Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

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*Caution if you read. Spoilers abound.

“A swamp knows all about death,” the book states in its opening page, “and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin”, instantly blurring the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, murder and death - between justice and revenge.

I should have known from the very beginning that Kya murdered Chase Andrews, but I didn’t. Because I was too busy hoping and believing it was someone else. Chase’s wife, Tate, some jealous sole from the town, like the police officers pondered at one point. I hoped Chase fell on his own and that the swamp covered his tracks, like it did for the many critters that wandered the wild marsh. At one point I remember thinking, “I really don’t care who it is or how he died, just so long as Kya is innocent!” I wanted her to rise above her shitty and devastating experiences, to prove to the townspeople and their better-than-though smugness that they were wrong. Dead wrong. I wanted her to be better than everyone because I believed she was. Because I believed she was innocent.

Then, the prying mantis ate her mate and I knew Delia Owens would not deliver what I wanted. And when Amanda Hamilton turned out to be Kya, I closed my eyes and shook my head ever so slightly because I knew, instantly, that Tate would find the necklace, that Kya was indeed a murderer, and that her life, her story would somehow be seen as right and good and beautiful. Even though she killed a man. Even though she never told her true and loyal love what she’d done. Even though she never sought forgiveness or attempted reconciliation.

And for that, for ending Kya’s story different than what I had hoped for, I am grateful. Because then I would have nothing to think about, to talk about, or to write about.

Chase Andrews had to die. He had to. Because fiction writing isn’t parallel to reality. It is slightly askew to it, starting off simple and relatable and little more than almost boring. But then, almost without notice, it begins to elevate and reach for a greater and higher truth than what we often experience here on Earth. It manifests what we know, what we think we know, and what we believe to be true and asks, is this really what you meant? Are you still on board? Is this really good and right and true? Which is why Chase Andrews had to die, because he isn’t just the antagonist, he’s Evil, the Villain, and the Thief in the Night. And we have always pondered how we as a society, as human beings, should handle such people. And Delia Owens provides us with a possible answer, much like Harper Lee did with Bob Ewell, but with one seemingly insignificant difference. A difference that, over time, makes all the difference in the world.

In To Kill A Mockingbird Bob Ewell not only beat his daughter, accused an innocent man of raping his daughter, and attacked two young defenseless children in the dead of night, he preyed on the weak. Something Atticus Finch thought was abhorrent at best. “As you grow older,” Atticus says to Gem, shortly after the case of Tom Robinson concluded, “you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash . . . There’s nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white man who’ll take advantage of a Negro’s ignorance.”

“That man is trash”, Attics says, and like all trash that gathers around the house and yard, it should be tossed out and gotten rid of rather then left unattended where it can rot and stink and attract other trash-eating varmints. And that is exactly what Harper Lee and Delia Owens did. They threw out the trash. But I can only smell it still on Delia Owens and Kya, because unlike Boo Radley, they meant to kill their evil. Boo Radley meant to defend the kids. Kya planned it, prepared it, and executed it with a calculated coldness often reserved for monsters. Boo Radley protected the poor, the innocent, and the disadvantaged. Kya protected herself.

I know that sounds cold and heartless and completely detached from the plight of a young girl who has been abused her whole life, survived a rape, and who now feels hunted and tortured by a man who is heralded and protected by the greater and stronger society that shuns her, but hear me out because I’m not mad or frustrated at Kya - how could I be? I am mad and frustrated at Delia Owens. And for good reason. She created a monster, and called it beautiful.

“Tate got special permission,” Owens writes, “for her to be buried on her land under an oak overlooking the sea, and the whole town came out for the funeral. Kya would not have believed the long lines of slow-moving mourners . . . Some curiosity-seeks attended” Owens continues, “but most people came out of respect for how she had survived years alone in the wild the little girl, dressed in an oversized, shabby coat, boating to the wharf, walking barefoot to the grocery to buy grits” (pg 364).

“Respect for how she had survived years alone in the wild.” By the end of the novel, we all - you, me, the townspeople - have grown to respect Kya for a myriad of reasons, but perhaps none more than her fighting spirit. We know what it means to experience hardship, to feel that the world is against us (if even for a short time), and to stand before a crushing disappointment of shattered dreams. Which is why we connect so quickly and so deeply with Kya. Because she is the heightened embodiment of our daily struggles. It’s also why her actions, to murder, to lie, and to deceive, are so fantastically dangerous. Because she is the heightened embodiment of our daily struggles, and our sometimes, our daily fantasies.

If Kya were to have killed Chase Andrews much like Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell, there would be a mutual understanding and even a sigh of relief. Because the garbage would have been taken out and Kya left clean and unblemished. If one of the townspeople, say one of the fishermen who witnessed the rape, had taken care of problem, there would even be a celebration because it would have been a tangible act that the people really did respect her, that they knew what was happening, and that they wouldn’t stand for it. Especially if it were Tate’s dad who did the dead. Oh man, think how poetic THAT would have been. How beautiful the lines, “A swamp knows all about death, and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin” would have been; how many tears of joy and sadness and hope we would have shed.

But instead, we are asked to mourn the death and celebrate the life of a cold blooded killer, a woman who not only painstaking planned the killing of another human being, but pf someone who delighted in that killing. Consider her poem, “The Firefly”

Luring him was as easy
As flashing valentines
But like a lady firefly
They hid a secret call to die.

A final touch,
Unfinished;
The last step, a trap.
Down, down he falls,
His eyes still holding mine
Until they see another world.

I saw them change.
First a question,
Then an answer,
Finally an end.

And love itself passing
To whatever it was before it began.

Delia Owens writes these words with a joy and satisfaction akin to that of a child who is celebrating the task of completing a 5000 piece puzzle. Only instead of celebrating the art of creation, she’s celebrating the act of destruction.

Even animals don’t do that.

A firefly deceives and preying mantis coerces in order to eat another of their kind, but neither do so with malice or joy in their heart. They merely do it for survival. Which I get the connection to Kya, that she was also killing out of survival, but then she celebrated her kill by keeping a token of her hunt - like a prized deer mounted upon her wall. Boo Radley committed his crime by accident, out of protection for another, and then admitted his crime. Even to the point of coming out of hiding to do so! In contrast, Kya tucked herself in and hid from the rest of the world. Even from her beloved Tate. Which, to me, is her worst offense of all. Because it shows her true heart and truer self.

“eople are willing to override a relatively long period of one kind of behavior with a relatively short period of another kind just because it occurs at the end of one’s life,” Daniel Pink writes in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. “This is called, ‘end of life bias,’” he continues, suggesting “that we believe people’s true selves are revealed at the end” (pg. 155). This has major implications for two reasons.

