04 August 2018

Attitude Basics Video Series

This is the Attitude Basics video series to introduce you to the foundations of the philosophy of putting attitude before academics.
The series lays out only the most basic points, so for further depth of understanding you can read the variety of essays that are on this site. 


Above is the Attitude Basics YouTube Playlist which includes the three part series I filmed plus an additional three part Harvard lecture about how organizations can enable more compliance with rules and policies.

Script- Attitude Basics 1: Embrace The Learning Paradox

Good day, Today I am starting a series of short talks on the most basic principles of attitude first education. The first principle is to embrace the learning paradox. Learning is on the one hand automatic, unconscious, and impossible to avoid. But it is also deliberate, effortful and avoidable, exactly the opposite. Traditional classroom practice assumes that learning is exclusively deliberate, effortful and avoidable. The same paradoxical features are true of seeing, so let me demonstrate. 

Look at my face and keeping your eyes open and pointed at my face, seeing my eyes, seeing my chin, seeing my cheeks, seeing my mouth, Now, stop seeing my nose. Keeping sight of all the other features of my face use all your will power and self-discipline to stop seeing my nose. 

How about it? Of course, you can't. Your brain is hardwired to see all the parts of my face at once and so seeing my nose under those conditions is automatic, unconscious, and impossible to avoid. But with a slight tweak in the instructions I can demonstrate that seeing also has the opposite properties. Now, look at my face and in any way you can stop seeing my nose. Under these circumstances your will power and self discipline can be put to good effect because seeing my nose is now a deliberate, effortful and avoidable task. Learning has those same features. It is paradoxically both ways. No matter where you are or what you are doing you are automatically and unconsciously learning. 

What you are always learning are these three things: 1) how you are managing your own and other people's attention, 2) how you exchange resources with your environment to meet your needs, and 3) the patterns of consciousness that occur by being embedded in those attentional power structures and resource exchange processes. But, modern elementary schools do not take these as the most basic lessons to be learned. Elementary schools are charged with delivering academic skills. Mainstream elementary schools are charged with eliciting from children the symbol manipulation behaviors also known as the 3R's of readin' 'ritin' and 'rithmetic. And learning those specific skills IS a deliberate, effortful and avoidable task. 

Mainstream classrooms are a logical extension of the ancient academies from which they derive their primary purpose, so their methods assume that learning, in general, is also exclusively deliberate, effortful and avoidable, not paradoxical. Mainstream classrooms essentially ask kids to stop seeing the teacher's nose but they ask some kids in a way that enables them to comply while other kids are asked in a way that makes it impossible. Observers of those classrooms see how one set of kids simply did what they were asked while the other set of kids did not. The observers correctly conclude that there is a problem. 

But because they are embedded in the system that does not even consider the possibility that learning has a paradoxical nature, they pass around lots of blame and propose solutions that don't work because they only understand half of the paradox of learning. Mainstream classrooms implicitly assume that the properties of learning the specific skills of the 3R's are the properties of learning in general. This is not the case, and what I call the attitude first approach to learning means teaching kids to practice learning in general before making them narrow their learning to specifics. This confusion about the true nature of learning is like the confusion about the true nature of light. In physics, up until the twentieth century, the idea that light was, in fact, simultaneously both a wave and a particle was inconceivable. But, after we came to properly understand light it enabled us to develop the technology of lasers. Einstein himself laid the theoretical foundation for lasers and the technology followed. 

The assumption that learning is exclusively deliberate, effortful, and avoidable is dominant and the paradoxical alternative is mostly unthinkable. But in this case practice has lead the way, not theory. Dan Greenberg, one of the founders of Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA, teaches the entire Kindergaten through 6th grade math curriculum to his students in just 6 weeks. But he only does so when there is demand for the course. At Sudbury demonstrated desire to learn is required before courses are offered, which is just one of many ways to put attitude before academics. Mainstream classrooms set up situations in which they fight against the automatic, unconscious and impossible to avoid aspects of learning. 

