Category Archives: curiosity

GET LOST.

I came across this quote in “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” and thought it deserved a little attention.

Go get lost this weekend!

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Wise Words from 1,000 Elders

Thought I’d share this article with you all in case you haven’t stumbled upon it yet… a new book about life lessons from those at the latter end of their own ‘wise routes’.

The book – “30 Lessons for Living” – “offers practical advice from more than 1,000 older Americans from different economic, educational and occupational strata who were interviewed as part of the ongoing Cornell Legacy Project.” This NY Times article lets us in on a few of enlightening trends about marriage, careers, aging, regrets, and happiness.

Advice From Life’s Graying Edge on Finishing With No Regrets

I also really love this video about success (connected to the NY Times article):

Hope everyone is off to a 2012 full of adventure, love, and ever wider eyes.

– Claire

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12 New Years Un-Resolutions for 2012.

With mere hours until the clock strikes 2012, most people are crafting a line-up of hefty expectations for Monday and the 365 days to follow. Usually new year’s resolutions fall into a few categories: we want to get in shape, make more money, eat healthier, be kinder to people, call home more, take more time for ourselves, and wash our socks more often (right?). These conclusive resolutions are hard to stick to (or in my case, remember), so this year, I’m doing something a little different.

Here’s why.

This year I riled up the confidence to take a leap of faith onto, well, my bicycle. Brandon and I rode down the Pacific coast learning from innovators in alternative education and wise strangers with beautiful, dissonant, complex, raw stories about their life’s learnings. 2011 was a powerful year for us because of them and you.

More than any epic tailwind, we were propelled by the kindness of friends and strangers to support two young crazy people with a young crazy idea. Your advice, dollars (big and small), spontaneous ideas, kind enthusiastic emails, gear donations, clever comments on our blog posts, and ‘likes’ on our Facebook page (wink), meant more than you know. On days when the coastal wind was cold and our legs were tired and we were stuck somewhere far away, your gestures reminded us that we weren’t alone and we weren’t that crazy. Your wise words and small gestures sprinkled throughout the year helped us much more than any ‘lump sum’ resolution we made last January 1st.

So. Un-resolutions.

This year, instead of resolutions, I’m making a list of pocket-size {daily} inspirations. They’re un-resolutions because they aren’t “resolved”… these are ongoing simple quotes, photos, and reminders to live fully, healthfully, and with a hearty sense of openness in each breath – wisdom given to me in 2011 that I hope to offer out in 2012.

1. What is the most important skill? To see the sun every morning and to realize that the sun is shining. A lot of people they don’t see that the sun is shining, even if she is. That is, to see the nature. – Lotti Bitterli, our adopted Swiss bike mother

2. {quote by Ram Dass, art by yours truly}

3. If it isn’t the mystery or the mystery unraveling, then it is nothing. – Walt Whitman

4. I think success now means being in the moment, not being worried. It’s a lesson that becomes obvious as you age. You can always enjoy things that are in front of you. If you invest your time enjoying things, it pays great benefits. If you spend your time worrying, it pays no benefits. Become interested in the process. – Jim Irving, coffeeshop owner in Bodega Bay, CA

5. Everybody is your mirror. I think that we’re always getting feedback on a daily basis… it’s just this constant, circular thing. What if we saw ourselves as the source of generating what it means to thrive? And then that gets mirrored in our relationships and our world. – Kristin Hayden, founder of OneWorld NOW!

6. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. – Dr. Seuss

7.

8. {Ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu} A person is a person through other persons. – Zulu proverb

9. {We are very small} Touch the earth lightly. – lots of people, especially Annemarie

10. Sometimes it’s important to eat a nice hot donut. – Joey, my college roommate

11. How do I find success? I start the day being the best man I can. Endeavor to be a better man. And go to bed with no regret. And wake up in the morning with no guilt. – Fred Williams

12. Breathe and be wide-eyed. The unofficial motto of our project and the closest I can get to a resolution for 2012.

To 2012 we go!

