Monday, May 28, 2018

When the 4-year undergraduate degree stops being “the thing”, will high school have an identity crisis?

There are so many hollowed-out Main Streets in America that one hardly needs to recount the story of what happened when shop-retail gave way to big-box retail. And there is an even uglier asphalt wilderness left behind when big-box retailers bankrupted each other, and then ultimately lost to online shopping. People in small towns still need a Main Street that is about strengthening families, civic engagement, getting outside, and supporting the arts. But in many towns where retail stood in for those goals, its demise meant the demise of greater Main Street, too.

In case you didn't know,
college is the thing to do!
We shouldn’t let that happen to secondary education! Teen learning should be an exploratory and idiosyncratic process. It should be the recognition of one’s place in a historical continuum-- deference and respect for those who came before, curiosity and identification with one’s local and religious community, and an emerging sense of duty to contribute further to it. It should be many brave attempts, numerous failures, and the first glimpses of opportunity.

But in most high schools, it’s not.
The culminating moment. 
Rather, the association with college preparation has become so pervasive that many accept the two as inextricable.

Just as retail is not civic engagement, nor are preparatory classes and obligatory service assignments human exploration and growth opportunities (don’t let those college essays fool you!). Quite the opposite.

For the most ambitious teens, a fixation on grade-point average, class rank, and what “looks good” on a resume squeeze out time for real intellectual exploration (is there really time to pick up a book, even an article, of one’s own choosing?), limit risk-taking, and preempt the budding of a spontaneous, judging, moral self with a contrived, mechanical, inert and compliant self that ticks off the boxes of grades, sports, and volunteerism.

For teens that don’t show ambition, struggle with behavior, or admit that they’d rather be someplace else, high school is an externally-applied machinery to which they are subjected for 7 hours each day. And that raises a million other questions that we should be thinking about. Is conceptual dialogue meaningful, even possible, when forced against the participant’s will? Is there a point to content recollection when it’s almost immediately forgotten? Is the effort to achieve measurable, standardized results placing an abstract social prerogative ahead of the human being that’s subjected to this process? More simply, if you were forced to sit through this against your will at age 40, would you resist?

And yet we not only accept, but endorse high school’s current role. Why? Because it is preparing a generation of teens for college-- that great ‘transformative’ journey of lectures, projects, parties, sex and debt sewn into the quilt of American coming-of-age. High schools measure their worth on the percentage of graduates heading to 4-year colleges. They adorn their entry halls with commendations of the college-acceptances of their seniors. The whole junior and senior curriculum is built around college prep and advanced college credit. Counsellors, teachers, and administrators strenuously shepherd wavering teens back into the flock, moving forward in unison toward one certainty. The thing to do is college.

But what will happen when college is no longer “the thing” to do?

There are predictions of a college enrollment implosion and of a slow decline. Personally, I think if we are to take cues from the housing sector, we’ll see a loss of confidence in securitized student loans, a shake-up of political commitment to Sallie Mae, a spike in student loan interest rates and further defaults. We’re already seeing the rise of microcredentials, loss of distinguishing value in a Bachelor’s Degree, multinational recruitment and distribution of tasks across an increasingly anglophone world talent population. None of that bodes well for the last sheep to be herded toward American college admission, and what today averages $36,000 (public in-state), $100,000 (public out-of-state), or $136,000 (private) for four-year enrollment.

What could the “next thing” look like? I think it will be 18-25 year-olds who continue studying on Coursera and Udemy and other coursewares to achieve specific skills targeting work opportunities that they are undertaking in parallel. I think it will be young people living from one Airbnb to the next in shared spaces in large cities. I think it will be a blending of micro-credentials and internships, whereby those who invest the most in social networking, build their LinkedIn referrals and recommendations, demonstrate jobs well-done and connect themselves to promising projects will emerge with more opportunities. I think teams will increasingly form around temporary projects, but the breadcrumbs of their shared interests and positive feedback will contribute to new forms of validation, more timely, specific and discriminating than undergraduate alma maters. This has the potential to be hugely empowering to brilliant, hard-working people from very low-income backgrounds, at the same time that it’s horribly unsettling to the parents of low-ambition, go-through-the-motions teens from middle-income America.

[Don’t get me wrong, professional certification will still have its role. Surgeons, dentists, operators of heavy machinery, and hundreds more job classifications will require special training in state-accredited programs, culminating in tests and certification. But the presumption that the 4-year undergraduate degree is the precursor to such specific study will be broken.]

