I’ve heard from listeners that what they call “The Dark Horse Episode,” the interview with Dr. Todd Rose, that this is one of their favorite conversations on the podcast, and for this reason I’m doing something I’ve never done before: reissuing that episode. Dr. Rose and I discussed ways to personalize children’s learning to help them truly discover and live their full potential – both academically and personally (and even getting rid of that distinction entirely…).
Check out what listeners who subsequently joined the Your Child’s Learning Mojo membership said in our private community before the membership had even officially started:
The Your Child’s Learning Mojo membership is now open once again to new members, and Megan, Heidi, and Denise are already inside (with me!) waiting to welcome you.
Click here to read the full transcript
We’ve got to both commit on the one hand to a more greater focus on individuality, and to commit to something more personal, but at the same time, hold open this idea of diversity and inclusion, and a recognition that some groups of people have been profoundly poorly treated by the system we have and commit to starting our work and our innovation in those corners and working your way in rather than inside out.
Hi, I’m Jen, and I host the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives. But it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you’d like to be notified when new episodes are released and get a FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths That We Can Safely Leave Behind, seven fewer things to worry about. Subscribe to the show at yourparentingmojo.com. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you’ll join us.
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Measure Podcast. I’m actually doing something I’ve never done before with today’s show that I see other podcasters doing all the time. And that’s to rerelease a previously released episode. It seems like there are some times when an episode that you’ve already released just speaks so clearly to an issue of the moment, and I really feel like that’s the case here. So, today’s episode came to us via a bit of a different route than they often do. A friend of mine actually heard our guests Dr. Todd Rose on the Art of Manliness Podcast and said hey, you might want to listen to this because it sounds a lot like what you’re trying to do with the way your daughter Carys learns, and I listened to the episode and then I did something that I’d also never done before. Actually, the message that I heard from Dr. Rose in that podcast made him feel like such a kindred spirit in terms of how we think about learning and work that I reached out to him and asked him to talk with us before I’d even read his book. And rather than go over that ground that’s already been covered elsewhere, I’d really encourage you to go to this episode’s page at yourparentingmojo.com/toddrose to find a link to that episode on the Art of Manliness because there’s so much there to help adults discover and follow their passions if you’re feeling unfulfilled in the work that you do. And if you might need some help charging a different course.
So today we’re going to look at the outcomes for what Dr. Rose calls dark horses, but we’ll specifically focus on how we can support children in navigating their path to becoming a dark horse, which involves identifying your skills and true motivations and harnessing those to do work that you’re truly passionate about. And when I originally released this episode, I invited listeners to join a pilot program that I was running called Your Child’s Learning Mojo, which helps parents to support their child’s intrinsic motivation to learn. That program is now way out of the pilot stage. And I enrolled a second cohort in April when school shutdowns were starting, and parents needed to figure out how they were going to support their children’s learning. And the concept has really been proven out. The parents who are enrolled in the membership are really deeply engaged in developing their children’s intrinsic love of learning, but they’re doing it in a way that doesn’t actually take a ton of time and is really fun. So, you can find all the information about the membership at YourParentingMojo.com/LearningMojo.
If your child’s in the early preschool years right now, you’re probably inundated with their questions about the world. But research shows that by the early school years, children learned that their own questions aren’t really valued anymore. And what counts is whether they know the answers to questions that other people have asked yet the ability to formulate questions and ask them and know how to find some initial answers, and then circle back to a deeper level of questions and explore ideas with both depth and breadth and demonstrate that learning to communities that care about the topic is going to be a foundational set of skills for life 20 years from now. And in the age of search engines, the ability to recall an answer is pretty much already obsolete.
If we’re worried about our children’s success when they graduate school and college, then we might be tempted to teach them a skill like coding. And while there are plenty of apps and after school clubs and summer camps that have popped up, which imply that if you aren’t teaching your child to code, then you’re making an error that is as fundamental as not teaching your child how to read. Developers tell us that coding isn’t about getting the syntax of the code right. It’s about having an idea, proposing a solution, seeing if it works, delving deeply into an issue, developing creative solutions to problems and sticking with it when it repeatedly fails while you try different approaches and improve on them each time you take another run at it. Teaching the syntax of coding doesn’t teach any of those skills, but harnessing your child’s natural intrinsic motivation to learn does support the kinds of skills that will be needed to learn coding and complex problem solving, and critical thinking and creativity and all of the other skills the experts know are really going to be important in the future.
In the book Becoming Brilliant that we looked way back in Episode 10, psychologist Dr. Roberta Golinkoff and Dr. Kathy Hirsh basically argue that schools are doing really well preparing our children for the kinds of jobs that existed in 1953. There are some places where schools are beginning to shift their approach. But in general, being in school means mostly being tested on your ability to remember facts, rather than developing the critical skills. So, if we want our children to have these critical skills, it’s really on us as parents to make it happen.
The good news is that children come out already primed to develop these skills. We know they have boundless curiosity, they want to delve deeply into topics that interest them, whether it’s dinosaurs, or beading, or construction. And if we can just learn how to become the “Guide on the Side” who connects them to resources and helps them deepen the work they’re already doing rather than the “Sage on the Stage” who provides all the answers, then we’ll be able to help our children become the profoundly fulfilled dark horses that Dr. Rose will describe.
I took a career coaching course a few years back, and I’m still in its Facebook group. And almost without fail, the people who sign up for the course and introduce themselves give some variation of the story. I did really well in school, and I got a good job and made quite a bit of money. And now I’m approaching midlife, I realize I’m really unsatisfied, and I’m here to discover my true passion so I can live a life that feels meaningful to me. So as good as that career coaching was, and it was, of course, was really good. My goal with this episode and with the Your Child’s Learning Mojo membership, is to make that course obsolete for that purpose, because instead of getting to midlife and realizing they’re incredibly unfulfilled, or children will engage in activities and learning that fulfil them from the very beginning. And as they live their lives, they’ll continually reassess their passions and whether their work is in service of their passions, and have the knowledge and ability and desire to make micro adjustments as they go along so they never reach that breaking point, and instead will become dark horses who are truly connected to work that they find meaningful throughout their lives.
One of the reasons I’m rereleasing this episode is that I think we’re in a period right now, where taking a different approach to children’s learning and lives can make a really profound impact. There’s never been a time when so many people are thinking at the same time about whether the school system is actually going to work for their child. They’re looking for ways to support their child’s intrinsic love of learning after the child has been on six hours of Zoom calls on material that probably could have been covered in an hour, but that didn’t speak to any of the issues that are actually important in their lives. And some parents are even considering pulling their children out of school to homeschool, which I can tell you is a much less stressful way to really equip your child with the skills they’ll actually need in the world, and doesn’t require any monitoring your child on all these hours of online calls every day. The membership doesn’t require that you be homeschooling to use it, we certainly have plenty of members whose children still are in school. But we also have quite a few who are using what they’ve learned in the membership to see homeschooling is something they really do have the ability to do and can feel confident in doing. And not only is their child not going to be harmed in some way by doing this, but it’s actually probably pretty likely going to benefit the child. So, if you’d like to learn more about how to do this, please do go to yourparentingmojo.com/learningmojo to see how I support you and supporting your child’s intrinsic love of learning.
Now I have restructured the membership a bit since the last time I opened it, I’m now offering two ways to participate. So, if you decide that you just want to get your feet wet a bit and play with the core ideas, you can do that with what I’m calling the Balanced Bike option. So, I’ll teach you what’s going on in children’s minds when they learn and why the kinds of strewing activities that you see all over Pinterest are really just a very small part of the process and don’t actually help your children to learn much that’s meaningful or connected to their own interests. We’ll begin a learning journal that you can use to identify your child’s interests and passions, and then engage with these in a way that supports your child and developing the critical skills of the future. And we’ll understand how to use nature as inspiration for developing questions and ideas and a sense of wonder. You’ll get access to short Q&A videos that you can watch anytime to get immediate answers to the questions that parents most often asked. And for three months, you’ll be welcomed into our private online community. And you’ll be able to work directly with a small group of parents to translate the big ideas into the tiny steps that you need to achieve what’s important to you and your family. So that’s the Balanced Bike option.