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Why self-directed learning is the future of education

Hey, watch this:

Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, is a brilliant dude and one of the most super education innovators of our day. A few sprinkles of wisdom that I love about this short video:

  • The future of education is one or two giant classrooms where information is available and learning is self-directed
  • In this classroom, everyone will work at their own pace, so when students want to take a break to pursue an idea (like building a robot for 6 months, or embarking on a bike adventure wink wink) it will be a-okay
  • “Teachers more than ever are fountains of knowledge, experience, mentorship, and humanity as opposed to fountains of a scripted lecture.” zing.
  • The best learning happens when the student demands knowledge, rather than having it preemptively delivered to them (how many times have you or your kids said, “I’m never going to need to know this!”?)

We can apply this idea to our every day lives pretty easily. Think about the last time you wanted to try cooking up a new dish for dinner. How did you figure out what to make? I’d venture to guess that you decided to look up a recipe online (maybe on epicurious.com), or perused one of your existing recipe books (genius!). And what did you do when you stumbled upon a cooking term you weren’t familiar with? You probably looked it up (brilliant!). If someone had narrated recipes to you sometime when you weren’t interested in actually cooking anything, you might have tuned out the lecture and ventured into the inner-depths of lala land. But when you had a practical and immediate demand for the information, you learned it quickly and relatively easily.

When we understand what our goal is – what it is that we want to create – figuring out the steps to get there is fun, relevant, and intuitive. If the steps aren’t intuitive, we can reach out to teachers and mentors for guidance. I think this simple idea is the key to unearthing our next education revolution.

Check out the Khan AcademyTED.com, OpenCourseware, P2PU, and Zero Tuition College for more free learning tools… these guys are spilling out knowledge and resources for whenever we decide we want to soak ’em up!

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College Shmollege: Re-routing the path to success

I am SO over all these programs that define success as getting more kids into college. Sure, I think we can all agree that college opens more doors for teenagers than, say, a four year stint flipping something falsely described as a “meat” in a fast food joint, but by promoting college as the only real path to success, we are doing today’s youth more harm than good.

Is the path to success a one-way train track to college or might it be a complex network of squiggly routes, different for each of us?

An empty promise

This article in GOOD about a nifty program called College Unbound reveals some chilling stats about our broken education system today:

Tuition’s doubled in the past decade, rising faster than any other item in the Consumer Price Index since 1978. Student loan default rates are increasing. Only 56 percent of students complete a four-year degree in six years. And a nationwide study last year, using a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, found that 36 percent of students demonstrate no gain in learning between freshman and senior year.

And how about this statistic from the same article?: first generation college students have an 11% chance of graduating from a four year college. Yep, for those that aren’t math-inclined, that’s an 89% dropout rate. Ouch. So much for social mobility.

College once promised an undeniable return on investment. It was generally assumed that the amount you paid for a degree would be dwarfed by the amount you’d make once you got out. Looking at the number of my highly educated friends that are now working in coffee shops, restaurants, and farms (respectable jobs that don’t actually require a debt-incurring degree), it’s not hard to see that this promise has lost its gut.

It once made sense to ‘discover yourself’ and find your passions in college. Today this idea has an irreconcilable price tag. It doesn’t make sense to go to college to ‘find your passion’ (eyes closed, fingers crossed!). It makes sense to explore yourself and find your passion first, in the real world, and then decide if college is the best way to get there.

BUT

Today’s parents, teachers, coaches and administrators somewhat unanimously preach that doing well in school and going to college is THE ONLY way to pave the path to success. Our society holds students to insanely high (sometimes even aggressive) standards of academic and extracurricular performance (if you have any doubt, or just want to watch an über-powerful film about this, check out Race to Nowhere).

This type of pressure can suck… the joy out of learning. By teaching students that they must meet these standards in order to be successful, students learn to prioritize compliance at the cost of their genuine curiosity and interest in learning. Is it just me, or is this totally barbaric?

Researching professor Peter Gray says (and I’d recommend reading the whole article)

Schools, as we generally know them, interfere with children’s abilities to educate themselves. When we confine children and adolescents to schools, where they are assigned to rooms by age and can’t choose their associates, where they can’t pursue their own interests but instead must conform to the dictates of the teacher and the time course of the bell, we interfere with their abilities to educate themselves.