Which brings me back to high school. It’s one thing to turn one’s tassle, take a life-guarding job for the summer, and self-importantly drive off to University X in September. Administrators and parents applaud a job well done, and dust their hands of another class. But it’s something very different to factor quadratic equations one day, and struggle to self-network, set up temporary domicile, build reputation and secure health insurance the next. John Knowles expresses nostalgia for those last months of adolescent boys’ innocence, awaiting a WWII draft in A Separate Peace. For today’s young people, it’s not so much a leap from innocence, as an incompetent, self-absorbed, and morally empty tripping into a hyper-cost-conscious, commoditized, automated, decentralized, transient, unforgiving reality, to which their “preparation” has been exactly wrong. For those touted as the brightest students, the narcissistic emphasis on self-enrichment, individual achievement, and stylized pretending at community engagement instill attitudes and behaviors that adults would find abhorrent to work with in a team, to manage as an employee, or to be married to. For those that endured, rather than enjoyed high school, it’s hard to say what could have been of those years. Dreams, creativity, rebellious spirit and outside commitments have been hollowed out by a relentless daily process into which those things didn’t serve any purpose. They will have to recover and rebuild a part of their intrinsic selves. Young adulthood will not consist of gym coaches, history tests and algebraic equations, after all, but the potential energies of these students will have to be discovered from scratch.

I know I’m making gross simplifications. I know that numerous teachers are reaching above and beyond to identify students’ special capacities, to encourage extra-curricular projects and increasingly to train in vocational skills. But here’s the point. These are added-onto a thing that is called high school, where pre-defined curricula, standardized testing, arbitrary timing, and college prep are at the core. My argument might come across as a No shit moment, but it’s precisely because we accept these things as the DNA of high school, that high school cannot adapt to what’s coming.

So what comes next? I believe that an alternative model for teen learning is emerging at the periphery. Homeschooling was the first wave, but the mainstream looked at is as inaccessible-- too demanding of parents, too nerdy, too weird. Even among homeschoolers, few continue through the teen years, and very few take a try-and-see, exploratory approach (the most common posting on homeschool Facebook groups, I think, is “Can anybody recommend a curriculum for my xx-year old?”). But the very small try-and-see group is onto something. Their teens remain close to their parents, follow social and political issues, read books out of curiosity, visit foreign universities, speak multiple languages, intern at real jobs, participate at their churches, and volunteer when nobody is keeping track.

I believe we can learn from and expand this approach through a million local efforts in families, community groups, churches, synagogues and mosques.
Learning cluster in Kabul,
Afghanistan. Learn more about them at:
I believe that a new format called “cluster learning” will foster thoughtful, creative, and brave young people from the roots of parents, pastors and mentors. They’ll meet in living rooms and coffee shops and church basements. They’ll be a tangle of laptop chargers and headsets, a jumbled bunch of different-aged young people reading and skype-chatting with tutors and taking online courses, in between talking with their supervising mentor, or playing frisbee together at the park. They’ll come and go some months studying, and some at a homestay in another country, at an internship or visiting a university campus.
This learning cluster in Bo City, Sierra Leone,
is still short of furniture, but students are pretty happy
to be working with tutors and mentors,
taking university-level courses and one-on-one
chats for $24/month.
It won’t look like much, and it might take a few more years than high school, but each one will be navigating her own path, racking up her own kind of credentials, and moving eyes-wide-open into the new adult reality.

Defenders of high schools have already tried all means of discrediting this movement (religious fanatical, neo-conservative, anti-diversity, etc), but it won’t help their identity crisis. And when some states introduce vouchers, the exodus of the brightest, most self-disciplined and motivated students toward cluster-learning will strengthen the perception that public high schools are behavior-management facilities. Their adherence to group-management and an outcomes-driven approach will deepen their alienation from individualized learning, as their identity crisis goes from bad to worse.

Could high schools be saved from becoming the next shuttered Main Streets? Yes, but like Main
Don't let these become another
asphalt wasteland.
Street retailers, a massive and irreversible dislocation is coming. Unless states can loosen rules governing standardization and outcomes-focus in secondary education, high schools themselves
Maybe time for another sofa.
will have to stop being high schools in order to be relevant. If they can reinvent themselves, they are local assets that could be re-modeled as smaller, cozier, flex-use spaces offering ready mentors, tutors, wifi, devices and other resources. (Personally, I would prefer a comfy Airbnb space or a coffee shop, but hey, some people dig painted cinder blocks and Lysol-smell).