Re-designing schools with the paradox of learning in mind means figuring out what methods of putting attitude before academics will work in each particular learning community. When we can make attitude the highest priority in every aspect of the school situation then we will get laser-like learning. 

Lasers are a natural extension of the inherent paradoxical properties of light and in the same way, with proper understanding, schools can be designed to embody natural extensions of the inherent paradoxical properties of learning. Once we embrace a proper understanding of learning then we will be better able to amplify the stimulation of human potential. But it's going to take some design changes to both schools and classrooms before that can happen. 

Thanks for watching.


Script- Attitude Basics 2: What's Educational?

Hi, I am Don Berg. This is the second in the Attitude Basics Series: What's Educational?

The dominant answer to that question is whatever the state declares to be educational via the standards they adopt under the thoughtful advice of legions of experts. The experts can presumably tell whether various activities, information, and materials have educational value, or not. For instance if you look at standards in all the English speaking countries of the world I would guess that you would find that reading Shakespeare is considered an obligatory educational activity in all those countries. 

I agree that reading Shakespeare MIGHT be educational, but what would make it so? 

One of the key assumptions behind adopting it as a universal standard activity that ALL students MUST engage in is that the expert consensus must mean there is something objectively educational about it. Simply by reading Shakespeare a person is better educated than they were before, right? When we examine the English speaking people that we take to be educated there IS a very high correlation between their having read Shakespeare and being highly educated. But correlation is not causation. 

I propose the alternative explanation that what makes something like Shakespeare's works educational is not any objective quality or feature of the works in themselves. Rather education arises out of some combination of the quality and quantity of attention invested in an experience of that content by the learning agent. 

So, when kids turn their attention to Shakespeare, if they merely skim over it and move on as quickly as possible then there was little educational value in the experience. Most kids encountering the old english as part of a school assignment will just skip right to the Cliff Notes in an attempt to pass the test and avoid as much actual reading of it as possible. They invest their attention in gaming the system, not learning the content. The fact that they can, and do, game their schooling in this way reinforcesmy point about the learning paradox in the first episode of this series. The kids are learning something from the experience, but it's not the lesson the teacher wrote down in the lesson plan.

Instead of allowing Shakespeare to remain a lesson in how to game the system we can take two steps to make it a more legitimately educational experience. The first step is enabling the learning agent to have their in-built reality simulator activated by the words of the Bard. 

The second step is to explore the world created by the Bard's words such that the learning agent gains insights into his or her own world based on how Shakespeare portrayed his. These two steps are necessary for making any experience more authentically educational. That is: 1) activate the learning agent's reality simulator, then 2) allow the learning agent's simulator to run simulations based on the learner's experience of the content. This is why direct experiential learning is the most effective educational method. Immersion in the activity itself as it occurs in the real world is the most reliable way to activate reality simulators and enable learning agents to test the accuracy of their simulations. To see how Shakespeare's work has been used in this way in school all the way down to Kindergarden I recommend the documentary film A Touch of Greatness about the teaching practice of Albert Cullum.

I suspect that the high correlation between highly educated individuals and their having read Shakespeare is mostly a coincidence. Shakespeare's works did not make them educated. What made them educated was, in the more likely scenario, being in a community that facilitated attentional investments of better quality and/or greater quantity in their experiences, or, in a less likely scenario, simply having the gumption and luck to make the right attentional investment choices on their own. 

Now, this way of thinking about education will make standards-based instruction more effective by providing a crucial pre-requisite to engaging learners in the pursuit of standards. Standards can be a wonderful tool, but only for those who have committed themselves to achieving those standards. I want Joe the Plumber who is fixing my toilet and my brain surgeon and the teenager flipping my burger to all meet minimum objective standards of competency to ensure my health and safety. But, in the absence of their individual, personal commitment to achieving objective competence then the standards cannot be consistently effective. 

Putting Attitude before Academics is all about ensuring that the people who show up are fully committed to becoming competent. Anything less than a full commitment is a waste of everyone's time and energy because what makes their experience educational is not any objective property of merely experiencing the content. What DOES make their experience of the content educational is the quality and quantity of attention they invest in that experience. 

Thanks for watching.