And when you’re ready for a bike with pedals, in the Riding with Confidence option, you’ll see there’s so much more to this method of learning than the basics. You’ll immediately get access to an additional two modules of content, the first on deschooling, which is the idea of moving away from the elements of the school system that might not be serving our child. There’s also a module on listening to your child in a way that helps you to not just answer the surface level question that they’re asking, but also how to support them in answering their underlying questions that maybe even they haven’t figured out how to ask yet. And in future months, I’ll add additional content on topics like documentation of children’s learning, place-based learning, a deep dive into how to scaffold children’s ability to engage in difficult work, and how to support them in developing critical thinking skills for a total of 12 modules of content. And so along with the Riding with Confidence option, you get a year of support in our private membership group and in the small communities as well. You also get the Pandemic Pods in-a-box course to give you everything you need to set up your own pandemic pods so you don’t have to be the only one who works with your children in this way. You can actually spread the load. There are infographics with tips on how to encourage skills that will lead to reading and math abilities, as well as the Confident Homeschooler a short course, which will help you decide in an evening or two, whether officially withdrawing your child from school could be the best option for your family. Finally, there’s a discount on the finding your parenting measure membership available as well, which is also open to new members. And the option to get a 33% discount on a package of private coaching calls with me. So, if you’re interested in joining, please do head on over to yourparentingmojo.com/LearningMojo for all the details and to sign up.
So, to make a formal introduction to our guest today, Dr. Rose is a lecturer on education and leads the Laboratory for the Science of the Individual at Harvard University. His work is focused at the intersection of individuality and personalization applied to help people learn, work and live. He’s the author of the books The End of Average, and most recently Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfilment. Welcome, Dr. Rose.
Dr. Rose 11:37
Thanks for having me.
And so, before we kind of dig into the real meat here, I wonder if you can set the stage by telling us what is a dark horse?
Dr. Rose 11:45
Hmm, yeah. So, from our work, you know, we’ve found that sort of the traditional definition is, really there are people who end up being successful that nobody saw coming, right. And that can be because they, you know, were viewed as failures early and then succeeded, or because they end up being successful in one domain, but then make these pivots and end up doing stuff that’s completely different. And, again, nobody sees him coming.
And in some ways, this resonated with me so much when I read it, because in a way, I think of myself as a dark horse, you know, I got degrees from Berkeley and Yale, and a job at a prestigious consulting company. And I really did enjoy what I was doing for a while and sustainability consulting. But the work that I find really so fulfilling came after I got a master’s in psychology, which was focused on child development, and then another in education. And it’s sharing this through the podcast with other people that I mean, it just, it just keeps me going keeps me getting up in the morning. And I would never have seen that coming.
Dr. Rose 12:44
And, you know, you’re hitting on something really important, which is like, you know, ever since the term dark horse was created, you know, quite a while ago to talk about, you know, things that are successful that no one sees coming. In our research in the Dark Horse Project. This is exactly what we found, right? Because we were interested in, why do these folks get off the beaten path and yet still end up surprising us and to a person, the thing that kept emerging was the way they thought about success in life. And rather than playing by sort of society’s definition of success or somebody else’s view, they were deeply focused on pursuing personal fulfilment. And right given that it’s so personal, right, it’s so individual, the things that light you up, it’s not surprising in a standardized society, that it often requires getting off the beaten path to make it happen.
Yeah. And Okay, so let’s talk about that. Because it I mean, this is a question that seems like it should be really simple, but of course it isn’t. And it has so much to do with learning and how we think about school. And so how do children and we’re thinking about children, but of course, it’s applicable to all people as well. How did they learn best?
Dr. Rose 13:49
Yeah, it’s funny, right? Because that seems like something that is so obvious, but in many ways it runs so counter to the way we actually educate. So, if you think about some of the basics, right, like, it won’t sound like rocket science, right? Like, not surprisingly, kids that are learning in ways that are engaging to them are going to learn better, right? That sounds silly, silly, obvious, but like, it is surprising how much we neglect that. Right? So if you’re engaged, if you’re motivated, which I think are related, but at the same thing, if the learning is contextualized in a relevant way, right, so it’s not just abstracted away from real life, but deeply embedded into it when people are more active rather than passively learning. And one of the things that’s really important is the extent to which students are have more autonomy and agency in the learning. Right. And, like, it’s funny, my grandma would have said, you didn’t need science to tell us that right. But I feel like given how far down the rabbit hole of standardization we’ve gotten in our education system, it’s good to remind people about just how much we know about what makes for good learning.
Mm hmm. And okay, so you said A lot of things there and you sort of skimmed over a number of things. And I want to pick those apart a little bit. You talked about how learners need to be engaged, the learning needs to be relevant, the learner needs to be autonomous. And when I think about school, I think about the way that some bureaucrats and hopefully some, hopefully, some teachers, but probably administrators sit off in a room somewhere and determine what is the curriculum. And this is the list of things that a child must know. And of course, there’s no way that it can be relevant to any individual child’s interests, it seems like it’s difficult to engage them, you really can’t give them any autonomy, when you are determining in advance what they’re going to learn, they might get to pick and I know this is a theme in your work as well, the idea of picking versus choosing, they may get to pick one exercise versus another. But they don’t actually get to make real decisions about their learning, right?
Dr. Rose 15:54
No, I mean, like, That’s exactly right. So, it’s interesting, right? When you think about who decides the curriculum, and from my perspective, right, I am not opposed to standards, but it matters a great deal, who gets to determine them? Right? So, let me give you an example. Where so if you think about the last major, major sort of transformation in public education was probably the high school movement, right? Where we went from having common schools that only went to, you know, like, what, like, six seventh grade to suddenly saying, Wait a minute, we need to mass educate the American public, all the way through high school in a way that would no one had ever done in human history? Well, when you think about how you could have accomplished that we did, right, we built a high school a day for 22, straight years in the US, you would imagine, wait a minute, for us to be able to have done that, it must have required some central planning, and some bureaucrats who decided to curriculum, and then we kind of, like, impose that on everyone. And we got some uniformity, but it’s not true. So actually, there was no federal involvement for most of the high school movement. And what happened was, community by community, there was a lot of conversation about the changing economy, about what people needed to know. And they tax themselves to build the schools. And what you found was that it turned out across the entire country, some things that they did have in common, for example, everybody thought it was important for kids to learn to read, you didn’t need to tell you that, right? parents knew communities knew that if the kids were not literate at a pretty high level, they couldn’t, they couldn’t be good citizens, they couldn’t access the newer higher tech jobs that were available. But at the same time, there was incredible amounts of variation in terms of particulars. So, for example, in Kansas, most of the high schools taught animal husbandry, which because of course, right like then, in the Bronx, not so much, like, and so what was so fascinating to me is one of the biggest mass movements in education ever, in human history was done by paying deep attention and respect to the community, and allowing them to have a deep say in what was worth teaching and how. And so, I feel like we’ve gotten so far away from that, that we’re almost afraid, we don’t remember that you can actually get scale this way. And so, we think, you know, unless somebody decides what’s worth learning, and it has to be an expert in their office somewhere in a conference room, then it probably won’t go well. Right? Well, I would also say, how’s it going right now, right? Like, even by that standard, how are we doing? Right, like, and I just, I think, from a philosophical standpoint, I think if you’re going to commit to a system that understands and develops individual kids in a way that’s good for them, and good for the community, you have to put the power at the level of the community to make these decisions, not some bureaucrat that’s abstracted away from the kid. Mm hmm.