I hope that the transition can be a productive one, like the small towns that have creatively re-invented their Main Streets. Parents and community leaders should look at 15 and 17-year olds as emerging 20- and 25-year olds. They need choice, risks, and agency in their lives. Because the “next thing” is going to be a lot less comfortable and certain than it was before.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What’s the difference between an identity-verified certificate and course-credit?

It seems like an obvious enough question. Imagine arriving at Walmart and being presented with a pre-filled shopping cart at a price far beyond what you had wanted to spend and containing numerous items you could see that you didn’t want. You could alternatively take your own cart, walk up and down the aisles and select merchandise yourself, and it would cost 1/100th of the pre-fill price to get the products you actually wanted.
Everyone looks up to you when you're
pushing this shopping cart 

Sounds like a ridiculous choice, right? But try to imagine that the pre-filled shopping cart is the socially-prized way to shop. You had to compete through a tortuous and uncertain process to have the right to purchase it, and your family and community congratulated you when you got that chance. It represents belonging to something. It comes with a bumper sticker and a sweatshirt that tell everyone you’ve got this cart. And it’s so overpriced and laiden with unnecessary extras, that it seems like only people of a higher caliber are pushing this kind of cart around. 

If you’re the parent of a 16-18 year-old, you know what I’m talking about.

Not that a la carte shopping in higher education is anything new. Udemy was founded in 2009, Udacity in 2011, edX, Coursera and FutureLearn in 2012. Identity-verified course certificates soon followed, along with subscription-based specializations. Technology that tracks students' eye movements holds promise to improve student engagement and identity-assurance. The potential unbundling of how young people study, explore and certify is more than six years old, but the preference for the pre-filled shopping cart stubbornly remains.

Let’s consider some prices. University of Michigan offers a 5-course specialization in Applied Data Science with Python on Coursera. With each course fairly intensive and requiring 4 weeks, let’s assume equivalent of 8 “credit hours” for the whole specialization. Coursera offers the first 7 days free, and then charges $49 per month to continue. So that’s just under 250 bucks. On campus in Ann Arbor as a part-time undergrad in the Computer Science Department, you’d pay $6,832 as a Michigan resident and $17,880 as a non-resident for those 8 credits (you’d save only slightly by enrolling full-time). MIT, the incubator of edX, has put a huge stock of courseware onto MIT OCW for free. But 8 credit hours physically in Cambridge, MA would cost just under $25,000. The student could also have chosen Codecademy, Hackerrank, or Udemy as pathways to mastering Python and machine-learning, making great strides for well under $100.

The continuing preference of families/government/large employers/schools/communities that teens should be channeled toward a 4-year undergraduate degree based on competitive selection, full-time enrollment, and single-institution loyalty seems like an irrational consumer decision. But its persistence shows us how powerfully social cues drive our behavior. The fact that University of Michigan, Yale, Harvard, MIT and scores of other high-priced universities give away their course content free or nearly free, indicates how strongly they expect young people and future employers to differentiate an online, identity-verified course certificate from “credit,” and that from “degree-granting credit”. High schools establish the basis for this difference with Advanced Placement tracks, usually a very narrow selection of courses promising potential college “credit” if students perform well on exams. The same credibility is not given to an identity-verified certificate from any of the thousands of online university courses that a teen might take. The message is clear: those courses “don’t count”.

This view is underscored in American education policies. A 2017 Brookings study examines high-performing secondary students in a sample of states where high schools send students to community colleges to take advanced classes not available on their premises. The report concludes that the additional cost is not warranted, and that “the public cost for a high school student to take a three-credit class via dual enrollment was actually higher than if the student waited to complete high school and took the same three-credit class once she got to college”. The use of the term “credit” as a presumed currency deserves greater attention. Why had the researchers not compared the costs of students walking down the hall to an open room with wifi, logging into edX accounts, and taking any one of thousands of university courses, or tutorials on Udemy or Udacity for that matter? The policy implications go further. Families can only apply 529 educational savings distributions to “for-credit” tuition costs (and since January, up to $10,000 per year for K-12 school tuition). FAFSA assesses need-based financial aid of “for-credit” enrollment. Student loans are defined, and interest eligible for tax credit, when applied to “for-credit” study. “Credit” is more than just a word. It has become the underlying justification for the irrational, over-priced product bundle that is the “undergraduate degree”.

