Patrick Cook-Deegan: Re-Imagining School and Wayfinding Purpose
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Feb 17, 2018
Guest: Patrick Cook-Deegan Host: Preeta Bansal Moderator: Aryae Coopersmith
Intro: Welcome to Awakin calls. Every Saturday we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways.
Awakin calls are an all-volunteer run offering of Service Space - A global platform founded on the simple principle that by changing ourselves we change the world to create a more compassionate and service oriented society. Thank you for joining us.
Preeta: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening wherever you are in the world. My name is Preeta and I'm really excited to be your host for our weekly global Awakin Call. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Every story is the beginning of a conversation whether it's with ourselves or with others. Across time and culture, stories have been the agents of personal transformation in part because they have the power to change our hearts and our minds. The purpose of these weekly calls is to share stories from incredible change-makers from around the globe. Through conversations with them, our special guest speakers share their personal stories and inspire us, through their actions, their experiences and their insights. Our hope is that these conversations will plant seeds for a more compassionate and service-oriented society while serving to foster our own inner transformation.
Behind each of these calls is an entire team of Service Space volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this beautiful space. We're thankful to them and to all of our listeners for helping to co-create this space. Today we are grateful to have a remarkable guest speaker with us, Patrick Cook-Deegan, whose personal journey is not only inspiring but has had a tremendous impact on many young people. Thanks again for joining today's call. Let's start by anchoring ourselves with just a moment of silence.
Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call. Today we are in conversation with Patrick Cook-Deegan. Here's how the call works. In just a few minutes, our remarkable moderator, Aryae, will engage in a deep dialogue with our speaker, Patrick and by the top of the hour we'll roll into your reflections, any questions and a circle of sharing where we invite all of your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue already so, at any point in this conversation, if you feel you have something you want to share or a question for Patrick, feel free to hit " *6 " on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us at email@example.com. And if you are listening via webcast there is also a place for questions on your screen.
So this week, as I mentioned, we are in conversation with Patrick Cook-Deegan. We have the pleasure of having Aryae Coopersmith who is a remarkable moderator and has spent much of his own life and career empowering not only young people but older people as a human resources executive and specialist. So, Aryae, I will turn it over to you to welcome and introduce Patrick.
Aryae: Thanks so much Preeta. Patrick, we are excited to have you with us today. So thank you for joining us. I'm going to give an intro for Patrick. He is an educator, speaker, wilderness guide focussed on helping young people live more meaningful lives. At Stanford Design School, Patrick launched and now independently directs Project Wayfinder, which seeks to inspire our next generation to become intentional meaning-makers; empowered to contribute to the world around them. They work with schools, offering kids an educational workshop to help equip students to become purposeful navigators of their lives and the world. They also offer summer institutes at leading universities for high school educators to equip them to lead students on the way-finder journey and reflect on their own paths as way-finders.
The term "way finding" comes from an ancient system of navigation used by Polynesians to Voyage thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. In order to determine directions at various times of day and year, these way finders learn to recognize signs and patterns in the natural world such as the position of stars, weather, climate, wildlife species, the nature of the ocean currents, the colors of the sea and sky, and the cloud formation relative to land mass. Way finders share a common values system - respect for the earth, and understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and people, a sense of wonder and, a spirit of exploration.
Patrick came upon the concept during in his own extensive travels in the Far East. Having grown up in Annapolis, Maryland, where he was an all-American lacrosse player and captain of the state championship lacrosse team, Patrick went on his journey to find himself after his sophomore year at Brown University and then again on a longer travel journey after graduating college. For five years, he traveled alone to countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea and Rwanda, including a twenty eight hundred mile solo bike ride through Southeast Asia.
His interest in international travel, adventure, and global justice inspired his work with human rights activists in Myanmar. Patrick was deeply affected by injustices of the world that he witnessed during his travels and while in Cambodia, a friend suggested that he do a ten-day meditation sit that radically changed his life. With a new sense of purpose, Patrick returned to the social sector, energized to help other young people have their own transformative experiences.