03 August 2018

Why Teach Attitude?

We tend to teach attitude to children unconsciously by coincidence but to be responsible adults we need to teach it consciously and deliberately.

If our job is to launch children into a life where they can carry out important work in the world, then we have to make sure they get the right stuff to do the job. 


Teach Attitude to Prevent
Motivational Amputation

Think of it this way, imagine your children are Space Shuttles and you are NASA. 
What makes the shuttle move is fuel. 
No fuel, no movement. 
Motivation is the fuel for people. 
But motivation has two parts that have to be mixed together to light the fires for focused learning; intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. 
When adults cut children out of the decision making and planning of their own activities by overpowering them with extrinsic motivators then they run the risk of amputating intrinsic motivations.
Motivational amputees have an attitude deficit that may not be evident, but can lead to hardships later in the journey of life.


All space shuttles have to withstand the stresses of launch and we all know that children today are being launched under especially challenging conditions. 
If today's children do not develop the resiliency to handle unpredictable challenges then they are being cheated with potentially tragic results.


NASA is responsible for designing and operating their program safely and they generally have a good record of success. 
But on January 28, 1986 disaster struck and the shuttle Challenger was destroyed along with all seven astronauts including Christa MacAuliffe who was going to be the first teacher in space. 
We can learn valuable lessons about how to teach attitude from this disaster.


A combination of circumstances caused this tragic loss. 
The immediate cause was the failure of an O-ring in the right solid rocket booster. 
The reason that the O-ring failed is because it became brittle under the freezing conditions (it was the coldest launch to date by over 10 degrees and ice was seen on the launch platform.) 
The reason that they chose to launch, even under extreme conditions, was that they had chosen to interpret the partial failures of the O-rings in previous launches to be a normal and expected feature instead of a warning sign of a serious problem with that crucial component. 
(The original specifications did not include tolerances for "partial failures" and over the previous 24 successful launches NASA engineers created tolerances for "partial failures" based on the observed deterioration of the O-rings after each launch.) 
So, ultimately the cause of the disaster was NASA's cultural tendency to keep things running rather than face the fact that they had serious problems that needed to be resolved. 


Teach Attitude To Address Real Problems
Since the children have already been born, the decision to launch under challenging conditions has already been made. 
Our society has many years of experience to show that most kids will survive school and so we have developed tolerances to partial failure rates. We accept as normal the following warning signs: 
  • many children hate school
  • children are isolated in age segregated groups, unlike the rest of society 
  • many children show the clinical symptoms of stress as early as third grade, and 
  • most classrooms are essentially dictatorships in a supposedly democratic society.
And we take as dire warning signs irrelevant information like international comparisons of unrelated test scores. 
We have a culture of schooling that prefers to keep things going in the usual way in spite of the signs of real problems that need to be resolved. 


If parents are NASA, then schools are Morton Thiokol, the supplier of the critically important O-rings. 
What schools supply is about a third to a half of every child's waking experiences from the ages of about 6 to 18. 


What specifications for this component of a child's life should guide the work of teachers? 
Currently under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation our federal government is demanding schools deliver better standardized test scores. 
The assumption is that teachers are responsible for delivering units of knowledge, skill, and information that are supposedly measured by those tests. 
But, are measurable units of knowledge, skill and information really needed? 
Eventually, yes, but those kinds of units are not the most basic elements of what children need to develop during childhood, test scores are not the right stuff for elementary age kids.


Teach Attitude for Survival
No amount of schooling or units of knowledge, skill or information as measured on standardized tests is going to help in the event of disasters or major accidents. 
What will make the difference is attitude. 
Psychologist Dr. Al Seibert found that there are no distinguishing demographic features of survivors of major accidents and disasters; no amount of schooling or academic skill is going to help if something goes majorly wrong. 
To prepare a child to survive a disaster you have to equip him/her with a variety of ways to achieve and maintain optimal states of mind. 
In plain terms this means that in order to survive a disaster your child has to be able to change their own mind from the naturally occurring state(s) of panic, anger, confusion, etc. to a state that allows them to focus on their immediate situation and act effectively to ensure their survival. 


