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Month: April 2011

Quotes April 2011

Quotes April 2011

“Past forty, it’s no longer cute to have had a difficult misunderstood childhood.” – Alain de Botton

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

“Education is a method whereby one acquires a higher grade of prejudices.” – Laurence Peter

“We usually confuse balance with having it all.” – Carlos Miceli

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” – JC Penny

“Academia has nothing to do with producing knowledge. They produce PR. The four most important thinkers of modern history – Freud, Marx, Einstein, Darwin – none was a conventional academic.” – Nassim Taleb

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

“In universities and intellectual circles, academics can guarantee themselves popularity – or, which is just as satisfying, unpopularity – by being opinionated rather than by being learned.” – A.N. Wilson

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” – Louis Nizer

“So much bitterness would be removed if one trusted that people behave as they do not from spite or evil but because they have no choice.” – Alain de Botton

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?” – Gandhi

“When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow.” – Anaïs Nin

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness – all foes to real understanding.” – Mark Twain

“Nearly 100 percent of innovation . . . is inspired not by ‘market analysis’ but by people who are supremely pissed off at the way things are. I happen to believe that only pissed-off people change the world, either in small ways or large ways.” – Tom Peters

“The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

“People with 160 IQs can say stupid things that sound good.” – Warren Buffett

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge

“We may soon discover that all babies are born geniuses and only become degeniused by the erosive effects of unthinkingly maintained false assumptions of the grown-ups, with their conventional ways of “bringing up” and “educating” their young.” – Buckminster Fuller

“It is not worth an intelligent man’s time to be in the majority. By definition, there are already enough people to do that.” – G. H. Hardy

“A man lives by believing something; not by debating and arguing about many things.” – Thomas Carlyle

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” – Jim Rohn

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” – Marie Curie

“What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement.” – Malcolm Gladwell

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

“I wonder if anyone in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity.” – Paul Graham

“Lottery tickets are a surtax on desperation.” – Doug Coupland

“Those with health insurance are overinsured and their behavior is distorted by moral hazard. Those without health insurance use their own money to make decisions based on an assessment of their needs. The insured are wasteful. The uninsured are prudent. So what’s the solution? Make the insured a little more like the uninsured.” – Malcolm Gladwell

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Serenity Prayer

“I gained a certain maturity upon admitting that I can’t really envision six billion, six million, or, indeed, many more than 60 people.” – Colin Marshall

“It’s unrealistic to take self-promotion out of altruism. It’s unfair to take altruism out of self-promotion.” – Carlos Miceli

“The best thing that can happen to a human being is to find a problem, to fall in love with that problem, and to live trying to solve that problem, unless another problem even more lovable appears.” – Karl Popper

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” – Will Durant

“To read a newspaper is to refrain from reading something worthwhile. The first discipline of education must therefore be to refuse resolutely to feed the mind with canned chatter.” – Aleister Crowley

“The greatest minds build. It is essential that you avoid at all costs situations where you’re inclined to criticize someone or something without the intent of seeing it grow more vibrant, truer, and more useful—else you will lose, not it.” – Tom Gardner

“The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.” – James A. Michener

“Since we cannot know all that there is to be known about anything, we ought to know a little about everything.” – Blaise Pascal

“Time is the quality of nature that keeps events from happening all at once. Lately, it doesn’t seem to be working.“ – Anonymous

“Economists report that a college education adds many thousands of dollars to a man’s lifetime income–which he then spends sending his son to college.” – Bill Vaughan

“If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.” – Bill Vaughan

“It’s never safe to be nostalgic about something until you’re absolutely certain there’s no chance of its coming back.” – Bill Vaughn

“We should use predetermination to judge others, and free will to judge ourselves.” – Carlos Miceli

“Purposes are deduced from behaviour, not from rhetoric or stated goals.” – Donella Meadows

