Peer leadership and searching for your own Billie

Every member of your community is unique and adds to its colorful fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. And just maybe their words are the exact ones you need to hear.

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I love metaphors. The connecting of apparently unrelated items and circumstances provides a cerebral stimulation for me. Especially interesting is when I can connect pop culture to how we could better ourselves and others in this world of ours. And on top of this list is music. Maybe it’s my concert promoting experience during my formative years in college, or just the enjoyment of music I get coupled with the creative personalities of those who create it.

Pop culture is so much more than just the demeaning term of pop that’s attached to it. For much of the population in the western world (and increasingly beyond), especially the young; it’s what we choose to put in our brains when we’re not doing the things we have to do and often don’t want to be doing. And even the things we have to do are often influenced by pop culture. Assuming you’d want to, it’s virtually impossible to escape it’s grasp; whether it be music, fashion, film, advertising, and on and on. Many in the adult world, where they say the real business of life happens, make every effort to dismiss it as adolescent trivialities. This is especially the case, and always has been, with music. “Subversive messages are being put out to undermine their authority and their beloved status quo.” In reality all these dismissive types are doing is disconnecting themselves from the forbearing messages of the future that will articulate the upheaval of their positions of power in society’s hierarchy.

I’ve become addicted to Spotify; not the premium version, the free version with the commercials and random song interjections. Many of these random interjections turn out to be songs from artists I’ve never heard of and have ended up becoming staples in my favorite list. One of those such artists was Billie Eilish and the song was Ocean Eyes.’ In the summer of 2016 I first heard her ethereal voice and immediately favored it. Normally I look look up the artist and delve into their backgrounds if I hadn’t heard of them – but for some reason I didn’t with Eilish. Over the next couple years I tagged a couple more of her songs I had heard, but it wasn’t till last year I did a do deep dive on who she was. In 2018 Billie Eilish was sixteen years old: and then I realized I had been listening to her since she was only fourteen. With the vocal maturity she exhibited, I could have sworn she was ten years older. Midway through 2018 Eilish began gaining traction in my little personal attention span; much having to do with an appearance on Ellen singing the bizarre (but addictive) spider-ridden song, You Should See Me In A Crown,’ and a get-out-the-vote PSA with Eric Garcetti (mayor of Los Angeles). By the time 2019 rolled in … her popularity had exploded.

Over the last year my psyche has drifted into an abyss of malaise. Maybe it was my ongoing battle with the after affects of chemo from the year before: but probably more accurately it was the relentless bombardment of half-baked political ideas conjured up by equally half-baked political candidates, all claiming to fix all that ails us. But what’s worse than the ideas themselves is that they’re taken seriously, especially by the media. To most of them anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth must be considered legitimate policy and taken verbatim. The issues of feasibility and implementation don’t play into it, let alone the unintended consequences that could very well make things worse. We’ll deal with the messy stuff like actually doing it later. Now is the time for sound bites, the news cycle and rhetoric, specifically rhetoric for the white working class in Trumplandia. Regardless, I’ve been in a dark place. Then Billie Eilish thrust herself front and center in my mindspace – literally jump starting my synapses. Music, specifically its sociological implications, has always been a huge influence in my life.

But there was something different here.

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Billie and Finneas

Billie Eilish (age seventeen) and her brother Finneas (age twenty-one) grew up in Highland Park, California, a predominately Latino inner suburb of Los Angeles. They’ve lived in their current two bedroom house their whole lives. Each kid has a small bedroom and their parents, working actors, slept on a futon in the living room. Both kids were home schooled with their curriculum being their daily lives where music and creativity was in abundance. Finneas began musically collaborating with his sister when Billie turned thirteen. A year later, ‘Ocean Eyes’ was uploaded on SoundCloud; intended only as Billie’s dance choreography assignment. It went viral and very soon there after the young sibling collaborators and their parents were meeting with music executives.

At present Billie Eilish is the #4 most streamed artist on Spotify and has eight songs over 100 million streams each. Her latest release (and first official album), ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 with 313,000 units in March of this year; the second-largest sales week for an album in 2019. It also made her the first musician born in the 21st century to top the chart; as well as the youngest female act to top the chart in 10 years since Demi Lovato did so, and the youngest female artist to spend more than one week at number one since Britney Spears in 1999. Billie Eilish has officially arrived.

Billie’s music is beyond genre classification. You could hear, ‘Bad Guy and say it’s pop and then listen to “Bitches Broken Hearts” and think Frank Sinatra was about ready to step in and sing the second verse. Her influences growing up, seeded by her parents, range from Green Day and the Beatles to Sinatra and Peggy Lee; from Linkin Park to Etta James. What comes from Billie and Finneas is a synthesis of their lives unfiltered by conventional schooling and traditional parenting ideals with a dash of Los Angeles and all that it offers, good and bad.

This synthesis has seeded is more than just a unique sound though. It’s a different world she’s created, fueled by her muti-sensory synesthesia. Each song takes on a color, a feel, a smell and even a number to Eilish. Upon kicking off the launch of her debut album, Billie and Spotify created an immersive experience in downtown Los Angeles which guides you through the album with 14 rooms dedicated to each track, featuring the sounds, smells, colors that Billie imagined composing each. It’s essentially a look into the mind of Billie Eilish.

And what a story it is. With “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?,” Eilish has imagined a universe of her own making — a place that exists entirely within the miniature aural world of her LP. To say that her album possesses its own atmosphere — its own flora and fauna, even — is an understatement. “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is like no place you’ve ever been before. Why? Because Eilish hadn’t invented it yet. (“Billie Eilish is the new pop intelligentsia” – Kenneth Womack: author of the life and work of Beatles producer George Martin; and Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Monmouth University.)

But maybe more than the music Billie and Finneas produce – is what it represents … more specifically what it represents to the legions of devoted rabid fans.

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Transcending the music

I may sound like a fanboy, but to me Billie Eilish represents so much more than her music. She shows us a view into humanity that has the potential to model the communities where we live … one where creativity and expression reign over conformity.

First Billie Eilish and her creations represent the disregard of existing structures, conventions and the way you’re supposed to do things – but not in an anarchist way. She’s not trying to tear anything down; but rather use love and expression as a road to connection. All her music was recorded and produced in her brother’s bedroom – not an expensive recording studio. This isn’t your basic do-it-yourself quality project though. Her latest album will likely spawn four Grammy nominations, including best album. Now the “establishment” is scrambling to replicate the magic that was born from Finneas’ bedroom. I rather doubt it will happen anytime soon.

If the oft-repeated note that the Spotify generation is one unfettered by genre is true, then Eilish is the epitome of this. She’s a new kind of star that can go from the ukulele sing-along of party favor to the industrial throb of bury a friend without apology or pretense. This refusal to be classified is unnerving to all those who strive to put everything neatly in boxes, and have their lives directed by predetermined definitions – whether it be music, politics, ideologies or just societal norms and expectations of how one’s life should go.

It’s one thing to be unique, but the bar for quality the siblings have set, especially with the resources restrictions they faced, is extraordinary. They take you to places where it’s easy to identify with – but in a way like nothing you’ve heard. For example, she recorded a dental drill taking off her braces and included it in ‘bury a friend’ – and it fits perfectly.