One, up until the end, Kya was an unrepentant murderer, a deceiver, and in many ways unfaithful to the one good and true love of her life. Wouldn’t you be pissed to find that your spouse of your life never told you the deepest secret of their life?

And two, because of the story arc with which Delia Owens chooses to tell her story, it is at the end that we find out her terrible deed and therefore has no time to redeem herself. Her being a murderer who holds onto her victims necklace is the last image and understanding of her, leaving us to believe that that is her true self. Not, as Owens would have us believe, “the little girl, dressed in an oversized, shabby coat, boating to the wharf, walking barefoot to the grocery to buy grits.”

Our lasting image of Boo Radley is that of a scared, antisocial young man who has stepped from the shadows to save to kids, thus washing away any and all sins or crimes or social missteps he might have committed. Kya on the other hands sinks back into the shadows of the unknown, of a woman who committed a terrible crime, and who never once thought it right to seek absolution. If even just from her husband.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’ve never been someone’s prey. Which is why I loved this ending. Because it forces me to consider what life would be life from another’s perspective. What it would be like to feel cornered and threatened and hunted by someone who is not only physically bigger and stronger than myself, but who is also protected by the greater and larger society.

I guess I just wanted Kya to be different than the animals she loved. I wanted her to be human, but more so than any one of us. I wanted her to be Chase Andrews’ antithesis and our answer to pain and sorrow and hurt and fear. Instead, she became not unlike any one of us and more like Chase than I think Delia Owens intended.

Chase Andrews had to die. He had to. Because fiction writing isn’t parallel to reality. It is slightly askew to it, starting off simple and relatable and little more than almost boring. But Kya didn’t have to kill him. Someone else should have. Anyone else. Because “A swamp knows all about death and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin.” But we do.

And Kya murdering Chase Andrews was a tragedy. For her, for Delia Owens, and most importantly for us. We deserve better.

Grade: A

Do I really have to explain why? Again?


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Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education, by Ken Robinson

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Introduction:

“I want to set out how the standards culture is harming students and schools and to present a different way of thinking about education . . . you do have the power to make the system change”

“If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does . . . the old systems of education were not designed with this world in mind”

Back to the Basics:

“Education is one of the main ways that communities pass on their values and traditions from one generation to the next” (pg 8).

“One of the declared priorities is to prepare young people for work. And yet, youth unemployment around the world is at record levels” (pg 14).

Changing Metaphors:

Conformity, “the institutional tendency in education to judge students by a single standards of ability and to treat those who don’t meet it as ‘less able’ or ‘disabled’ - as deviations from the norm. In this sense, the alternative to conformity is not condoning disruption; it is celebrating diversity” (pg 36).

Compliance is about “whether and how students are encouraged to ask questions . . . struct compliance is essential in manufacturing products, but people are different (pg 36, 37).

Cultural: Education should enable students to understand and appreciate their own cultures and to respect the diversity of others

“When people live in regular contact, they deeply influence each other’s ways of thinking and behaving . . . Cultural diversity is one of the glories of human existence. The lives of all communities can be hugely enriched by celebrating their own cultures and the practices and traditions of other cultures” (pg 49).

Personal:

“What people contribute to the world around them has everything to do with how they engage with the world within them” (pg 53).

Natural Born Leaders:

Enabling students to pursue their own interests and strengths:

“We all have a wide range of natural aptitudes, and we all have them differently. Personalization means teachers taking account of these differences in how they teach different students. It also means allowing for flexibility within the curriculum so that in addition to what all students need to learn in common, there are opportunities for them to pursue their individual interests and strengths as well” (pg 88).

“Being in your element is not only about finding your talents. Some people are good at things they don’t really care for. To be in your element, you have to love it” (pg 89).

The Art of Teaching:

Engage
”Great teachers understand that it’s not enough to know their disciplines. Their job is not to teach subjects; it is to teach students. They need to engage, inspire, and enthuse students by creating conditions in which those students will want to learn. When they do that, their students will most certainly exceed their own expectations and everyone else’s too. Great teachers achieve results by bringing the best out in their students” (pg 104).

Rafe Esquith has no teacher’s desk in his classroom. If the desk were there, he might sit behind it, and he thinks that his role is to be moving among his students all the time” (pg 107).

Expect
”Teachers’ expectations have radical implications for the achievements of their students. If teachers convey to students that they expect them to do well, it’s much more likely that they will. If they expect them to do badly, that’s more likely too” (pg 108).

Creative Teaching
”Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value” (pg 118).

Learning to Teach
”Great teachers are the heart of a great school. In their various roles, they can fulfill three essential purposes for students:

  • Inspiration: They inspire their students with their own passion for their disciplines and to achieve at their highest levels within them.

  • Confidence: They help their students to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to become confident, independent learners who can continue to develop their understanding and expertise.

  • Creativity: They enable their students to experiment, inquire, ask questions, and develop the skills and disposition of original thinking (pg 127).

What’s Worth Knowing:

Curiosity - the ability to ask questions and explore how the world works
“Human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?" (pg 135).

Collaboration - the ability to work constructively with others

Compassion - the ability to empathize with others and to act accordingly
“Practicing compassion is the truest expression of our common humanity and a deep source of happiness in ourselves and others. In schools, as elsewhere, compassion has to be practiced, not preached” (pg 139).

Composure - the ability to connect with the inner life of feeling and develop a sense of personal harmony and balance
We live in two worlds: the world within us and the world around us. The standards-driven curriculum is full of the outer world. It does little to help young people fathom the world within them. Yet how we act in the world around us is deeply affected by how we see and feel about ourselves” (pg 140).

Grade: B

Some great stuff here for sure. But also, perhaps a bit long. Reduce it by, say, 70 pages, and it would be solid. Still, its worth the read for sure.


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My Father Gave Me Ireland, by Michael Brendan Dougherty

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“A man who is a mere author is nothing. If there is anything good in anything I have written, it is the potentiality of adventure in me” - Thomas MacDonagh

“Telling a story at all changes your relationship to the events you are describing” (pg 47).

“Let’s grant for a moment that we are all revisionists now. That we all retell stories in light of our motives. The next question would be: What are your motives? What does this retold story do to the people hearing it, or to the person telling it? If we want noble things in life, we will pull those noble things out of our history and experience. If we are cynics, we will see plenty of justification for our cynicism . . . A false motive might produce a false history” (pg. 48).

“He was able to warn his compatriots against letting slogans do their thinking for them, and criticized those who were ‘really impelled by a sense of . . . fatalism, or by an instinct of satisfying their own emotions, or escaping from a difficult and complex and trying situation” (pg 54).

