Tuesday, March 08, 2016

May I Be The First To Say, "Duh"

I want the children I teach to be successful, both now and in the future.

I don't care if they make a ton of money, of course, or have a prestigious job, or enjoy fame, but I do want them to be successful in the sense that they are more or less satisfied with their lives and relationships. After all, from what I can tell, that's the only sort of success over which any of us have any control, the rest being mostly luck of the draw. Indeed, I have no faith in the myth of bootstraps, but I am convinced that a motivated person who is sociable and works well with others will know she is a "success," even if she never possesses the trappings that our popular culture attaches to that term.

I know it's true because at the end of the day, every one of us wants to spend our time with motivated, sociable people with whom it's easy to work. And motivated, sociable people working together is what makes for all the good things in the world.

The American myth is the one of the John Wayne, lone wolf, cowboy who cleans up the town single-handedly, or perhaps the strong, genius leader, Ayn Rand's fictional John Galt, or, horrifyingly, the reality TV character Donald Trump, legendary people who supposedly make great things happen simply by being "better" (smarter, stronger, richer) than everyone else. Of course, people like that have never existed. In fact, most "success" can be attributed not to the leaders, but to the ones who chose to follow them, and more specifically the first followers, or in business parlance, "early adopters." Those are the folks who always make or break anything; those are the folks without whom the leaders are just crazy street corner preachers.

No, success in life comes from communities, both large a small, and successful people are members of those communities, each motivated to do their part, sociably. This is what we concentrate on in our preschool: children practicing the skills of living and working in a community, getting along, getting things done, doing their part and filling their role. That is, at bottom, what a play-based curriculum is all about. And it is, not coincidentally, what success is about.

This, for me at least, is one of those self-evident truths. If I've not always known it, then I've at least known it long enough that it seems like I've known it forever, yet here we are letting people who clearly don't know this, the corporate-style education reformers, turn our schools into test score coal mines in which our children are expected to labor day in and day out in competition with their fellow children, "racing to the top," every man for himself. This is supposed to produce workers who will be successful at competing against the Chinese, or whoever is the latest economic boogyman, cowboys motivated by the external rewards of grades, then money. The skills of friendship and community are pushed to the side in the name of the only "success" that really matters to these people: a greasy buck.

Indeed, this is also part of the American mythology, this idea that money is not only the key marker of success, but also the prime "carrot" to be paired with the "stick" of punishment. Those of us who have learned for ourselves that money is an insufficient motivator already know this, but the corporate guys, as always, need data.

The project, known as Project Aristotle, took several years, and included interviews with hundreds of employees and analysis of data about the people on more than 100 active teams at the company. The Googlers looked hard to find a magic formula -- the perfect mix of individuals necessary to form a stellar team -- but it wasn't that simple. "We were dead wrong," the company said.

What did they learn?

. . . (T)he best teams respect one another's emotions and are mindful that all members should contribute to the conversation equally. It has less to do with who is in a team, and more with how a team's members interact with one another.

May I be the first to say, "Duh." Of course the key to success is just being nice to each other: it's what we do all day long at the Woodland Park Cooperative School. Heck, we even have the word "cooperative" in our name. One of Google's largest campuses is just a few blocks down the hill from us: now that they have their data, I'll expect their recruiters on our doorstep this morning.

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