Billie’s creative expression at such a young age has spurred creative expression from her fans. They see it’s possible, no matter how old they are. Art creates more art – and expression creates more expression and from this expression comes confidence. That in itself is worth more than one can describe.

Her authenticity extends beyond her music to her very being. There is no one like Billie Eilish. Her fashion sense is closer to that of a male rapper than her female peers and their skin tight leggings. Her androgynous wardrobe shuns the sexualized look thrust upon teenage girls by adults in the music industry and society in general. She empowers young girls to be and dress how they want, not unwillingly having to showcase conformity to some unrealistic body image depicted everywhere and played out everyday in school. Maybe more than anything, authenticity has cemented her reputation. “I don’t care what you don’t like about me,” she says. “I care what I have to say.”

Coming of age in a decade that can feel apocalyptic, she is attuned to the concept of a future on the brink. Her music reflects that throughout as she tackles global warming, depression, suicide as well as normal teenage angst. “I really care about the world, and global warming, and animals, and how everything is ending and I feel like nobody’s really realizing it,” she says.

Maybe the most heartening thing about the Billie Eilish ascent is her connection with her fans, which she hates calling them. To her they’re siblings. I know it sounds trite, but she consistently comes across as genuinely having respect, connection and most of all love for them. She performs live not like a star on stage, but like a fan herself. Her shows are giant sing-alongs where everyone in attendance knows every word of every song. Her breathy intimate voice is most often drowned out by that of the crowd. This empathy and connection attracted the Ad Council. They are currently featuring Billie in their ‘Seize the Awkward’ mental health campaign. She is normalizing mental health by stressing to her peers (and beyond) that it’s alright and normal to ask for help – and it’s the responsibility of everyone to initiate and reach out and help. This is how you break the stigma – not sequester help to a counselor’s office next to the principal where everyone is surely to see you go in. This peer responsibility and connection at our most vulnerable times is the very definition of community. Young and old, we should all learn from it.

Billie-Eilish green hair -- yes

She has become a voice for a generation that is tired of manufactured pop stars put together by adults; singing lyrics that mean little to them. Billie speaks to them in subject material that is dark – but resonates with what so many are going through as they’re growing up. The world adults have given them is not a pretty place. It’s riddled with expectations so many can’t identify with; and an environment that continues to be destroyed as adults act in ways contrary to what the science they are suppose to learn tells them. And on top it, their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have turned over the country and their future to a bumbling narcissistic fool.

In step with what you’d assume, there are words of warning coming from the adult peanut gallery. To have their children exposed to something dark and different, especially something that resonates so deeply is to be looked at with skepticism if not dismissal. The rise of Billie Eilish shows how out of touch many adults are, parents included, as few even know she exists. We may claim to be in a digital age but most adults participate little more in it than Facebook, email and streaming Netflix. There’s a reason why young people are fleeing Facebook, it’s the platform of their parents and that of little relevance to them. Gen Z is using the internet, especially Instagram and Twitter, to rally its brethren around issues such as gun control (MFOL), climate change (#fridayforfuture) and now Billie Eilish and her therapeutic lyrical discussion of mental health, depression, suicide and other teenage issues of angst. Adults get sucked into the propaganda of cable news (regardless their political persuasion) and the vacuous promises of the next messiah, regardless if it’s Trump or Bernie Sanders. It seems most are yearning for a time pre-Gutenberg when thinking was not part of the human repertoire.

Many adults look at Billie and see baggy clothes and blue hair (or white, depending on the week or whim). They see a slacker, someone who doesn’t care about anything; and this is what they see influencing their kids. On the contrary, her and Finneas are the antithesis of that. They are accomplished professionals of the highest degree (again, wait till the Grammy nominations come out). On the song ‘Bad Guy’ Billie re-recorded one word forty times to get the tone and intonation just how she wanted; how she felt it would best reflect the song’s message. I would hardly call that slacking.

Our children on the other hand are looking for and willing to give and receive empathy, and want permission to know that they can be who they think they are. They see that in Billie; someone their age who has shattered the creepy adult-driven sexualization of their their still developing teenage bodies and emotions. They want to be part of creating the world they live in for themselves. They want the issues that should matter to everyone, regardless of age, addressed – and addressed now. Tradition and institutional process is not to be revered for the sake of its existence, but rather questioned and confronted head on. It’s an attitude we all should adopt; one where we actually use our minds, not just ignorantly search for next “savior on the white horse” to protect us from whatever demon of our own making lives under our beds. We are bumbling through life doing what we’ve always done, because we’ve always done it, letting anything or anyone lead us over a cliff if it’ll absolve us from thinking too hard.

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Looking for leaders among us

Billy Eilish has urged her fans not conform to the sexualization of teenage girls through the baggy clothes she wears. She’s also advocated against drug and alcohol use by writing, xanny,’ a song that depicts the unattractive and stupid side of getting high and wasting your life on drugs and booze. These are issues that hit her demographic square on. ‘xanny’ currently has 79 million streams on Spotify (up 6 million from two days ago). Her matter-of-fact anti-drug message hits a huge a amount of young people and reinforces it every time they listen to the song. Her unique look is ubiquitous as kids (and adults) are reminded of it in every picture, video and interview she does. It’s textbook marketing; authenticity, honesty, and then repeat … and again. She is setting the foundational values and norms for young people in our communities everywhere. It cool not to get drunk or use drugs and your clothes don’t have to be for other people to judge your body by. Add to that her outspoken advocacy for mental health – her value as a positive influence is infinitely more valuable than any endless parade of politicians pontificating values and vacuous legislation from their disconnected viewpoint in their ivory towers.

How can we populate our communities with Billie Eilish type peer leaders who embody the the traits we value in our communities; authenticity, inclusion, expression and awareness? How can we find these people who are individuals, not mindless conformists; not afraid to call out difficult issues, and propose and implement solutions, not unrealistic political rhetoric and ideological nonsense. And how do we find these people who are doing it by example – not just talk.

Our communities must become breeding grounds for these peer leaders, regardless their age or socioeconomic level. We need to find those who will exert the influence we need to evolve. Not everyone will be Billie, but there are people out there who will and are. And once we find them, we must nurture them. These are our true leaders who will provide the guidance and empower us to help ourselves rather than just look for next “white hat on a white horse.”

Not every leader, peer or otherwise, should be expected to step up and lead in all situations though. This is the quagmire we often find ourselves in under our reliance of traditional institutional structures. We elect a leader and expect them to provide expert guidance across the full spectrum of civic responsibilities. Such will never be the case; instead we find ourselves void of true leadership in the majority of circumstances we face. We concentrate on structures, organizations and the process of anointment to positions of power – regardless of whether the competence exists to actually get anything done.

My remedy is not only peer leadership, but making that leadership situational. Situational leadership ebbs and tides according expertise levels, need requirements and resource availability. The rhizome model of civic engagement I’ve written about details this methodology well. This infrastructure template abhors static roles and instead promotes inclusion and the use of human resources and skills appropriate for the need or opportunity when and where needed.

