Proof of Concept: Why Evidence Matters

In a world full of deception and lying, it’s only natural that many people would develop a strong sense of skepticism. It’s a defense against the scams and cons that prevail. This creates a cultural ecosystem of disbelief. The question is, how do you communicate an honest message and promote a cause or brand you believe in without being drowned out by naysayers and a tendency to doubt? 

One answer is to prove your concept repeatedly until it is undeniable. If you believe something to be true, then show it. Show how it works. Show what doesn’t work. Explain why. Doing the work of proving a concept is the best way to build credibility. You must earn people’s trust.

Accountability is the key to credibility. If you believe something to be good for you, then showing how it works only makes sense. This is one of the reasons why we value live performances. Without the ability to edit, the live performance creates the appearance of credibility, it is proof of the performer’s abilities.

The most effective way to prove your concept is with consistency. If you can repeatedly come up with the same results, then you have an art. If you achieve your desired goal, but can’t repeat it, then you might have just been lucky. It is through consistent repetition that we gradually grow to believe that someone is honest and that something they are promoting is true. The proof is in the evidence.

Good Headlines Save Lives: The Importance of Powerful Titles

Every day, people publish thoughtful and creative articles, and they dream up some amazingly artful headlines to grab a reader’s attention. Grab is the right word, too. It’s almost an assault. Some of these click bait listicles are so offensively tantalizing they practically give you an unrequested massage. What is a listicle you might ask? It is a title that states: 4 Ways Listicles Will Help You to Win. 

Titles have more importance than ever in a world so noisy with content. We need a way to navigate the chaos, and titles are convenient rafts of easy meaning. If we take the role that titles play in our culture seriously, then we will be able to counter the click bait watering down of journalistic credibility. Making it easy for your readers to recognize that your essay is the kind of writing they want to read is best achieved through creative titling.

The art of writing titles depends upon an ear for tone. How can we make this story pop out in a list of potential search results? How can we entice or excite a reader to engage with an article? The title should match the tone of the essay, but in a distilled and potent manner. It is a shot of espresso, a dab of concentrate.

Without a great title, you are standing naked facing the mighty wind coming off the Pacific Ocean. Unprotected, you expose yourself to becoming chapped and sore at the world. The fog bites at you. Spending time to craft a winning title is putting on your favorite clothes and pair of shoes, of stepping out in the world feeling good about how you look.

Writing is like a boombox without batteries until someone picks it up and reads. It is useless, meaningless inert exhausted energy expired and out of date. The second someone begins to read it; it turns back on. Alive and active in a reader’s mind, the writing blooms into being, has form and substance that morph inside someone’s mind. The words become a copper cable for ideas to follow like electrical current.

For the alchemy of reading to occur, the reader must choose the article. Until this engagement begins, the words are dead and dumb. This simple fact of reading and writing makes the title hold so much weight. The title is the on switch of the reading machine. It is a neon open sign. It is a red lightbulb.

Cringe to Crown: Internet Culture and Clowning

One common factor among many internet successes is the transformation from doing something that is usually considered cringy and elevating it to a level of tremendous popular success. This is almost an essential aspect of internet fame. One reason for this pattern in this early stage of the internet is because we are still conditioned as an audience to see culture as separate from life. The things we cringe at on the internet are things that have been edited out through a style of production in mainstream media. Because they have been so relentlessly scrubbed from existence on cable television, Hollywood movies, popular magazines and newspapers, these quirks and eccentricities of everyday living stand out when we see them and then strangely satisfy some deep desire.

We don’t want to appear as cringy. We are cringy. We want to be ourselves. We learn to embrace our differences. Cringe becomes a prerequisite. No cringe, no personality. An acquired taste, cringe becomes a delicacy, a kink. There are fifty shades of cringe.

What happens when we see someone do something cringy on the Internet? Cringe evolves. People who follow Tik Tok, like Christina Pavitsky, report that there are numerous subcultures that segment into different niches of cringe. Cringe gets love on the Internet like nowhere else because it is so relatable. Yes, it is amazing to watch a polished performer like Beyonce go through hours of choreography and singing without missing a step. There’s also something super repressed and therefore repressive about the worship of stellar performances. There is something totalitarian in the disciplined perfection of form.

