Studying identity through structured serendipity. My start to #identity in 2013. #CuratingPurpose

This morning, while attending “Walking with Lucy School,” I studied identity. I didn’t pre-intend to do so, specifically, but the opportunity presented itself because of structured serendipity. I have structured my podcast app with about a dozen different podcasts. Each morning, while walking my dog Lucy, I listen to the somewhat serendipitous collection called the “unplayed” playlist offered by the app.

This morning, the playlist looked like this –

  • The Moth, “A Dish Best Served Cold.” A young man finds something of a true identity for himself – albeit temporary – by searching for the person who committed identity theft with his credit card. I love that he found his identity by doggedly pursuing something that mattered mightily to him.
  • Radiolab, “Solid as a Rock.” Trying to get to the bottom of what makes stuff, the podcasters challenge the listener to consider that the most basic components of things are composed of mostly empty space. With physics, this short plays with our sense of what makes a thing a thing – it’s reality, perception, and identity. It reminded me of two blog posts that I had written, so I went back and read them – here and here.
  • 99% Invisible, “Episode 69- The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo.” Roman Mars and crew examine a metaphorical anecdote about resistance to change by exploring the visual-identity debacle that the University of California system has undergone recently. Among other lessons, I appreciate that there are levels of design investigated in this piece. Maybe most importantly, the transformation itself was poorly designed, and I learned a great deal relative to the work that I now do with educational change and transformation design.

Additionally, a fourth “class” became a part of my structured serendipity on identity this morning. During our walk, I decided to take a detour to my parents’ house. After all, my own identity was initially and powerfully formed by these incredible people. So, Lucy and I changed course and walked to my parents’ house. They were very surprised to see us, but I think they were incredibly pleased. In many ways, I was thanking them for my identity which they helped create. And I started the New Year by telling them Happy New Year in person. A great detour for identity.

All in all, I’d say this was a great way to start January 1, 2013. Now I feel well primed for my identity work in the New Year.

What “classes” and structured serendipity are you pursuing this year about your own identity? How might you help the learners at your school(s) explore their own identities? After all, as Sir Ken Robinson says, it’s about “How are you smart? Not – How smart are you?”


Bonus (and paradoxically the real meat)! A few reads archived on my Diigo that this walk made me re-read … and a TED talk:


[Note for further investigation: I thought my “class” this morning was pretty great. I learned a lot. I am inspired and motivated to learn further. Much of my motivation comes from the fact that I curated my own learning here. I collected the podcasts; I pursued the follow-up, related readings; I returned to a TED talk connected to what I was thinking relative to identity (to me Zander is talking more about identity and purpose than classical music).

In fact, part of my identity is defined by what I have chosen to open myself to this morning … by what to include here. How often do we use school to facilitate students pursuing their own identities? Not within the peripherals of school, but among the core functions and operations of school.

I am developing a new hypothesis – there is actually an 8th C of 21st C. Learning, namely “curation.” Perhaps the other 7 Cs largely depend on the practices of curation. Developing communication, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, etc. may all be connected through curatorial endeavors. And in school, the teachers typically do most of the curation. If When students are allowed to curate more of their school, then they will more likely develop the 7 Cs … as well as more of their own true identity. As they explore and discover “How am I smart? Not – How smart am I?”]

Sacrifices in the name of U.S. History #DogGoneIt

Did you know that the U.S. military trained suicide bombers in World War II? The living instruments of warfare were dogs. That’s right – dogs. In fact, tens of thousands of people enlisted their family pets to serve in WWII in a program called Dogs for Defense – part of the Canine Corps. The dogs were trained for a number of tasks – to carry ammunition, to attack shooters’ trigger hands across battlefields, and to bust bunkers.

I had heard of Victory Gardens and scrap metal donations in the early 1940s, but I had never learned of the animal sacrifices made during WWII. Until this morning. While walking Lucy today, I listened to This American Life – Episode 480: Animal Sacrifice. In Act 1,

Susan Orlean tells us about the moment America asked untrained household canines to make the ultimate sacrifice: to serve in World War II. Susan talks to Gina Snyder, who remembers being a teenager when her dog Tommy joined the service. And Susan digs into the national archives to learn the fate of other dogs that fought on the front lines. A version of this story appears in Susan’s book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. (20 minutes)

After watching Hachi (briefing on Wikipedia) last night with the family, and because I was listening while walking my faithful companion Lucy, I’m sure the Dogs for Defense story resonated more poignantly with me. But despite my emotional priming, I found the WWII story compelling and interesting in its own right.

Of course, I wondered why I had never heard or learned of Dogs for Defense or the Canine Corps before now. I used to teach seventh graders the subject of U.S. History, and I had never even encountered a hint or a glimpse of this fascinating military effort and civilian sacrifice. I thought the story would make an ideal artifact for the typical middle school history course. I’m feeling a bit of regret that Dogs for Defense was never before in my teacher’s toolbox. From another perspective, though, I am thankful that I found the story in my learner’s toolbox.

It’s fascinating to me what we curate into the curriculum, and it’s equally fascinating to me – maybe more so – what we intentionally and unintentionally curate out of the curriculum. In a content area like history, time is our greatest enemy, I guess. In historical survey courses, many are driven to cover as much history as possible (at a particular altitude), so we skim a surface for as many years as possible. Therefore, a certain degree of depth and a luxury of search-and-discover is sacrificed. What if we let the student learners do more of the curating?

It would be interesting to me to see what middle schoolers would find – through search and discovery – if they were guided to more self-discovery in subjects like U.S. History. I may be admonishing only myself, but I regret not being a more creative facilitator of learning when I was a part of a formalized learning space for U.S. History. I now wish I had served fewer completed meals, and I wish I had allowed more for students finding their own ingredients and recipes. I don’t doubt that we would not have covered as many years of history, but I bet we would have all learned – and retained – so much more.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d make my own sacrifice – giving up my traditional march through the chronological years in order to catalyze more searching, discovering, story finding, and connecting. To do so might even be responding to a higher calling of service to my country … and to the future learners’ world.