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In much of the world, we are living in a dark place. Certain sectors of the population; often elderly, white and traditional are scared, very scared, of the changes they see all around them. They see inclusion and minority empowerment as a threat: and as a reaction they are pushing back against the exact things we should advocate for. Many are afraid of uncertainty, and anything and anyone different. Their reactive tactics are aggressive and punitive. They are actively looking to punish anyone who does not conform to their antiquated version of society: and they’re using government and many of our traditional institutions as their tools. We cannot be passive about our response to them. We cannot assume our institutions are there to support us. We must push hard and fast for inclusion, creativity and diversity. Too many in the high rungs of power are not willing to compromise – and will fight to the end for their ideologies and pathologies. We must match their commitment and their resolve. And our execution must come from the situational leadership of those we find among us – not through the traditional positions of institutional power who are there first and foremost to sustain their positions and promote the status quo.

Our future hangs in the balance.

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Draft and notes

#NEVERAGAIN

This group — like that underestimated rag-tag band of patriots nearly two and a half centuries ago — want to make it crystal-clear to those who think they’re in charge that the status quo is no longer viable and will no longer be tolerated. (James Coffin, Orlando Sentinel)

The last week I’ve been so distracted I’ve gotten little done. #NEVERAGAIN has taken over my conscience. It has me laser focused on a group of “not-so-rag-tag” teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their every move in their David and Goliath fight against the NRA and the GOP powers that embody the above-mentioned status quo.

It’s now been about two weeks since the Parkland, Florida high school shooting. I’m not going to reiterate the specifics. That’s been done ad nauseam everyday since it happened. But what I am going to do is breakdown these kids’ reaction to what happened – the #NEVERAGAIN movement for gun control.

The day after the massacre, Wednesday, February 14 – the media descended on Parkland like buzzards on fresh kill on the side of the road in Montana. They looked for any teenage survivor who could mutter a coherent sentence. Two that initially stood out were David Hogg and Emma González. The faces of #NEVERAGAIN began to come into focus … even if those being looked at didn’t know it.

As it attempted to pull itself together – the community of Parkland united to hold a rally on Saturday to begin the healing process. As Emma recounted on the Ellen Show last week, “a lady from the school board” asked her if she could give speech at the rally since she had shown composure in front of the cameras over the last two days.

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“We Call BS”

At that rally, with pages of notes from her AP Government class in her hand, Emma González, continually wiping away tears – delivered a ten minute oratory that will forever be know as “We Call BS.” With this rousing call to action reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s “I Have Dream” … the #NEVERAGAIN movement was born. The speech highlighted multiple glaring injustices of the status quo leading up to what now looks like the inevitable result being a school shooting massacre. At the end of each, Emma proclaimed, with crowd increasingly joining in – “We Call BS.” This rallying cry was no accident – the four syllables of “We Call BS” was intentional, made to repeated. Very few so-called marketers can hold a candle to González. She held nothing back – everyone was in her sights, especially Trump and the NRA. And each point (centered around gun control and the abolition of assault weapons for civilian consumption) was well documented … unlike those normally spewed by Trump and the NRA.

School shootings are nothing new in the United States. After every one there’s public outcry, groups formed, meetings in Washington called and politicians offer the boilerplate “thoughts and prayers.” But whether it be Columbine, Sandy Hook or any of the many others we’ve forgotten … nothing happens. The NRA draws their line in the sand, which is more or less a return to the Wild West – and Washington cowers. Screams of infringement on the 2nd Amendment drown out any compassion and sensibility.

Now I get the whole NRA influence thing. But aside of being scared that they’ll actually be gunned down … I don’t get the level of fear these politicians exhibit. It’s like reelection plays as hard as basic survival. Will they tumble-down into depths of Dante’s Hell if they lose their perch on the balcony of power of the ivory tower of the capitol? They probably deserve to – but still. It’s just astounding none of these Republicans (and a few Democrats) beholden to the NRA put their integrity and basic respect for human life above their unquenchable thirst for power. But apparently not.

Special interest groups, with the NRA being a poster child, control the fervorous vocal minorities who dictate who wins congressional primaries (especially Republican) in districts that have been gerrymandered to such an extent the general election has been rendered irrelevant. Combine that with the absurd dynamics of the electoral college which awards out-sized influence and Senate power to rural states with small populations and pro-gun conservative agendas … you have the American political climate of today.

Regardless of the reasons, the iron grip the NRA has on this country has literally put us on a path of paranoia and death. And the American public has been complicit in this death spiral. There’s bogeyman under every bed lying in wait … with the only thing that’s going to stop him is an AR-15. To not prepare accordingly is considered criminal. The NRA’s membership of 5 million, parroting platitudes any religious zealot would be proud of, literally controls a country of 330 million. This 2% has hijacked American democracy – and they consider this assault patriotic.

This time it may different though.

David Is Armed And Has The Philistine Is In His Sites

We may have found our David – and he’s in the form of a group of high school survivors of the Parkland shooting who have branded themselves #NEVERAGAIN. This group is headed up by Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and other classmates who are primarily theater students (who I apologize to for not naming them). They have created a campaign like nothing I’ve ever seen. And I’m not just talking about activism. This group of 16, 17 and 18 year olds are waging a war for public opinion as strategically and tactically brilliant as any multi-billion company I can recall.

Even while the media coverage has concentrated on condolences, skepticism of their efforts have been in abundance. References to the failed efforts of Sandy Hook and Columbine seem to litter most conversations. After all, it was adults who organized those efforts and they failed to gain any traction up against the NRA. What could these kids do that the adults couldn’t?

But this is exactly the point. Being kids, specifically survivors of this horrific experience, they represent the exact ones who are most directly affected by this gun nonsense. During the Ellen Show interview Emma proclaimed, “our classwork in school prepared us perfectly for this moment to rise up and make this change.” Their theater experiences prepared them to communicate in public. Their AP social studies classes focused on current events and nuances of the reasons behind them. But probably most of all, their lives have been forged in the world of the internet and social media. Organizing … and organizing now is what their generation is destined to do. God help those who are on the receiving end of it. In this case – it’s the NRA and the politicians that bow down to them.

Within hours of the massacre, those students who didn’t have Twitter accounts, launched them, Emma being one of them. They set up hashtags such as #neveragain and branded their campaign will repeatable catch phrases and continuity – all of which could be repeated in their public appearances. With the foundation of the movement set-up and ready to proliferate, they took to the mainstream media … and the media was all too ready to oblige. And it wasn’t just the main players of the movement in front of the camera. It was Delaney Tarr with her speech at the Tallahassee capitol proclaiming: “we’re coming for you.” It was Ryan Deutsch. It was Cameron Katsky eviscerating Marco Rubio in a CNN Town Hall meeting. These kids were better in front of the camera than the six figure mainstream media hosts interviewing them. And their message was consistent: “get rid of the assault weapons.”

But it wasn’t just the mainstream media. The real power behind #NEVERAGAIN was Twitter. Each of the students quickly begin amassing big followings, several over 200,000. But the gorilla in the room was Emma González. In less than two weeks Emma has amassed over 1 million followers, more than twice as much as the NRA or any of their spokesholes.

These are not just faceless survivors or victims – they’ve become revered personalities to their peer group around the country. Following their tweets, reactions and mentions, we see them as friends, cohorts and especially leaders in this struggle we many of us feel strong about – including me. I can’t even imagine being their age – the camaraderie must intense. It’s not like politicians who seldom make themselves feel real, let alone engage.

Their online messaging and delivery is impressive to say the least. Their approach is creative and varied. Five days ago David Hogg posted a tweet asking for a boycott of Florida for Spring Break until they pass some sort of gun control legislation. That tweet has accumulated 70,000 comments and 61,000 retweets. A multinational corporation couldn’t buy that. And this is just one off-handed tweet by a kid. Welcome to the true power of social media.