Bryan Caplan’s January 2018 critique of the 4-year undergraduate degree should be required reading for parents, counsellors and teens. He takes on the well-guarded myth that college is a transformative experience, repeated ad nauseum in college promotional materials, that it turns young people into critical thinkers or develops a lifelong love of learning. University promoters talk about some kind of alchemy in the classroom where smart young people and brilliant professors get together and "something magic happens" as one university president called it. But Caplan presents embarrassing data about how little effort most students put into it, how little is remembered, how little is applied later, and how overwhelmingly more stock is placed in the diploma-paper than the entire process. 

Understanding our strange preference for bundling makes us ask a few things about our motivations for learning in general. Do consumers find utility in the incremental process-- that is, conversations, ideas, histories, methods, problems? If we saw utility in each of these things, then we would want to assign value accordingly. We would be like cable customers who really want to know whether the phone, data and television plans serve us better individually or all together. After all, who would sign onto a cable bundle that they knew cost more than all the individual parts?

But then again, maybe if we saw value in these things, our teens would already be on Udemy and edX. We’d be inside of libraries more often. We’d be making and doing things that didn’t award “credit”.

But maybe many of us aren’t sure about the value of the incremental learning process, and that’s precisely why we continue purchasing bundles. If that’s the case, then the sweatshirt, the bumper
It feels good to have a college sweatshirt
in this group. 
sticker, the camaraderie of other elite shoppers, and ultimately resting our heads on our pillows at night knowing that our confused/unambitious/uncertain/wandering teen has “made it”, is really what we’re after. 

And that’s OK.

As long as I’m not the one paying for it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

BreakAway Learning Project: Kabul

What is BreakAway Learning? Our Kabul cluster explains the simple and radically individualized approach to learning, ahead of our May 15th first Indiegogo launch.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What do we mean by Equality when we're talking about teen education?

What is equality? And when some of us get together talking about secondary education, why do I get the feeling we’re talking about different things?

Alexis De Tocqueville sees human equality as an inexorable force driving the ceaseless advance of democracy. He writes about equality in the opening of Democracy in America, “it is universal, it is lasting, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress.” Equality then, is an undeniable fact. Human exertions continually reveal it, “some unknowingly and some despite themselves,” and thus what Fukuyama calls The March of Equality toward the ultimate political model, continues unstoppable.

The view of human equality as self-evident is central to the Jeffersonian view of democracy. Neither he nor Locke believed in an equality of physical endowments or intellectual capability (Jefferson was an aristocrat and slave-owner), but it was the idea of equality in the eyes of God, the equality of claims on life, liberty and happiness, the equality of a right to dignity, that formed the cornerstone of Western liberal democracy. The kind of equality Jefferson was talking about might not be visually evident, but it is morally self-evident that, under the eyes of our Creator, every human equally deserves opportunity and the tools for self-realization.

Education as a vertical
It should be no surprise, then, that underlying our day-to-day interaction with schools, curricula, education policies, and standardized testing, the desire to assert and protect equality motivates us. The No Child Left Behind Act drew on a vision of education as a vertical along which deviation should be minimized; the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 took this construct further--the vertical itself should be revisioned as a model in which everyone is on top.

Everyone is a winner
If education were an Olympic sport, while some teams are doping their athletes, ours would be preparing a hundred gold medals and a podium wide enough to hold all the contestants.

Of course these visual metaphors reflect an ideal behind legislation; in practice, the tools to effect greater equality involve reshuffling students and teachers, focusing time and resources on a few core competencies, standardized testing, and the re-allocation of (mostly state) funds. The focus is not on
When minimizing deviation
means minimizing choice
equal opportunity through individual choices, but toward equal learning outcomes through greater standardization. A key to social fairness, equality in education, according to this OECD policy brief, is enhanced when states minimize the sorting of students by aptitude and “manage school choice to contain the risks to equity”. (italics added)

Equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes can be consistent goals when they relate to essential life skills, particularly literacy and numeracy. These are baseline needs for functioning within an economy, for accessing new knowledge, managing one’s finances and communicating effectively. Governments should place high priority on young people mastering these skills and mastering them consistently.

However, secondary education should be something different. Teens’ strengths and emerging interests become much more diverse than can be well served by a system focused on delivering equal outcomes.