As a teacher I do not want to be the one who looks back after one of my students has tragically died and realize that I was more concerned with their attendance, grades and delivering academic units rather than developing the kind of attitude that could have helped her to survive. 
Nor do I want have to be (nor face) the bereaved parent who valued obedience, test scores and academic performance more than their child's attitude towards life and learning. 


Teach Attitude for Thrival
Attitude is both the key to surviving adversity and the most basic foundation for building a good life. 
Attitude is more basic, more elementary, than academics. 
Elementary school needs to be about attitude, not academics. 
Academic knowledge, skills and information are important, but only after they can be acquired in the context of a good attitude towards life and learning. 
Attitude is the critical O-ring that elementary schools supply and if students leave elementary school with a bad attitude, or an O.K. attitude that is too brittle to withstand the challenges ahead, then they have been cheated. 


We, as a society, have discovered that we are headed towards a dead end and we need to launch ourselves and especially our children onto a sustainable course if we want humanity to survive. 
There is no reasonable doubt that difficulties are coming, the only question is who has the right stuff to survive and thrive through the transition period. 
We already have enough knowledge, skills and information so the only question is whether we have the right stuff, the right attitude, to survive. 
The job of parents and teachers today is to make sure that, even if our own elementary schooling was all about academics, our children's elementary school is all about attitude. 
Do we teach attitude by accident or on purpose?

02 August 2018

Attitude Can Save Your Life: Towards a Metaphorical Definition of Attitude for Teachers

We need a definition of attitude in order to teach it. 

There is an informal consensus that, "Attitude can be your best friend or your worst enemy." 
Attitude is the one factor that is universally acknowledged to be capable of overcoming every possible disadvantage. 
Attitude is also the one factor the can destroy the benefits of every possible advantage. 
But, why is that? 


In the 1990's I met Al Seibert, author of several books, who did a study about what distinguishes folks who survive tragedies and serious accidents of all kinds from those who don'’t. 
What he found was that regardless of schooling, net worth, role in society, or any other demographic feature, those who survive have access to particular states of mind even under the most trying of circumstances. 
It was their approach to the world or their way of thinking about the world or the ways that they manage their thoughts and feelings when the world presents them with unexpected situations, that distinguished survivors from those who died under similar circumstances. 


This finding was long preceded, and perhaps the study itself was inspired by, the observation of concentration camp survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl that attitude is the ultimate human freedom. 
No one can ever take away from anyone else the ability to choose their state of mind in the face of any circumstance that befalls them. 
In other words, no one can take away your ability to choose your attitude. 
Of course, there are a variety of dispositional factors (genetic and otherwise) that influence your ability to control your attitude and there are also a variety of social factors that influence the opportunities to develop the skills for conscious control of your own attitude, but there is nothing in either the realms within you or the realms outside of you that can ever make your choice of attitude totally predictable. 
In short, what distinguishes those who handle crisis well is what we call, in common everyday parlance, their attitude. 


According to the definition of attitude in Dictionary.com it is a noun meaning: 
  1. A position of the body or manner of carrying oneself. 
  2. A state of mind or a feeling, a disposition. 
  3. The orientation of an aircrafts axes relative to a reference line or plane such as the horizon. 
  4. The orientation of a spacecraft relative to the direction of motion. 
  5. A position similar to an arabesque in which a ballet dancer stands on one leg with the other raised either in front or in back and bent at the knee.


Literal Definition of Attitude

But we do not mean the literal aspects of the definition of attitude, that is, the position of something in space. 
There are five definitions for the word and three and a half of those definitions were talking literally about the position of objects in space; a ballet dancer, a spacecraft, an aircraft, or your body. 
I said three and a half because the first definition of attitude mentions "a position of the body," which is literal but also mentions the "manner of carrying oneself" which is ambiguous. 
The "self" can refer to the "body-as-self" or the "psychological self" and if it is referring to the psychological self then in this definition of attitude the term is being used metaphorically. 


