How Values Help me Understand (or Cope with) My Personal Paradoxes

When sharing the education systems I have designed with new parents and students, we often touch upon a slightly uncomfortable subject.

“So which class are your kids in?”, the parents ask upon learning I have a daughter who would fit into the school environment.

“Well, my kids don’t go to school, they are learning at home” is my usual response. It leaves me feeling kind of awkward, like I am selling something I don’t believe in myself. The thing is, I have always believed fully in the schools I have worked in, otherwise I would not choose to work in such an environment.

Reflecting on this, I realize there are a few spots in life where paradoxes exist. What I have come to understand is that I am in fact far from conflicted… I am energized working in these areas due to shared values. Here are a few examples of where under the apparent conflict lies a deeper alignment.

I am an Ed-Tech Expert who believes in low-tech learning

From an early age I was kind of fascinated with technology. Go and ask my dad, who learned each evening I had spent a chunk of my day as a 2 year old undoing his carefully sawdered Apple 2.

Despite being deeply in love with the outdoors, I also spent a good amount of my teenage years playing video games in a dark basement. Even more interesting than the games was the tinkering computers enabled. I was able to design homes in 3D, play around with design concepts, and create my own travel guides using the technology that had just entered the home as I became a teenager.

I found these skills always supported me in unique ways. I was able to create beautiful research posters in my undergrad degree, attracting the attention of scientists keen to recruit my skills. I learned enough about architecture to build two houses using my own blueprints. With this in mind, I felt a keen interest in furthering my learning with a Masters in Education Technology, applying lifelong skills to my profession.

Despite this, when I design what I believe is an ideal learning environment I make every effort to push technology to the periphery. I don’t want my students learning about technology. I seek above all to have learners engage in meaningful endeavors with other humans. I would be happy to have a day where the learners I work alongside never see a screen. It is a mark of pride when that benchmark is hit.

However, technology is a powerful enabler. As I experienced, it opens up new opportunities, and can act as a powerful creative tool. Furthermore, the pedagogy that supports much of education technology shares so many values that I feel are core to learning in general. Agency, inquiry, collaborative learning, and project based learning align well with the approaches that underpin Edtech.

I am a Blockchain Geek who owns Zero Cryptos

Back when the first bitcoin came into existence, I got really really excited. My anti-establishment curiosity was peaked, and I spent ages trying to figure out how I could get hold of a few bitcoins for kicks. My attention span got the better of me, and I left it to lie as a cool ‘screw the man’ talking point.

When Ethereum was released, I again found myself excited by the growth of a decentralized system. The internet, which formed as I came of age, shared many of these open values. How powerful of an idea, digital tokens that had the potential to cut out manipulations of often corrupt governments. I bought a few (it was easier this time) and played around with the idea… actually I literally played around alongside a whole middle school of kids with the hundred dollars I had put into my ether.

Digital Currencies turned out to be perfect for playing role playing games on an epic scale, and because the technology was so ‘wild west’ I was able to get 10 year old kids to open accounts and transfer Dogecoin to each of them. We played some pretty epic games, like New States of Atlantis and Utopia/Dystopia using Bitcoin and Dogecoin as our in game currency.

I found myself with something that was quickly gaining in value. There was a palpable excitement as I watched my money grow hour by hour, refreshing the tickers often to see me become richer (well, in a very humble sense) by the hour. I am unsure what triggered me exactly, but around that time I found that my headspace was becoming clogged with something meaningless. As somebody who has avoided investments due to it not aligning with my value that only work should reap rewards, it was kind of ironic that I found myself obsessing over this. It turns out, I am not alone in feeling this shift in mindset, as Daniel Pinchbeck describes in his article “The Great Unbundling”.

So I unloaded every wallet I had, clearing my crypto assets like they were toxic. It mattered little to me that they were lower than the peak a few months before, I just wanted to find the peace of mind. From my perspective, the values underpinning cryptos had moved from snubbing the system to exemplifying it.

I still hope for the blockchain to reform parts of our society, but will wait until the values it stands for realign with my own. I know many projects that are already doing this, and hope to be part of them. Projects such as Ekta, The Helium Network, PlanetWatch, and Powerledger are already doing this. However, the mainstream view of the Blockchain is that of a get rich quick scheme.

Finally, I am a School Designer who unschools my own kids

As mentioned back at the start of this tale, it is a conflict that is a bit of a head scratcher.

I have worked in some of the most amazing schools on the planet. Green School, a bamboo cathedral where outdoor classrooms meet mud wrestling. Real School, a school designed after my vision of what a school could be, with cross school projects taking the majority of the term.

However, I still find that I cannot make a convincing argument for why my own kids should go to school. If they want to, that is another story, but for now they are pretty happy learning through life, mostly at home, but also with specialists throughout the community.

The schools I work at do share many of the values which I feel important in our decision to keep our kids out of them. There is more agency and student choice. There is a deep focus on well-being, both of oneself and their community. Both the schools and our home environment work towards creating a constructive space that does not judge, but feeds back with the individual’s progress at the heart.

If my daughters do decide one day that school is something they wish to participate in, I hope that my hard work in the education system today leads to a better, healthier, and more diverse experience for them. In the mean time, I am constantly learning from the two worlds I inhabit; the formal school world, which increasingly shows signs of wanting to break with tradition and create a better version of itself, and my role as a parent who is constantly impressed with how natural and easy learning comes to young people when they are given the space to do so.

The personal paradox, it seems, is less about a conflict of interest and more about a synthesis of differing worldviews.

Noan is an overall green fellow, with lots of expertise in how to best live sustainably, teach sustainability to our future generations, and love nature