We see, then, a contradiction within the Western ideal of equality as it relates to education. Jefferson described humans that are inevitably equal, against all visible odds, equal in their claim to liberty and their right to their own pursuits. An aristocrat and founder of libraries, he emphasized the importance of cultivating literacy and virtuous citizens, but he also advocated for a very limited government, trusting the “moral sense and sympathetic instinct” of humans to guide their own development. On the other hand, the march toward universal success as a recasting of equality takes as its given that humans are born (or come to kindergarten) distinctly unequal, and that it is the role of an active state, through the narrowing of choices, the selection of a core of knowledge, and testing, to cast a K-12 corridor that reduces variation in outcomes.

The narrowing of choice and emphasis on equal outcomes seems even more inappropriate as the range of freely accessible online learning content has grown exponentially. As Clay Christensen pointed out in his 2010 book, Disrupting Class, the potential for completely individualized, personally-motivated learning has been around for years, but the design of school buildings and classrooms, allocation of teachers and supplies, still tends toward a monolithic, homogeneous process into which the child is inserted. Christensen optimistically predicted a sea-change within a year or two. But students are still covering books in September that reflect a state-endorsed curriculum and multi-year textbook procurement cycles; classes are still geared toward standardized tests.

Many families accept the inevitability of an equal-outcomes, managed-choice approach to secondary education, because it has been seen as inextricably connected to America’s other obsession: college admissions. I wrote about this mythical corridor earlier. Once admitted to college, these teens have grown into a passive, tell-me-what-to-think generation hardly equipped to grab life by the horns.

Plato and Nietzsche shared the view that humans deeply desire the dialectic, the ability to reason, judge, assign value, and have value assigned to ourselves. Hegel called it thymos, a demand for dignity that is an intrinsic part of the human soul. The ability to take up (or put down) a book, to become impassioned about a particular issue and follow it closely, to listen and respond to intrinsic interests within ourselves, to articulate opinions at odds with authority, is essential to our human dignity. But these are nearly impossible to replicate in an environment of homogeneous and predetermined content, and where achievement is measured as content mastery.

Dialectic doesn’t yield results we can benchmark, and so the teen’s desire for dignity and dialectic runs head to head with our social demand for equality of outcomes. And when any learning innovation is ultimately judged by the same measures of standard aptitude, then we are not only suppressing that dignity, we are telling ourselves it doesn’t exist. Even in praising the march toward equality, Fukuyama warned that “we risk becoming secure and self-absorbed last men, devoid of thymotic striving for higher goals in our pursuit of private comforts.”

How to restore the balance of thymos in the teen soul? Families with adult children may have a clue. When the years of tests, grades and admissions have passed, individuals go back to being individuals. Will they visit a library? Read the news? Express concern for others? To start seeing your teen as a human, imagine ahead a few years. When all of the contents of required curricula are forgotten, will the roots of dignity and intellectual curiosity remain? If you’re not sure, it’s time to start planting the seeds.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What's Behind the 'Social Solidarity' that America's Liberal Progressives Feel for Schools?

BreakAway Learning has started to grow organically in Kabul and Bo City, but as I practice our Indiegogo pitch on friends and family in the West, I’m discovering some paradoxical defensiveness about schools. And it’s making me think again about what is social solidarity, particularly in reference to the education of children.

[Parenthetically, I should say that The BreakAway Learning Project is agnostic about school attendance. We create time rotations in our learning clusters that enable teens to continue attending school if they wish, and some of them do. And while I personally think that school regimes suck up young people’s time and energies and convey a view of secondary education as a narrow college-prep corridor, I put my energies into the creation of individualized learning plans for each of our teens. I think if our product is right, teens will decide for themselves what is the best use of their time. Risk-taking and individual agency, after all, are what’s important.]

In the first place, it’s difficult to have an honest conversation about schools without coming across as teacher-bashing. Teachers have assumed a kind of ennobled victimhood in America, such that the only acceptable conversation about them is with regard to needed pay raises, better supplies, etc.
Other industries and services, from airlines to police forces to hospitals, can undergo a tough consumer scrutiny without counter-accusations that the consumer has dehumanized the flight attendant, cop, or nurse. Rather, a system is dysfunctional, and so even the noblest, most capable professional, has disappointed us. Why can’t we have that conversation about schools?