Metaphorical Definition of Attitude

It is the metaphorical use in the second definition of attitude, in particular, where the idea is that attitude is "a state of mind" that is crucial.
This idea is central to understanding how important attitude is. 


There is no such thing as a literal state of mind. 
As philosopher Mark Johnson and Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff point out in their book Philosophy in the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999), "The mind is what thinks, perceives, believes, reasons, imagines, and wills. But as soon as we try to go beyond this [literal,] skeletal understanding of mind, as soon as we try to spell out what constitutes thinking, perceiving, and so on, metaphor enters. …[M]etaphors are necessary for any detailed reasoning about mental acts." 
Since most people are used to thinking of metaphors as fluffy literary flourishes rather than a very deep structural element of human understanding, as cognitive scientists have only recently discovered, do not be surprised if you have a hard time getting a handle on the idea.


So, the phrase "state of mind" is a metaphorical construction that suggests that the entity that thinks, perceives, believes, etc. is like a literal object that has distinct states, such as doors that can be open or closed, or switches that can be turned on or off. 
Attitude refers to the way in which your mind, that part of you that thinks, perceives, believes, reasons, imagines, and wills, is oriented relative to the circumstances both within you, as genetic and habitual dispositions, and outside of you, such as the organizational, cultural, social, and ecological roles that you play. 
The states referred to in the definition of attitude are different orientations of the thinker, perceiver, believer, etc. in relation to it’s circumstances. 


So let me break that down a little more so that it’s clearer. 


Mind as Space Shuttle 

First of all, there is you, or at least the part of you that thinks, perceives, believes, etc. 
Let’s use the space shuttle as a literal object to represent you. 


Second there are several kinds of things within you that you relate to. 
There are the things inside of you, like your genetic disposition, which are similar to the mechanical sub-systems that comprise what we know as the shuttle. 
There are also some things inside you that change as you grow and do things, your habits and other things you have learned, which we will pretend are the astronauts that fly the shuttle. 


Third there are things outside of you that you relate to. 
Such as the organization you work in, the society you belong to, and the ecologies that are affected by all those things. 
For our illustration here we will imagine that NASA is the organization and the United States is the society while the whole earth will represent the ecologies. 


So, believe it or not we now have a common sense way of understanding why some people will survive serious accidents and tragic events and others die. 
There are two especially risky times in the course of a Space Shuttle flight, launch and re-entry, and both shuttles that have been tragically lost were lost in one or the other of those times. 


So now I will show how the shuttle as mind metaphor is apt and how it helps us better understand the concept of attitude. 
First of all, remember what attitude is literally; the orientation of an object, normally the body, in space, often relative to some frame of reference such as the horizon, the direction of motion or to standard ballet poses. 


Under the extreme conditions of accidents or when tragedy strikes, what happens to the mind? 
According to studies on states of mind the most common result is cognitive chaos and the simplification of thought processes. 
Experientially they occur as negative states of mind such as confusion, panic, anger, depression, etc. 
What distinguishes those who survive accidents and tragedies is the ability to transition themselves from the negative states of mind that naturally occur into states that are less negative and more functional for meeting the direct needs of immediate survival. 


The survivor is able to create order in their consciousness and effectively prioritize what aspects of the situation need immediate attention. 
So, returning to the analogy of the space shuttle, when extreme conditions occur there are three predictions that we can make about the shuttle and by extension about the significance of attitude. 


Making Predictions

The first prediction is based on the basic design of the space shuttle. 
The prediction we can make is that all space shuttles that do not have the right attitude during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere will be destroyed. 
During the re-entry phase of the shuttle flight we know that extreme heat is generated by the friction of the atmosphere on whatever surfaces of the shuttle faces in the direction of the shuttles motion. 
Therefore, every single shuttle that does not take a "Tiles First" attitude by facing the black ceramic insulating tiles into the direction of motion during re-entry will be destroyed. 
Guaranteed.


The second prediction is based on the facts of the second shuttle disaster in which the black ceramic insulating tiles that protect the shuttle during re-entry were irreparably damaged during the launch phase. 
The second prediction is that every shuttle that suffers substantial irreparable damage to their insulating tiles will also be destroyed. 
The "Tiles First" attitude is not enough to guarantee the safe re-entry of every single shuttle flight, but it is the only attitude under those circumstances in which survival is even possible. 