“We cannot help but bring our desires and our ambitions to our understandings, and so I think the only solution is to make sure we desire what is right and good” (pg. 55).

Grade: C

It was a bit heavy on the historical components that seemed forced. But that could just be me. When he talked about his actual life and experiences and hopes and struggles, I found it golden. Otherwise . . . meh.

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When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink

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“We simply don’t take issues of when as seriously as we take questions of what” (pg. 92).

“mental keeness, as shown by rationally evaluating evidence, was greater early in the day. And mental squishiness, as evidenced by resorting to stereotypes, increased as the day wore on” (pg 21).

The most unproductive moment of the day is 2:55 (pg 55).

Breaks:

“hourly five-minute walking breaks boosted energy levels, sharpened focus, and “improved mood throughout the day and reduced feelings of fatigue in the late afternoon. These ‘microbursts of activity,’ as researchers call them, were also more effective than a single thirty-minute walking break - so much so that the researchers suggest that organizations ‘introduce physical active breaks during the workday routine.’ Regular short walking breaks in the workplace also increase motivation and concentration and enhance creativity” (pg 61) . . . So if you’re looking for the Platonic ideal of a restorative break, the perfect combination of scarf, hat, and gloves to insulate yourself from the cold breath of the afternoon, consider a short walk outside with a friend during which you discuss something other than work” (pg 63).

Lunch:

The most powerful lunch breaks have two key ingredients - autonomy and detachment. Autonomy - exercising some control over what you do, how you do it, when you do it, and whom you do it with - is critical for high performance, especially on complex tasks. But it’s equally crucial when we take breaks from complex tasks. ‘The extent to which employees can determine how they utilize their lunch breaks may be just as important as what employees do during their lunch’” (pg 65).

Adolescents who get less sleep than they need are at higher risk for depression, suicide, substance abuse, and car crashes . . . ‘Evidence also links short sleep duration with obesity and a weakened immune system’” (pg. 90).

Landmarkers:

“Temporal landmarks interrupt attention to day-to-day minutiae, causing people to take a big picture view of their lives and thus focus on achieving their goals . . . The implications of the fresh start effect, like the forces that propel it, are also personal and social. Individuals who get off to a stumbling start - at a new job, on an important project, or in trying to improve their health - can alter their course by using a temporal landmark to start again. People can strategically create turning points in their personal histories” (pg 96).

Midpoints:

This made me think of FedEx days that Mr. Pink talks about in Drive. “Groups didn’t march toward their goals at a steady, even pace. Instead, they spent considerable time accomplishing almost nothing - until they experienced a surge of activity that always came at the temporal midpoint of a project” (pg 126).

Endings:

“People are willing to override a relatively long period of one kind of behavior with a relatively short period of another just because it occurred at the end of one’s life. This ‘end of life bias’ suggests that we believe people’s true selves are revealed at the end” (pg 155).

“Every Pixar movie has its protagonist achieving the goal he wants only to realize it is not what the protagonist needs. Typically, this leads the protagonist to let go of what he wants (a house, the Piston Cup, Andy) to get what he needs (a true yet unlikely companion; real friends; a lifetime together with friends)” (pg 163).

“The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer - a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need” (pg 164).

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Synching Fast and Slow:

“Groups must synchronize on three levels - to the boss, to the tribe, and to the heart” (pg 181) . . . after individuals synch to the boss, the external standard that sets the pace of their work, they must sync to the tribe - to one another. That requires a deep sense of belonging” (pg 189) . . . which “boosts job satisfaction and perfomance” (pg 191).

Thinking in Tenses:

Nostalgia is a “bittersweet but predominantly positive and fundamentally social emotion. Thinking in the past tense offers a window into the intrinsic self, a portal to who we really are. It makes the present meaningful” (pg 214).

Grade: A+

On the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast, Daniel Pink claims that out of all his works, this book is the most influential on his day-to-day life. I would have to agree.

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Indian Creek Chronicles, by Pete Fromm

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Into the Wild by John Krakauer always bothered me. Largely because of how selfish he was and how, somehow, is tragic death has inspired many to model after his journey.

This story, I think, is a much more healthy alternative to Chris McCandless. Plus, he lives to tell about and live out all the truths and experiences he gathered.

Grade: A

A simple great read that will inspire yet balance the adventurous spirit with the joy of living in community with those we love.

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The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel

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If you liked Life of Pi, you’ll dig this one too.

I didn’t much care for Pi, and I didn’t care much for this one either.

However, I did like these:
”We don’t much like guilt, do we? We prefer to hide it, to forget it, to twist it and present it in a better light, to pass it on to others” (pg. 162).

“While Odo has mastered the simple human trick of making porridge, Peter has learned the difficult animals skill of doing nothing. He’s learned to unshackle himself from the race of time and contemplate time itself . . . It’s a lesson hard learned, just to sit there and be” (pg 300).

I thought the story intriguing enough. Just not my style.

Grade: C

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, by Daniel Goleman

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The Subtle Faculty

“How we deploy our attention determines what we see” (pg 4).

A great discussion piece for students and or staff:

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What information consumes is “the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” (pg 9).

Basics:

“There are two main varieties of distractions: sensory and emotional. The sensory distractors are easy: as you read these words you’re tuning out the blank margins surrounding this text.” The emotional distractions are those that keep intruding into our thoughts, creating turmoil in our daily lives - (think recent breakups or arguments with a close relationship), (pg 14).

“All of us are smarter than any one of us” (pg 21).

“Good work” : “a potent mix of what people are excellent at, what engages them, and their ethics - what they believe matters” (pg 22).

Attention Top and Bottom:

“Life immersed in digital distractions creates a near-constant cognitive overload. And that overload wears out self-control” (pg. 31).

The Value of Mind Adrift:

“Every variety of attention has its uses. The very fact that about half of our thoughts are daydreams suggest there may well be some advantages to a mind that can entertain the fanciful” (pg 39).

“A mind adrift lets our creative juices flow. While our minds wander we become better at anything that depends on a flash of insight, from coming up with imaginative wordplay to inventions and original thinking” (pg 40) . . . other positive functions of mind wandering are generating scenarios for the future, self-refection, navigating a complex social world, incubation of creative ideas, flexibility in focus, pondering what we’re learning, organizing our memories, just mulling life - and giving our circuitry for more intensive focusing a refreshing break” (pg 41).

In a complex world where almost everyone has access to the same information, new value arises from the original synthesis, from putting ideas together in novel ways, and from smart questions that open up untapped potential. Creative insights entail joining elements in a useful, fresh way” (pg 43).

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant,” Albert Einstein once said. “We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift” (pg. 45).