The actions of the kids of #NEVERAGAIN have not gone unnoticed by the opposition though. Cameron Kasky deactivated his Facebook account because of death threats. Twitter has a lower character count so the trolls can’t go into such graphic detail, he said. Because of their composure, the kids have been repeatedly called “crisis actors” by the right-wing media and their pundits, such as Fox News. GOP politicians can’t believe kids are behind this and claim the left, such as George Soros, are organizing it. The Democratic party could only hope to organize and execute a campaign so sophisticated and effective. One of the movement’s most effective wordsmith snipers is seventeen year old Sarah Chadwick. She routinely goes after the right’s big hitters, Bill O’Reilly, Laura Ingram, Ann Coulter, etc.; and decimates them with her wit. After the CNN Town Hall, Chadwick volleyed maybe her most epic of tweet bombs: 300,000 likes and counting!

Or on a more solemn note, Antonio Delotero‘s retort to a right-wing commentator’s criticism – that since it was only days after shooting and they hadn’t even buried their friends, there’s no way they could put this movement together … was spot on and showed who the real adult was.

With the attention the #NEVERAGAIN movement has been getting, donations having been rolling in. Two of the most notable were $500,000 each from both George and Amal Clooney, and Oprah Winfrey. That said, it must be noted that this movement is running on social media and publicity – not money and paid advertising. That’s the brilliance of it. It doesn’t need millions of dollars to make an impact – not like unimaginative politicians seem to think. If #NEVERAGAIN wakes up the political world to other ways of doing things  – ways that don’t come with donors and financial springs attached, it’ll be a success. But that’s probably too much to ask for.

To date we’ve seem some legislative movement, or should I say talk about legislative movement. Most of it is mainly posturing for the media and wishful thinking by the GOP hoping that with some vacuous promises and intentions – this effort will just go away like all the other ones. But most of all, the biggest outcome so far is that NRA is looking fallible – and in some cases, outright panicked.

As part of their tactical game plan #NEVERAGAIN is targeting specific people and villainizing them by simply showing who they are. The main NRA spokesperson, Dana Loesch, could not look more evil. Put against Loesch at the CNN Townhall, Emma González began her questioning with a matter-of-fact comment: “Dana Loesch, I want you to know that that we will support your two children – in the way you will not.” Bring it on Emma!

Wayne LaPierre and his other disciples are coming off even more toxic than usual as they attempt to engage these teenagers on their home field of Twitter. Comments directed to the heroes in #NEVERAGAIN containing anything but support are met with thousand of reply flames, often of unflattering personal nature.

But #NEVERAGAIN is still in its infancy, barely home from the hospital (literally and figuratively). The real pressure is yet to come … and that pressure will come from March For Our Lives.

March For Our Lives

Organized, by Junior Class President, and #NEVERAGAIN co-founder, Jaclyn Corin, March For Our Lives will be a march for gun control on Washington D.C. on March 24 and anywhere else where a group chooses organize. Even though the Washington march will be the focus – the real genius behind this will be the organization of the other marches and database they are assembling from it. Having almost four weeks, the millions of #NEVERAGAIN activists are encouraged to not only organize hometown marches … they are being recruited to create and share their own videos of activism under the hashtag #WHATIF. These second tier activists will seep into every community in the country and many around the world. Using the #WHATIF hashtag as an aggregator of the fight against the oppression of the elders, the viral potential is enormous. And with it will be political pressure that will very difficult to ignore, even for the most ardent NRA allies.

It’s About Much More Than Guns

This is not about guns and school safety. Well it is … but it’s about so much more. #NEVERAGAIN is about empowerment. It’s about young people realizing they can create change directly – not just rely on their parents and other adults. #NEVERAGAIN has created a platform that highlights a new sense of adolescent civic self-efficacy.

Our young people are beginning to think they can change the world. They have the tools in social media, unbridled optimism and the energy they never thought could be used in the adult world. They are now finding out the adult world is theirs too. They’re finding out that their parent’s institutions and processes that are bedded in years and years of youth repression are not the only game in town, and their game may very well be more powerful … and they are masters at it. They had the key. They just didn’t know what it opened.

An Open Letter To The Education Overlords

As Trevor Noah said in the above video clip; after Parkland we now know what is possible if we give young people the resources and combine it with their ideals and passion.

Ask yourself, and even more so your school board and district superintendent: “Are you taking steps to create kids like this … or are you looking at young people as just future pawns in the system you created? Do you see them creating their own system? And if so – are you prepared to live in this system they create … or will you respond by just keeping them down – and instead try to hang on to the status quo where you’re the ones in control.

If you are prepared to be part of the solution … ask yourself:

  • Are the schools in your community stacked with debate, speech, journalism and theater classes like the ones that prepared the students of Parkland?
  • Do your schools teach life – and how to succeed and excel regardless of the discipline each student may desire to pursue?
  • Does your district base its idea of success on graduation rates, college acceptance and test scores  – or does it look years in the future? Schools routinely espouse inclusion and teaching leadership – but few even know what that means, let alone able show young people the roads to attain it.
  • Does your district visualize your community as a function of the future for its students? Do you even try to empathize and look at your community through your students’ eyes? Is your community inviting with opportunities to grow and build a life? And what steps is your community doing to make it that way?

Do your schools empower young people – or they afraid of what may happen if they do? Are they looking for and then nurturing the students to become your local versions of Emma or Sarah or Cameron – the young people who are not only challenging the system – but changing it?

Where your community ends up and how it competes will depend on how you answer these questions. Our young people are not the future – they are today! And if you don’t realize it now, soon enough you will. Because, as Delaney Tarr proclaimed … “we’re coming for you.”

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The “Kernel,” Your Community’s Cross-Generational Ecosystem

“Beth Jacob is a New Orleans architect and historian whose research specializes in the historic preservation and adaptive reuse of New Orleans’ public markets. Jacob found that these markets and public spaces did more than just offer a space for communities to buy staples. They were true neighborhood places that served as anchors that attracted other businesses to the area as well as providing a physical space for civic discussion.”

These community oases, such as the public markets described above by Beth Jacob, won’t create themselves. In fact any community based effort is competition and will face obstacles put in front of it from big business and very often local government compliant in their activities. It’ll take a concerted effort by all residents of the community, young and old. In my previous piece I discussed the need for us to “Bridge the Gap” between generations as a vehicle for community and societal sustainability. Now it’s time to become pragmatic.

“We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting and it’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create the environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for “shared experiences; serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds, worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And I described in my previous piece, we don’t need a Lady Gaga reaching out to a Tony Bennett on every corner in each of our communities and neighborhoods. We just have to give serendipitous encounters some space to happen.”

But to do this we need to expand our minds to the definition of what these spaces can be. Public markets are just one type of these ‘spaces.’

What this bridging of generations will do is form the foundation for the re-building of the ‘Middle Ring’ housing the melting pot that innovation needs to percolate. And we have a movement, or should I say a mindset, afoot right now that may well prove to the perfect vehicle for this foundation, the makerspace.

A makerspace is a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, or art can meet, socialize and collaborate. In general, makerspaces function as centers for peer learning and knowledge sharing, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. Makerspaces function as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where makers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.