Now let’s think about the application of these first two predictions to minds. The first prediction would be that during times of extreme duress all minds that do not have the right attitude will be destroyed. 
The data confirms this. 
People who panic, or otherwise cannot escape a negative state of mind, die when extreme life threatening circumstances occur. 
Second, every mind that has suffered damage that makes the attainment of positive states of mind impossible will also die under extreme life threatening conditions. 
This is basically obvious. 


The first two predictions we made about the shuttle and then by metaphoric extension about the mind are not difficult to understand and they are supported by either data or common sense. 
The third one is a little more challenging and I don’t know if there is data to substantiate it, though I do believe it is true. 
It is having a sense of this prediction that motivates me to work towards changing what we consider to be elementary in elementary education.


The third prediction is based on the first shuttle accident, so, in case you do not recall, the first shuttle accident was discovered to be the fault of a defective o-ring in one of the booster rockets. 
This defect was detected during the manufacturing process, but the culture of the organization, the organizational attitude, if you will, was such that the defect went unremedied and the shuttle along with it’s crew were tragically destroyed as a result. 
(The book, What Do You Care What Other People Think? includes the story of the shuttle disaster from the perspective of Richard Feynman who helped with the congressional investigation.) 
The resulting prediction is that if external conditions that influenced the current physical manifestation of the shuttle were unable to support the robust on-going correction of flaws, then the destruction of the shuttle is more likely. 


The third prediction applied to mind is, if the external conditions that influence minds during their development are unable to support the robust on-going correction of flaws then destruction is more likely during extreme events. 
This raises three important questions, what constitutes a flaw in the mind, what constitutes a correction of a mind flaw, and what are the most influential external conditions during human development. 


The Only Flaw That Matters

My work is based on promoting the idea that the only flaw that matters is not having access to optimal states of mind. 
Correcting that flaw is achieved by practicing a variety of ways to achieve optimal states of mind under normal conditions, so that if extreme conditions occur then the individual will be more likely to be able to access them. 
In other words, I put attitude first, before academics, before grades, before test scores, before everything else. 
Because when the snot hits the fan, it is my student’s attitude that is going to matter, not their obedience, not their attendance, not their grades, none of the stuff that is given undue importance in elementary education.


Teaching, parenting and peer culture are the primary external conditions that influence the development of human minds, at least in the first fifteen years or more. 
Since I do not envy the person who ignored or dismissed the flaw in the shuttle o-ring, I am not interested in being the teacher or parent who loses a child in some tragic turn of events only to realize that I valued that child’s obedience, attendance, or grades more than the cultivation of their ability to access the optimal states of mind that might have helped them survive. 


Thus I have made very deliberate choices about the kinds of teaching that I provide. 
I avoid situations that would have me herd kids like goats and manage their behavior without adequate opportunities to develop the kind of open-ended leadership practice that I honed during my years as a private teacher home schooling other people’s kids. 
Thus the mainstream choices of teaching in classrooms or in situations that occur around classroom schedules, like after school programs, are problematic for me. 
Other people are comfortable with more focus on specific instruction, so they can be good teachers within the classroom, or in out-of-school programs, but my personal disposition and style are not often well supported in typical mainstream classrooms. 


My goal now is to develop ways to teach teachers, rather than kids. 
I want to help teachers learn the value of putting attitude first, so they will know that they have provided their students with learning opportunities that make a real difference and also that they are providing themselves, personally, with the best possible quality of life. 


As John Dewey wrote in 1938, "We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything." 
The strategy of putting attitude first has the benefit of preparing a young mind for not only the worst that can happen, but also prepares them to take full advantage of the very next moment. 
To revise Dewey’s statement, I suggest that if we can achieve a good attitude in the present moment, then that is the best preparation for achieving good attitudes in every subsequent moment. 
Discovering how to achieve a good attitude is the only preparation that amounts to anything in the long run.