When we accept that cringe is part of the package of being human, we learn to love ourselves better and to be ourselves more. Comics know this and Chris D’Elia is proving it in a way that is almost unimaginable. Setting aside the incredibly cringy problems that D’Elia has had in his personal life, he also talks and reflects on the place of cringe in his comedy. He has this running joke about how being disrespectful by doing things like ordering postmates during the podcast is being more respectful because he is being himself and that shows a trust in the relationship.

D’Elia is a connoisseur of cringe and finds incredible moments of video and audio to dissect and to analyze on his podcast. This has become the formula for lots of comedic podcasts. H3 podcast does it. Ethan is the godfather of cringe. Two Bears and Bad Friends rely upon the shocking value of cringe. Bert is a cringe god. Bobby a cringe unicorn. Responding to cringe on the Internet is now an industry. This is the mad generation, and everyone is an influencer and marketer.

One Internet sensation that started out as cringe and has taken an internet crown is the inimitable Chet Hanks. When he first came out with his video taken, I think at the Golden Globes red carpet when he introduced the world to his own aggressive version of patua, speaking like a Jamaican dancehall king. Since then, this has become a periodic occurrence leading to a massive amount of heckling but also finally respect and admiration. 

Being the son of one of the all-time great US American actors can’t be an easy fate, but Chet is making the absolute most of it and for that he has become an icon. Recently, he introduced a ludicrous idea he calls White Boy Summer to the world via Instagram, but then he specifies that there are certain codes of conduct and dress that are necessary for this definition of white boy. He wants to differentiate it from alt-right Trump supporters and to reclaim some notion of whiteboyness as an identity of allyship.

Because what Chet Hanks was doing came across as so ludicrous, so cringy that nobody would do it if it weren’t in some way authentic. Cringe is the new seasoning. It’s not something you can just do without. It gives your content its flavor. Chet Hanks teaches us that the pursuit of expressing your truth is going to have to go through a process of being embarrassingly exposed to ridicule to achieve the strength necessary to transform into a better design. 

When does cringe go too far? This important question is constantly being answered by the actions of people on the internet. D’Elia disappeared from the public for 9 months after allegations of his inappropriate conversations with underage or barely legal girls surfaced. That is not cringe, it is criminal. That is a huge difference. There are things that should be repressed, need to be outlawed, cannot be allowed. There is an ethical line where something that is merely an expression of our basic human nature merges into violations of other people’s rights. The thing about cringe is it must be victimless. The only type of cringe that is acceptable is the cringe that only embarrasses the person in charge of the production.

Because the internet is new and unregulated, we are experiencing an evolution in aesthetics and ethics and the importance of understanding cringe and the ethics of the shocking is critical to improving Internet culture. Logan Paul is a perfect example. His video that showed a dead body in a suicide forest in Japan was cringy, but it was also an ethical violation. It wasn’t just in bad taste, or embarrassing; it was wrong. As we make things for the Internet and consume other people’s creations, we are engaging in a process of becoming more human with all the rewards and risks that entails.

Kicking Ass, Sustainably

Growth comes with pain. It can be a challenge to separate your feelings from the results. Having some objective measure of your progress can help to stabilize your work. Feeling great or feeling horrible are beside the point. You are trying to build something, working to make something happen.

Managing our resources matters more now than ever. As we rebuild our economy and enter back into an active social and work life, we are sure to experience some growing pains. The question is: how do we create a system for measuring our progress in this new world? Do we measure our results in Bitcoin?

Slow growth is the most reliable growth. As something you are working on becomes bigger it exerts more pressure on the system that supports it. That pressure can reveal any flaws in the design, which can then be addressed and improved. Too much pressure on a system that has weaknesses will cause the system to fail at those points. Growing slowly allows you to identify and address the weaknesses in the system.