“Bridging the Gap” through film and 3D printing

“With one somber PBS documentary and a second project about “negative addictions” under his belt, William D. Caballero wanted to lighten the mood for his next film. That’s when he started giving a close listen to the rambling phone messages left by his Puerto Rican grandfather. “I’d laugh and play them for my friends,” Caballero recalls. “I realized I should do something with the voice mails because I felt like my grandpa’s messages had a universal quality that anybody could identify with.”

But instead of crafting a conventional documentary portrait of the colorful old man, Caballero twisted technologies, including 3D printing, to his own filmmaking ends and made the hilariously charming “How You Doin’ Boy?”

With his 3D printed inch-tall protagonist primed for action, Caballero drove from his New Jersey home to North Carolina and shot the short film’s co-star: a 20th-century rotary dial telephone, in his grandfather’s house. As a final touch, Caballero used Flash software to transform his grandfather’s handwriting samples into a custom font that spells out voice messages on screen.”

 

Technology is often a great divider amongst generations. But it doesn’t have to be. Technology is nothing but a means to an end. And it’s this that can be the common ground that connects people regardless of age. Remember the workshops of our fathers and grandfathers, and the tinkering that went on there? It was the same with our grandmothers and their crafts. How many grandparents homes aren’t adorned with needlepoint on the walls. Our grandparents didn’t buy art, they made it.

Bill Zimmer, a middle-aged software engineer at the Asylum in New York City, says that what’s going on in the maker movement would be more familiar to denizens of the year 1900 than any period since, because manufacturing is not only being domesticated — it’s being democratized.

Makerspaces aren’t a new thing, they’re an old thing. They’re that old shoe box on the top shelf of the basement closet that you’ve now figured out there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it – stuff that is surprisingly relevant today. Regardless of age, boys and girls like to make things, just like their grandparents do. Why don’t we create a ‘space’ where they can do it together? And let’s make it a space where one can mentor the other.

The older generations can teach the younger generations on the basics and history of ‘making things.’ And then the younger ones can teach their surrogate grandparents on how to bring these basics into the year 2015 through technology advances.

A makerspace should be a community serendipity hub where collaborative ideas can turn into real life things. And the more generationally inclusionary your makerspace is … the more your community will benefit from it.

This ‘space’ can be the seed of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative. We need a ‘Kernel’ … a space where things can grow – physically and sociologically.

chaos

A cross-generational co-creating ‘space’ where everything and everyone is a project

Imagine your community having a ‘space’ where everyone is welcome regardless of age, wealth or any other differentiating factor. Your ‘Kernel, would be a place where things happen, not just talked about. Your ‘Kernel’ is a ‘space’ where people come together under common goals, working together. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being your community’s hub … a place where anytime of the day of night – things would be discovered, transformed and created.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a makerspace not unlike a modern-day version of your grandfather’s shop – only where the skills and knowledge of yesterday are synthesized with the technology of today. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being craft center much like you’d see in grandmother’s spare bedroom when you visited her, filled with yarn, paints, fabric and any other material you’d need to ‘make things’ you’d end up taking home to hang on your wall.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a ‘space’ where the smells of its latest culinary concoctions emanate from its doors and windows, all created in a  physical melting pot representative of the metaphorical melting pot making up your community’s residents; young and old, male and female, rich and poor. And all these creations are started right there at your ‘Kernel’ in its greenhouse and gardens. And of course what isn’t eaten of premise is delivered to your community’s unfortunate and those most in need.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Your ‘Kernel’ must be about help, cohesion and collaboration. Every member of your community in unique and adds to its social and intellectual fabric. And every member of your community has gifts, talents and resources to offer. Sometimes they are evident to those who possess them. But often they’re not. It’s at this time when it’s up to you and your fellow community members to uncover them and expose these talents to the light so all can see them and benefit.

All too often people treat the knowledge and expertise as possessions to be kept close. It’s up us to show them it’s better for this knowledge to be is spread throughout their community … especially to the young. Your ‘Kernel’ should act as a nexus for these mentoring activities. Research indicates that community centers, even in much lesser forms than what I propose here with the ‘Kernel,’ provide young people with a physical and emotional safe haven. These ‘spaces’ result in higher levels of self-esteem and confidence for its participants than any other social settings including family and school.

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises” ~ Demosthenes (384 BC – 322 BC)

Mentoring and guidance in your ‘Kernel’ need not be limited to the young though. Consider your ‘Kernel’ an “Idea Farm” where through collaboration and expertise sharing, pipe dreams turn into community entrepreneurial ventures. Consider your community’s ‘Kernel’ a technical innovation hub where it’s power is derived from solar and clean energy. And the tools available for creative endeavours include 3D printing technologies, laser cutters, screen printers, electronic lathes and all the latest software to run them. And imagine everyone, regardless of age having access and teaching other.

Gugnad (Norwegian): Unpaid voluntary, orchestrated community work.

View your community’s ‘Kernel’ not just a technical incubator, but also one for social innovation. Imagine a social hub where organization, groups and individuals can come together under no auspices of hierarchy to create a new evolution of community involvement and betterment … a hybrid or sorts. And these ideas being shared amongst other ‘Kernels’ throughout the world.

Your community’s ‘Kernel’ should be a melding of librarians, civic leaders, students, professors, union members and trades people. It should combine high teachers with grade school students and grade school teachers with high school students. It should mix small business owners with the unfortunate who make their way via the streets and shelters along with the retired. And your ‘Kernel’ can even bring government and elected officials into the mix … as long as they understand their position is no higher or their influence no more than anyone else.

It’s impossible to calculate the effect your ‘Kernel’ will have on your community. The old will transfer their valuable professional and life skills to the young who are so in need of them. These same young will in turn have a ‘space’ where they can focus their attention and their dreams, other than biding time waiting for the other shoe to fall – standing on the street corner.

Your community will turn into one of a problem solving mentality where everything is a resource and waste has been truncated to a ‘four letter word.’ ‘Resource Maximization’ will be imprinted in the minds of everyone. The elderly, rather focusing only on their next doctor’s appointment, will be exercising their minds, their bodies and the most of all … their spirits. And they’ll be doing all of it in an outwardly community benevolent fashion rather than just holed in their home obsessing about their personal condition.

Your community will be revitalized. New businesses will be created. Not those derived from Wall Street chains and franchises, but ones of ideas born in your community and run by people from your community. And these will be the businesses that provide the genesis for the future to build on – ensuring its legacy and prosperity.

Old building

The concept of ‘Resource Maximization’ should not start once the walls of your ‘Kernel’ have been constructed. It must start at the very beginning. Assume traditional methods of financing won’t be available. Assume bids will be irrelevant, let alone the lowest one. Your ‘Kernel’ is about community and the resources it has available. Create your ‘Kernel’ with materials that are indigenous to your community’s locale using what’s at its disposal. And most of all … assume money is not first priority, but only the last resort when all other acquisition options have been tried and exhausted.

Your ‘Kernel’ should be a co-op venture between property owner and tenant. Rather than relying on old the “fallback” of the two-year lease with set rental rates, landowners should participate in the success of the ‘Kernel.’ This success can be defined in returns on joint ventures created in the facility, or it could be participation on monthly users fees by members of the ‘Kernel’those not on scholarship because of age (young or old) or waivers due to income restrictions.

