Self Reliance and Curiosity: A Joint Imperative

Self-reliance and Curiosity: A Joint Imperative 

If you read the business press, watch television, or listen to the radio it is hard to escape the message that the labor markets of tomorrow will be shaped not by full-time employment but by the “gig economy.” In many labor market, this already is the case. For those who are able to fork over the cash necessary to attend university and post-graduate institutions, there is a growing recognition that outside of the STEM fields, full-time employment prospects will be spotty for professionals. Whether this job market prediction proves accurate or not it seems reasonable for students to make a form of Pascal’s wager: Bet on the worst, that is, uncertain, non-gainful employment shaping the new reality.

If you have children or are now of child-bearing/child-rearing age, it seems reasonable to consider what forms of preparation you can take to prepare your child/children for the working world. Perhaps the best solution is actually a joint imperative: teach self-reliance and nurture rigorous curiosity.

Self-reliance and curiosity are partners: a curious person does not have the luxury of waiting for others to satisfy their curiosity; if they want to know they have to go and find. The search for satisfactory answers also demands a persistent self-discipline, a type of grit which teaches the seeker to neither give up nor remain satisfied with conventional explanations. Curiosity is also deeply personal and is driven by the personal prerogative, a fact evident in matters as diverse as the search for truth in science, morality, faith, education, and politics. Curiosity is also a recognition of necessity: when a curious person discovers what they do not know they become better equipped to discover what others do not know either. This is how human knowledge is advanced. As Thomas Edison once said: ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’

When thinking about how to encourage curiosity in children what we are actually contemplating is how to move children toward asking questions that we as parents and educators cannot necessarily answer. When thinking about how to motivate children to become self-reliant we are training ourselves not to rush in to solve problems for them. While this might appear to be a disengaged form of parenting or neglectful form of teaching it is actually two steps towards a partnership with our children. Here an example will be useful.

The world-renowned linguist Professor Noam Chomsky was fortunate to have been raised in a home where his father was a renowned scholar of medieval Hebrew. When he was only twelve years old Chomsky read the proofs of his father’s book on Hebrew grammar. In this case, his father had prepared him for the task of proofreading and understanding a high-level work of scholarship by teaching his son Hebrew from an early age and encouraging his son’s budding curiosity in linguistics. Chomsky’s parents also decided that beginning at the age of two, their son would attend a progressive school in the city of Philadelphia which allowed their son to explore his intellectual curiosity in a responsive and accommodating environment. Young Chomsky was encouraged both at school and at home to read, think, question, and experiment. He lived in a home where intellectual topics were a part of daily conversation and it was assumed that his growing mind required ample opportunities to ask pertinent and pressing questions demanding the attention of adults. During the summer and over extended holidays, Chomsky was sent to New York to stay with relatives who were very involved in the Eastern European Jewish intellectual community and his visits including being a participant and observer of advanced intellectual discourse. As Chomsky and others have noted, this upbringing prepared him intellectually and personally to take full advantage of the educational and professional opportunities that became available to him when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. Self-reliance, curiosity, and independence of mind were ingrained in the young man well before he matriculated.

Before we assume that because Noam Chomsky is an exceptional person the example I have provided is largely an unrealistic one, I would like to draw attention to what Chomsky and other educators have suggested which is that the habits of self-reliance and curiosity can be encouraged, taught, and modeled. The point is not that all students should expect to become world class intellectuals but rather that self-reliance and curiosity can prepare them to seize opportunities to advance their education and life plans. But this is not all. A self-reliant, curious young adult will also be better prepared to seek mentors and find opportunities for apprenticeship. Self-reliance and curiosity encourage poise, maturity, and patience all of which are valuable skills that create opportunities and open doors.

As parents, educators, and students we are all going to have to be creative in our response to what has been called “the Brave New World of Work.” Curiosity and the ability to be and to remain curious is and will be a requirement for personal success and long-term professional survival.

Note: You can also read the essay here:

http://infinityschool.ca/uncategorized/preparing-our-kids-for-the-work-world-ahead-means-teaching-self-reliance-and-curiosity/

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New essay at Childreach

Thank you to Childreach for sharing my essay on how asking questions can build parent-child and teacher-student relationships:

http://childreach.on.ca/blog/to-ask-a-question-is-to-build-a-relationship/

“Democracy in the classroom”

This is a piece I wrote about how we negotiate democracy in the classroom at the Infinity School where I work. I enjoy this practice as it fits in with the teaching I do independently as part of DEMOI:

Democracy in the classroom

Democracy is difficult. It requires a great deal of patience and comfort with disagreement. Citizens who take democracy seriously have to be prepared to have their ideas rejected by their neighbours, friends and peers. They also have to be prepared to accept the vote of the majority even if they strongly disagree with it.

At Infinity School, we practice democracy. This is done as part of each of day with a specific time each Thursday morning set aside for the democratic process to be honed. On those mornings we spend half an hour doing something called “Town Council.”

From 8:45 to 9:15am the Eagles and I have a meeting that follows an Agenda, which they have set. I open our council by asking the Eagles what they feel are the most pressing issues facing our community. By a vote, they place their chosen items on the Agenda and then we address them in the order of priority the Eagles selected. We follow the “Process Map” system used by our model school, Acton Academy.

My role as Guide is not to choose the items or to come up with solutions: the Eagles do that. When an issue is raised it is then “on the table” where it is discussed and debated.