Why does separating your feelings from the results matter so much in this process? Because there is going to be pain, your success depends upon a willingness to push through the discomfort that is a natural consequence of the work, but you also need to be able to withstand the criticism that is necessary to improve the process. You deal with the pain without it affecting your motivation. Easier said than done.

This is the real battle, the bigger challenge. It is wrestling with the negative feelings that are intrinsic to the process of growth and improvement. How do feelings impact growth? In immeasurable ways. Motivation itself is a mindset that has an emotional register. Being depressed is the same as having a lack of motivation, it is an emotional deficit. If we can intellectually understand the value of achieving our goal, then we can work through the pain much more easily. 

The trap is to try to use positive emotions to motivate the process. That is how we end up chasing dragons. If we are motivated by the emotional rewards of our work, then we get caught up in the same logic that can immobilize you when things don’t go well. If you don’t have that emotional carrot, what happens to the system?

The real goal is to see the work as a necessary part of the process that is paid for in pain. Exercise is important to physical fitness and working out makes you sore and tired. If you understand the value of it, you will do it. It really is as simple as that.

How do you make that shift so that you can decide to do the work and follow through on it instead of constantly reacting to pain or pleasure as motivations? When does this go too far? If we are too focused on achieving an objective, do we miss out on the process? Everything is a slider: too light or too dark and it’s up to you to find the happy middle.

The point is not to ignore emotions but to have trained yourself to be able to withstand temptation, to resist the will to quit. Like a dog with a treat balanced on its head, you are in this strange position of commanding yourself to wait. This is the secret of discipline. It doesn’t make feeling go away. If anything, it gives you occasion to experience emotions more deeply. Not only does the treat taste better after waiting, but the waiting itself is the sweetest taste. The feeling of being in control of your own actions is better than any baked good.

What do we do with those emotions? A big part of mental health is having a way of dealing with intense emotions. Everyone has some form of trauma they are dealing with and with algorithms hunting for our deepest emotional triggers we are sure to confront some things that provoke strong emotional reactions. Having a therapeutic practice helps to keep a healthy relationship with your own emotions.

Most of our physical sensations are a result of our lifestyle, particularly our diet and our exercise. We can choose to consume and to do things that make us feel good in the short term or the long run. Eating cake and watching movies in bed might be a spike of positive pleasure but it comes at a price. The same is true emotionally. We can choose things that will provide a sense of escape, or we can design a system that helps us to find constructive methods of coping that will improve our situation.

The era of trolling is coming to an end. We need engineers and builders to redesign our infrastructure. We are here to construct new bridges, not to sit underneath them. The task is much bigger and so cooperation with others is mandatory. This cooperation and collaboration will work better when we decide that the results of our work matter more than feelings. Neither shame nor pride will get us where we need to go. Instead, we need courage, hope and curiosity. When we lead with a desire to build and to do better, we turn down the volume on our emotions to a reasonable level. 

What kinds of practices help you to process your emotions? Do you keep a journal? Have you tried talking to a therapist? What kinds of activities are therapeutic to you? Spending time in the great outdoors, being by the water, getting exercise in a natural setting and laughing with friends helps me to reset my emotional clock, to process my feelings and to return to the work refreshed. 

Content Pillars and Purpose

Cannabis, Writing, Photography, Marketing, Art, Landscape, Ocean

Cannabis: I believe cannabis can do the greatest good for humankind immediately and in the long run. Worldwide legalization of cannabis will set the scales back towards justice and will restore some faith in the sincerity of the systems of governance. It is hard to trust anyone who is against cannabis. It’s like being against naps or being anti-mellow. You people are getting along too well! You must be stoned. What’s next? Cooking up some dank munchies? Crimes against culinary standards? Too much caramel sauce on the cereal? Not only do I believe that the side effects of cannabis are harmless, we all know they are beneficial to many people. Anyone struggling with loss of appetite or insomnia can regain control over vital parts of their health with the help of some quality cannabis. I think that more than the obvious advantages legal cannabis creates (tax revenue instead of criminal activity, for one) the main shift that legal cannabis will bring is a shift in tone. It will open up that beautiful space that only stoners know where there is a sense of innocence, a mellowing out of the harshest vibes, a sense that daily life is ok and that it really matters. Cannabis leads people on an introspective journey that leads to gardening and preserving tomatoes and that is a-ok. As a content pillar, I intend to write about cannabis to advocate for its use, to highlight brands that are doing good things, to interact with cannabis influencers, and to share stoner experiences.