Yeah. And you used a phrase in the book that really stuck with me, it was pervasive variability in human development. And the idea that we sort of have this idea that there will be a standard way of learning, and everybody will learn that way. And anyone who deviates from that way, is abnormal in some way, and they get a diagnosis and they get some kind of individualized education plan, instead of acknowledging that there is inherent variability in the way that everybody learns. And if we can accommodate that, and adjust to it, then we’re going to serve our students and our children so much better.
Dr. Rose 19:18
Right. And so you know, my background is actually in this new science of individuality, which has come out of medicine and genetics and neuroscience, where once we have the tools and the capability of seeing individuals rather than studying groups of people, what we found was just what you said, I mean, just the unbelievable, pervasive individuality of human beings. Now, in the past, we’ve just decided it was either noise to ignore, or what we could do is Yep, some variability is better than other variability, right? Like we’re, and what we’ve seen is actually like, in fact, the variability matters. individuality really matters. It doesn’t mean selfishness. It doesn’t mean it, but it means you can build more effective, and even more efficient systems that take that into account and then give you a concrete example outside of education. So, one of my favorite things, one of the bigger breakthroughs besides things like cancer research comes in, in the form of personalized nutrition and my colleagues in Israel. So, you know, the glycemic index, which is supposed to tell us, you know, this kind of food elevates your blood sugar this way, right? Well, that entire index is based on group averages. And my colleagues using this new science study, like how many people like actually respond the way the glycemic index says, literally, nobody, nobody. And what they were able to do now that sounds like chaos, it’s like, well, wait a minute, if we’re so individual, like, what do you do? Well, what they were able to show was that if you actually, like modelled, the individuality took it seriously. They were able to create the ability to make incredibly precise, personalized predictions of exactly how I will respond to any type of food. And they’ve had so much success, that they even created an app called day two, and I use it and it is shockingly good. So, for example, for me, the glycemic index is only true about 40% of the time. And when it’s wrong, it’s catastrophically wrong. So, for example, like type two diabetes runs in my family a little bit. So I’ve always thought about being careful, you know, and my nutritionist, Liam 20 years ago said, hey, look, pink grapefruit is so good for keeping blood sugar down. It’s got almost like magical properties. And so I follow that advice. I had grapefruit almost four or five times a week for breakfast, get
them in business.
Dr. Rose 21:40
And I’m thinking like, I’m like being healthy, right? And so, I do this personalized nutrition, right? They do everything from deep bloodwork to gut biome, and really cool stuff. It turns out, no kidding. pink grapefruit is literally the worst thing I can believe it is, it spikes my blood sugar worse than chocolate cake. Oh, my goodness. And so, what’s really important here is that, with the clever use of technology, and this know how my colleagues have been able to create completely scalable, yet highly personal, and more effective nutritional advice, right. And it’s not more expensive, it doesn’t come, my insights don’t come at your expense. And I think that most people in the public don’t realize that the era we live in now, that kind of thing is capable, not just in nutrition and possible, not just nutrition, not just in medicine, but even the way we think about how we develop our children. Mm hmm.
Yeah. And I want to come back to the technology issue in just a minute. But before we get there, I’m just thinking about how your example applies to children in school and something like learning to read, you know, there’s been these wars recently called, they’re called the reading wars, where we, we keep shifting the way that we try to teach reading. So, there’s this way where we teach children the sounds of words. And so, the phonetic approach, or there’s the whole language approach, where we teach them what is contextual about reading? And how do you learn it through reading books, and things that are really interesting to you, instead of acknowledging that different children learn in different ways, and that rather than having these massive swings from one system to the other, and back, again, which we’re trying to determine which of these systems is going to work for all children, on average, on average? Instead of saying, how does this child need to learn? And does this child need to learn about the structure of words? Or does this child need to learn about how reading is really relevant in their lives, possibly supplemented with some information on the structure of language? And we just don’t do that?
Dr. Rose 23:35
Yeah. Well, you know, to that specific point, my mentor, Kurt Fisher, who’s also one of the pioneers of this science of individuality, one of the early pieces of research that he did was on how young children learn to read. And what’s interesting is to your point, like so, in every major, basically, curriculum approach to this and every major remedial approach to it. They’re always presumed one way one sequence, right sign sound integration, you’ll learn to rhyme whatever. And like you said, it’s like, when we argue over it will argue over which one right way we follow. Well, what Kurt and his colleagues found, was that when you studied how individual kids learn to read successfully, they found three different unique pathways, right, two of which always lead to proficient reading, one actually didn’t write it was the dead end. And so, what they found, though, is that they could literally account for every single child in one of these three pathways. And so then the task becomes, as you’re saying, like, it’s not about finding the one right way because that doesn’t exist, but it is about understanding this particular individual child and understanding what they have to do next right and making very precise predictions about what will be most helpful for them. Now, again, that used to seem like an impossible task, but we can do it right now. And I will say like, what’s funny about this whole thing is that in other fields besides education, people have an adopted this as a sensible approach, like, let’s take, for example, cancer treatment. So, this same idea of multiple pathways exists in, say colon cancer, which is the second most diagnosed and lethal cancer in the world. Right? for 35 years, we thought there was one right sequence, right, one precursor lesion, a series of genetic mutations, and then the cancer manifests, right? And we literally use that to diagnose and treat everybody. Well, when we’ve applied this new science, we found is pretty shocking. We found that only 7% of people with colon cancer actually followed that average pathway that we thought represented everybody. Mm hmm. Yeah. And instead, there were three pathways. And now, what we’re able to do is this is improved early diagnostics, right? It’s improved survival rates, like you wouldn’t believe. So, when we start to think about it that way, and realize, well, yeah, of course, if it’s cancer, it’s life and death, right? There’s like a moral imperative. And I would say, look, the moral imperative is still there when it comes to our young children, and our ability to develop their full potential.
Yeah. And coming back to the point that you made about technology, I’m wondering, I see a lot of sort of alternative schools coming up. And I know old school that was here in San Francisco actually closed recently and took all of everything they’d learned about children’s learning and are now selling it and are no longer serving students. But the broader point is whether we use technology to really, truly personalize learning, or is it just allowing a child to make a choice to pick between do i do exercise a first or exercise B first, and maybe they’re demonstrating mastery, and then can move on to the next thing, but is it something that they truly care about is it contextualized? And what I see in so many applications of technology in classrooms is that that doesn’t happen. And it really is essentially just putting regular school on an iPad.
Dr. Rose 26:54
Right? But it’s exactly right. So, here’s the problem with the technology. So first and foremost, if you made me choose between a great educator who deeply understood what it means to understand a kid as an individual, and put us in a mud hut, versus the best technology in the world, without that, I will take the mud hut, and the great teacher every time. And now, that said, I do believe there is a role for the technology, if you understand what it’s meant for, right? It’s undoubtedly true that the digital technology we have, are capable of a level of flexibility and adaptability at a price point that you just can’t do otherwise. So even the nutrition example I gave you for that to truly reach everyone for basically $100 a person and that price will come down. It required. These technologies that we have now, right requires digital integrated technologies like the internet. So, the problem comes from my perspective is when we see technology as a solution rather than a tool, right? And so, if you realize that, when it comes to individuality, there is no such thing as an algorithm that’s going to solve for this right and your example of old school. Right, like, but here’s what terrifies me about this. And I am someone who actually really likes technology. But what worries me the most is from the science that I’m coming from. The people who have gravitated toward this the quickest, are largely the people who build these technology platforms. So, Amazon, Facebook, Google, right, where they realized that they could have a much better understanding of individual consumers. Okay, fine, right. But now imagine, as you bring that into education, and if I have a startup or a publishing house, it is in my best interest to pretend that the technology is the solution and that I have these magic algorithms. Because I can protect that right? I could sell that if I told you the truth, which is that the real power of this comes in human interaction, right? student to student, teacher to student, right, and that the technology at its best, is doing its best when it’s facilitating those kind of both human interactions, and then the individuals ability to know themselves, right? Well, how do I get intellectual property on that? Right? How do I, how do I make any money if they’ve not? So, for me, the only solution there is to have a more informed citizenry have more informed parents who understand what we’re trying to accomplish here and what the right role of technology is. And if I could just put one finer point on it, when people are looking for tech for this. So, if you have a basic html5 enabled browser, which is every browser that’s free on the planet, you can literally do everything you need for deep personalization. So, at a minimum, you do not need to buy into somebody’s walled garden who like hey, here’s all this money to a school pay us and then we’re going to do magical things. You don’t need it.
