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?”]

Process Post: Contemplating Juxtapositions

Juxtaposition is a powerful device. Just this morning, on my walks with Lucy, I listened to a podcast from The Moth:

Martha Manning: What Can’t Be Fixed
Posted: Mon, 11 Jun 2012 15:25:03 +0000
Play Now
A therapist, and her car, break down.

Martha Manning tells a beautiful story about her patient/friend Ann confronting cancer, and she juxtaposes this heartfelt tale with another story about her car and a mechanic.

My thoughts this morning were in interesting juxtaposition to the story by Martha Manning. For whatever reason, I wondered about why I have made some of the decisions that I have made in my educational career. In particular, two decisions stood out:

  1. In the summer of 1997, I decided to write a new economics curriculum for my eighth graders and to abandon the textbook that had been used for many years. [Choices, the resulting curriculum, still remains, but that is another story – it is long overdue for an abandonment and complete reinvention, in my humble opinion!] Why, in my fourth year of teaching, and only my second year at that particular school, did I decide to do such a thing? And why did my colleague who taught the other sections of Economics 8 agree to such a thing? And why did my principal trust me to do such a thing?
  2. In 2010, I led a launch of a new course called Synergy. My teaching and learning partner, Jill Gough, and I piloted a course that would refuse to be silo-ed into any one department, and the primary curriculum would be community issues problem identification and solution. And it would be heavily assessed, but non-graded. Why, at that particular point in my teaching and administration work, did I decide to do such a thing? Why did I want to break away from the departmentalized, subject-content system and experiment with a course that hypothetically would match more closely the mixed-up, complex world for which we say we are preparing students?

Juxtaposition is a powerful device. In 1997, my courtship and upcoming marriage to my wife, Anne-Brown, was juxtaposed with my decision to write Choices. In 2010 (and even years earlier during the design and creation phases), my rearing and raising of my two sons was juxtaposed with my decision to launch Synergy.

Now, in hindsight, I wonder about how those major family occurrences – those dramatically wonderful life changes – influenced my educational-career choices. In addition to being committed to research and experimentation, I think my marriage year and my childrearing drastically influenced my decisions to create Choices and Synergy. With my marriage, I believe that I identified more strongly with the parents who send their children to school. I believe that I could put myself in their shoes as life partners who were contemplating a family and what it means to be a family in this city, state, nation, and world. And, certainly with my raising of my sons, I viewed each and every student differently. In the faces of the 561 children at school, I saw the faces and hearts and minds of my own two children.

And I want more for them than the outmoded, outdated portions of school that reside in an industrial-age era. Don’t get me wrong – I love school. I believe in school. But I think school needs some significant R&D work! And I would like to be part of that team – those teams – of people who are working tirelessly to review, reset, re-imagine, re-purpose, revise and re-invent school. I want something different for my boys and for all of the children that remind me of my boys. I would love for school to be more relevant and less silo-ed. I would love for school to be less grade-oriented and more feedback and assessment oriented. I would love for school to more closely resemble the world in which we are preparing our students to live and work.

Interestingly (to me), as I sit and type, I am realizing that my 1997 decision about Choices was also juxtaposed with my contemplations about graduate school – would I study the intersections of economics and anthropology, or would I study the complexities of education? And, in 2010, juxtaposed with my decision to pilot Synergy, I was getting much more immersed in blogging and the blog-o-sphere – reading and writing fairly voraciously about what was happening in schooling and education across the planet. Those windows of insight – both those lenses of family and those lenses of my own professional learning and contemplation – made me want desperately to be more involved in the team of people “trying to build a better lightbulb.”

And so, this morning, I face another juxtaposition. Today, I begin officially at Unboundary, serving as the director of educational innovation. For the past few months, I have received some interesting reactions from people about my decision to explore education and schooling from a different perspective than that of an “active school person” teaching quintessential classrooms of students and administrating a faculty. Some have accused me of abandoning education and schooling. Others, of course, have been incredibly supportive and excited by my explorations and intended discoveries. For I do not believe I am abandoning schools or education. I do not think I am “selling out” to the corporate sector. I see that I am working on the next chapter of my education and learning book. I see that I am striving to serve as an operator at the intersection of what school has been, what school could be, and what strategic design and significance consulting can teach us about “schools” of the future.

As Martha Manning says in her story, “Some things just cannot be fixed.” Nevertheless, I am overjoyed to be working in a new type of research laboratory to experiment with the endless possibilities of what school could be. Maybe school doesn’t need fixing. Maybe school cannot be fixed. But school can learn, and school can change. In fact, that is the business of schools – learning and change. So…let’s make it so.

Here’s to the next chapter. Here’s to the juxtaposition of school, education, strategic design, and significance consulting. It’s not about fixing things. It’s about learning and serving.