In 2007, Patrick began speaking with high school students about the importance of global citizenship, leadership, and self-awareness. He worked with the Palo Alto Unified School District to develop a purpose, a learning curriculum for high school students, which resulted in his incubating Project Wayfinder. So Patrick, again, welcome to our call and thanks for joining us.
Patrick: Yeah, thanks so much for having me this morning.
Aryae: So could we start, maybe, could you tell us a little about Project Wayfinder. How does it work and what do you actually do.
Patrick: It was born when I was a fellow at Stanford Design School. I have been working with adolescents now for 10 years and my key question with all of it, which is fitting to this call, is basically how do you get young people to wake up and how do you get them to have a sense of purpose and how do you help them start to live their own lives. I have been doing a lot of experiential ed(ucation) for the last decade and during that fellowship I wanted to explore what would a curriculum look like, that help students explore these questions.
For two years me, and a co-partner, and a team of about probably 20-30 designers started putting together, like the building blocks of, a curriculum that we now call our student tool kit. It's like a 30-hour curriculum that students do in after-school programs or directly in school. The framework is built off of adolescent development and so starting with self-awareness -- Who am I? What do I value? What do I care about? -- and then understanding and gaining awareness outside myself -- What's going on in the world? What's going on in my community? -- and then the third part is purposeful action so taking those first two tracts and combining them to doing meaningful projects.
So, the curriculum works over a sequence, like either one year, or two year period. This is our third year, it took two years to develop our first big pilot year, so right now our curriculum is being used with about 4000 students in 5 countries and 9 states. And how it works is that teachers come and get trained either at one of our summer institutes or we go to a school and train the teachers and then they use it with their students in school or in an after-school program.
Aryae: How do you find out what effect you're having and what the students actually wind up doing?
Patrick: That's a great question. So, you know, this is our first big pilot year so we're learning a lot and one of our staff members is in pretty regular communication with each of the schools and we are doing pre and post surveys with Stanford Centre for Adolescent Development. So, part of it is through surveys and then we are actually starting to go visit the vast majority of our schools, starting next week. We will be doing user-design interviews and user-experience interviews with the teachers and principal and students. And asking them like what do you like?, what do you not like?, how can we improve?. And, you know, it is that sort of thing that is always going to be being improved but, especially, given this is first year, we are learning a lot. So far the feedback has been pretty positive for a first year pilot program.
Aryae: Wow sounds like a lot of exciting stuff and like you've got your work cut out for you. You talk a lot about purpose on your website and when you talk about Project Wayfinder. How do you define purpose, what is it? How do you talk to teachers and students about purpose?
Patrick: Dr. Bill Dement is a professor of Education at Stanford and he runs the Stanford Center on Adolescence. He is kind of a leading researcher in the world on how adolescents develop the sense of purpose and the way that he defined purpose is something that's meaningful to the self and consequential to the world.
I really like that definition and he is a close collaborator of ours and we use his definition. He spent a few years thinking about it and I like it for a two reasons - one is because it brings together the internal and external - so it has to be meaningful to the self and then it has to be consequential; and we use consequential in like pro-social or compassionate in the world; so it brings together the internal and external component. So when I think of purpose, and people that I know are purposeful, they have some sort of internal motivating drive and like inherent understanding of why they're doing what they're doing, and they're doing it for a reason that bigger than themselves. I've seen a lot of curriculum focus on the external part and a lot on the internal part, and I think of our curriculum as a bridge between the two. And that's kind of what got me excited about trying to do it.
Aryae: Yeah really interesting making the connection that way between which are meaningful for the self and consequential for the world. Do you have exercises or processes that you offer students to get in touch with what is meaningful to them?