When the discussion/debate has come to a conclusion (they vote on this, too), the Eagles are asked to come up with solutions. They write their ideas down and post them on the blackboard. I then list their solutions and see what proposals are the most popular.

After we have narrowed down our options we hold another vote until a solution is chosen. During the “narrowing down” process there is further debate and discussion.

If this sounds complex and involved, it absolutely is. And funny enough, the Eagles love it. They enjoy voting, debating, discussing and, above all, they love setting the Agenda. As their Guide, it can be both maddening and delightful to watch a debate become contentious or inspired.

But as I watch the Eagles in action I am reminded of all of those texts, articles and tomes about democracy I read over the years as I studied history and political science. Our Town Council is democracy in action: this is community dynamics at work; this is political science.

At Infinity and across the Acton Academy system, the Heads of School and the Guides are asking for something that today seems extraordinary from their Eagles. We are asking for their commitment to experimenting with a democratic system in the classroom.

We are asking them to take the lead in designing their education and establishing the ground rules and policies, which govern their community. This is an intensive preparation for adulthood, citizenship and the working world. This is also an attempt to bring back a frequently missing component of education: self-reliance, personal responsibility and active citizenship.

Anyone who is familiar with democracy and democratic systems knows that sometimes the process of proposing ideas and arriving at solutions is messy, confusing and (dare I say it?) chaotic. But this process is the basis of a free society; it is a requirement of a community-wide commitment to personal liberty, individual creativity and the principle that each mind, heart, voice and individual matters.

We believe that our Infinity community cannot truly be a community without the participation of every member. We also know that for young people to grow up and be successful in a competitive and often contentious world, they need to be prepared to participate by proposing ideas, attempting solutions and accepting that disappointment and failure are part of life in the “adult world.”

As a Guide, one of the most important life lessons I am learning from my Eagles is that this process of participating, of problem solving, is an ongoing process that one never masters. If you and your child believe that life is a call to creativity and that the best communities (and societies) are those which reward creativity, I think your child has a home here at Infinity.

You can visit the website here: http://infinityschool.ca/education-concepts/democracy-classroom-infinity-school/

Socratics?

“It is dangerous to encourage people to talk -to express their feelings in words, to shape their ideas into coherent forms. The person in charge cannot predict what will happen; he cannot control the words. It is an open situation, and everyone becomes more vulnerable, more exposed, and thus more equal.” -Nancy Milio (from 9226 Kercheval: The Storefront That Did Not Burn, 1970)

Thinking philosophically is essential to becoming educated

Apparently the English have shown that when you teach students philosophy they improve in mathematics and logical reasoning skills. I am pleased to say that I teach and discuss philosophy with my students. The Socratic approach is the very core of what I do; it’s what I’ve been doing at DEMOI for three and a half years and it is what I am also doing at The Infinity School. http://infinityschool.ca

I’m also pleased to say that my students love the challenge of thinking philosophically and would excel in any school that makes philosophy a core subject:
http://bigthink.com/…/teaching-students-philosophy-will-imp…

London Literacy in Action

London Literacy in Action

We are living in a time characterized by a widespread desire to improve -even rescue- our world. Across North America these past five years we have seen an explosion of impactful social movements demanding that our communities revisit and reassess notions of fairness, justice, and inclusion. This summer has seen a dramatic spike in that urgency for constructive action.

In response a new group, London Literacy in Action (LLA), is being formed. This group will be led by Jeremy Marks, a London-based writer and educator and will enjoy the sponsorship of both the London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) and the London Central Library. This group seeks committed young adults between the ages of 15 and 25 who desire to participate in an ongoing conversation about fairness, justice and tolerance in our city and who are prepared to commit themselves to bi-weekly discussion sessions on Thursday evenings from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Central Library. These sessions will be driven by our close reading of contemporary fiction, literary nonfiction and memoir dedicated to the very issues which are behind the impactful social movements of our time. LLA wants (and needs) young people who are not only prepared to tackle a book every month, but who know the power of story and recognize how literature and memoir can spark the necessary conversations capable of moving our city and our society forward.

London Literary in Action will be more than just a discussion group; it will be a team prepared to interact with diverse communities of race, class, gender, colour, religion and ethnicity in London. LLA will also be a springboard for its members to become active in civic life as we will produce a narrative report of our findings which will be presented to City Council and made available to the community-at-large. In order for our group to succeed we need committed and creative youth-of-conscience.

If you are interested in joining LLA please answer 3 of the following questions. When you have completed the application please return it to Jeremy Marks at marksjn@gmail.com and include your contact information in the form of either your email or cell number (if you have one). Thank you very much for your interest! If you have any question please do not hesitate to contact me.

Application: literacy-in-action-application-pdf

Reading list: london_literacy_in_action_book_list

Pleased to report I will be teaching at the Infinity School

I am very excited to report that I have signed a contract to work for London’s Infinity School. I will be teaching Civilization classes for the 2016-2017 school year. The Infinity School’s methods are in perfect synchrony with my own: it is a school built around Socratic discussion and individual initiative and whose mission is to encourage self-reliance and self-direction in its students.

I cannot express how pleased I am to be part of a brand new school (which is opening its doors next month) that has been founded to bring progressive educational alternatives to the families of London, Ontario. (I should add that I will still be taking clients and DEMOI will continue as before.)

I recommend visiting the Infinity page for more information:

http://infinityschool.ca