“Creative insights flowed best when people had clear goals but also freedom in how they reached them. And, most crucial, they had protected time - enough to really think freely. A creative cocoon.” (pg 46).

Seeing Ourselves as Others See Us

“I am what I think you think I am” (pg. 70).

“We don’t know who we are until we hear ourselves speak the story of our lives to someone we trust” (pg. 70).

“The journal Surgery reports a study where surgeons’ tone of voice was evaluated, based on ten-second snippets recorded during sessions with their patients. Half the surgeons whose voices were rated had been sued for malpractice; half had not. The voices of those who had been sued were far more often rated as domineering and uncaring . . . research has found that when people receive negative performance feedback in a warm, supportive tone of voice, they leave feeling positive - despite the negative feedback. When they get positive performance reviews in a cold and distant tone of voice, they end up feeling bad despite the good news” (pg 71) . . .

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A Recipe for Self-Control:

“Attention regulates emotion” (pg 76).

“Attention . . . has a limited capacity: working memory creates a bottleneck that lets us hold just so much in mind at any given moment. As our worries intrude on the limited capacity of our attention, these irrevelent thoughts shrink the bandwidth left for, say, math” (pg 85).

The Empathy Triad:

“Cognitive empathy . . . lets us take other people’s perspective, comprehend their mental state, and at the same time manage our own emotions while we take stock of theirs. In contrast, with emotional empathy we join the other person in feeling along with him or her; our bodies resonate in whatever key of joy or sorrow that person may be going through . . . empathic concern lead us to care about them, mobilizing us to help if need be” (pg 98).

“When people listen to someone telling , the brain of the listeners become intimately coupled with that of the storyteller” (pg 103).

“Empathy depends on a muscle of attention: to tune in to others’ feelings requires we pick up the facial, vocal, and other signals of their emotion” (pg 104).

“If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me” VS “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him? . . . compassion build on empathy, which in turn requires a focus on others” (pg 106).

System Blindness:

“Wayfinding embodies systems awareness . . . detecting and mapping the patterns and order that lie hidden within the chaos of the natural world . . . how to read the signs of seasonal change” (pg 137).

“One of the worse results of system blindness occurs when leaders implement a strategy to solve a problem - but ignore the pertinent system dynamics” (pg 142).

“the ‘illusion of explanatory depth,’ is where we feel confidence in our understanding of a complex system, but in reality have just superficial knowledge” (pg. 143)

The Myth of 10,000 Hours:

“Smart practice always includes a feedback loop that lets you recognize errors and correct them - which is why dancers use mirrors. Ideally that feedback comes from someone with and expert - and so every world-class sport champion has a coach. If you practice without such feedback, you don’t get to the top ranks” (pg 164).

“when you’re feeling good our awareness expands from our usual self-centered focus on ‘me’ to a more inclusive and warm focus on ‘we’ (pg. 170) . . . “cynicism, breeds pessimism: not just a focus on the cloud, but the conviction that there are even darker ones lurking behind. It all depends on where we focus: the mean fan, or the fifty thousand cheering ones” (pg. 171).

Grade: A

Any difficulty I had with this books was completely my own. I read it after during a time where my mind needed rest, not deep and impactful thinking. I would comfortably recommend this to any and everyone interested in being a better person.

The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the Road, by Finn Murphy

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Reading and learning about another’s life is never a waste of time. Neither is this story.

Nothing ground breaking or mind blowing, but an easy and enjoyable read, especially when traveling, that helps give perspective and insight into an otherwise unknown yet highly stigmatized group of workers.

Here’s a small taste test:

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What Doesn't Kill Us, by Scott Carney

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Has dependence on technology made us weak? (pg xv).


“But barring an urgent need for survival the human body is perfectly content to simply rest and do nothing. Doing things, doing anything, requires a certain amount of energy, and our bodies would rather save up that energy just in case they need it later . . . “ (pg xviii).


“What happens when we think about the body in terms of its preprogrammed responses to the world? In most cases, the strategies that our bodies used to adapt to stress are completely outside of our conscious control. You don’t have to think about sweating when you’re working out. Your body just does it. You breathe harder at altitude when you need more oxygen. Your heart and adrenal glands respond to threats before you even have a chance to think about them - giving you extra power in a moment of need. There is an entire hidden world of human biological responses that lies beyond our conscious minds that is intrinsically linked to the environment” (pg xxix).


“In the last couple hundred years we’ve put all these barriers on ourselves . . . {We’re} like, Oh fuck! It’s cold outside. I’m just going to sit at home and be comfortable. {We} don’t realize that the entire human race has been conditioned to think that the outdoors is dangerous. Or that working out in the cold is lunacy. But guess what? This is something that people have been doing for hundreds of thousands of year. We were made for it” (pg. 153).


Wim Hof is the brainchild and inspiration behind much of what Carney has to say.

There is also a few documentaries on Wim Hof:

He, Scott Carney, also mentions the November Project, a free fitness program dedicated to “Human development and community building through empowering group workouts.”

Grade: C

Reading the Preface and Introduction was sufficient enough for me. Perhaps this idea is better suited as an article with a few links to those he draws inspiration from. Plus, I hate cold water. So there’s that.

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The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

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An English teacher asked me to read this and let her know any thoughts I might have, since she will be teaching it next year. Here is what I wrote her:

 

Book cover:  

Cover it before handing out to students (if I’m a guy, I’m not interested). Plus, the cover does little justice, I think, for the book. So, have the students create a cover that catches the theme, mood, and important symbols of the book. Then, on the back, instead of a synopsis, write a brief explanation for why they designed the book cover the way they did, citing various scenes and/or quotes.  

You could then reveal the actual cover and have them analyze it’s portrayal of the book: Where does it work? Where doesn’t it?  

 

Possible connections: 

 

Favorite Quotes:  

  • “Mom, however, thought it was one of the most beautiful trees she had ever seen” (pg 35). You can do almost an entire lesson on this opening paragraph: 

  • Why does she find it so beautiful? What connections does she have with the tree? 

  • How does the life of this tree relate to her life (continue this imagery throughout the rest of the book)? In the end, does she become a beautiful “Joshua tree” or something else? Explain. 

  • Then, a few pages later, she says, “We gave them a little extra time on the planet, they should be grateful for that” (pg 37) . . . how is this sentiment very Joshua tree-ish?  
     

  • “That was the thing to remember about all monsters, dad said: They love to frighten people, but the minute you stare them down, they turn tail and run. All you have to do, Mountain Goat, is show old Demon that you’re not afraid” (pg 37). When I first read this I thought, “Damn. Dad is a complex character,” and as the story transpired, it became clear that he is also a man who cannot scare his own demons (his mother).  