Patrick: Yeah. The first third of the curriculum is all about that. For example, one of the first things you do is we have an interview, like a cool interview design sheet where a student will go and interview either their parent or guardian or grandparent and someone that's known them for a really long time about what they've been like in their life and what has seemed important to them. So it actually an interview with someone close to you that knows about you. A lot of the students will actually realize patterns in their life that they might not have noticed before interviewing someone in their life. That's one of the first things we have them do. One of the next activity we have them do is to list out national culture, country, religion, family, all the places that you could get your values from. And we have them examine - one, what are your core values, and two - where did those values come from, and three - how do you feel about that? Which ones are the ones that you've chosen and which ones feel like they've been put on you, and how are you going to navigate that?
Aryae: That's a nice distinction to make between the ones you've chosen and the ones that have been put on you. And I'm sure that that distinction in itself has got to be empowering.
Patrick: Yeah yeah a lot. We work with one place, the Korean American Youth Foundation in New York, an after-school program. Their program leader visited us a few weeks ago and she said during some of the exercises, some of the students figured out kind-of for the first time that a lot of the values that they were reading they weren't choosing and their parents had chosen for them. And just that revelation that you can choose your own values and that you can do that is pretty big for some students. We don't try and sugar coat it by saying "that'll be easy to navigate" or "now you've got it". But I think just that insight into it can be pretty profound for students. The curriculum is designed to help students then navigate that because it's not an easy thing to do. I would guess that the vast majority of people listening to this call have had some struggle navigating that or they probably wouldn't be where they are today. If is was easy to be a human in modernity, then you wouldn't need a curriculum like that, but it's not.
Aryae: I'm curious, if you're talking about Korean students or students from you know maybe traditional kinds of Asian backgrounds, if this gets them into some kind of conflict with their parents.
Patrick: We've done this in Palo Alto where the project started. There's a large percentage of students in one of the high school we pilot at are a lot of first or second generation Asian students. Our actually main pilot partner for two years, i taught at a school called UWC ISAK. It is in Japan and it's students from all over Asia that go. So I would go twice a year for the first three years of the school. And that's actually where we piloted a lot of our curriculum. I wouldn't say that it creates conflict, so much that it opens up questions in conversation.
Sometimes I would say that it surfaces things that they were feeling that they didn't know why or how they were feeling it. I always find it healthier to understand where that's coming from and then have a conversation about it as opposed to not knowing where it's coming from.
Aryae: Yeah I like your language about it better than mine. It's good to open up. I want to talk about Wayfinding because it's obviously central to what you're doing. What I know from what I've seen in your bio is that it was practiced by the agent Polynesians as a way of navigating long distances across the ocean. So can you tell us a little bit about wayfinding, how did you learn about wayfinding? How did you sort of put it together that `this kind of wisdom is applicable in a very different situation with high school students?
Patrick: I'll answer it in a slightly longer way. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, right next to the water. I could walk from my house to the water in fifteen seconds and so I've always been really drawn to the water. This week I've surfed almost every day. I feel really good next to the water and I've always been interested in how people navigated on the water. I got interested in surfing when I moved to California. I started reading about the history of surfing which is a Hawaiian sport. Then I started reading more about Kauai-an culture. The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated archipelago in the whole world where human lives. So they closest place to Hawaii is Southeast Alaska which is like 2100 miles away. And it was one of the last places settled by humans. So if you're getting in a boat from anywhere to get to Hawaii, the likelihood you're just going to bump into it is pretty small. So one of the question that I had is basic - how was Hawaii settled? And as i looked into that I realized that was a question that has been of big debate and scholarship. There is a guy named Nainoa Thompson, who was the Hawaiian guy, a few decades ago asked the same question. He started looking into - how did my people get here? He basically went on a journey and found a teacher who still knew the ancient art of navigation. He went and studied with him. And in the 1970s they did their first journey from Hawaii to Tahiti that hadn't been done in like hundreds of years old using the old style of navigation.
The way that I heard about it is one of my first meditation teachers told a story about wayfinding and Nainoa and Mao when I was on a meditation retreat in New Mexico in 2008. He'd actually gone to high school with Nainoa. He talked a lot about the connection between mindfulness and navigating because of the levels of attunement that your mind needs to make and the subtle shift that you need to be paying attention to all the time. So I got really fascinated by it and I ended up studying animal tracking on and off for like 5 or 7 years and then became really fascinated with Polynesian Wayfinding.