Schools and existing community buildings could be co-oped. In return the landlords would get use of the facility for projects they would otherwise be able to do. Your ‘Kernel’ could even act a recruiting firm for local businesses in need of talent. A business could pay a retainer for access to contract expertise and mentoring generated by your ‘Kernel’ or a contingency is a member referred to them is hired full-time.

“Start your own personal industrial revolution” ~ Mark Hatch, CEO TechShop

Your ‘Kernel’ is an ‘opportunity ecosystem. It is the physical manifestation of my community employment platform, Community 3.0. It provides a ‘prototype’ cross-generational, cross-collar, entrepreneurial learning Hub for smaller communities and neighborhoods in larger communities.

Your community’s empowerment starts with a seed … it starts with a ‘Kernel.

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I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

“Bridging the Gap”

“Torii Hunter was drafted by the Minnesota Twins back in 1993, and his first two spring trainings happened to coincide with Kirby Puckett’s final two years in the majors in 1994 and 1995. As a high school kid out of Arkansas, Hunter soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. Whether it was about baseball or life, Puckett was quick to offer advice to the young Hunter.

“He was my guy, seriously. He was the guy that in spring training he always took me out,” Hunter recalls. “I called him constantly to try to figure out different things. He was there for me. He didn’t have to pick up the phone. He did pick up the phone. I’d call him and tell him what my problem is, whether it’s finances, family or baseball. He was there for me.”

Now Hunter finds himself on the other side of the teacher-pupil relationship as he returns to Minnesota. The Twins signed the 39-year-old veteran this winter after he spent the last seven years with the Angels and Tigers. Minnesota believes he can still be a productive member of the lineup and someone who will get a decent amount of playing time in right field, but his ability to mentor the team’s younger players was also appealing.”

Hunter makes a leaping catch

Being a huge Minnesota Twins fan, the re-addition of Torii Hunter to the club was wonderful news. I lived in downtown Minneapolis in the late ’80s and attended thirty games during the Twins 1987 World Series championship run. I took advantage of the being able to walk to the Metrodome. And having Torii Hunter, one of the really good guys in baseball come back to mentor one of the youngest teams in the big leagues is a godsend for the Twins and their fans.

Unfortunately we don’t see enough of this anymore. In past societies, especial indigenous ones, mentoring and the ‘passing of the torch’ was not only commonplace … it was mandatory behavior for the senior generations. Communities looked towards the preservation of the “tribe” and that meant educating the younger generation to continue the tribal social lineage.

While Torii Hunter is only a generation removed from his younger teammates, mentoring and tutelage can be spread across a divide of two generations or more. There seems to be a natural connection between grandparents and grandkids. I don’t know why this, but often the bond is stronger than between the grandparent and their adult children. Unfortunately though, this ‘natural connection’ this doesn’t often seem to transfer over other people’s grandkids. In fact, much of the time, it’s just the opposite.

‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore

Racial and religious differences get most of the attention in the media and in social discussions, but the age divide is probably a deeper and more pronounced obstacle. The rapid-fire pace of societal and technological change is seemingly making much of the past obsolete. The value of passing information from generation to generation does not appear as relevant today as it used to be. ‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore.

Even a couple of decades ago, we saw young people step into their parents or grandparents roles at companies. Older relatives helped younger ones get on with a company, especially in manufacturing. Nepotism on the factory floor was not only allowed, it was condoned and expected.

The work world has changed though. Jobs are not life-long as they once were. There is no guarantee your employer will even be around – let alone your job. The preoccupation with efficiency and automation has rendered job security a relic of the past. With retirement savings shrinking, older workers are more concerned with keeping the jobs they have rather than grooming the next generation to take over for them. Younger workers are often viewed as a threat, and the secrets of the trade are looked at as an asset to be protected, rather than wisdom to be shared. Ivy league schools have even created new degree programs for executive retirees enabling them to transition into new careers. These are exactly the people at the exact time of their life that should be mentoring their successors … not clogging up the professional pipeline.

And this lack of connection (and often animosity) in the workplace has spilled over into our streets and in our communities. Generations don’t mingle. Differences in political views, social norms and technological aptitude have created a generational gap of epic proportions.

And if the economics and technical change isn’t enough, we have unprecedented divide and animus between political parties. And as one would expect, allegiances often fall along generational lines – with the Republican party representing the elderly, the status quo or worse yet the return to “past times behind;” and the Democratic party representing the young, change and the future (generally speaking). The recent fervor over a potentially discriminatory bill against the LGBT community passed in the Arkansas legislature highlighted this. During a press conference Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson proclaimed the issue of gay rights to be one of difference in generational opinions. He also mentioned his son signed a petition urging him not to sign the bill – of which fortunately he didn’t.  Add cable news networks and their political agendas, primarily Fox News, led by Williams Ayers, Ronald Reagan’s former communication strategist – and the waters of the chasm become unnavigable.

Cross-generational cooperation is not an option … it is a necessity

This ‘gap’ has created a lack understanding of each other’s generation. I don’t believe this is the goal of either though. This happens mainly because of lack of exposure and the misinformation it generates. There are few points of interaction between different generations, physical or online. There are no ‘spaces’ where serendipitous social exchange can happen. Even actual polling places in some states are going the way of the dinosaurs. I went into great detail in an earlier piece on the deterioration of the ‘Middle Ring’ and phenomenon of neighborhood connection. Neighborhoods have lost their function as the ‘Front Porch’ of civic discourse – one that neighbors of different ages can exchange stories and ideas – and help each other out. 

The fastest going city in the country is a retirement community outside of Orlando, Florida. And they don’t allow kids. It’s kind of hard to get any cross-generational interaction when you literally don’t even have to see anyone from the generation you’re supposed to be interacting with.

I don’t mean to putting blame on the older generations though. There’s plenty of it to go around. I used to mow lawns in the summer when I was a teenager. That doesn’t happen here where I live. Older people either do it themselves, or when they can’t anymore they move to a place where there isn’t any lawn to mow. I find this odd considering the huge untapped market with the proportionately high elderly population and kids always needing money. I maybe the ‘youngsters’ can’t be bothered. Or maybe it’s the ‘oldsters’ being too proud to ask. I don’t know. I haven’t tried to find out. Apparently I’m part of the problem too, or at least not the solution … yet!

Aside from nurturing the underlying tensions, we are missing out on the ‘carrying on’ of traditions and skills. Look at the lost potential we leave on the table because of all this disconnect and distrust. Once these connections are broken, often they can never be repaired – and these traditions and skills are lost forever. Do we really want this?

Back a hundred years a community had to look after itself, the young and the old. They had no choice. Their survival was at stake. They didn’t have the sophisticated market system of exchange spanning unseen geographies nor live in the relative luxury we do now. They just had themselves. And with age expectancy increasing and the Millennial generation being smaller than the retiring Boomer generation was at this time in their lives, we have a ticking time bomb. Cross-generational cooperation will not be an option … it’ll be a necessity.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Neither generation sees the need or value in the other. What a loss. But fortunately there are signs of hope. The recent Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett collaboration being a visible one. But there are few. And just the fact that it garnered so much attention is sad in itself.

What made this collaboration work is that they had a “shared experience. They shared what I call an “experience world, making music from the ’50s. Lady Gaga stepped into the musical world of Tony Bennett. The significance of Gaga’s effort cannot be understated. But that had to happen to make their collaboration. With her more adaptable mind, she was the natural candidate to initiate it.