  • Yet, in the final pages, he says, “I must have done something right”, and Mountain Goat agrees, “Course you did” (pg 279). What is it? What did he do right?  
     

  • “Something in all of us broke that day, and afterward, we no longer had the spirit for family gatherings” (pg 277). This is huge, I think. After all this family had been through, what did this event break the family? What is so special about it? So unique? And/or so devastating?  

 

Thoughts to Consider: 

  • What makes a “good” parent? Is it simply provisions (house, clothing, education, etc.)? Can a parent provide all the things a child needs/wants and still be a bad parent? Can a child be raised in poverty, lacking the necessities of life, and still have good parents? What makes a good parent good and a bad parent bad? 

  • What role does child trauma play on an adult’s life? Is the dad given a pass, or at least grace, because there is a very real chance he was abused by his own mother, or does that no longer matter, once he has children of his own? Explain. 

  • (Sorry, this one is kind of a soapbox🙂) Do you know anything about how your parents were raised? If not, why not? If not, could you find out?  

    • We are all so quick to judge our parents, to point out where and how they failed us. Yet, what do we know about their parents? How they were raised? And what obstacles they’ve had to overcome, just to simply provide a roof over our heads? What was their childhood like?  

    • If we don’t know . . . could we ask?  

Grade: B-

I don’t know. I’ve read similar stories that were better told.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Books : Reading Log

Real Talk for Real Teachers, by Rafe Esquith

“Most of the teachers you meet are the best sort of people. They are caring and sensitive. Their value cannot be measured by a series of test scores. But there are some teachers you need to avoid. Sadly, they are in practically every school I have observed. They usually hang out in the lunchroom or parking lot nursing a bad attitude toward teaching, the principal, their students, and often one another. These negative folks do not thrive in solitary confinement, and they invite discouraged young teachers to join their circle of misery. I urge you to stay away from them. These teachers are of no good to you and certainly of no benefit to the students” (pg 14).

“Being tough does not mean being intimidating” (pg 34).

Because I didn’t feel like typing . . .

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“But often - more often than most teachers care to debate - students misbehave in school because they are bored . . . the most effective way to keep a class in order is with an interesting lesson. When activities are fascinating and exciting, you have a more reasonable punishment for bad behavior. The punishment is the missing of the lesson, and very few students want to be left out when they actually believe they are going to miss something fun and stimulating” (pg 64)

“Try to set up your lesson as part of a grand scheme . . . to work toward a bigger picture in your own head and in the minds of your students'“ (pg 65).

Students make mistakes, “but if a door is not left open for possible redemption, there is no motivation for a student to try to do better” (pg 71).

“When people are disagreeable might be the most important time of all to be civilized . . . remember that children are watching” (pg 77).

“This job should be fun. Don’t let anyone cause you to forget that” (pg 96).

“Good students help other people. They are aware of the world around them. Real scholars know that the recitation of facts is a beginning, and not and end, of knowledge” (pg 107).

“The best teachers choose character over reputation. It does not matter what misinformed people think about our performance. It matters who we really are” (pg 111).

“Jealousy is an ugly emotion that often leads to unprofessional and cruel behavior” (pg 127).

“Every hour of every day we teachers make sure the kids see the relevance in what they are doing” (pg 139).

Burn brighter, not out (pg 215)

“When pain comes, it is an opportunity to reflect and grow” (pg 215).

And because he’s this kind of teacher, he gets his students to perform - and understand - this type of work:

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Books : Reading Log

Natural Born Heros: Christopher McDougall

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“Empathy, the Greeks believed, was a source of strength, not softness; the more you recognized yourself in others and connected with their distress, the more endurance, wisdom, cunning, and determination you could tap into” (pg 29).

“On Crete, a grown-up is known as a dromeus, or “runner.” To be considered a full Cretan, you had to be strong enough and resourceful enough to run to someone’s aid. Until then, young Cretans are just apodromos - “not quite a runner” - and the ritual passage into adulthood was celebrated with the festival of Dromaia - “the Running” (pg 48).

“When you’re doomed to fail, how do you avoid living in doubt and despair? By living, not doubting” (pg 52).

From Philip II, Warlord of Macedon: “If I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”

Spartans to Philip II: “If.”

“We like to think of ourselves as masters of our own destinies, as lone wolves in a dog-eat-dog world, but guess what: Dogs don’t eat dogs. They work together. As do most species. As do we” Or, as we should (pg 205).

“Because being a god on earth is a natural human desire, and saving someone else is the closest we’ll ever come to achieving it” (pg 205).

Truth strength lies beneath the muscles, in the knowledge that whatever challenges arise, we’re ready (pg 208).

“The Natural Method was never about trying to live forever; the goal was to make a difference before you died” (pg 208).

Grade: B+

Every now and then, the many threads that make up the story were a bit confusing - or distracting - but a great read and truly inspiring.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

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Great read. Not perfect, and I for sure have opinions, which is why it’s a great read. It’s challenging and enlightening and a great promotional tool for discussion on a variety of topics.

If taught in school (or home), I think it would be great to pare it with these:

Podcast: Silvon Simmons, by Criminal, “My first instinct, to be honest, was they shot this guy and now there’s a coverup.” -Liz Riley, Special Assistant Public Defender, Monroe County Public Defender’s Office.

Short Film:

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Books : Reading Log

Good to Great, by Jim Collins

That’s what makes death so hard - unsatisfied curiosity - Beryl Markham

“Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life” (pg 1).

“The good-to-great companies did not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing” . . . “they had no name, tag line, launch event, or program to signify their transformation” . . . because “greatness is not a function of circumstances. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice” (pg 11).

“Every good-to-great company embraced what we came to call the Stockdale Paradox: You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be” (pg 13).

“When you have disciplined thought, you don’t need bureaucracy. When you have disciplined action, you don’t need excessive controls” (pg 13).

“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit” - Harry Truman

Never stop trying to become qualified for the job - pg 20

“Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results. They will sell the mills or fire their brother, if that’s what it takes to make the company great again” (pg 30).

“Good-to-great leaders understand three simple truths:

  1. Begin with who, rather than what

  2. if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away

  3. if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant” (pg 42).

“Good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience” (pg 51).

Good-to-great companies are “not ruthless cultures, they’re rigorous cultures. And the distinction is crucial . . . To be rigorous means consistently applying exacting standards at all times and at all levels, especially in upper management. To be rigorous, not ruthless, means that the best people need not worry about their positions and can concentrate fully on their work” (pg 52).

“To deal with it right up front and let people get on with their lives - that is rigorous” (pg 53).

Good-to-great companies don’t compromise. They keep fighting until they get through it and find the right people (pg 55).

“Letting the wrong people hang around is unfair to all the right people” (pg 56).

“Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems” (pg 58).

“You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts” (pg 70).

“There is nothing wrong with pursuing a vision for greatness. After all, the good-to-great companies also set out to create greatness. But, unlike comparison companies, the good-to-great companies continually refined the path to greatness with the brutal facts of reality” (pg 71).

“The moment a leader allows himself to become the primary reality people worry about, rather than reality being the primary reality, you have a recipe for mediocrity, or worse” (pg 72).

“Yes, leadership is about vision. But leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is head and the brutal facts confronted. There’s a huge difference between the opportunity to “have your say” and the opportunity to be heard. The good-to-great leaders understood this distinction, creating a culture wherein people had a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately for the truth to be heard” (pg 74).

“What separates people is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life” (pg 86).

Hedgehog Concept (pg 90)

What are you passionate about?
What can you be the best at?
What can you NOT be the best at?

You may not become the best, but you could - Joanne Colins, World’s Best Triathlete (pg 117).

Building a Culture of Discipline:

  1. Build a culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility, within a framework

  2. Fill that culture with self-disciplined people who are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill their responsibilities. They will “rinse their cottage cheese".”

  3. Don’t confuse a culture of discipline with a tyrannical disciplinarian

  4. Adhere with great consistency to the Hedgehog Concept” (pg 124).

“The real question is, once you know the right thing, do you have the discipline to do the right thing and, equally important, to stop doing the wrong things?” (pg 141).

“Good to great comes about by a cumulative process - step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel - that adds up to sustained and spectacular results . . . good-to-great executives simply could not pinpoint a single key event or moment in time that exemplified transition . . . it was a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done to create the best future results and then simply taking those steps, one after the other, turn by turn of the flywheel (pg 165-167).

“Good-to-great executives simply could not pinpoint a single key event or moment in time that exemplified the transition . . . it was a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done to create the best future results and then simply taking those steps, one after the other, turn by turn of the flywheel” (pg 168-169).

“The other frequently observed doom loop pattern is that of new leaders who stepped in, stopped an already spinning flywheel, and threw it in an entirely new direction” (pg 181). The flywheel is two things: consistent and coherent (pg 182).

Walt Disney “installed a remarkable constancy of purpose that permeated every new Disney venture - namely, to bring happiness to millions, especially children” (pg 196).

Get Out There : Normalize Greatness

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I recently listened to a discussion with Kim Chambers on REI’s podcast, Wild Ideas Worth Living, and it kinda charged my life.

Kim Chambers was 30 years old, an athlete and a powerful executive, when she slipped and fell down a set of stairs. The injuries she sustained changed the course of her life. Not only did she prove doctors wrong about being able to be an athlete again, but she became one of the most accomplished marathon swimmers in the world, after never swimming competitively in her life before the injury (via)

She attributes her success, largely, to the company she kept. By inserting herself into a world of adventurers who were, at their core, just ordinary people who were doing amazing things, she found herself surrounded by a society who had normalized great achievements. Suddenly, doing great things wasn’t so impossible. It was ordinary, if not expected. “If you want to do something that changes your life,” she says in the interview, surround “yourself with people who believe in you.”

This idea, of normalizing great achievements really struck me. Encouraged me. And challenged me to get out to surround myself with people and stories of people who do amazing things. To get comfortable with living a bit more wild, and free.

To help get my mind and body kickstarted into a new way of thinking and living, I bought a few books (and a bike), and I’ve just recently finished the first, Out There: The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine. Here are few of my favorite stories, in order of appearance:

  • They Call Me Groover Boy, by Kevin Fedarko, “What’s it like to be captain of the ‘poop boat’ and steering three weeks of human waste through some of America’s gnarliest whitewater? Read and find out.”
    (no video for this one:)

  • The Hell on Earth Fitness Plan, by Nick Heil, “In 2008, {Nick} heard about Gym Jones, a back-to-basics workout center with a (very) tough love ethos run by former climbing star Mark Twight. We’re still somewhat surprised Nick lived to tell the story.”

  • Open Your Mouth and You’re Dead, by James Nestor, “The freediving world championships occur at the outer limits of competitive risk. During the 2011 event, held off the coast of Greece, more than 130 athletes assembled to swim hundreds of fee straight down on a single breath - without (they hoped) passing out, freaking out, or drowning.”

  • Quoosiers, by Eric Hansen, “The Quidditch World Cup sounds dorky, and make no mistake: it is. But these sorcery-loving Harry Potter fans play pretty tough, as Eric Hansen found out when we sent him to captain a bad-news team of ex-athletes, ultimate Frisbee studs, slobs, drunks, and some people he knows from Iceland.”

  • The World’s Toughest Bike Race is not in France, by Jon Billman, “The rules are simple: Start pedaling at the Canadian border, and the first fat tire to hit Mexico wins.”

  • Reversal of Fortune (Lucky Chance), by Elizabeth Weil, “Maybe you’ve never heard of Lucky Chance - born Toby Benham - but the Australian climber, circus act, and all-around stunt monkey was testing the limits of BASE jumping in 2011 when he survived a horrible mountainside crash in France. What happens when a highflier falls to earth? He starts over.”

The book is broken into three parts: To Hell and Back, Let the Games Begin, and Consumed. The last section appropriately spends time reminding us that there are indeed lines to our extremes, and when we cross them, bad things happen. Sometimes really bad things.

I absolutely loved this book, especially the middle story, “The Hell on Earth Fitness Plan,” from which my (I think) a better title for the book comes: Prove you’re alive (pg 166). A few pages later, Heil writes, “Changing your body is just mechanics; it changing your mind that presents the real challenge. If the mind is not first trained to enjoy hard work, to relish suffering, to address the unknown, then no program, no amount of training can be effective . . . the muscle we are interested in training is inside the skull” (pg 171).

Damn. That’s good.

To find a group of people with a similar mindset, who believe hard work and simple sufferings are normal, then suddenly, great things are happening. Because that too is normal.

And if one cannot find a group, be the group.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Books : Reading Log : Inspiration


Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, by John Taylor Gatto

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“The logic of the school-mind is that it is better to leave school with a toolkit of superficial jargon derived from economics, sociology, natural science, and so on than with one genuine enthusiasm. But quality education entails learning about something in depth. Confusion is thrust upon kids by too many strange adults, each working alone with only the thinnest relationship with each other, pretending, for the most part, to an expertise they do not posses.
Meaning, not disconnected facts, is what sane human beings seek, and education is a set of codes for processing raw data into meaning” (pg 3).

I was recommended this book by a mother of one of my students. I’m glad I read it, but mainly because I found myself disagreeing with it - vehemently. Which, at times, I like.

