. In addition to doing research on what’s already out there, the world needs more people who are willing to create jobs that don’t currently exist. We’re not only free to choose from the menu, but we’re also free to add to the menu.

The Refusal to be Broken

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Introduction
Pgs XXIV-XXXIII)

Douglass’s broken spirit and subsequent determination to not be broken:

It was under Covey’s brutal management that Douglass took seven-league boot-sized strides toward freedom. Again in mythic terms, Douglass describes how at first Covey’s snaky brutality and interminable regimen of hard labor defeated his spirit. “A few months of this discipline tames me,” Douglass says. “Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!”

Douglass resolves never again to be beaten by Covey, or anyone else, without a fight. In anticipation of his showdown with Covey, while watching the ships on Chesapeake Bay he says, “You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.”

Douglass’s David and Goliath moment with Mr. Covey:

“But at this moment—-from whence came the spirit i don’t know—I resolved to fight;…I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him” (p. 68). They fought for nearly two hours, remembers Douglass. “I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain; for he had drawn no blood from me, but I had from him….This battle with Covey,” says Douglass, “was the turning-point in my career as a slave”. As a result of the fight, “my long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me.” Covey never touches him again, and in the four remaining years of his bondage, “I had several fights, but was never whipped” (p. 69).

Douglass’s crafty ability to use the trickster ways of his slave masters to outsmart them on his way to a life of freedom:

Finding himself in a thick briar patch with tricksters owning power that is nearly absolute, Douglass quickly learns to become something of a trickster himself. Finding himself ruled by a system of what he terms Lynch Law–the arbitrary prerogatives of those who have all the official power—Douglass learns to read and write; in so doing he develops a rhetorical strategy that trains his mind for revolutionary action, for literally turning the tables on the powerful. He learns to write sentences that outlast theirs; and then, through speeches and through his speechlike narrative, he helps generation after generation of those seeking freedom to find their way from learning how a man or woman becomes a slave to knowing how a slave becomes a man or woman.

Insights on the nature and limits of solutions

Are Your Lights On by Donald C. Gause & Gerald M. Weinberg Chapters 4-6, Pgs 29-46

Highlights from Chapters 4-6:

Don’t take their solution method for a problem definition.

If you solve their problem too readily, they’ll never believe you’ve solved their real problem.

Don’s mistake a solution method for a problem definition—especially if it’s your own solution method.

You can never be sure you have a correct definition, even after the problem is solved.

Don’t leap to conclusions, but don’t ignore your first impression.

The really important thing in dealing with problems is to know that the question is never answered, but that it doesn’t matter, as long as you keep asking. It’s only when you fool yourself into thinking you have the final problem definition—the final, true answer–that you can be fooled into thinking you have the final solution. And if you think that, you’re always wrong, because there is no such thing as a final solution.

You can never be sure you have a correct definition, but don’t ever stop trying to get one.

Schooling and the Free Market

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (Pgs 12-22)

Illich on how state monopolies on schooling limit the dynamic possibilities of skill training:

Potential skill teachers are never scarce for long because, on the one hand, demand for a skill grows only with its performance within a community and, on the other, a man exercising a skill could also teach it. But, at present, those using skills which are in demand and do require a human teacher are discouraged from sharing these skills with others. This is done either by teachers who monopolize the licenses or by unions which protect their trade interests. Skill centers which would be judged by customers on their results, and no on the personnel they employ or the process they use, would open unsuspected working opportunities, frequently even for those who are now considered unemployable. Indeed, there is no reason why such skill centers should not be at the work place itself, with the employer and his work force supplying instruction as well as jobs to those who choose their educational credits in this way.

On the opportunities that can emerge were schooling governed by free market forces instead of governmental force:

Skill teachers are made scarce by the belief in the value of licenses. Certification constitutes a form of market manipulation and is plausible only to a schooled mind. Most teachers of arts and trades are less skillful, less inventive, and less communicative than the best craftsmen and tradesmen. Most high-school teachers of Spanish or French do not speak the language as correctly as their pupils might after a half a year of competent drills. Experiments conducted by Angel Quintero in Puerto Rico suggest that many young teenagers, if given the proper incentives, programs, and access to tools, are better than most schoolteachers, at introducing their peers to the scientific exploration of plants, stars, and matter, and to the discovery of how and why a motor or a radio functions.

Opportunities for skill-learning can be vastly multiplied if we open the “market.” This depends on matching the right teacher with the right student when he is highly motivated in an intelligent program, without the constraint of curriculum.

Free and competing drill instruction is a subversive blasphemy to the orthodox educator. It dissociates the acquisition of skills from “human” education, which schools package together, and thus it promotes unlicensed learning no less than unlicensed teaching for unpredictable purposes.

The above reflections and notes are part of my personal development project for 2015. This post is my entry for (What I’m Learning: Day 25/365). To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I complete every week, click here.