Scared and Safe…A Short Manifesto

There’s a line between feeling safe and feeling scared.

It’s probably better described as a threshold.

Everyone has one. And everybody’s is different.

Most people never feel safe speaking out loud in front of others (just one person totally changes the dynamic). I feel safe speaking in a room of maybe 50 people (add another 50 and I’m uneasy). President Obama feels safe speaking in front of millions (another million or ten has no effect on his ability).

The line between safe and scared is an important one. Imagine if most of the people scared to express themselves in front of one other person could jump to five or ten — the consequences worldwide would be enormous.

The process is pretty clear but so that we’re on the same page…

When we’re safe our brain gives us permission to:

engage,
explore,
imagine,
experiment,
and dream

When we’re scared our brain shuts down and we:

flee,
attack,
blame,
argue,
and insult

Safety invites the noblest expressions of our humanity. Danger invites prehistoric tribalism.

So what should the penultimate goal of our school system be? Unless you just skipped to this line, you can probably already figure it out. T

To help push everyone’s threshold of safety lower. The lower, the better.

That used to mean drilling us with information. Information was the scarce resource. More information gave us more power, more leverage, more ability. Today access to information couldn’t be any more abundant. Thanks, Google.

So the scarce resource has shifted to experience. The more experiences we have, the safer we feel.

Let’s use the analogy of glass blowing to demonstrate this shift more clearly.

Knowing how to do it used to be good enough. It allowed me enough of a head start so that I could get some experience under my belt. In reaching the basic level of mastery, I would cement myself as the best glass blower in town. Everyone could see that so very few others thought it wise to plunge, who knows how many hours, into becoming a better glass blower than me.

Now the knowledge of how to blow glass is abundant. Thousands of Youtube videos, websites, classes are waiting for me to consume them. If I tell my friends, I want to be a glass blower but don’t know how then, in 2016, they all roll their eyes.

They all know that’s not the knowledge that’s preventing me from becoming a glass blower. It’s the 1,000 hours I have to spend perfecting the craft. Anything less than perfectly it isn’t functionally worthless. In our global marketplace, there are too many average glass blowers these days and too few amazing ones. I have to spend the time necessary to become amazing, and that is scary.

It’s scary because it’s a lot of time. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around 1,000 hours. It’s much easier for me to think about the 1–3 times I’ll almost certainly screw up. The pain of just one setback feels more visceral than the increment improvements of 1,000 tiny steps forward.

If you’re buying what I’m selling so far (and thus still reading…hey, thanks!) then my vision for what school ought to be spending time doing is just around the corner.

Instead of spending time transmitting just enough of a commodity to declare every high school senior proficient…let’s instead, use K-12 for delivering our students a preciously scarce resource that lowers their threshold for safety.

When we take away the threat of final exams, bad grades, and pop quizzes, school becomes a different animal altogether.

It’s not a snarling wolf that we have to wrestle into submission so we can have permission to fight the next one. It’s a wide-eyed puppy that we can train to be our best friend and greatest ally.

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