Writing: Writing is thought given shape and refinement through the logic of composition and editing. We use the tools of composition to establish our thoughts on a topic and to express our opinions, ask questions and to share stories. Through editing, we revise both what we think and how we compose our ideas. Writing is the mysterious revelation of self. Instead of merely looking into a mirror, we have to slowly develop a sense of how what we think looks in the external world. Our thoughts are native to our experience, but the moment we externalize them and give them form through a composition, in the shape of an essay, we begin to see who we are. This gives us the ability to change what we think, and in the process to direct the development of our character. Writing gives us intellectual intentionality. Through writing, we are able to determine how to use the best of what we think to the advantage of those we wish to help. Writing about writing is important because thinking about thinking is important. It’s fundamental to improving your form. Strategizing about writing, coming up with prompts, working on exercises and having a dialogue about strategies and techniques keeps the ball in play. By paying attention to writing, we can improve our quality of thought, we can make better decisions, and we can help other people to find their direction and purpose. Language is uniquely human, and writing is the focused and deliberate use of language to express ideas. By writing, you become more human. You can both learn about who you are, discover how you want to be, and work on growing into the kind of human you respect and admire. Writing is our most powerful tool of self-analysis. When combined with the introspective tendency of cannabis consumption, writing can lead to breakthrough after breakthrough. 

Photography: Photography is my main visual mode of work, these days. I love video and painting, but I have been thinking about and practicing photography for the past fifteen years with a passion and dedication. Photography has helped me to grow, to give people valuable memories, to help promote businesses and to have amazing relationships. Studying photography was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The history of photography is so brief, but it has accelerated to such an impossibly enormous volume. Being thoughtful about photography both leads to making better photographs and to understanding the world of photography, but it is also a tool of introspection. You go out into the world to find subjects. You explore compositions with your camera. When you return to the studio to edit your photos, however, you are faced with some idea about yourself and your job is to present that to the world in a way they will find the most interesting. This can also lead you to understand things about yourself and about how the world feels about you. Like all meaningful growth that can be painful at times and pleasurable at others. 

Marketing: The future is going to have more marketers than ever. That is the logical conclusion of a workforce left with nothing but creativity and communication. With the advance of automation, people will increasingly need to become more adept at messaging and branding. While some people feel an aversion to sales, they don’t like being sold to, marketing can be much more than a pitch. It can be beautiful design, thoughtful writing and interesting research. Marketing can be useful to you and when it is, then it really works well. There is no escaping marketing. One common form of marketing you see is the marketing of no marketing which is essentially a business or person bragging that they are so good and so in demand that they don’t have to spend much on advertising or branding. It shows an ignorance about branding, though. That is marketing and branding: it is the branding of no marketing. We don’t need no stinking marketing marketing. Yes you do. We all need good marketing.

Art: The category of art as a separate sphere of concern from other forms of media will always be interesting to me and so I will always think and write about it for those who are interested in what I have to say about it. If art can be any media, then why not consider all media art? There are deep philosophical reasons for wanting a category of cultural production that defines itself differently than the rest of culture. There is something deeply generative about the category existing in the first place. It is an invitation to experiment, an ethos of innovation, a reputation for making things new. Art matters the same way freedom of speech matters. It is so fundamental to the way we think, even if not consciously, that it is almost impossible for us to see why it matters. Writing about art is an attempt to give us that perspective even if just for a moment to look behind the curtain at what the category of art is doing socially and culturally and why it matters.