In particular because of some connection to Hawaii and then my own relationship with surfing in the ocean and just every time I go out in the water like I was out yesterday. I'm like a hundred or two hundred yards offshore, and I get kind of scared. And I'm thinking man what if I was one to two thousand miles off the ocean in a boat, not that much bigger than a classroom trying to figure out how to get from here to Hawaii or Hawaii to New Zealand.
Aryae: Yeah I get it. So how is that skill set relevant for young people who may not live near the water and they're just going to high school?
Patrick: Yeah that's a good question. So if you look at how the brain works is that thinking of things in metaphors is often really powerful for helping someone understand something. So if I'm trying to explain to you the neuron-circuitry of the brain and I start using a lot of words that you don't really know, it's really different than if I explained it like a freeway and getting on and off the freeway. The vast majority of our students that don't live near the ocean and they might not ever go on a voyage in canoe. But I think the metaphor of wayfinding, not just Polynesian, but wayfinding at large, and like all the different tradition that hold it in physical navigation is that navigating life I feel like it's way more like figuring out how to navigate in the wilderness or how to navigate on a big body of an ocean, than it is to check off a bunch of boxes and go in a straight line. High school is designed to be a straight line that's possible and you get rewarded for being compliant and checking off the most number of boxes. Then students going to college or the real world and especially with how jobs and the economy and the real world works now. I'm not sure if the students fifteen right now, you could get the tenth smartest people in the room, in the world, and say these are the box that you're going to have to check off to succeed over the next seventy years of your life.
So people just don't know what they're going to need to know over the course of their lives right now, in terms of hard skills and content. But what they are going to need to know is to figure out how to learn what they need to learn, and how to build their relationships, and how to figure out what's meaningful to them. High school is set up on that very industrial model and we don't live in industrial world anymore. We're doing a disservice to our students by training them in that same way. I feel like the metaphor of wayfinding is really powerful in bringing in the idea that non-linearity is okay. And that actually in some ways it takes a lot more skill and persistence and perseverance and awareness to navigate in a non-linear fashion.
Aryae: So you're using wayfinding as a metaphor for non-linearity as opposed to how things seem to work at most high schools where it's linear and industrial and you're giving them a different paradigm for thinking about their lives.
Patrick: Yeah I'll give you one example. You know I work on a team now with Project Wayfinder and almost everything we do is collaborative and as a team. So we don't rank our employees 1 through 15, like I don't give anyone "A"s and if our project fails, say our curriculum fails, it's not because one of us did a bad job, but it is because the team didn't pull it together. And that's how the real world works for the most part. If you're navigating, voyaging, you're on a canoe with 12 or 15 other people, it's not like 3 of you get there and 12 of you don't. Things in the real world are much more collaborative and team based. And if you go to a high school now, most high school not all but most, still rank kids 1 through 435 based on that being called A, B, C, D, and E. Almost the vast majority of way that students are graded is on an individual competitive basis and then they leave. I've never been to a workplace that was like (and I've working on different) "please be as competitive as possible and only look out for yourself and you know that's really what we're going to reward."
Aryae: So, you are Wayfinding as a way of orienting them to a different approach, in your experience, more of a match to the real world.
Patrick: Yeah, or even college, like I had one student who I mentored and he went to a well known school in LA, did fairly well, went to a decent college and get there and totally freaked out because he doesn't know what to do. He goes, well, no one tells me what to do. I don't know how to approach a professor. I don't have that much experience in developing my own project. What do I do for 12 hours a week when I'm programmed for 70 hours a week. That process is a real challenge for me because you are programmed in a certain way and now you are at college and there are no professors that follow you out of class...."oh, let me help you with that...let me make it as easily possible for you." You know, so, once you get into college or a job, it's way more than what you make of it. So, that's one of the things we try teaching our students. We call it 'how to create opportunities for ourselves'. I think the people that are thrive the most in the 21st century are ones that know how to create opportunities for themselves and not wait around for them.
