What really matters?

Sometimes, life seems like a long list of have to’s: get the winter tires on before the snow flies, get through the pile of emails before Monday, get the house prepped for winter, and the list goes on. Sometimes, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to think deeply about what really matters. I mean, generally, we would all say similar things about what really matters. Things like: family, spending time with people we love, finding fulfilling work, and other such things. We all know in general terms what really matters. But sometimes the details around what really matters get a bit hazy, get a bit blurred. Kind of like being at the ocean, when you’re working hard to build a sandcastle and whoosh, a wave rolls in, and completely erodes the fine details. Life keeps sending us those waves.

“We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives.” Greg McKeown

Luckily, life also presents us with moments of clarity and truth. In these moments what really matters and all the corresponding details become crystal clear. Everything else, fades into the background. These moments get you back on track or they change your perspective completely.  You probably have had moments like this in your life: looking into the eyes of a newborn baby for the first time or, feeling the mystery and wonder of this universe as you look at the night sky. 

I had a such a moment last spring, as I got to learn from a group of youth, who were speaking at TEDx Youth @DoyleAve. I could call them students but I didn’t learn from the fact that they were students. Instead,  I learned from their human-ness. Each one of these amazing humans had fought hard to create their own identity, and each had worked hard to find an authentic voice to express this identity. These inspiring humans were complete individuals and were complete long before we adults came along. All we did was stop to listen to their stories.

Their successes were not achieved by marching along the adult-centric pipeline model. You know, the elementary school, to middle school, to high school, and then university, model. Instead, each of these youth had discovered their unique strengths and indenties when they strayed away from the pipeline. 

“Students already have complete control over their learning.
Our hubris is to think they don’t.”
  -Will Richardson

From this experience, I had a moment of clarity and truth around how much I had to learn and that it wasn’t going to happen from listening to people exactly like me. I recognized that I had to move well beyond my bubble of sameness and hear diverse perspectives. 

sameness

The world we live in is becoming increasingly complex. As the challenges we face increase in complexity, these diverse perspectives and identities are becoming more essential.  Think back to the last meeting you attended and think about who was around the table. Diverse or homogeneous?

simplevs complex

If we are going to meet these complex challenges head on, we will need to assemble diverse teams. And let’s be clear: diversity doesn’t mean you have different Starbucks orders. Identity diversity includes gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.  Thanks to the extensive research of Scott E Page, we know that diversity and inclusion are not just the ethical thing to do. Diversity and inclusion are also the better thing to do when tackling complex problems. Better like bottom line better.  This intersection of what is ethical and what is better, gives us a moment of clarity and truth: diversity and inclusion ARE what really matter. 

“Diverse groups of problem solvers outperformed the groups of the best individuals at solving complex problems. The reason: the diverse groups got stuck less often than the smart individuals, who tended to think similarly.” ~ Scott E. Page

Finding one’s identity and voice and discovering your unique strengths is not just nice, not a luxury if you have time or money, but instead, it is a necessity.  Each child who enters school needs discover their unique identity and create a voice to express themselves. Each child needs to find their proverbial mountain, climb it, and say: “Hello World! Here I am in all my glory!!”

Then, they will be able to challenge the complex question: what really matters?

(This is an adapted version of my mike drop for Innovate-Ed 18, slides are below)

 

Privilege

blindspot                                                                            Shared on flickr by Thomas Hawk

We all have a blind spot around our privilege shaped exactly like us.
                                                                                    -Junot Dias

I am white, straight, married, middle class, and neurotypical. I could go on. Basically, I am privileged. I have privilege. Privilege, like the air around us, is omnipresent but invisible and easy to forget. We take note when it is low supply.

Before last spring, I hadn’t given much thought to privilege. While listening to a series of youth give their TED talk, I had a moment of what I call “clarity and truth.”  These students were exploring their own privilege or lack of privilege, and how they had created authentic, unique identities. Wow! Mind blown! Here were these teens who recognized their own privilege. Somehow, I had moved through life without even considering it! Blind spot alert.

Throughout my life, I had been aware of situations when I didn’t have privilege (like in university when every science prof was white, male, and middle-aged). These big moments of no privilege were easy to spot. Just look to the news to see this how lack of privilege stands out. When a women wins a Nobel Prize in Physics (only the 3rd women in 117 years!) it is headline news. Yet, in the very same week, we hear a Cern physicist announce that physics is a field for men (not women), because it was designed by men. How crazy is that? He got the second part right!

It is easy to recognize situations when there is a huge lack of privilege (just think of #metoo) or when there is a lot of privilege (Bill Gates type privilege). It becomes more challenging when privilege is more subtle. I had missed the subtle areas of my life where privilege was present and how it manifested.

As I listened to these youth describe how they had forged an authentic identity, without privilege on their side, I began to realize that I had taken my privilege for granted. I hadn’t been aware of how I could use my privilege to make space for others to create identities for themselves.  In the months to come, I reflected that the materials, books, movies, and paradigms that I relied on in my classroom were not as diverse and inclusive as they could have been. I accepted that my lack of understanding of neurodiversity had caused me to create learning that was incredibly biased towards neurotypical learning. Most ironically of all, I recognized that I had presented science as status quo truth, while ignoring other world views. My privilege was not only invisible to me, but it was a set of blinders that kept me looking at a very small slice of the world

I had to look at my privilege (even the ugly parts) and say: I see you privilege but you don’t own me, I am not yours; I see you privilege but I can topple you; I recognize that you are part of me, but you are not going to define me; I am not going to work on your behalf and keep your status quo.

Privilege, I see you now.

_____________________

Keniesha, Tor, and Hannah: thank you for the moment of “clarity and truth”, thank you for teaching me so much about the world, thank you for being role models, thank you for your bravery and wisdom.