may-you-be-small-crop-jpegSometimes the way forward is akin to rowing a boat: facing backward is the only way to get proper leverage. Today, to stir my pot, to get some leverage and new energy, I revisited three books that I wrote but never published (or limply offered to a tiny audience). It was a revelation. It’s as if the man who wrote those books in the past meant for me to read them today. The man who wrote them was not ready or clear enough to birth them. The man who read them today knows just what to do (including rewrite some odd bits). Here is the introduction to the first of the three books:

I’ve generally stepped in every pothole, tripped over every opportunity, broken the family dishes, and made every mistake a person can make. I feel fortunate to be alive. I used to try and hide the mess behind a veneer of “knowing.” Eventually I realized that in order to find what I was seeking I had to stop pretending that I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. I now recognize that the more I learn, the less I know. Life is not about knowing stuff. Life is vibrant when engaging with the un-known. Seeking is messy business. Being human is messy business. To pretend otherwise is…well, to pretend.

One day, while exhausting myself pretending, I realized that I was telling myself a story of fear. I realized that I was the only person invested in my fear story. I realized that I’d cast all the other people in my story as dangerous characters. I believed that if they really knew me they’d shame me. I realized that I was the only person in my story feeling pain, frustration and exhaustion. So, why was I telling myself this story? This was not the story that I wanted my life to tell. That day I began changing my story.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the story of our lives. When we do, we have the choice to retreat further into hiding or to take off the mask, turn around, and walk toward the thing we fear the most. This is to seek the bear.

Every human being who has walked the face of the earth has come to the same crossroad; those that faced their bear left behind clues about how to do it. They left us messages about how best to stop hiding, how to turn and walk toward fear, what to do when it is time to stand in front of the bear’s cave and how to welcome the encounter. The clues and messages are found in the stories they left for us. The stories are maps for navigating our inner geography.

Our ancestors understood that stories are a participation sport. Our lives are mirrored in the tale of adventure. We know what to do in our personal story because we identify with the heroine/hero in the story. Their journey of transformation is a guide to our journey of transformation. Their follies and foibles give coherence and direction to our messy passage. Their death and rebirth is a map for our death and rebirth. Their story is a call for us to step more fully into our adventure-story.

As is true in all life-lessons, it’s a perfect loop. I’m back where I started (apparently) only with new eyes and a few more years of experience. Order from chaos, chaos from order, I suspect we are all, one way or another, rowing in a perfect


Map or Map

759. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Beth came to visit after working with teachers on a curriculum map. She was understandably frustrated. If you want to understand how far awry we’ve gone in education you need look no further than the curriculum map. The idea behind the map is to ensure that all teachers in each grade level are relatively on the same lesson all the time. The map determines the path of content delivery. The map is at the center. The actual needs of the students are nowhere on the map. In fact the actual student (as opposed to the abstraction of a student) is nowhere to be found. The student is actively not considered. It is a recipe for dulling minds not opening them.

Consider that it has been decades since we understood that grouping children according to age creates an educational disaster. In other words, age is one of the least effective ways of identifying and working with stages of development. Kids develop at different rates and according to a myriad of circumstantial factors so to squeeze them into an age-box called “grade” and pre-map their curriculum path before they walk in the door is obscene.

Mapping the curriculum to make sure every child is on the same lesson on the same page on the same day is yet another extension of the national standardization madness. Gather some actual data and take a small road trip. Visit some schools. You will find that the schools are not standardized. The schools in rural North Dakota don’t resemble the schools in urban Chicago and bear no resemblance to the schools in Beverly Hills, CA. They are not funded in a standardized manner. In fact, the inequity in funding is apparent within single school districts; you need not travel far to gather your data. It will not surprise you to find that the students attending the schools are not standardized. Take a moment and reflect on our national identity. We are the most individualistic nation on the planet, celebrating our cowboy spirit and diversity and yet somehow have been anesthetized into embracing an abstraction like standardization in our public schools. Learning and standardization are antithetical.

A map can be a noun or a verb. We’ve chosen the noun to our own peril. I can give you a map to Boston and you will be able to find your way around. It is useful in locating landmarks but not in learning. If I give you a map and load you on a tour bus and give you the standard tour, you might say you visited Boston but you learned relatively little. The learning was eliminated when you got on the bus. Exposure is not learning. When teachers map a curriculum with no regard to the relationship with their students, the students become incidental. The exercise of mapping the curriculum for the sake of consistency of delivery has everything to do with control and nothing to do with educating. It is exposure. We are kidding ourselves if we think it has anything to do with learning.

The verb, to map, is actually a great metaphor for true learning. Lewis and Clarks Corp of Discovery explored the western territory of the United States. It was unmapped and therefore considered unknown. They stepped into this unknown land with inadequate supplies and engaged with what they encountered. They made big mistakes. They challenged their assumptions. They chanced upon new ways of seeing and would not have survived without alternative perspectives. They made their map as they went. To map is to have a relationship. This is learning.

If learning is the goal then it is impossible to map a curriculum without the students in the room. The true curriculum map can only be created as students explore and discover. The map is created after the fact, not months before the experiences.