Hmm. And I think you really brought out the way that the human connection is the critical piece here and I wonder if you could make that concrete for us and tell us about how you’re feeling was able to help you pass the JRE.
Dr. Rose 30:03
Yeah, yeah, I owe my dad a lot
Dr. Rose 30:07
So, it was a funny thing, because, you know, as somebody that studies individuality, I sure had a hard time learning those lessons for myself early on, but I didn’t fit in. Well, in school growing up, I was pretty bad to the point of like, actually failing out of high school. And after getting married and having two kids and being on welfare, I decided that something had to change. And I was going to go to college, and I went to night school at an open enrollment State University and clawed my way back figured out I was better than I thought learning under the right conditions. And my advisors had said, Hey, wait a minute, you should consider graduate school. Well, I did didn’t know anybody that ever gone to graduate school. And I didn’t know that I had to take the GMAT, which was just, I am still to this day terrible at these standardized tests, right. And, but I was like, well, this is going to stand between me and my ability to do something meaningful. So I took the, you know, those on Saturdays they have like, you know, these practice things, and they can teach it and I, I couldn’t afford the Kaplan one, but I could afford the one at the local university and the tutor there, got the job because he aced the Jerry, right. And so, he’s teaching us a bunch of tricks. And back then the GRP, included verbal, quantitative, and then they had this thing called analytical like reasoning, which was like, those problems where it’s like, okay, farmer, john has four rows, and that’s the plant corn and peas and beans, and beans can’t be next to corn and corn in row three, you know, and then they give you all these like conditions. And then they’re like, Okay, if peas are in row three, where’s the corn, and I’m like, Ah, so the tutor had like, phenomenal, it turns out phenomenal working memory ability, and he could do it in his head. So, he taught us these strategies for doing it. And I just like after 10 weeks of like practicing and I improve my scores and verbal, I improved my scores in the quantitative. And my analytical reasoning score. I’m not kidding you, I had never gotten above the 13th percentile, and panic because it is like a couple of weeks before I actually have to take thing. And I’m like, I’m not getting an anywhere like, and I don’t understand. I like it. So, I was studying at my parents’ house, because we lived in like a 40 square foot apartment. And I was so frustrated that I actually, like flicked my pencil across the room, as my dad happened to walk in. And he didn’t, you know, he was like, what’s wrong with you like, but there’s no reason to act like that. And I’m like, I just don’t get it. And I was showing him. And he’s an engineer by training. And he said, Oh, you know, that’s a degrees of freedom problem. And he’s like, tell me, how are you doing it? And I explained it to him. He said, you know, you don’t really have a great working memory, like, why are you trying to do this in your head? And I was like, well, that’s the way my tutor told me to do it. And he said, Actually, there’s an easier way. And he showed me this way to like, draw a grid. And he’s like, if you get it out of your head onto the piece of paper, use this strategy. I think it’ll work a lot better for you. Well, I was like, a little incredulous. Like, I tried it, it worked on one practice, set of problems. Try it again. It kept working. I still didn’t trust him. I went back to my tutor. That Saturday said, hey, look, my dad thinks this is a better strategy. Now. Full disclosure, when I was younger, he also gave me a way to make my Pinewood Derby car when and it didn’t even cross the finish line. So, I was like, you know, sometimes devices hit or miss, but so I showed the tutor, and he says, Yeah, yeah, yeah, you could do that. And I’m like, Yeah, yeah, you can do that. What? Why didn’t you ever thought of it? So, no kidding. So, I’m like, Okay, well, this seems like just ridiculously easy. I go to the actual jury thing. I only missed one question on the entire jury analytical reasoning and got by far my best score. And it was so funny, like, the interpretation that people have when they see that right of like, wow, Todd, you must be so analytical. And I’m like, Yeah, no, it was that I actually got a good strategy that fit my individuality that allowed me to demonstrate what I was capable of. And so, I never forgot that because it was like, almost just dumb luck, right? That somebody knew enough to help me understand that, that made the difference. Like honestly, there’s zero chance that I get into Harvard with a 13th percentile analytical reasoning score. Now we can debate whether that’s even the right way to measure talent. But so, the difference between me sitting here talking to you living the life that I want to live or not came down to that piece of advice.
Isn’t that incredible? And the thing that makes it stick out to me and the reason I sort of held this example in my mind is that your dad is not a tutor. He doesn’t know how to get people to pass the Jerry. He doesn’t do that for a living, but he knew you. He knew how your mind worked. And that I think, is the critical sort of skill for teachers and for parents as well who were interested in supporting their children’s learning. You don’t need to be an expert in the thing they’re learning, you just need to know how your child thinks.
Dr. Rose 35:05
That’s right. And, you know, I believe, basically it combines these two things exactly what you said, which is like, my dad knew me, right? He knew my individuality. He knew my strengths, my limitations. And then the second thing, which is subtle, but like, obviously, he believed I was capable, right? He believed that I was capable of excellence. And one of the most, I think, damaging and wrong assumptions that our education system has been built upon, is this idea that human potential is a bell curve. And that like, not everyone’s capable, right, and like that still is so deeply ingrained in our system, that things like the LSAT are built on a bell curve, they are guaranteed to make half of our kids fail no matter how well they actually do. And so, I believe, like as parents realizing that and as we move this into educators who should know the kid next to the parent, nobody else should know the kid, like kids themselves and parents know their kids. But making sure we’re bringing with it the starting assumption that the truth is, is like everybody has something to offer everybody’s capable. And it’s about finding the highly favorable conditions that allow kids to thrive.
Yeah. And I think it has really profound implications for children of non-dominant cultures, because our system is really well designed, if it’s well designed for anyone is designed to recognize the abilities of middle-class white children. And if you come with a different skill set to school that doesn’t involve kind of early reading early math, and really prioritizes spoken language and incredible use of language and manipulation of language to tell stories and do things that middle class white children don’t do very well, then your skill set is probably not going to be recognized and built on and valued in the same way that middle class white children skills are.
Dr. Rose 36:50
And that’s exactly right. And one of the things that I think is important there is that, you know, some of that standardizing to middle class white kids was intentional, right. Some of it was like, just like, especially in science education, we’ve always privileged boys historically, right. But a lot of it, it was not intentional, it is when you use averages, it is not surprising that the patterns that come out of that will reflect a majority, right? They’ll reflect the dominant strand, sometimes they don’t even really exist, it’s just an artefact. But it is almost impossible, that it will actually faithfully represent anyone that’s not part of that dominant majority. Right. And so, as one of the things if we do it right, and I think there’s a lot of risk, we need to be careful about that. At best, this shift towards something more personal has the chance to create a deeply equitable learning environment. Again, if we do it right, it can also go horribly wrong.