I will, however, have to buy her a new book. I forgot it wasn’t mine and wrote too many curse words in the margins.

Here’s a few examples why:

"Good students wait for a teacher to tell them what to do . . . this power to control what children will think lets me separate successful students from failures very easily (pg 7), but bad teachers require this, foster this, and do little about it when it happens. F U John Taylor Gatto.

“Don’t be too quick to vote for radical school reform if you want to continue getting a paycheck” (pg 9), and don’t expect to change the world if your chief concern is getting a paycheck. F U John Taylor Gatto.

“School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know” (pg 19). F U John Taylor Gatto. The fact that you “win awards” and think this way IS the problem - YOU are the problem. F U.

“The truth is schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders” (pg 21). F U John Taylor Gatto.

“At the core of this elite system of education is the belief that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge” and that is why it fails. Why anything fails, if it believe self to be the one, true determiner of truth and happiness and purpose. F U John Taylor Gatto.

“I’m confident that as they gain self-knowledge they’ll also become self-teachers - and only self-teaching has any lasting value” (pg 31). Nope. Ever been inspired by someone? Their words? Their life? Their teachings? Nope, never? Interesting.

“I can honestly say I have never once heard an extended conversation about children or about teaching theory in any teachers’ room I’ve been in” (pg 40). The problem isn’t them. It’s you. Because I can honestly say that I have never NOT been in an extended conversation about children or about teaching theory because THAT’S WHAT GOOD TEACHERS DO!!!! F U John Taylor Gatto.

“The United States has become a nation of institutions, whereas it used to be a nation of communities” (pg 56). Seems a bit unfair, and largely untrue. Salem anyone? How was that for a community?

“Parent, for the most part, are lied to or told half-truths, as they are usually considered adversaries. At least that’s been true in every school I ever worked in” (pg 64). Again, the issue is you.

“Perhaps it is time to try something different. ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’ said Robert Frost. The natural solution to learning to live together in a community is first to learn to live apart as individuals and as families. Only when you feel good about yourself can you feel good about others” (pg 71). This IS the problem of education - and our culture at large. IT ISN’T ABOUT YOU!!! We find our purpose and “feel good” not by serving ourselves AND THEN others, but by serving others! Then we find ourselves. F U John Taylor Gatto.

Here are some good ones:

“Sometimes the problem is the problem of mastering solitude” (pg 30). That’s pretty good.

“Aristotle saw, a long time ago, that fully participating in a complex range of human affairs was the only way to become fully human” (pg 47). Good on you, Aristotle. Good on you.

“What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is one right way to proceed with growing up” (pg 68). Agreed. Whole heartedly. This, to me, points to purpose rather than a system. Change the purpose, change the system. But yes, Mr. Gatto, I agree.

A quote from Christopher Lasch: “The people who think globally do so by abstractly and statistically reducing the globe to quantities . . . If you want to do good and preserving acts you must think and act locally” (pg 80). Perhaps, Mr. Gatto, you should stick to quoting others.

To help compensate, I suggest reading:

  • End of Education, by Neil Postman

  • There Are No Short Cuts, by Rafe Esquith

  • Walking on Water, by Derick Jensen

  • Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt

These are my kind of teachers.

For more one . . .

Education : Reading Log

Creativity, INC. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull

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“What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problems, we marshal all of our energies to solve it” (pg x).

“If we made something that we wanted to see, others would want to see it, too” (pg xi).

“We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them” (pg xv).

“The obvious payback of exceptional people are that they innovate, excel, and generally make your company - and, by extension, you - look good” (pg 23).

“The responsibility for finding and fixing problems should be assigned to every employee, from the most senior manager to the lowliest person on the production line” (pg 50).

“When downsides coexist with upsides, as they oftedn do, people are reluctant to explore what’s bugging them, for fear of being labeled complainers.” But, “if left unaddressed, {it} could fester and destroy Pixar”. Or anything (pg 63).

“Our purpose was not merely to build a studio that made hit films but to foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions” (pg 64).

“It would be a mistake to think that merely gathering a bunch of people in a room for a candid discussion every couple of months will automatically cure your company’s ills” (pg 104).

“If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy - trying to avoid failure by out-thinking it - dooms you to fail” (pg 109).

“How do you make failure into something people can face without fear? . . . If leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we make it safe for others . . . Being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them” (pg 111).

“When experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, not as a frustrating waste of time, people will enjoy their work - even when it is confounding them” (pg 113).

“One of the most crucial responsibilities of leadership is creating a culture that rewards those who lift not just our stock prices but our aspirations as well” (pg 123).

“Originality is fragile” (pg 131).

“Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply” (pg 148).

“If you don’t try to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead” (pg 169).

“Confirmation Bias: the tendency of people to favor information true or not, that confirms their preexisting beliefs . . . If our mental models are mere approximations of reality, then, the conclusions we draw cannot help but be prone to error. A few words uttered by someone close to us can carry enormous weight, for example, whereas the same words uttered by a stranger won’t resonate at all. At our jobs, we may interpret not being invited to a meeting as a threat to us or to our projects, even when no threat is intended. But because we often don’ see the flaws in our reasoning - or our biases - it’s easy to be deluded while being quite convinced that we are the only sane ones around . . . once a model of how we should work gets in our head, it is difficult to change” (pg 181, 182).

“There are limits to data, and some people rely on it too heavily. Analyzing it correctly is difficult, and it is dangerous to assume that you always know what it means. It is very easy to find false patters” because, “a large portion of what we manage can’t be measured, and not realizing this has unintended consequences” (pg 219).

“People want decisivenss, but they also want honesty about when you’ve effed up. It’s a huge lesson: include people in your problems, not just your solutions” (pg 228).

“If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing? You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat” (pg 228).

“While everyone appreciates cash bonuses, they value something else almost as much: being looked in the eye by someone they respect and told, ‘Thank you"‘“ (pg 272).

Personal Project Days:
The allowance “to work on anything they wanted, using Pixar’s resources to engage with whatever problem or question they found interesting . . . any idea that sparked their curiosity, they were free to pursue.”
”Just give people time, and they come up with the ideas . . . that’s the beauty of it: It comes from them” (pg 281).

Thoughts for Managing a Creative Culture:

  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.

  • Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95 percent who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5 percent - address abuses of common sense individuality. this is more work but ultimately healthier.

  • Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our process to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on - but it is not the goal. Making the product great is the goal.

Disconnected: How to Reconnect our Digitally Distracted Kids, by Thomas Kersting

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Our devices have become such a part of who we are that we may be losing sight of who we are.
- Thomas Kersting

“We and our children do not have control over electronic devices and screens; electronic devices and screens have control over us” (pg ii).