“I’m too old for this shit.” – Roger Murtagh

“Using no way as way, using no limitation as limitation.” – Bruce Lee

“Pessimism is a self-reinforcing loop.” – Carlos Miceli

“The universe is expanding. That should help ease the traffic.” – Steven Wright

“We are all, in a sense, experts on secrecy. From earliest childhood we feel its mystery and attraction. We know both the power it confers and the burden it imposes. We learn how it can delight, give breathing space and protect.” – Sissela Bok

“Weakness is only charming in the strong.” – Alain de Botton

“Positive people are underrated. It takes just the right amount of wisdom, awareness and gullibility to be positive in a helpful way to oneself and others.” – Carlos Miceli

”Plans get you into things but you’ve got to work your way out.“ – Will Rogers

“You cannot be anything you want to be, but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” – Tom Rath

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” – Frank Zappa

“Advice comes from a need to keep things in order and reject analyzing new information that may clash with one’s own life. Love is a distant second. In fact, love is not giving unsolicited advice.” – Carlos Miceli

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Eisenhower

“If your walker has brakes, you’ve been misdiagnosed.” – Jerry Seinfeld

The Teaching Cogs

The Teaching Cogs

In recent years, education has become a hot topic. Investors see it as the next bubble to burst. Students criticize their own educational achievements. People all over promote better, faster and/or cheaper ways to educate oneself. Traditional, institutionalized education is going through a crisis, and today’s immediate communication tools are making us all aware. I’d like to continue with this trend and target a specific component of this flawed system: the teacher.

I believe that education, once a student-teacher relationship has been established, always comes down to the teacher. You can have the best system, content and students, but a bad teacher would hamper the results. On the contrary, a great teacher can overcome many obstacles and, at least, install curiosity in the student (I believe this is the best accomplishment education can hope for in general terms, rarely achieved in our institutions).

I must clarify: when I say teacher, I don’t only mean someone giving a lecture in a classroom. Teaching goes far beyond that broken context. For example, the internet has made a teacher out of many of us. The amount of individuals with different interests and skills trying to show the rest of the world what matters and the best way to learn it has sky-rocketed in recent years. This is a responsibility we must assume. However, we must do this with caution. Bad teaching is worse than no teaching.

For example, I’ve been working with Josh Kaufman for a while now. I reached out to him, offered to help him with his work, and asked to learn from him in exchange. We now have a beautiful master-apprentice relationship. The reason I went to Josh after looking at his work, was because I saw the marks of a great teacher. I saw knowledge, energy, wisdom and kindness. Yet, what I believe makes the difference between good and great (and what Josh has plenty) is awareness. Awareness of the never-ending change that surrounds us. People that are exceptional at their jobs excel at being aware of their fluctuating context, and adapting to it (which does not necessarily mean accepting it). This lack of awareness in the teaching community scares me, and it’s even worse when combined with passion.

Silent or Passionate

If present education is a broken system, then bad teachers are the cogs that keep it running, and they fall in two categories: silent cogs, and passionate cogs.

I can tolerate the silent cogs. They are doing their job, and they don’t care about what you do as long as you don’t get in their way. You can listen to them or to your iPod. Maybe they used to believe in a bigger educational purpose, but not anymore. They see it as a job instead of a mission. They are just there for the paycheck.

There’s two reasons I’m fine with this kind of teacher. One, it’s easier to overcome. Just open your laptop and read that ebook that you believe is more interesting than the class. Being productive is up to you. Second, it makes it clearer to the student that the system is broken, and we need more people rising from within, more students having valid reasons to criticize it. Silent cogs give us that.

Passionate cogs are more dangerous. Their blind belief in the what they are told to do, and their reluctance to inform themselves or embrace change, makes them the hardest cog to overcome for the unarmed student.

These teachers promote and impose the old ways, even when they recognize their inefficiency (and believe me, I’ve heard many recognize this). Problem is, they refuse to see what else is out there. Maybe it’s because of very well camouflaged insecurity or laziness, maybe it’s choosing to stay in their comfortable illusion of good deeds. Whatever the case may be, these teachers are doing a big harm to countless students by ignoring the fire outside of the classroom bubble. There’s a harsh competition out there, and they are actively making it worse for their pupils.