Yeah. Okay. So, we’ve talked a lot about sort of the way that people learn the way that children learn. And so, I’m wondering if we can kind of think to classrooms and think about how this is different from the way that learning happens in most classrooms, and also maybe what promising exceptions that you see. And in your book, you sort of set up a whole lot of sort of contradictions. Here’s how it works in schools versus here’s how dark horses really find themselves. Can you set up some of those contradictions for us?
Dr. Rose 38:10
Yeah. So, if you think about the system, we have it and I’m not like, I think it served a role. And I’m not saying I think there has been well meaning people who have helped us mass educate the public. So, I think part of the gains that we’ve made off of that standardization, is what now allows us to question whether that’s necessary anymore, and what we can do better for more kids. The fundamental problems, as I see it, that holds our system back from doing what we needed to do, there’s a handful of them, right? So like, when you think about the very definition of success embedded in a standardized system, it is absolutely not about being the best version of yourself, that actually doesn’t get you very far in this system of fault scarcity and standardization. Right. The objective, whether we like it or not, is to learn to be the same as everyone else only better, right? So, like, I’ll give you a really concrete example that with my own children. So, when we moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, like there’s a lot of great things about place. But I had never seen anything like the pressure on kids to do so well, in a standardized way in high school to get into not just go to college and find out what you care about, but like, what college did you get into, right? And so I watched my own son, my oldest son, like it sort of warp who he was, he used to be someone that he’d be like, you know what, I’m going to choose to do things that I care about, and I’m going to learn and if I fail, I fail, you know, I’m like, Good, that’s what I want. And then suddenly, I started seeing him take less and less risk. And it was all under the thing of like, Well, wait a minute. Yeah, maybe I could go take a class on French literature. I’m kind of interested. But what if I don’t do well, he was in Mathematics and Computer Science. He’s like, that might hurt my chances of getting into MIT. And I’m like, Yeah, I mean, that’s probably true. And it’s really terrible, right? So, this idea of learning to like, on the one hand, take the same class as everyone else, but you got to get a better grade right? Take the same test like the LSAT, but you got to get a better score, right? Like, it’s nothing about helping kids understand who they are, what they care about what they’re good at, and turning that into something productive and contributing to society. So that to me is such a profoundly important distinction, that we have to have that kind of conversation but what we really want the other thing that the current system we have like back to standardization is like, the truth is, in the industrial age, you really did have to choose between personalization and scale really, really hard, like hard to know how it is you delivered a quality education at scale to everyone unless you basically depersonalized it right. And so, in fact, one of my intellectual heroes, Benjamin Bloom, who invented mastery learning, right? He actually figured out that like, through experiments that if you did, if you created a tutoring based, mastery based system, basically, they could take any kid at random, and get them to perform to stare deviations better than typical people, like it was absurd how well kids could perform. Well, when they figured that out was like in the 80s. They basically went to University Chicago Went, went to winter economist and said, Okay, what would it cost to make this available to every school child in the US, and it turned out to be something like 21 times what any country had ever spent on education before, it would bankrupt you, right? And so, in that scenario, it was like, wow, wait a minute, we know what to do. We just can’t do it, right. And so, we ended up with a system that basically moves kids based on how old you are, right? Like, you get put in a cohort, you get taught the same stuff at the same pace. And then arbitrarily, we stop and give you a test. And then you get ranked. And as long as you don’t fail, you move on, right. But the problem is, is like the best predictor of how well you’ll do the next time is your background knowledge, right? So, we just propagate like error through the system. And then we’ve interpreted that as like speaking to the worth and value of individual kids rather than just an artefact of standardization. So, this issue of like, getting away from one size fits all getting away from lockstep, schooling doesn’t have to mean every kid’s a snowflake, right? It doesn’t have to mean; every kid gets to do whatever they want. But it does mean that we have to take seriously that kids are individuals. And that doesn’t mean separateness, it doesn’t mean that they go off and sit in front of a computer all day. But it does mean that there’s dignity and worth in each kid. And that needs to be brought to the conversation.
Yeah. And also, the idea that you frame it in the book is staying the course versus trial and error failure is not really something that we’re allowed to do in school, right? Or, you know, if your child and the literature class they want to take and maybe I don’t get into MIT, because I’m taking it, that’s kind of a problem.
Dr. Rose 42:49
By the way, I couldn’t tell them it wasn’t true. Right, right. Like I could tell them, Look, you can take the hit. But the reality is, and now if you’re wealthier, and maybe you have a little bit of like, Okay, well, you know what, you know, like, as, as we’ve seen now, or you just cheat your way and like drive people to take the test for you. The truth is, is that someone that’s not coming from means actually has no room, right? Like, you really have to play this game. And you’ve got to play it well, to even have a shot at the kind of opportunities that are afforded. And so, to me, like, it’s absurd, as a scientist, like we learned a long time ago, that trial and error is the only way to improve, it’s the only way to get to truth, it’s the only way to get to like, nobody likes failure, it always hurts, It’s never good. But you learn to embrace it, and you learn to stick with it, and you learn to improve off of it. And yet, what we’ve implicitly and explicitly teaching our children in the way we’ve structured education, is that failure is almost a moral thing. It’s like, it speaks to your talent, it speaks to your value. And so, you teach kids to not take risks, to honestly not even own up to failure, right? And then we reward that. And so, to me, it’s just absurd. So, thinking about I don’t know, where my parents who actually want their kids to be in these kind of environments. And I think it’s important that parents understand that something has changed in our society, we are not living in the era of scarcity like we were, we can actually build systems where teachers are empowered, the systems are empowered to know your child as well as you know them, and that we can work together to help them live a life of fulfilment and contribution. Mm hmm.
Yeah. And when you talk about knowing your child, and also I think about knowing yourself, you talk in the book a lot about micro motives. And I’m wondering if you can tell us what these are and how are they different from the kinds of tricks that teachers have to use to motivate students when the students don’t really have any inherent interest in what the curriculum says that they need to learn?