I had a similar experience while I was attending college in North Dakota. It was 1980 and my father was involved with a company that marketed and installed solar and wind energy systems. This was during the first alternative energy boom with oil price being at all-time highs. My dad relentlessly pushed me join him in his ‘solar world.’ After a year and a half … I finally relented.

I sold systems with him, wrote an economic feasibility program that ran on the university’s mainframe computer, and even wrote and sponsored a Net Billing energy bill in the North Dakota legislature. But even with this involvement … I was still in my dad’s world.

At the time I was young and my mind was malleable, like Lady Gaga’s. The result was a connection that is still strongly intact after thirty years. And now with the resurgence of solar and wind energy – this “experience world” we shared is once again relevant … to both of us.

Imagine communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority

We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting. It’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more so in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences”were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for“shared experiences:” serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds” – worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And we don’t have to have a Lady Gaga on every corner. We just have to give serendipity a space to happen.

Our communities need to create opportunities for the diverse to connect around a common activity, purpose or goal. And this has to be an initiative much like any other social program. I call this initiative “Bridging the Gap.”  This synergistic approach to the ‘generational resource maximization’ of a community is an integral part of my vision of ‘community based’ societal evolution.

In the next post I’ll let you in on one component of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative … The Kernel.

But in meantime, your assignment is to figure out your own way to “Bridging the Gap.”

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If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

“Millennials Rising” … circa 2013

This piece was originally published February 4, 2011. But considering events of the last few days, especially today’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim dominated Egyptian government … I believe it warrants a revisit.

Over the past year I’ve been writing about the Millennial Generation, Generation Y and their propensity to band together and move as groups. We see it with the proliferation of social media, heck, social media was invented by this generation, literally. Recently – here and elsewhere, I’ve talked about how workplace and societal treatment needs to be different for this generation. Stress collaboration not competition.

Tahrir Square 2011

Most Boomers in power however just don’t get it. They view this “grouping together” as being clingy and over-dependant. “If you can’t fight on your own then you can’t fight.”

Well, as generational analysts Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of the Fourth Turning, so rightly pointed out … history repeats itself. And the generation labeled as “clingy” is actually the same generation labeled as “the Greatest,” the heroes of Normandy Beach. Our boys, and I say all the boys of the Allied forces banded together and did what only a couple of years earlier was assumed impossible. They won World War II.

I believe we may be seeing another Normandy Beach, this time in Egypt and before in Tunisia. Only, the common foe is not Hitler, but rather the dictators on their own soils. The fight for democracy in the Arab world is the war of the Millennials. These are educated young adults who only want a chance. They see their peers in other parts of the world, United States included, having access to opportunities they can only dream. And these are opportunities they see every hour of every day. Because remember, they associate with each other – they communicate. And it doesn’t matter with who or where they’re at. As long as they have common interests.

I’ve been following the uprisings in the Middle East in-depth other the last three weeks. One thing I’ve noticed:  Nobody talks about why what’s happening is happening now. All you hear how is it going to effect us here in the United States, and what would happen if the dreaded Muslim Brotherhood gains control of Egypt. It seems as if there is an edict from above (and where that above is I don’t know), that we keep our ubiquitous “war on terror” front and center. “Anywhere there’s a Muslim, terrorism is sure to follow.”

Well boys and girls … this whole thing in the Middle East is not about being Muslim. It’s not about being a Christian. It’s not about Israel. And it sure ain’t about terrorism.

It’s about generational discontent. These are educated, well-connected, aware young adults who are driving these rebellions. It’s all about loving their countries and wanting to make a go of it. They don’t care if the person fighting next to them is Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever. They’re all on the same team – “the Pursuit of Opportunity Team.” And their team is not prejudice.

It only seems like it’s the western media, the CNNs, Fox News’s, etc – that wants to create division where there are none.

Boomers, take notice … the Millennials are not like you. They’re not hung up on race and religion and sexual preference. They’re way past it. These are your issues – not theirs. Case in point, look at this picture:  “Christians protecting Muslims while they pray.”

I find it interesting that while Egypt’s Generation Y continues their battle for their country in the streets – their Boomer elders are jockeying for positions of power in the new government that will undoubtedly transpire. There are members of current regime claiming to be reformed. There’s members of opposing parties, claiming to be reformed. There’s even someone who’s been in exile claiming he’s the one to make everything all better. They all say they’ll listen to the “youth movement” and hear their plights … whatever. Never mind the only reason we’re having this conversation is because of the “youth movement.”

How this all turns out in Egypt, in Tunisia and wherever else the next rebellion is – is anyone’s guess. All I know, is that with the Millennials new-found confidence in political activism … it really doesn’t matter which of the Boomers take over next. If they don’t pay attention  – they’ll go the way their predecessor did.

They’ll just be an irrelevant old man.

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A successful blog post is when the comment flow provides more insight than the post itself. Please comment and add to the flow.

And if you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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Would it really hurt to listen to the kids?

Imagine, it’s 9:00 AM Monday morning. You’re in your office waiting for a visit from a software rep who said he could solve all your problems through his manufacturing productivity software solution. You came in early just to put together a list a questions. The last thing you want is to waste an hour first on Monday morning. Not the way to start ou the week … behind the proverbial eight-ball.

He here is, finally. It’s 9:15 AM, fifteen minutes late. “That traffic was terrible,” a predictable response. It’s Los Angeles, traffic is always terrible! Well let’s get on with it.

Not two minutes into the meeting, (If you want to call it that. A meeting assumes a dialogue.) I felt the flood gates open. It was a relentless barrage of features, platitudes and assumptions. As I tried to get a word in edge-wise, and maybe, just maybe ask a question … I was repeatedly interrupted. His product would solve everything, no matter what. After all this was the edict from above, his boss’s boss. It might as well have come from the Pope pontificating from his perch.

The above recount seems like an absurd way to do business. After all, doesn’t business suppose to adjust itself to the needs of its customers and prospective customers. If they don’t … they won’t be in business long. You can’t ramrod your  wares down someone’s throat and expect to succeed.

While that strategy doesn’t work in business, the world of education hasn’t seem to have gotten the message. Day-in and day-out, our children, the future of our country are subjected to a relentless bombardment of facts and figures presented in a way where only fleeting success is likely. Seldom is the connection made between the material they are force-fed and its application in the real world, the world they are expected to succeed in after they are released from the imprisoned walls of the high school they are mandated to attend.

And even if the material is relevant – the technics used, often decreed by school administrators and boards, take no account of their effectiveness. What matters is that the teachers and students walk in “lock step” abiding to the whims of the “higher-ups” in their ivory towers. God help someone who dares step out of line.

Last week, thirty miles from where I live, in the town of Park City, Montana; the community is in upheaval. Much to the vocal opposition of scores of parents and students, six popular and effective high school teachers were either let go or forced to resign. Accolades poured in from past and present students. “I developed an interested in math I would have never thought was possible, said one student. “I learned how to write, I mean really write!” claimed a past student. “My son actually likes school,” came from a mom. This “gang of six” obviously bucked the system. They didn’t conform to the edicts of the new superintendent and his subservient school board. No matter what the kids had to say, I made no difference. After all, they’re only kids. What do they know.