Landscape: Being out in a natural setting, watching how the sun travels, moving through the landscape in a way where I understand the various textures on the trail, all of these things matter to me deeply. As a human animal, I crave a connection to the landscape. I want to know what is happening in the woods. I want to explore every creek and know every tree. Writing about the landscape is important because it can help us to remember our priorities in times that we are easily distracted by other things.

Ocean: The ocean connects us all. As the universal symbol of the unconscious, the ocean is the most dynamic and deep subject for humans to ponder. It is so dramatic and expressive, it demands a million artist pay attention at all times. I am one of them.

The Politics of Positivity and Self-Improvement

We are in this together. The power of our combined forces is strong enough to transform the world. When we truly unite, we can make miracles happen. When we find synergy, we make light work of heavy tasks.

We have every reason to work as a team. The purpose of coming together is clear as spring water. We can build a better future for our kids. Every part of our culture and of our economy has changed and this is our chance to reimagine it. 

Remaining respectful during times of crisis will earn us respect. Finding ways to resolve our own internal conflicts in order to show up in a way that is productive to dialogue will create trust. Making time to communicate will keep the conversation moving forward. The better we become at these things through practice, the more powerful our collaborations will be.

Setting a positive tone is a radical gesture in a world where the default mode is fighting. Taking the more challenging path of optimism in the face of daunting odds displays more courage and attracts our admiration. Rising above the instinct to argue by passionately pursuing an activity, a relationship, a way of living opens up another important space in our culture. The confidence that comes from practice will reinforce our choice and over time the habit of being radically positive will create a space. All the things that fill this space of radical positivity will become the new lifestyle.

Practices that promote fitness and mental health, like eating foods with nutritional value, exercising regularly, reading and researching to educate yourself about best practices, all of these things will improve our collective situation. By improving yourself, you improve the collective. The more disciplined we can be in taking care of our own business, the more influential we stand to become in the long run.

Self-improvement is closely related to and different than self-promotion. The desire to improve your product, your service or how you communicate about your business leads to better outcomes for everyone. When we encourage and incentivize the desire to be better, to self-improve, then we nurture a culture of progress. The stronger that tendency to desire education, to study and practice a craft, the greater the learning curve will be. 

Creation and Curation: Value in Content Marketing

If you start with the audience in mind, then every choice you make becomes more focused and purposeful. This is the first step in the right direction. It may seem obvious, but it is not common. Instead, you often see people trying to promote themselves and it comes across as cringe. Genuinely providing a service to the public with your content marketing will earn you respect and trust with a customer base.

You can start this process by imagining which topics are most important to your audience. If you are doing content marketing for a yoga studio you will find different content pillars than if you are working with a shopping center. Each business or organization will have a different audience they are trying to reach. Identify four or five topics you think would be most relevant to your audience as the starting point to organize your content. 

One of the great things about this approach is that it puts you in dialogue with other people creating content in your field. You have the opportunity both to research and to network. By learning about what other people are doing and saying you expand your knowledge of the topics and you identify the interesting people with whom you might want to collaborate.

Say for example you get hired to create content and to do content marketing for a gym. In addition to the original work that you will create by interviewing key figures, photographing equipment, doing videos of exercises, or what have you, you will also provide a valuable service by posting relevant information about: nutrition, fitness competitions, cutting edge gear and technique, inspiration from favorite influencers, etc.

There is so much content created for the internet every day, so organizing the relevant stories in a way that is useful to busy people makes a lot of sense. Content marketing is dual in nature: you both create original content and curate relevant content. This combination of research and production makes for a rich and useful follow.

The Internet is a very chaotic place, so curation can help give people a sense of order. It is important to make original work to promote your brand’s values, products, services, etc., but you can also do something valuable by organizing a timeline of relevant articles as they are published that help to inform and to flesh out the context of your subjects. If people gain an understanding of a topic by following your feed, then they are much more likely to believe that you know what you are talking about when you discuss your own offerings.