What would happen if parents encouraged their kids to take a summer, semester, even year “off” to explore the world on their own (through travel, apprenticeships, work, taking a risk on a new idea, creating their own project, etc.)? What would happen if teacher were allowed to give students a week each semester (or a day each week) to learn whatever they want, in or out of the classroom, and share it with the class afterward for no grade? That would be a step in the right direction…

What if every parent, teacher, coach, guidance counselor, and school set just as high standards for their child’s self-discovery process as they did for their child’s success in the classroom?

 

We’re interested to hear your thoughts about this post in the comments section, and hope you’ll to stay tuned for our next post: Ten Wise Routes to Self-Discovery Without School.

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Trail Blazing: Some Food For Thought

 

I would be (in this order)…

1) conversing with a variety of creatures in the canopy of one of the Giant Sequoias I met in Yosemite

2) chatting with the coffee farmer that grew the beans I’m now drinking (mmmm)

3) exploring the inside of Barack Obama’s head

 

And I think Brandon would be:

1) inside a local microbrewery, picking the brains of the hippity hop brewers

2) photo-documenting every moment of every Occupy demonstration worldwide

3) fluent in Spanish, ordering a burrito somewhere in Central America

 

How ’bout you?

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on living curiously.

This past August there was a NYTimes article written by David Brooks called “The Question-Driven Life” that profiled a wealthy man who has (unconventionally) built his life around pursuing the windy paths of his own curious mind. Two weeks ago NYTimes Magazine devoted the entire issue to education, and an article by Paul Tough explored new research and ideas about what character strengths make people successful and happy. They boiled the list down to seven traits, one of which is “curiosity”. These pieces, and The Wise Routes Project more generally, have gotten me curious about curiosity in our lives and in our schools.

The word “curious” always brings to mind two distinct images for me – one is, of course, Curious George, the personable monkey of my childhood with a love of giant yellow rain hats. The other (much stronger) image that comes to mind is my grandfather, “Gramps”, a man who, I believe, doesn’t just embody curiosity, but makes it contagious. People often debate whether it’s better to know a lot about one thing or a little bit about a lot of things. Gramps proves that you don’t have to choose. Despite having a degree from MIT and a long “specialized” career as a mechanical engineer for the family business, he has always been interested in much more than his own specialization. Gramps fills his time learning about, well, everything. He devours newspapers, magazines, and books, and watches TV shows about things he knows nothing about just to learn more.

Gramps approaches every conversation with the prowess and curiosity of an expert questioner. Have you ever met an expert questioner? This is someone that, whether they know everything or nothing about what you’re interested in, makes you feel like you are the most interesting person in the world. If they know nothing about what you do, they aren’t ashamed to begin with basic questions. “Oh you’re a firefighter?” they might say, “That’s something I know very little about! What is the first thing firefighters must know to do their job well?” or “What do you love about firefighting?” or “What questions do firefighters find themselves asking most often?” or “What’s something firefighters wish more people understood?” The expert questioner is driven by a curious mind, great listening skills, and a lack of ego. The curious questioner is someone that people like, because being around the curious questioner makes them feel smart and good about themselves.

Gramps and David Brooks and Paul Tough and more and more researchers and probably you understand that being a curious person makes you successful because you never stop being a student of the world. Because curiosity opens doors. Because you question before generalizing. Because you make other people feel smart and interesting.

We’re all born curious. Watch a baby interact with her surroundings for 5 minutes and her curiosity is tangible. She is curious about that stick and that worm and that bubble. She is curious about how sand tastes and how the bottle sounds when it drops and how many times you will pick it up for her. As children grow, they ask questions (especially “why?”) and test boundaries in new ways. I assume you know a kid, so I don’t have to tell you.

WHAT do we do with this beautiful wide-eyed spongy-ness? Saturday, at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park, Brandon and I were entertained for half an hour just watching a one year old bobble around the park on new legs, approaching strangers, smiling at them, touching their clothes, falling on her butt, and wandering away. We watched as the baby’s parents observed her exploration but stayed seated, letting her roam free to investigate the people around her (as long as the people didn’t seem annoyed). Sometimes the mother would help her walk by holding her hands, but she let her baby guide the way, often to the blankets of random strangers so that she could touch their grapes and bread and sandals and smile at them with beautiful Gerber-baby cheeks.