Dr. Rose 44:48
Yeah, yeah. Like, one of the most interesting things from the Dark Horse project was when people said, you know, just to step back a little bit, so I went to that project, thinking that maybe the Thing dark horses would have in common was like a personality characteristic, right? Like I actually had in my head. Richard Branson as probably someone who likes bucking the system would probably not mind being a dark horse, right might actually enjoy it. But really quickly, we found that just wasn’t true. Like the personality was all over the place. Like there were shy people, there were people who really didn’t want to be dark horses and sort of reluctant. And what emerged again, is that they were like, Look, it was the way they thought about the life they want to live, and this prioritizing personal fulfilment, over standardized views of success. Well, once we recognize that, and frankly, I got to be honest, I was like, ah, I don’t want that to be the answer. Like I was. I’m a hard-quantitative person. This is my first qualitative research project ever. And I was like, Well, it turns out, you can learn a lot by listening to people, but I was like, what am I supposed to do with like, squishy, soft like fulfilment? Right? But as we start to say, Okay, well, this is where they’re taking the conversation. Let’s look at Well, what do they know? What do they do that makes that real, it makes it actionable, and not just follow your bliss off a cliff? Right? So, one of the four big things and like, the most important thing, as far as I was concerned, is that the way they understood themselves was not in terms of what am I good at? But what motivates me. And that distinction? I think it’s so important, because if what I’m good at is so context dependent, you know, it depends on the time you live in, it depends on you know, but what motivates me is something far more indelible, right, it can change, but it doesn’t change fast. And it is so powerful, because it basically is the foundation for passion, it’s the foundation for engagement. And for my perspective, is the difference between someone being able to have some control over their life, versus just being led around by somebody else who knows you better. So, what was interesting about this motive aspect is, for all of the history of psychology, basically, we’ve been trying to figure out the grand motive or a small handful of motives that everybody’s supposed to be motivated by right. You know, and then we do the thing, like you were saying before, about, you know, the reading stuff, where it’s like, which one right way, you know, should we make all kids learn? Well, we do this all the time, what’s the one right motivation, or set them innovations that everybody’s probably going to be motivated by, right? And what we found in the dark horse project is how ridiculously individual this was. And we call them micro motives, because they weren’t just these big grand motivations, like competition, or collaboration. So those are all perfectly good motives. But what we found was, each person had this collection of motives. Some things were big, some things were very small in particular, but nevertheless, they were incredibly animating and motivating to them. Right? So, I’ll give you like, some absurd, like, I just still can’t believe this is true. But like, it’s one thing to be like, Yeah, okay. Someone’s really motivated by competition. Okay, fine. But what about someone who’s literally motivated? Their primary motive is being able to align physical objects, like no kidding, like, we have someone who’s, to me, that sounds like nothing, it doesn’t get my heart beating, it doesn’t do anything. Like whom possibly could be motivated by that. But Skye absolutely was I mean, he talked with reverence about this, and he had become an engineer who did actually use it in his work a lot. And anyway, so we found this, some people were literally motivated by organizing not in a general sense, but like, literally organizing physical space, right. And, of course, this woman channeled that from being a political operative into one of the country’s premier closet organizers, right, like, and she’s like, so happy because she’s being able to make other people’s lives better, by creating order in their physical space, right. And now, for me, once again, that does not sound even remotely motivated, right? So, what we found is again, like, as human beings, we have a wide range of things that truly, truly light us up. And there’s no substitute no projection from, I can’t tell you, I can say, Jen, this is like, for sure what’s going to work for you. It is a process of discovery for you. And it works best when the people that care the most about you, right. And when you’re a kid, it’s like your parents, and your teachers are actually helping you discover for yourself the things that matter most. And then to convert that into better learning better performance,
right? And that’s, I think, really at the heart of it. It’s that being supported in that discovery process so that you get to learn and maybe fail and see what doesn’t work for you. And then come back and try again and see Oh, yeah, this really does work for me. And as you go through that process, you’re building a picture of what does motivate you and how you’re going to use that to engineer your fulfilment in life, basically.
Dr. Rose 49:38
And that’s the secret, right? Because things like terms like passion, we throw around a lot, which it’s funny. I’m sort of ambivalent about that word. I love it. And I hate it at the same time. Like, obviously, being passionate is important and powerful. And I think when people are passionate about things, they’re better at it and take greater care of doing the work they do. But the way our system has taught us to ignore the things that truly motivate us What happens is, is we end up stumbling into things that really light us up. And then for example, I love football. And you know, it’s like, Okay, I’m passionate about football. Well, great, that’s not untrue. But unless I have a deeper understanding of the motives that it’s activating, then I am stuck, hoping that football continues to, like, satisfy me, even as I get better at it, even as I get older, even though I can’t play it anymore. You know, I mean, and what you realize is, if you are asking yourself, why, why is this thing? Why am I feeling passionate about this particular work, you’re able to start to realize, like, say, football. For me, it’s actually the collaborative team sport nature of it. It’s very strategic. It’s not the violence, like I don’t like, you know, I don’t really care about hitting people and like, but I love how difficult it is to coordinate across 11 people that have to work in sync against another 11 people who are trying hard not allow you to be able to do this. Now, the good news is, as I understand that, right, football is not the only thing that involves that kind of coordinated strategy and collaboration, right? And so as football becomes, either because I’m no longer interested, or because I can’t do it, rather than have a midlife crisis, and have to, like figure out, you know, you know, get a sports car, and you know, whatever. But like, I can actually, it’s portable, I can say, Well, wait a minute, here’s the collection of motives that made that passionate to me, lets me go find other things that also activate these rights. And that was the secret with dark horses. Were you know, for a big chunk of them? They weren’t people who screwed up. They were people who were shockingly, objectively successful by society’s standards. And then they wake up one day and say, I’m not happy, right? And they decide to make these pivots. And they go to places that are like, you’re like, what? Like, how did they decide that? How’s that not the riskiest thing, and they just crush it over there. But when you dig in, and you realize what they know about themselves, it actually wasn’t risky. So Case in point, the guy that I told you about who was an engineer who loved aligning physical objects, well, he made the mistake of he had made this big breakthrough for a telecommunications company that he only got a small bonus for, and all the middle management got bigger bonuses for his invention, right? And he was like, wait a minute, that doesn’t seem fair, and it wasn’t fair. And he said, Well, maybe the thing that I only way I can get my fair share was I got to become a manager. Well, if you know him, and you know his motives, he should never have been a manager. Never. He doesn’t like people, he really, genuinely doesn’t like people. And so, he quickly moves himself out of a place of fulfilment and excellence into a place of incompetence, right, and actually, is out of the business within five, six years. And so, then it’s like, the field has moved on, you know, it’s become technical in a different way. He can’t get those kinds of jobs anymore. He’s wandering through life. And he realizes he’s got to get back to who he was like, what really matters to him. And he remembers this, like, this alignment thing is actually important to him, amongst other things. So, no kidding where he ends up, he is now the top upholstery repair person in New York. And that sounds like what like this, except for, if you think about, like, what most of that work is, is like family heirlooms and dealing with old leather, and you need to align seven, it’s like really hard. And it’s really important when it’s keepsakes and these important things. And he gets to basically own his own business, he goes around, he basically makes life better for people by being able to do this thing. And he’s really, really motivated by and he’s unbelievably happy, right? But if you step back from our way, we think about telling kids like what they should be when they grow up, and try to say, Well, what would a electrical engineer and upholstery purposes like there is no model in which those things are actually related? Right? Right. So, if you start with knowing who you are, which starts with knowing what truly motivates you, you will be shocked at the kind of choices you can make. And like things that will look really risky to the outsider, will actually be some of the safest bet you can make. Because you know who you are.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And just kind of making that even more explicit. In the book, you pull out two common paths among the dark horses that you interviewed. And the first one of those is the one that we might commonly imagine where the person is really struggling in school. And I see a lot of you in here, right? You struggle, and then you realize that it was the way that you were learning in school, and probably what you were learning as well, that wasn’t working for you, and you find your purpose after that. And so that’s one way and then the other way is that they actually do really well in school. And then they realize later in life, that the thing that probably their parents and teachers have been pushing them towards all along, you know, do well in school, do well in college, get a corporate job, and climb the corporate ladder, and then they realize that they are not finding that at all fulfilling. And so, I’m wondering, actually, if we can create a third Darkhorse path that doesn’t involve what is a lot of frustration. Either you get frustrated in school or you get frustrated after school? What if we could avoid that and what if we could allow our children to spend basically their entire lives deciding what they’re going to learn and how they’re going to learn it and how they want to demonstrate that learning to Communities That Care about the same topic. So, they never have to go through this period of frustration and isolation that seems to be common and inherent and the other two paths. What do you think about that?