Little attention is paid in school to student individuality. Everyone is supposed to absorb the material and learn it the same way. If they don’t respond to the prescribed method developed in a vacuum by the administration, then the student be damned. And with a new pursuit of common-core standards, our federal government led by Education Secretary Arnie, “we’ll test you till your fingers bleed” Duncan, assumes knowledge requirements for a student long-term success in South Los Angeles are the same as those in North Dakota. Granted, America is one country. But it’s also more diverse than most continents are. Education should reflect that. And the students can tell you that. They just want to learn things that will help them.

Relevance = engagement = learning!

Students also want a voice in the people who will ultimately determine the future of their learning, the higher-ups!

Last year Billings, Montana, my closest city, appointed a new school superintendent. A group of six high achieving student leaders were invited to interview the five candidates and submit their opinions. After three days of interviews, they assembled, the made their recommendation. They ranked the candidates in order of one to five according to their criteria; past successes, communication skills, vision for the future and potential empathy for the student body. The school board picked the one the students had ranked … LAST! So much for input.

Our future leaders
Our future leaders

If you’re not eighteen, an adult – you’re a second class citizen. You don’t count. For all purposes, you’re just a possession of your parents … not a lot different from your dog laying on the couch. Your opinions, your views, your ideas are routinely dismissed because they don’t “jell” with the real world. After all, “what could you know – you don’t have any experience.” And since you’re not eighteen, you can’t vote. And since you can’t vote, feel lucky we throw any crumbs your way.

Our nation’s elders, our leaders, well …. they don’t seem to doing a very good job leading. Or for that matter, even following.

Our beloved elected officials in Washington and state house nationwide (aka. “the clowns”) more resemble a group of uncompromising six-year-olds than a body of lawmakers. Congress’s productivity has fallen to levels not seen … ever!

Special interest groups, corporate lobbyists and outright “bad” people are trying to role back environmental laws to levels not seen in decades in their efforts to rape and pillage everything in their path. Their actions are not unlike that of Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”

Fueled by the extreme disdain of Barak Obama, hate group participation has increased a seven-fold since 2008. The “if you don’t look or think exactly like I do – I hate you” movement has spun relentlessly out of control. But this phenomena mainly resides with the older generations, those adults our young are supposed to look up to … to be like.

The state of our public education system resembles that of Rome in the days of a fiddling Nero on the eve it burned to the ground. Education reformists seem to have lost sight that reform’s purpose is improvement, not just useless activity and change for the change’s sake. And the ugly specter of standardized testing aims to displace all actual learning in its way – all in the name of accountability.

In contrast, today’s youth, the Millennial generation doesn’t view the world and the future through their parents jaded lenses. They value cooperation and collaboration over confrontation and rigidity. They look at the environment not as just another resource to exploit, but as an inseparable part of the whole of life. Most Millennials believe in acceptance and embrace for all regardless of what they look like or what their views are. And today’s young want to view school as place to learn, to prepare for the future; not just a testing lab giving adults ammunition for support for their “half-baked” reforms.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

Whether it’s teaching methods, or just overall matters of importance in our country, things don’t seem to be going to well. Would it hurt so much to open our minds to a perspective not jaded with cynicism. Imagine if optimism reigned rather than pessimism.

Would it really hurt that much to listen to the kids. Who knows, we may learn something.

Those that create the problems … will NOT be the ones that solve them!

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and Google+

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Are our students, “up a creek … without a paddle?”

I’m sure you’ve heard the metaphor, “up a creek without a paddle.” I think most of us interpret that to mean being put in a situation unprepared with little chance of success.

Anyone who pays any attention to the national education dialogue knows there is no end to those who believe they have the solution to all that ails the system, whether it be curriculum, teachers or school choice. Everyone weighs in. Some ideas are good … some not so much. But this piece is not about curriculum. And it’s not about teachers or school choice.

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It’s about what happens to our children after they graduate high school, or in too many cases – don’t. It’s about the most neglected aspect their education. It’s about transition …. that messy period of fragmented decision-making, that time when a student has to decide  … what’s next. This is the time when they put that first foot in that boat that will take them “down the creek … without a paddle.”

Now I understand there’s plenty of creeks they’re going have to navigate over the course of their lives. But can’t we at least give them a fighting chance. And the currents are lot stronger today then they were when we were that age. Well you say, “that’s what high school counselors are for.” Aren’t they supposed to provide guidance?

But how many counselors know anything about employment trends? How many how can project what opportunities might be down the road should a student decide to go to college? And how many have any idea of economic geography or demographic trends and what they may mean to a student’s future? A high school counselor’s job mainly consists of attempting to keep wayward students from wavering even more “off-center.” Oh, I can’t forget keeping up on that inventory of college propaganda.

Maybe a student can establish a rapport with a teacher who brings more to the table than knowledge of state and federally mandated curriculum. But that’s a maybe … and a big one at that.

That leaves parents or friends of parents. While they probably only have the best intentions in mind – intentions are not all that’s needed. Parents want to see their children go to college. Isn’t that one of the cornerstone of the “American Dream?” And what kind of parent would they be seen as if their children didn’t, no matter what their reason and regardless of the opportunities, or lack of there of afterwards.

Now let’s take this issue of transition and move it down the road to college. To an outsider, once someone enters college and has been there a year or two, they should know what their career path will be. In other words, “what they’ll be when they grow up.” How’s this supposed to happen though. Let’s time I checked, tuition and a dorm room didn’t come with an “almighty all-knowing orb” that will guide a student to a life of riches and contentment.

I suppose you’re saying, well isn’t a college student assigned an advisor? I wasn’t, but I’m sure that in most cases they are. But what do the advisors actually do? Probably they’ll make sure you know the classes you have to take to get your degree, a degree that will pave the road to, well who knows where. And on top of it, how many advisors are going to say, “you’re in the wrong field because there isn’t any jobs in this field.” Probably few.

Well here’s what we got. We got a whole lot of young adults, some with high school degrees, some not; some with college degrees and some that didn’t have enough money to finish. All of them are pretty much in the same situation, “up a creek with no paddle.”

Enough of the problem. Now let’s fix it. Here’s my “unqualified three-point solution” … my metaphorical paddle.

  • First, let’s start advising high school students in the first semester of their junior year. Find out what their passion are. This gives them a year and half to tweak their class schedule to accommodate what they’re interested in or better set themselves up for college should it fit into their plans.
  • Second, bulk up the high school advisor departments. Bring in the professionals. And I don’t mean educational professionals. Bring in a recruiter, a “headhunter,” someone who’s livelihood depends on finding people career opportunities. I’m sure there would be no shortage of recruiters in your community that would be willing to provide needed assistance. And you could enlist several depending on their niche and industry specialties.
  • And third, give young adults a taste of the real world. How do they know what a profession is going to be like if they’ve never “been there and done it?” Imagine involving the community in the success of their future leaders. Why can’t a community offer internships? Virtually no school systems in this nation reach across the aisle to local businesses or even the public sector to expose our young adults to the reality after high school.

We need to re-focus the role of schools. They should be in the “student success business,” not the test score business. It’s not about students per teacher. It’s not about teachers’ salaries. It’s not about tweaking curriculum and sure isn’t about about test scores.

It’s about preparing students for success in life.

The question is whether the powers that be in the American education establishment realizes this … or even cares to.

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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