Teaching and passion are two things that should be held to higher standards. This assumption that everything falling in those two categories are always a positive thing is what I’m calling out here. I fear that our society worships passion to an extreme, to the point where we don’t realize when it’s being harmful, when a bad or old message is being forced down our throats. And where could it be more harmful than in teaching? Like a virus, passionate but misguided teachings spread, and it’s rarely observed, rarely criticized.

Because of its purpose and consequences, teaching is a mission first and a profession second. The latter can’t compromise the former.

Let’s all be doctors

Josh told me that if I was going to criticize something, I should also offer a solution. Fair enough: I propose we emulate the medical community. They are a great example of how expertise should be approached, especially education.

To practice medicine, you need to do two things. First, become an expert, which means you have to learn the material. But second, and more importantly, you need to remain an expert. You need to update yourself on new discoveries, tools and systems. If you don’t do this, you can’t practice. The reason medicine works this way is because of the importance of our health, and how critical medical mistakes are. Ignoring change and sticking to the old ways could mean, plain an simple, killing someone.

Why is education different? We should treat it with equal severity. Education is innovation’s diet. We’ll have to be creative to solve our problems in the world, and it depends on what we feed our youth whether we’ll achieve that or not. It depends on teachers realizing that they must update themselves constantly on the best ways for people to learn. They must do this even if it means teaching outside the institutions that provide their safe paycheck, or realizing that they too must go back to learning because times have changed.

I don’t know what the exact shape of this adoption would look like. The reach of bureaucracy in our institutions escapes me. However, I do know that the details could be easily figured out if we wanted to. I also know that this problem becomes drastically simpler in the case of independent teachers, because of their flexibility. This is why becoming an independent teacher should be considered as an option too.

This goes for all teachers, it’s independent of fields of study. If you’re teaching in any way, you need to think about this. Teaching is a craft on its own, one with a critical responsibility that is being avoided by many. Let’s own this responsibility, let’s be aware of the need for change, let’s stop ignoring the educational fire.

Let’s do it before it’s too late and we have to ask our doctor friends not only for their methods but their services as well.

PS: I’m a college dropout, but it would be ignorant and unrealistic of me to suggest that path as the ideal one. First of all, every situation is different and the best way to achieve one’s goal may vary from one person to another. Second, the schooling experience is not composed only by cogs. This post is an attempt to point to the cracks, not to destroy the building.

Flaws vs. Limits

Flaws vs. Limits

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of human “flaws”, usually used to describe some sort of fixed “crack” in an individual that expresses itself through unwanted behavior.

The problem with this perspective is that it assumes that the gap between our present self and our ideal self is permanent. It forces us to accept those “imperfections” as inherent to our personality.

I don’t want to discuss semantics in this post, but to offer a more positive definition of how that gap was formed, and how to make it smaller. Why? Because I believe that this positivity is not only more helpful, but also more accurate and closer to reality. So here it is:

What we typically call flaws, are in fact limits that arise from a combination of experiences, knowledge and genetics. These limits can be expanded with an increase of experiences and/or knowledge. Genetic limitations are inherent to all humans, and mostly similar across mankind.

That’s it. Anything can be changed with more of the first two elements. Genes are more deep-rooted so they are better left alone, or to evolution.

What I like the most about this definition, is that it vanishes concepts like stupidity, laziness or cruelty. Sure, these are unwanted traits on a person, but it’s much easier to transform them once we embrace new information, whether through experience or erudition. Most of all, it supports comprehension instead of judgment. It pushes us to increase our own intellectual efforts to expand our understanding of the world, instead of commanding others to fit in our limitations.

Finally, it lets us give ourselves a break. When do something “the wrong way”, this perspective helps us cope with it, while at the same time motivates us to improve ourselves. Since our “flaw” is no longer a rigid part of our personality, then there’s nothing other than some learning preventing us from making it better.

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