But there’s something else going on, too, and I see it paradoxically in our most affluent, highly-educated, ‘liberal progressive’ class from Alameda to Arlington. It looks like social solidarity, but remote, impersonalized, simultaneously claiming to empower identity while destroying it, celebrating tolerance of every ethos while avoiding identification with any and clearly disdaining people and communities that have one.

--Take for example Matt Damon’s support and narration of Backpack Full of Cash, a documentary funded by the teachers’ federation that criticizes the growth of privately-managed charter schools in Philadelphia, a city with an abysmal school performance record. The film lashes out against re-allocation of public funds to corporate-run schools, but never interviews
any of the students or parents that choose these alternatives. Are those families not also valued decision-makers? (Damon’s own children attend private school). Why in the area of education, particularly, do wealthy people feel so passionate about collective decision-making on behalf of lower-income people, whom they simultaneously lionize and patronize?

--Liberal progressives are hilariously schizophrenic in their love of children, too. They seem to advocate for children more strenuously in the abstract than in the publicly tantruming, snot-dribbling, stick-swinging, sibling-fighting, quick-witted, sarcastic, smart-ass concrete. As one who started having kids when I was still a student, I have advanced from the pity of affluent, middle-aged Georgetown mums (I studied at Montrose Park with #1 in Goodwill front-pack), to frowns and jabs on airplanes as our brood multiplied, to the age-old “helpful” remarks of the sister-feminist at shopping-center-meltdowns (pregnant with #5), You’ve heard of contraception, right? Indeed! It is from the ranks of these abstract, cerebral lovers-of-children, that we seem to hear more self-certain views about how they should be educated and raised, than from the puke-spattered, war-weary parents of actual kids.

--Perhaps the liberal-progressive skepticism toward alternative-education reveals that the core of their mutated-liberalism is not the individual at all (sorry, John Locke), but the collective. Dana Goldstein warns her ideological peers, “Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids” in Slate, “Could such a go-it-alone ideology ever be truly progressive--by which I mean, does homeschooling serve the interests not just of those who are doing it, but of society as a whole?” Wouldn’t a Jeffersonian liberal have held that it is indeed the mosaic of individual decision-making within a limited state that is conducive to, well, life, liberty and some kind of happiness?

--As schools, particularly secondary schools, are not just about literacy and numeracy, but are the incubators of children’s worldviews, I’m startled by the daily deference to an untransparent machinery whose cues and lexicon signal what are acceptable and unacceptable norms. During our first son’s enrollment at a Falls Church public school, we attended a tomahawk-making party on December 22nd. Our second son now studies film at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where
there is a Feminist Club, a Jewish Club, and an African-American Club, and where one unhyphenated prom was followed by Queer-Prom. The absent identifications speak louder than the named ones. Interlochen recently launched a “Community of Care” project to “directly address campus climate issues that leave students feeling marginalized; to promote the identification and sharing of best practices that promote diversity and equity”; the project involves the selective removal and replacement of facilities staff along hard-to-define parameters, seeking, “staff who have increased experience working with diverse populations and demonstrate high levels of cultural competency”. It is just this well-intentioned-seeming social-engineering that may cost a very competent Upper-Peninsula-born landscaper his job this semester, while sending subtle signals to my 16-year old son about what is valued and what is not.

I’m learning a few things about the American elite’s school solidarity these days, like a foreign film you should tell your friends you really enjoyed. It’s a signal that says “I’m diverse and tolerant and open-minded.” The truth that schools are zip-code specific, that real financial choice is out of reach of most families, that some of the most vocal advocates have personally mixed feelings about children, that schools grind individuality out of children, that their emerging expression is preempted by an elaborate signaling of acceptable language and thought, is not discussed at the backyard wine-and-cheese of this cohort. To acknowledge this reality is to stare, slack-jawed and belly-button-scratching at the foreign film and say “Huh?”

Clearly, I have a long way to go in refining my pitch for crowd-funding for BreakAway Learning among the group of Americans with the most financial capability to make a difference. Perhaps if the students in Kabul and Bo City, like Damon’s subjects in Philadelphia or my baby-hauling student self, look pitiful and poor enough, American funders will rally around a good cause. Little will they suspect that these teens are charging forward, becoming masters of coding and artificial intelligence, multi-lingual biochemists, writers and entrepreneurs. Individually and unapologetically, they will outstrip their American peers. Just watch! [And while you're at it, check us out on Indiegogo at ]