Dr. Rose 55:10
That’s perfect. So, I actually think that the sole objective of this knowledge is to make it so there’s no such thing as a dark horse, right? Yes, is your only reason that they had to get off of like, nobody wants to go away from society, no one wants to suffer the sort of consequences of people looking like you’re not doing what we’re all having to do. Who do you think you are? Right? And it’s because of these standardized systems that has forced this right. But to your point, if basically, we realized that there’s something really valuable in having a society where people are able to live most of their lives, doing things that are deeply purposeful, and meaningful to them, that, actually, it’s better for all of us, right? And if we have our institutions see that as our objective, right, then there will not be dark horses, there will just be fulfilled people. And what’s so interesting to me about that, right is I’m sort of obsessed now and the work of my think tank is around what are the conditions that would have to be true for people living fulfilling lives, to actually add value to the rest of society, so that it’s not, like, at its worst fulfilment could actually spiral into a society of selfishness, right? That I’m going to do what feels good to me, I don’t really care what it means for anybody else, right. Now, what’s fascinating to me about it is, in the book, I actually didn’t go into too much depth about this, because I took it for granted that that’s not how it played out. Because literally, to a person of the hundreds and hundreds of dark horses we interviewed, they all ended up doing things, they mattered a lot to them that they were adding value, right? It wasn’t enough to just go do their own thing. But what it seems pretty clear to me now is that like, it’s really important that you marry a fulfilment mindset, with a contribution mindset, right? Which is, like, yes, we’re going to invest in you as a society, we’re going to help you figure out who you are, we’re going to help you that you turn that into something productive, but then you do have an obligation to make sure your actions are actually adding value, right? They’re contributing, it doesn’t have to be like you’re solving world hunger, although that’d be great, too. But it does mean that somebody besides you has to benefit from your actions. Because you could imagine, for example, if I say, Well, wait a minute, you know, what’s fulfilling to me is to convince, say, gay people that they shouldn’t be gay, right? Well, no, sorry. Right? That doesn’t count. Right? Because that is not adding value to their lives, right, like, and the flip side of that is like, if you have contribution mindset, without fulfilment, it can, in worst case, lead to a view of self-sacrifice, right? Where it’s just about the greater good. And I don’t believe that either, right? It’s not okay, that we’re going to decide somebody has to sacrifice because it inevitably is we decide who has to sacrifice, right like, but if we can put these things together, that it is about pursuing a fulfilling life, and making your best contribution to society. That’s how we get to a place where individual prosperity and collective prosperity end up being the same thing.
Yeah, and thank you for raising that. That was one of the things that worried me most as I finished. Because I always come back to actually Shark Tank, the show Shark Tank. And I’m thinking about this, that show just drives me nuts, because people are, if you haven’t seen the show, they’re competing for money to scale their business, which is I mean, half of them are producing widgets in China for five cents, and then they’re selling them to me for 1999. Or they’re trying to create a new app to get dinner delivered to millennials faster. And so, my worry was what if this pursuit of individual fulfilment leads to 8 billion people all doing work that they find meaningful, but we still can’t figure out how to create societies that live peacefully and serve their citizens. And that hasn’t been destroyed by making five cent wages that we didn’t need in the first place. And so, you know,
Dr. Rose 58:53
in sort of like to put a fine point on that, right, like, even that sort of, you know, this idea of the sort of capitalistic aspect of, you know, a shark tank, which I think is a is an annoying shows, you know, my sort of libertarian friends and this sort of folks that are super capitalist, which, by the way, I actually am a big fan of free markets. But if you read like, say, Adam Smith, and these people who talked about, like, how you create these markets, and why you do that, even Adam Smith was all about a moral and virtuous society. It wasn’t, it wasn’t about like, get off my lawn libertarianism, or like, we can all just be like, have a ton of widgets. In fact, he mocks that right, the trinkets and stuff like that. But he thinks that like, we can create the conditions where if someone’s pursuing self-interest, you want to force them into a market that requires that they actually add value to somebody else in order to satisfy that self-interest. And that’s why he’s Yeah, you can’t monopolies and you can’t have like, he’s obsessed about how do you help the poorest people in a society? So, we forgotten a lot of that. And so, for me the same question Apply, right? Not just can we find out the thing where you have comparative advantage, and then you do this monotonous boring, like meaningless work, but we all get trinkets, right? But can we wed that with like finding the thing you’re good at, but also the thing that gives you purpose, and allowing people to engage in that kind of work and betting that if we have strong social institutions that ensure that that pursuit of personal fulfilment, has to be channeled through institutions that require that we add value to other people’s lives, then we get mutual benefit, right, then we get something where we actually have can have both a prosperous and virtuous society, it’s not easy, but I definitely think it is doable now.
Oh, I’m getting chills. So, another thing that came across really clearly in the book is the idea of agency. And the people that you’re interviewed are not people who waited for things to come to them, they actively went out, and they created opportunities, where it seemed like none existed, and use the analogy of finding off menu options at a certain burger chain, here in the US. But you’ve said that, and I’m going to quote one of the most common reactions that you hear from people when they first learn about self-determined educational pathways is. So, you were telling me we expect college students to make their own decisions? Have you met today’s college kids? And so I would argue that the people who are saying this to you have missed the point and that instead, they should be saying, Have you seen the kinds of decisions that young people make when you’ve spent the first two decades of their lives telling them that not only do they have no ability to make any kind of decision affecting their life, but they also don’t have the right to do it? So, do you think that we need to give children more agency at a younger age? And if so, how do we start doing this?
Dr. Rose 1:01:41
Yeah, now, so you’re exactly right. Like, it’s so funny, the interpretation of like, okay, we create a society where we take meaningful choice away from you, you have no real agency, like even the work you do in school, think about how, like, you create products that have no meaning to you, and actually aren’t even valuable to society, right, and you get a grade, and then you move on, and you do it again, and you do it again. And it’s all for the approval of somebody else, but it’s not. And then when we take that away, the agents, whoever we don’t cultivate it, and then when you make poor decisions, we’re like, see, that’s why we can’t give you choices, right?
Why we can’t have nice things, children.
Dr. Rose 1:02:21
So and I’m like, to your point, which is like, if you’ve ever been in learning environments, where the opposite has been true from the get go, where we believe that kids are capable of agency and autonomy, and not Lord of the Flies, anything goes, but like, then you are shocked at the level of maturity and sophistication and thoughtfulness that kids demonstrate. I mean, it is still to this day, shocking to me when you see it. And so yeah, look, at the end of the day, let’s just say it’s even out of like survival as a country, right? Think about the economic environment that we’re going into in terms of like, job turnover, and like not even knowing what’s coming and like how do people even, like, get by, let alone thrive? Man, if you don’t understand yourself, and you don’t know, like how to make good choices on your behalf, you are in big trouble, like big trouble. And so just preparing kids for the reality requires that we have to prepare them to have agency and autonomy in the world. And so, if we realize that, and we step back and say okay, like anything, you don’t just say, like agency autonomy is more than just choice, right? There’s a whole collection of things, including self-knowledge, like how, if I don’t know myself, how do I make a good choice? On my own? Yeah. And then self-regulation, right? Like, there’s a whole bunch of skills that go into that, that need to be scaffolded and supported, right? And what better place to learn those things, then school, right? What better place to be able to try and fail, right to make a bad choice and learn about why it was a bad choice and get better at that, then school. Right. And again, what we’ve done is instead make it a place where you absolutely cannot fail. Which means like, when we give you agency and autonomy, at best, it’s just like, Hey, you can decide, you know, what color of sunglasses your avatar has on this new tech platform, right, like, and so we have to get into the business of saying, we are trying to build autonomy, self-directed adults, we need people to be able to do that, again, not so they can go off and do their own thing and never care about anyone else, but precisely the opposite. And so, thinking about how we intentionally embed meaningful choice, and reflection, and collaboration into these learning environments that help kids become those autonomous human beings that we so desperately need.
