In your view, what are schools for? Derek: Hopefully, a place that encourages you to be smart. I think we all have the ability to be smart and to be stupid – to think carefully or not think at all. A lot of it depends on our environment.
When I think back to my teenage years, I used to be in a stupid circle of friends who would smoke pot, hang out, and do nothing but make dumb jokes and say stupid things. That environment encouraged me to be stupid because that’s what was rewarded.
when I’m in an environment where people are being smart and actually rewarded for deep, deep critical thinking, it rubs off on me. It makes me want to ask better questions and challenge assumptions and go beyond the first answer and all those things that hanging out with your drunk friends don’t do.
the school shut down two months ago and now he’s learning more at home than he ever did in school.
His mom and I are making projects for him that he finds it more intrinsically interesting. We’ll pick a person he finds interesting and dive into that person’s history, and then he’ll write a report on what he learned. I played him this one Bob Marley song he liked called “Buffalo Soldier.” He said, “What’s a Buffalo Soldier?” I explained to him what the lyrics were about. I taught him what these lyrics meant. Then he really wanted to know more about the song and about Bob Marley, so we ended up watching a 90-minute documentary about Bob Marley and reading all through his Wikipedia page. Then he wrote a paper on what he learned about Bob Marley. Pretty soon, he was doing a role play for school. He got dressed up as Bob Marley to describe why Bob Marley was important. He said that it wasn’t just about the music, it was about the way that he brought people together. He’s really into that and thriving. Maybe because it’s just the three of us now. We’re doing things that he’s intrinsically interested in. We’re giving him books that he wants to read instead of forcing him to read something that he’s not into. Personal feedback is also important. We are going through the times tables, and we can see that he’s got this. We can skip past this. Let’s focus on this bit that’s not coming as easily to him. He’s more engaged and learning more than he did in school.
Not just his interest of shooting arrows at the side of a wall [laughter], but his interests mixed with our nudge towards something that would be a learning and growing experience for him.
But to be smart, to be a critical thinker, to challenge assumptions, to look past the obvious, and to question the world, that’s impressive and doesn’t require that you have been educated.
I actually don’t believe there are any stupid people. It’s people who are being stupid, who are deciding on a moment to moment basis not to think, not to challenge your assumptions, to jump to conclusions, or to go with whatever first impulse comes into your head and without challenging it. That is being stupid. What’s the opposite of that? Critical thinking. Challenging assumptions. Looking past the obvious. Questioning the world. That’s being smart. It’s definitely not a fixed thing.
Who do you consider to be a great teacher or educator? What would the qualities of such a person be? Derek: I think about interrupting expectations. If you ask the class, “What’s one plus one?” When the class answers, “Two,” you should say, “You didn’t ask me one of what. One drop of water plus one drop of water doesn’t make two drops of water. Always ask for more information. Never rush to an answer.”
would love a teacher who helps deliver a mindset of questioning assumptions and interrupting expectations.
The meta lesson here was that I can learn way faster than schools usually teach. Schools have to teach at a pace where the slowest students can keep up. But if I’m driven, I can go way faster and further. When Kimo taught that belief system to me, everything changed.
Once I started to actively choose learning, it was night and day. I almost failed high school. I was terrible at the passive work.
After high school, when I got to finally choose my own path and decided I was going to pursue nothing but music, I massively excelled. Not just a personal intrinsic zoom of motivation, but I also was at the top of the class and always going above and beyond whatever was required. I actually loved it when my teachers would assign things like re-harmonizing a jazz composition – something that was out of my realm – because I realized that it all benefitted me in my goal as a musician.
I wanted to kick ass at whatever they assigned me, and I did. The teacher would assign the class to write one eight-bar composition by next class and I would go write three eighty-bar compositions. I loved taking the personal challenge to go above and beyond.
Back to your question, I had regular, old, passive schooling from age five to seventeen, but from eighteen on, I’ve actively chosen education. I’ve learned so much more since school than I ever learned in school. I’m 50 now. I graduated university when I was 20, so for 30 years I’ve been out here learning, and my love of learning didn’t come until after high school.
I see school as covering the downside, instead of serving the upside. For kids who don’t know what they want, school keeps them at a baseline capability. But for those of us who know what we want, school feels just like a little steppingstone. It’s not the point.
It’s so useful to have something – anything – for a kid to pursue. It really doesn’t matter what it is. Because in pursuit of being great at that one thing, you learn everything else as a side effect. You learn how to learn. You learn how to improve. You learn how to practice. You learn mastery. Just by having something that you’re into.
How to be an entrepreneur? I don’t know of anybody teaching that. To anybody listening or reading, if you want to correct me, email me and tell me who is teaching entrepreneurship successfully. That would be great.
Entrepreneurship is very holistic and people focused. It’s very much about psychology. It’s very much about having to think of things from the other person’s point of view. It’s very much just being out in the world and remembering the customer’s point of view.
Networking is kind of an icky verb. But networking, knowing a lot of people, keeping in touch with them, not just for your own selfish interests, but in finding some mutual interest with all these other people, that’s where a lot of these things we call “lucky breaks” happen. You’re constantly out there and staying at the forefront of people’s minds.
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