“In 2007 Small began researching technology’s impact on the brain and discovered that when research subjects spent as little as an hour a day online, the activity patters in their brains changed dramatically. According to Small, ‘the human brain is malleable, always changing in response to its environment.’ Dr. Small explains that the brain is very sensitive. Every stimulation the brain receives causes a complex cascade of neurochemical electrical consequences. With repeated stimuli the neural circuits in the brain become excited and if other neural circuits are neglected they will be weakened. A young person’s brain, which is still developing, is particularly sensitive and is also the kind of brain that is most exposed to modern technology” (pg 4).

“the more we become used to just sound bites and tweets, the less patient we will become with more complex, more meaningful information. And I do think we might lose the ability to analyze things with any depth and nuance” (pg 4).

“This lack of face-to-face interaction, particularly for children, is evident in their reduced social and communication skills, making it difficult for them to handle the everyday bumps in the road of life. The end result: a substantial increase in stress, anxiety, and self-esteem issues” and “if young folks spend most of their time communicating through text messaging rather than face-to-face, the brain will weed out the neural pathways that are necessary for becoming a good face-to-face communicator” (pg 7, 9).

Chapter 2: Cyberspace Children : A Full-Time Job

“In 2005, the Kaiser Family Foundation released the findings from a 2004 study” that “revealed that the average eight to eighteen year old spent six and a half hours per day using electronic media” (pg 15). In 2008, that number “had risen by over an hour, to seven hours and thirty-eight minutes per day, seven days a week” meaning “the average kid in America was spending more time per week plugged in to electronic devices than the average full-time worker was spending at work.”

Between 2004 and 2008, YouTube and Facebook had been introduced to the world.

What’s even more alarming “is that the Kaiser study did not include smartphone or tablet use because they weren’t relevant in 2008 . . . In October of 2015, Common Sense Media conducted the most up-to-date, large-scale, probability-based survey to explore young people’s media diets. The findings were that the average American teenager now spends nine hours per day, or sixty-three hours per week, immersed in electronic media, not including school-related technology” (pg 18).

Chapter 13: Social Media and the Development of Self -Esteem

“Our children are on the receiving end of hundreds, even thousands, of narcissistic photographs from their peers, which can cause them to start questioning the quality of their own life when compared to everyone else’s” (pg 26).

“Children need to experience rejection at times in order to develop a sense of “self” by overcoming adversity and learning from it“ (pg 18).

The word ‘self’ is the crucial part of self-esteem, it is not ‘others’-esteem. But that is what is happening” because they’ve lost their sense of purpose. A sense of purpose can be defined “as ongoing motivation that is self-directed, oriented toward the future, and beneficial to others” (pg 28).

Chapter 4: The Multitasking Brains of Kids

“High multitaskers fail miserably at counting the correct number of passes btween the girls wearing white tee shirts because their brains can’t help but be distracted by the girls in black along with other distractions happening in the video. Low multitaskers have no problem counting the correct number of passes between the girls wearing white” because high multitaskers use “twenty times more of their brain . . . than low multitaskers.” But they’re using the wrong part of their brain, “the part known as the visual cortex. Low multitaskers needed only a small amount of brainpower to complete the task, and it was the area of the brain they were supposed to be using, the pre-frontal cortex. In other words, the high multitasking students were actually worse at multitasking than the low multitasking students” (pg 36, 37).

Chapter 8: Raising our Children to be Leaders Instead of Followers

“It is our job as parents {and educators} to do what is right for our children, not to allow outside influences to decide that for us. When I have these conversations with parents they sometimes become defensive because, let’s face it, no adult wants to admit that they were peer pressured into anything” (pg 73).

What is the right age to get your child a smartphone? When you feel comfortable with your child watching pornography (pg 73).

“A leader is someone [who] leads by example and has the integrity to do the right thing even when it is not popular. A good leader has positive influence over others, inspiring them to become a better person and example for others to model their life against” (pg 74).

Chapter 10: Using Mindfulness and Meditation to Reconnect Our Disconnected Kids

Five rules every parent should follow:

  1. Keep your child’s room clean of screens

  2. Your child’s phone is your phone

  3. No electronics during dinner

  4. Limit screen time for entertainment purposes (including TV) to two hours per day

  5. Be a role model

Grade: A+

Sure. At times, he’s extreme, because that’s what sells books, but he’s also right. Not perfect, but right in that he raises the question, sounds the alarm, and looks to the adults to act and parent/teach like adults, and that in and of itself is what makes this short book worth the read.

He got my attention, that’s for sure.

For more one . . .

Education : Reading Log : On Parenting

Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most, by Steven Johnson

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“Think about the long list of skills we teach high school students: how to factor quadratic equations; how to diagram the cell cycle; how to write a good topic sentence. Or we teach skills with a more vocational goal: computer programming, or some kind of mechanical expertise. Yet you will almost never see a course devoted to the art of and science of decision-making, despite the fact that the ability to make informed and creative decisions is a skill that applies to every aspect of our lives” (pg 13).

“When we look back at the tragectory of our lives, and of history itself, I think most of us would agree that the decisions that ultimately matter the most do no - or at least should not - rely heavily on instincts and intuition to do their calculations. They’re decisions that require slow thinking, not fast. While they are no doubt influenced by the emotional shortcuts of our gut reactions, they rely on deliberative thought, not instant responses” (pg 15).

Complex decisions . . .

force us to predict the future
often involve conflicting objectives
harbor undiscovered options
are vulnerable to failures of collective intelligence (pg 26-28)

“Our minds naturally gravitate to narrowband interpretations, compressing the full spectrum down into one dominant slice. Cognitive scientists sometimes call the anchoring. When facing a decision that involves multiple, independent variables, people have a tendency to pick one “anchor” variable and make their decision based on that element” (pg 44).

“The power of diversity is so strong that it appears to apply even when the diverse perspectives being added to the group have no relevant exprtise to the case at hand . . . Just the presence of difference appears to make a difference . . . diversity trumps ability” (pg 53).

“Storytellers suffer from confirmation bias and overconfidence just like the rest of us. Our brains naturally project outcomes that conform to the way we think the world words. To avoid those pitfalls, you need to trick your mind into entertaining alternative narratives, plot lines that might undermine your assumptions, not confirm them” (pg 118).

“Hard choices are often hard because they impact other people’s lives in meaningful ways, and so our ability to imagine that impact - to think through the emotional and material consequences from someone else’s perspective - turns out to be an essential talent” (pg 122).

Grade: B

At times I had to remind myself to keep reading, that not all information worth learning is entertaining, and that there should be at least a few nuggets available. And indeed there were. I just wish it was a bit more inspirational in the process.