Yeah. And it’s kind of strange, actually, that on the flip side of that, we seem to be obsessed with asking young children. What do you want to be when you grow up? Do you say
Dr. Rose 1:04:58
like if I could strike one Question from like, anybody spoke out? It’s that, right? Because it sounds like the right question, right? I mean, like, somehow, if my kid doesn’t know what career they’re going to have, when they’re like eight, then you know, and it’s like, the problem with it, right is that if you think about the people who you know, who are both successful and happy, right, who have added value to society and are genuinely just like they enjoy their lives, when you scratch the surface, the vast majority of them, it’s only in retrospect, that they can make any sense out of the path that they’ve taken to get there, right? Because so much of your life comes down to the context of the opportunities that are available to you in your local environment or not. Right. And so, in a standardised system, where we’ve eliminated choice, then the really the thing that does matter is you better hurry and pick a career path. Because Boy, you only get one shot at that. And you know, so if you decide you’re going to be a lawyer, because you have an uncle, that’s a lawyer, we’ll get on that path and start doing it, it’s like, then what happens is, by the time it’s too late, you figure out that like, it wasn’t really being a lawyer that mattered to you, right. And what we found with dark horses, which was the most sort of on the one had paradoxical, but actually, to me, once you understand that pretty intuitive thing that they understood was, they absolutely ignore the destination, like, and it doesn’t mean not set goals, they were super goal obsessed. But this idea that, like, I’m going to Project 10 years out, right? This is what I’m going to be Well, look, getting there requires so many contingencies, right? Like it is not as simple as just deciding you’re going to do it. And meanwhile, like, you end up taking your eye off the thing that matters, which is the actual meaningful choices that are available to you day in and day out, right? And so, to me, I would replace what are you going to be when you grow up with what matters to you most? And why, right? Help your child cultivate the habit of really deeply understanding who they are, and what matters and motivates them, and teach them how to use that to make choices in their life. And I’m telling you like, to me, there is no sure path for a life of fulfilment and excellence and contribution than that.
Yeah. And when we think about what opportunities are available to individual children, I’m thinking about, we like to say that we live in a meritocracy. And if with the playing field is level, and if you have the strongest abilities, then opportunities are essentially open to everyone and you will succeed. And so, I think this brings up really important issues related to intersectionality of race, particularly and other topics as well. What are your thoughts on that as we’re sort of heading towards a conclusion here? Yeah, look,
Dr. Rose 1:07:41
I mean, if you were to ask me 10 years ago, I would have said, No, this is a meritocracy. But like, it’s just not right. Like, because here’s the thing, maybe at best, it’s some form of meritocracy, if you live in a world of like, absolute scarcity, where we have to ration opportunity, right, and in a way, and what we’ve created is a meritocracy that is literally like, at best, I mean, at best, and we don’t even do this, everyone has the same right to put step forward and be selected. Right, like, and so you know, and I speak it is will sound incredibly hypocritical, given the university that I’m at right now. But like, let’s just be honest, right? Like those universities hoard opportunity, right? They are a luxury brand. That’s their view. So quality equals scarcity, right? It’s like Louis Vuitton basically. Right? It’s like, you know, they have no interest in actually expanding the number of people that they educate, because the second you do that, you eliminate the scarcity, right? So, if Louis Vuitton literally had more handbags anyone could buy, they’re not worth what they’re charging anymore, right? And so, when you look at these elite universities, and you realize their job is to keep the number of people you educate as low as they can get away with, right? And then at the same time, they want lots of people to apply. So, they can say, look how many people applied? And then look how few people we said yes to, well, there’s something profoundly wrong and borderline immoral, about institutions that function that way, right? It is certainly the case in areas of our society where there is true scarcity, right? You will actually get where people who normally want to sympathize with each other, become deeply competitive because you are fighting over survival in some way, right? Like, if there really isn’t enough food to go around, then someone’s going hungry. Right? What we’ve done is carry that view of scarcity into our institutions of opportunity, where there actually isn’t scarcity. It is just not true, that we are incapable of educating everyone to the level they need to be educated toward. It is certainly true that not everyone goes to Harvard. But that is more of a problem of our over emphasis on somehow that that is a better education than Weaver State University where I got my undergrad. It’s not right. And so, for me, a real meritocracy is about whether or not we actually provided each person with equal fit. Write that it is not enough to say you had a chance to play the game by someone else’s rules using a standard that doesn’t even fit you and could never fit you. Right? It is, are we working hard to provide each and every child with the highly favorable conditions that we know every kid needs to realize their full potential, whatever that is. And for me when it comes to these sort of group level in equities, I think when you see these kind of gross inequalities, by race, by gender, by socioeconomic status, it is a blinking red light that something profoundly bad has happened in our society. Now, the only difference that I would say here is, I also am of the opinion that how you solve for that matters a great deal, right. And if we solve for it simply by redressing group inequalities by other group inequalities, you will probably just perpetuate the cycle of grievance and sense of victimization that will actually continue to pull us apart. If instead what we look for is universal or targeted, universal solutions that actually do give each person the thing they need to be able to strive for common goals, then we can get somewhere, right. But ultimately, look, ultimately, we have a system right now, that is failing most people and like even the winners don’t like the system anymore. But that’s secret, right? Yeah. And if I had a magic wand, the way that I think about this is as we move toward a more personalized system and education, because by the way, there is no going back, right? This is something that’s happening in every system we have in society; we’re rejecting one size fits all we’re going to something more personal education won’t escape that change. What we do get to have a say in is, how does its land, right? Who does it benefit? And so, from my perspective, if we start with the most marginalized communities, and we say, look, our commitment is to ensure that it works for everyone, which means it has to work for these communities. And, you know, you use that sort of innovation from the margins. Because, look, if it works for people for whom the system didn’t work before, odds are it’s going to work for more people. And so, if we take the idea of starting with the center and working our way out, we will replicate the same inequalities that we have right now, only they will be on steroids, right? Because our system will be about developing an amplifying human potential rather than just sorting it. So we’ve got to both commit on the one hand to a more greater focus on individuality and to commit to something more personal, but at the same time, hold open this idea of diversity and inclusion, and a recognition that some groups of people have been profoundly poorly treated by the system we have and commit to starting our work and our innovation in those corners and working your way in rather than inside out.
Wow well Hurry up and work a bit faster Will you please thank you so much for sharing your vision with us today. It’s been so inspiring to learn about your work and know that it’s out there and that it’s working on these issues and to see how we parents kind of buy into the system the way it is now and the opportunities that we have to choose a different system. Thank you so much.
Dr. Rose 1:13:06
Thanks for having me. It’s nice to talk to another kindred spirit.
And just as a reminder, Dr. Rose’s book, Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfilment can be purchased at local bookstores or on Amazon, and all the references for today’s show can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/ToddRose. Don’t forget that if you’re interested in joining Your Child’s Learning Mojo membership, you can either go to the references page for this episode, or YourParentingMojo.com/LearningMojo to learn more about that and sign up. Thanks for joining us for this episode of Your Parenting Mojo. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show at YourParentingMojo.com to receive new episode notifications and the FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths That We Can Leave Behind and join the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group for more respectful research based ideas to help kids thrive and make parenting easier for you. I’ll see you next time on Your Parenting Mojo.
Cantor, P., Osher, D., Berg, J., Steyer, L., & Rose, T. (2019). Malleability, plasticity, and individuality: How children learn and develop in context. Applied Developmental Science 23(4), 307-337.
Mischel, W. (2004). Toward an integrative science of the person. Annual Review of Psychology 55, 1-22.
Osher, D., Cantor, P., Berg, J., Steyer, L., & Rose, T. (2018). Drivers of human development: How relationships and context shape learning and development. Applied Developmental Science, 1-31.
Osher, D., Cantor, P., Berg, J., Steyer, L., & Rose, T. (January 2017). Science of learning and development: A synthesis. American Institutes for Research. Downloaded from: https://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/Science-of-Learning-and-Development-Synthesis-Osher-January-2017.pdf
Rose, T., & Ogas, O. (2018). Dark Horse: Achieving success through the pursuit of fulfillment. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Rose, T., McMahon, G.T., Saxberg, B., & Christensen, U.J. (2018). Learning in the 21st Century: Concepts and tools. Clinical Chemistry 64(10), 1423-1429.
Rose, T. (2015). The end of average: How we succeed in a world that values sameness. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Rose, L.T., Rouhani, P., & Fischer, K.W. (2013). The science of the individual. Mind, Brain, and Education 7(3), 152-158.
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.
Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership
She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com
And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school