Two and a half months ago at the beginning of the bike tour, we sat on a sandy beach in Stanley Park and observed a different family interaction. A 7 year old boy – a complete ball of energy – was too energetic for his father, who laid idly in his canvas beach recliner. “Why don’t you go find me a crab?” the dad said. “Ok!” The boy ran off, first to the edge of the water, and then towards some rocks in the distance. We watched quietly as the boy began looking under each rock, meticulously inspecting the sand and water below for traces of crabs. A few minutes went by before the father rolled over and caught sight of his son. Fury ensued. “WHAT are you doing all the way over there?!” He yelled. “I’m looking for crabs like you said,” the boy called back, “I think I might find some under these rocks!” His father wouldn’t have it. “I didn’t tell you you could go over there! Get back here right now! Right! Now!” The boy hung his head and walked back to sit in the sand. Discipline: 1, Curiosity: 0.

In the same way that Sir Ken Robinson says “Schools Kill Creativity“, I think some schools (and people) can kill curiosity. When we are scolded for wandering down the curious tangents of our own creative minds, or forced to memorize seemingly useless information, we become closed, boring, overly-disciplined workers. We lose a spark. We do things because we must, not because we want to, and we mentally separate “work” or “learning” from “life”. That’s an old way of thinking.

Fortunately, lots of people and schools are exploring better ways to nurture the curious minds of students. Brandon taught at a Howard Gardner School for the last two years, and experienced first-hand the value and beauty of letting kids explore their own interests with individualized attention and mentorship. I’m curious as to how this model could be expanded in schools with lots more students (like public schools).

Bike touring is a beautiful expression of “curiosity-restoration”. We’ve met so many people that we never would have interacted with in our stable DC bubble – from a retired bike-touring Swiss couple, to an old rural Washingtonian that grew up with 34 siblings and has only left the state to fight in wars, to a quirky pair of touring Spanish firefighters that don’t actually like biking, to a punky and brilliant semi-nomadic high school dropout, just to name a few. We have given ourselves permission to take time to wander through new ecosystems and habitats with child-like wonder, and we’ve tested our physical, mental, and emotional boundaries in new ways.

I have seized the opportunity to do away with ego and ask lots of questions, even when they feel dumb. It feels empowering to rediscover and revalue my “wide-eyed child” goggles. Or maybe I should say my “Gramps hat”.

divine appointments: journal selections

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July 17th – waning gibbous
The darkness of this night and my fatigue have settled together into a familiar contentment. The purple thistles breaking through concrete and rivers of motor vehicles are nothing like traversing an Alaskan alpine meadow, but i’ve realized the benefit of treating it as such. This is a wild new place to me after all. How do we begin our learning here? Meeting people appears half the process; make your voice a gesture of kindness and be vulnerable to answers you aren’t looking for.

July 20th – last quarter
Vancouver is beginning to feel familiar as we revisit commercial street for coffee and ride downtown for the library and towards the water. It is our 4th day here and it continues to fill our heads and hearts with challenges of philosophy, smiles in a sleeveless breeze and tasty hidden treats. This evening we settle into our new couch surf on 22nd Street, south of W. Broadway where the Bike Doctor assembled our steel traveling machines. And oh, those bicycles are so happy to cuddle, locked together or to play, loaded with our gear cruising through foreign but welcomed new territory of broken asphalt.

July 30th – new moon
Three days of unpredicted bliss out of False Harbor on San Juan Island. The florets of a white panicle sprinkled our tent like ocean spray nestled into an eden like path from the home of our couch surf hosts. Greeted with fresh bread and long conversation. The Orcas reward us here and engulf our kayaks with tremendous grace and deep surface breaths. We have had an unforgettable experience in an often forgettable amount of time.

August 18th – waning gibbous
45 miles ride from Quinalt lake and rain forests and we’ve arrived to Ocean City State Park on the beach in southern Washington. This morning a gentleman offered us cheese sticks after an unsolicited rant about the sexual relationship of Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedy brothers.

September 9th – waxing gibbous
My body is aching with a satisfaction
determined revolution on the incline
vistas expanding to a depth
never had this feeling of life
been awakened for so long
Road Grit. Sun Burn. Dirty Clothes.
this may be success.