Begin by imagining a half dozen of your ideal customers. Who are your services or products designed to help or please? Now imagine what they would want to know about, what would be entertaining to them, what would give them a reason to smile, something new to learn, a talking point, an inspiring quote, something that adds to their understanding and experience of whatever your field is. As content marketers, we have the privileged position of creators and teachers, and when we combine those two elements well, a lot of value is created for the client. 

Justice or Just Us?

One of the great ideals that we try to live up to is being just. Having a fair and balanced approach to how we interact with others is key to building stability within a community. When people trust that a system is not going to be discriminatory, then they are more willing to commit and contribute towards that end. If the outcomes will most likely be fair, then we are able to trust in and participate in the process.

One of the things that could help us to overcome our sense of division in this country is to refocus our energies on our core beliefs. If justice is truly important to our culture, then it should be upheld and discussed. If we can come to agree on our ideals, then maybe the details of how we process conflict and how we measure rewards will feel more fitting. With the bizarre social experiments that we are all a part of, it has become beyond challenging to find common cause in our core values.

Justice is a tricky term. In Plato’s Dialogues it has more to do with the common good than with individual punishment. Justice is the ultimate goal, the greatest good. It is a pure version of the truthful relations between people. The effects we have on each other are positive and negative and justice attempts to account for all of that energy. How do we come to an agreement about painful differences in judgment?

We need to return to thinking about our core beliefs. If we really study what justice is and what it requires, then we might be able to help ourselves to see the world more clearly for what it is. It never is just us.

Resistance Training and Social Media

What is your morning routine? The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I prepare a cup of coffee and sit down to write. While I’m waiting for the water to boil, I will make my bed, brush my teeth, take a leak or do any leftover dishes from the night before. Any kind of moving around will help to wake me up. Brushing your teeth first thing wakes your mouth up gets the salivary glands firing.

Once the water boils, I follow a series of specific steps to brew a great cup of coffee and then I sit down and write.

Central to my methodology is the refusal to look at my phone for the first hour of writing, the first hour of the day. I turn the alarm off and then I don’t see anything for at least one full hour and two pages of writing. 

I don’t think that our phones are controlling us any more than I think that gravity is controlling us. Some people cave into the pressures of gravitational force, but other people use that existing inertia to build strength. Some people build rockets. By resisting gravity, by lifting weights, by doing pushups, by climbing up hills, we use that negative force to our advantage.

There is a tipping point to strength versus difficulty of  resistance. Gravity keeps things grounded, but there is a certain amount of strength that is achieved through resistance that makes that force less meaningful. When your strength is greater than the forces exerted upon it, there is a freedom from the negative. Strength negates the weakness which is given to us as a precondition. Muscles atrophy without work, but we can train and become a lot stronger than if we remain sedentary. 

The same thing is true with our consumption of culture or food or anything else. The stronger the urge to do something the greater the capacity for strength. It merely requires a knowledgeable plan of action that will lead to increased will power. If you do this this and this, then this will result. In the case of social media, the program of resistance has not been developed. We don’t have social media trainers. The closest thing we have is Gary Vee.

If we lift weights, run, or follow some well-designed exercise plan, we will most likely see some good results. The harder we work, the more we resist quitting, the better those results are likely to be. The same is true culturally. We just need to have a conversation about media consumption and health and then evolve that conversation to be about fitness. Everything is circumstantial. Just like an athlete who is working out with high intensity twice a day is going to have different food requirements, an artist who is producing a lot of work will also have different needs with what they consume.

We need to develop some fundamentals. We need a set of best practices when it comes to social media that anyone can follow and become decently fit, fairly fluid, and more in control of the entire process. That will be a service to humankind to develop that kind of discipline. Figuring out the right amount of time to spend on different activities will help you to build up the will power necessary to use social media without becoming victim to it. These activities, which I will describe soon, will help us to make the most of digital culture.

Social media has a very strong pull on us at the present moment. We need to learn to resist. That doesn’t mean to not participate. If anything, it means to engage more fully. As long as it is going to be a part of our lives, we should learn to use it to build our will power. If resistance doesn’t mean abstinence when it comes to social media, then what does it mean?

