Sunday, April 22, 2012

Skillshare Penny Conference Speech (written out)

(I come in at 40 minutes on the video)

Me, Myself, and Why?

A few weeks ago, Malcolm and Mike of Skillshare asked me to speak about learning so I made a list: The Five things I learned the most from.

The Godfather

Charles Barkley

Hip Hop

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”

My Parents

You look at the list and 4 out of the 5 are things that aren’t taught in schools, yet, that’s where we spend 16,380 hours of our lives from the ages of 5 to 18. I would hope that if I spent 16,000+ hours in a joint that I would leave with more than one essay from an Irish dude written in 1792. As Al Qaeda Jada once said, "Know n!cc@s that go to jail just to get they teeth fixed," which is probably more than what I got from High School.

As an 80s baby that grew up with TV, Blockbuster, Sam Goody, and the Internet, I immersed myself in pop culture and divorced institutional education at an early age. I had a couple great teachers like Mr. Richmond, Barrows, and Fedell, but even they would admit that the “teach but don’t piss off the PTA” approach to American Education is paralyzing. I mean, what do you expect to learn in public schools that have disclaimers on Darwin and free lunch that’ll put you in a coma? Not only are our schools arrested by the politics du jour, but the entire educational system is one size fits all with an eye toward producing professionals not thinkers. What I’ve realized is that our best educators are ourselves; when it comes to learning, it’s just Me, Myself, and Why?

For me, it started with questions. As a kid, I was a natural lefty, but they made me use my right hand and I asked why? I asked why I had to go to school on Chinese New Year when others got their holidays off and they didn't have answers, just cultural judgments. Later on, when we read the Beatniks, I asked why they’d teach the Beatniks but not Beats, Rhymes, and Life? They didn’t have any answers so I...
Found the Abstract listenin’ to hip hop,
My pops used to say it reminded him of be-bop,
I said well Daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles,
The way that Bobby Brown is just ampin like Michael,
Its all expected, things are for the lookin,
If you got the money, Quest is for the bookin’
- Q Tip

The most important thing I can say is that learning should be bespoke. I didn’t put much value in grades or standardized tests because I competed against myself. While other people knew what college or major they would declare, I had no idea. I couldn’t pin point one thing because I was into it all. The only thing I knew was that my brain was a weapon and I wanted it to be as sharp as fucking possible. Clearly, smoking weed and eating gummy bears was hypocritical, but other than that, I spent most of my time reading books and debating with dead people in the margins. I liked to look at people’s books because most of them read passively. You could have passed their books off on Amazon as brand new, but my books are full of notes, comments, and ear marks. I understand that we live in an adversarial society and that communication is a two way street. Who the fuck wants to go 350 pages and get talked to? It’s not a lecture B! Reading is an interaction between you and the writer so squeeze it for every thing you can. This is your time to sit with William Shakespeare and get in his head. That’s what books are to me. A couple hours to pick a truly exceptional human being’s brain.

But, we all know its not just about books. Depending on how you respond, find a medium that speaks to you. It could be music, sports, movies, art, design, late night convos at Schiller’s, whatever, just get involved and speak to those things and people that inspire you. Tolstoy has a great essay we’ve all read called “What is Art?” and to me, it’s interesting to see this guy in his era try to put parameters around what constitutes Art. It’s relevant to education because we’re finally at a time where people are accepting that the definition and boundaries of learning have shifted. Why do we constantly use the same outdated methods and definitions of education when you can learn the same things in Julius Caesar that you can watching the fall of Stringer Bell in The Wire.

In high school, I lived across the street from my best friend, Warren, and his parents had me tutor him in Math. It was mad awkward because I respected him and knew that he was as smart if not smarter than me, but Warren was dyslexic. When neon lights came on at school, letters and numbers would get jumbled and he couldn't follow. It had nothing to do with him being intelligent or not but he was stigmatized learning disabled and I always felt it was unfair. His parents gave him a lot of yard work to do and when they built their house Warren cleared the lot with his brother by hand. Anytime something broke at our house, my Mom would ask Warren about it before a professional and she noticed "This guy is a genius with his hands!" She was right, Warren went to LSU, Grad School in Australia, and today teaches courses on environmentally sensitive construction and design. It just shows that we need to expand our search for genius because we aren't giving people the opportunities to change the world in the ways they can.

It’s important to realize that you have opportunities to learn every day and it’s up to you whether you capitalize on them or not. These days, I learn a lot from things like fantasy sports. The entire game is based on finding value where others don’t, leveraging that value, selling players before they go bust, etc. There’s the interplay of media influence, actual metrics, personal preference, and emotional weakness. Anything you can learn from the stock market, you can learn for free from fantasy sports. There probably isn’t a better place to explore emotional intelligence and probabilities than poker. And if you’re looking for book recommendations browse okcupid. I’m serious, yall may not get along cause shawty’s looking long term and you checked the casual sex box, but she got good taste in books so raid the list.

If I were to boil “learning” down to one act or skill, it would be “analysis”. Whether it’s English, Math, Basket Weaving, or Tribal Dance, what we’re trying to teach people is the ability to independently analyze and interact with the world. Which makes me wonder, why do we have vocab tests, memorization tests, or anything that attempts to force a canon of knowledge onto an individual when what we SHOULD be teaching are analytical skills? If you gain the ability to absorb, see, and then break things down, you can learn anything you want. We shouldn’t be making cultural judgments on what people “should” know; we should be focused on giving people the ability TO KNOW.

Gotta go, gotta go, more baos to bake up... word up