September 13th – full moon
Today we hiked 6 miles through redwood groves, into fern canyon and out onto the wild and foggy beach. The spectrum of fragrance washed over us in hints of sea-salted pine and decomposing vanilla. My breathe was aware of hanging wisdom, thousands of years old, dripping from the groaning crowns of intertwined giants. A found bottle of red wine in the bear bin finished the evening with a game of cards and now we consider rest. Life is upon us it seems and I’m too pleased to wait for it.

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How To Learn About Redwoods.

This is your assignment: you must learn about redwood trees. I want you to know that this is crucial for your future. That your success depends on this knowledge and that you will be tested in the near future (notes are not allowed). Ready? Go.

I’m serious… go! We’ll wait… you can finish reading the blog once you’re a redwood expert.

Okay, you done?

Great! So what did you do? Given the huge and dedicated fan base reading this blog regularly, we’re guessing that most of you probably signed up for a Trees of the Pacific Coast class through continuing ed, bought a Sibley Guide to Pacific Coast Trees, called a redwoods expert at Humboldt State University to ask lots of questions, and searched the web for facts and details about these monstrous trees. Good work! I’m guessing you can now tell me all about the old growth forests, all the properties of these forest giants, and perhaps even the tree’s Latin name.

Do you feel like that effort was beneficial? Do you understand now why this knowledge is critical for your life and success in the future? Are you ready for the test?

I’m not! HOLY MOLY! I’ve been in the redwoods for almost a week now and I don’t understand all of the trees’ properties and I just had to ask Brandon to tell me the Latin name because it slipped out of my brain while I was sleeping.

But let me share with you how I learned about the redwoods. First, I rode onto the Redwood Highway on my bicycle, off Highway 101. You wouldn’t believe how the light changed as we suddenly became tiny chess pieces in a city of forest skyscrapers! Our gazes lifted from the road to the treetops, hundreds of feet above, and our mouths dropped open. Glorious!

We had to pull over to touch the monstrous trees. First we just took pictures in front of them and then we tried to climb on their thick, deep red bark. Little pieces peeled off into our hands and we felt their stringy, fibrous texture. Moving our faces closer to smell the tree, we noticed green lichen with tiny red speckles growing on the tree’s skin and touched that too, positing that the lichen lives off moisture in the foggy air.

Climbing up the Redwood Highway further, we decided to sleep amongst the trees rather than seeking out a formal campground (many are now closed). We pulled off the road and trenched into the dense forest. That night, we slept amongst the trees’ thick windy roots and listened to the depth of silence between the passing cars. Here is what is sounded like:

The Sound of the Redwoods
(what you hear around 2:15 and after is the sound of passing cars)

When we awoke in the morning, we found ourselves gazing up at a patchwork quilt of green, with redwood needles high in the background and the larger green leaves of the rhododendron and willow trees closer down. Prehistoric-esque ferns surrounded us on the ground.

The next day we embarked on a hike and sensory quest in the Redwood National Forest. We found ourselves exploring the inside of giant hollow redwoods (many of them still alive), breathing deeply to inhale the smell of the forest, climbing up on huge stumps and long, fallen redwood logs and listening carefully to the creaks of the trees in the wind. Sometimes we stopped and sat down and closed our eyes and just focused on ourselves and how we felt in that space, in the depths of the redwood forest… a truly humbling experience.

We started imagining what life must have been like for the native people born in these woods. If I was born among redwoods, I would praise them as gods. I would probably grow up understanding myself as just one small (but integral) piece of an ecosystem much bigger than me. At night we read more about the redwoods in Stephen Arno’s book about Pacific Coast trees and wrote reflections of our day in our journals.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to climb up high into a redwood, with friends we met in Arcata, CA. It was an exhilarating experience to see the world as the treetops do. I will never look at a redwood again without noticing the strength of each visible branch (the living branches are, not surprisingly, much stronger than the dead ones!).

So how about you test me? Ask me some questions about the redwood trees and I am sure I will not have memorized most of the answers. Do you think that’s okay? Do you think I will be a failure?

Let’s start thinking about education more holistically. Let’s recognize the power of sensory exploration, the learning experience in every adventure, and the joy found through the visceral pursuit of curiosity.

Sorry, but there’s no test.