We have to create a set of standards and best practices to gain some traction for our personal journey through a social media influenced world. 

Teaching, Marketing and Leadership: Why Public Education is a Broken System

Education is one of the strange social contracts we are born into. We don’t get a choice. We have to go to school. It starts before we can possibly understand what it would even mean. School is where we learn about the social conditions that lead to school. Education is such an intrinsic part of the U.S. citizen’s experience of childhood that we don’t even question it. It is too close to us. It has become normalized. We have been culturally conditioned to believe in school.

Have we been lied to?

Education offers no guarantee of social inclusion or financial success. Anyone who does the work to really study and understand a subject will likely benefit from that education, but that is probably a very rare experience among the vastly wasteful and traumatic institution of public education, generally. For most people, school is the closest they will come to being in jail. 

If education was what it said it was, if schools and teachers were adequately funded, then people would be attracted to attend. The fact that we compensate teachers so minimally reveals something closer to the truth about the value of education. As it exists now, it is not worth as much as it should be, and it shows in the way teachers are rewarded. The secret truth is that education is a system that needs to be radically reconsidered and reformed to fit the world we are building. We need a technological revolution in education. We need to rethink how it is done.

When I was in graduate school and teaching at UCSC, there was this trend that was disturbing to a lot of people at the time. Students would evaluate the performance of their teacher at the end of the course and there was a general sense of entitlement and an attitude that is more typical of a customer than a student. The fact that the university is using graduate student labor to teach undergrads, however, is another example undervaluing education. It is a commodity, and it is sometimes a low budget production that is also incredibly expensive. 

Would it be better if we treated education like a business? It would be more honest. We would try harder. There is something about how our educational system is designed that takes the best from us and does not prepare us to succeed in any way, except through compliance. It teaches us the consequence of non-compliance. If school was a good system, it wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on the threat of punishment. 

And yet, school can be a great system. It can work really well for some people. When it is adequately resourced, education can be a thriving and vital culture. When I went to Lewis and Clark College, there was a lot of feeling of freedom. The educational resources were there for you. There was a 14:1 student to professor ratio. You went to dinner at your professor’s homes. It was an intimate experience.

I remember one of the best teachers I ever had, John Haugse, was a visiting painting instructor and he was giving us advice about applying to MFA programs. He said show up to the school on a Friday afternoon and see how busy it is. If the place is humming with activity and people have their hands dirty, then that’s a good sign. If it is quiet, the program is lackluster and won’t get you where you need to go.

Higher education is a gnarly careerist culture. The politics of academia are mind numbing. People are competing for positions of power. It is some strange cross between celebrity-based reality television like programming and pencil pushing accounting. A lot of it is just paperwork. But it is all highly political and therefore everything becomes politicized. You would think that there would be a meritocracy in education, but nepotism and relationships matter as much or more there than in other industries. 

The fallacious foundation of K-12 public education is that it is necessary, which prevents most educators from seeing it as a business. They see it as a utility and therefore do not take it as seriously. In higher education, at least, there is some sense that you have to compete to achieve status. The high school teacher has what power they have because the state gave it to them.

Here’s another way to look at it. In any college curriculum there will be some courses that are mandatory and some courses that are elective. Teaching a course that is a requirement is so much harder and less rewarding than teaching a course that is elective. When people choose to be there instead of having to be there they perform and behave so much better it is hard to describe. It is like the difference between being a prison guard or being the coach of a basketball team. An army of volunteers performs better than an army of conscripts.

What is the original sin of U.S. children that they need to endure 13 years of mandatory institutionalization? What crime did they commit? Why are we asking them to pay with so much of their valuable time? Why don’t people want to go to school? Why don’t they want to study the topics? We haven’t made the experience good enough for them to want to attend. We haven’t earned their attention. 

If we want education to become a better system, we would do well to look at why it relies on a system of punishments. What alternatives could we come up with that would engage with students on a level that would help them to thrive? How can we save our educational system?