Aryae: Now, I want to take a step back. You travel around the world and you have all kinds of experiences. You got very concerned about injustices and you got all kinds of issues that you could've focused on for your purpose. So, you know, why high school? What led you to focus on high school?
Patrick: I think I went a big public high school in Maryland with 2000 students. In many ways it's a classic high school. I had a good time, but at the same time, it felt totally meaningless. So, I barely brought home my backpack. I got good grades, but basically I was rewarded for memorizing things and regurgitating them on a test. I had a little autonomy on what I studied. I didn't really do anything as a team and half of my classrooms had windows. No one ever explained to me when I'd use calculus in my life. So, since I've been a sophomore in high school, I've been really questioning the whole model. I was like, I'm 17 and I"m going to college next year. I can drive a car. I can get a job. But I can't go to the bathroom without getting a pass. I was like, there is something incongruent about that. Or like, I'm now 31, 32, I'm still trying to figure out how the spreadsheets work and how to do my finances. I wish somebody had taught me that in high school because I could actually have used it. There is just so many things about the model that don't make any sense. So, to answer your questions, I've been in changing high school. When I first started at Brown, I studied education and public policy and go back to D.C. to start a charter school because that's when the charter school movement was still taking off and you know I grew up with the Washington Post so they were covering a lot back in the late 90's and early 2000's.
Aryae: Yeah, sounds like you came upon your interest in high school by, honestly, having to endure it. So, I want to ask you. You have look a lot into this. It's obviously. It's linear, it's industrial model, it's like a prison...you have to get a pass to do anything including going to the bathroom. And all this stuff, very un-life affirming model. So, how did it get that way? Why is it like that?
Patrick: So, I've read much about this as I could. Just to give you some statistics. In 1880, a very small fractions of Americans graduated from high school. And in 1908 about 6 or 7%. So, I think people just kind of assume that high school is the fore-dawn model that it's been like that forever. But humans have benn around thousands of years. We are talking about a small fraction of 1 percent of a way we educated our adolescents in the particular form we talked about-high school. So, basically starting around 1908-1910-1960 graduation rate added a percent a year over the course of the century. By 1970 it was normal for you to graduate high school, or go to high school and not finish. So, the rise of high school grew up with the rise of urbanization and industrialization and mass wave of immigration in the 1st half of the 20th century. So there is different theories of how high school models came to be how it was. But it grew up largely in the industrial era where that was the main way you got a job. Also, if you look at the statistics now, you know, you graduate from high school and go to college, your earnings over a lifetime is much higher. But if you look back in the 50's, basically going to high school in the 1950's is like going to college today in terms of lifetime earning. SO, it's a marker that you could get a certain type of job that would afford you a certain type of stability and security that existed the jobs that people could get. And most of the jobs are gone now in the U.S.
Aryae: So, I just want to get my mind around the high school. There used to be a certain marker. If you graduated from high school, not everybody graduated from high school, and that would advance you economically and socially. But now it's more like everybody graduate from high school and it is not much meaningful. Do I have that right?
Patrick: Well, I would say, not everyone graduate from high school. I forget the exact statistics. A certain number students drops out every X number of minutes. So, it's not like everyone goes to high school now. And if you go to high school and finish a 4 year degree, you have a much higher percent lifetime earning. By my point is that if you graduate from high school now, it's not like someone goes, 'you've made it, congrats'. You checked all the boxes. That's like college now. And even college, going to grad school is becoming like the new norm. Basically some scholars have a theory that school is just a warehouse effect and that the reason that we added high school was because in a more agricultural society we needed more bodies to do the work and as we needed less bodies to do the work with industrialization. You have to find a place to warehouse the younger people that used to work in agriculture because you didn't want to flood the job market. Therefore you created more schooling-then high school, then college, and now graduate school.
Aryae: What do you think about that? You think that's really how its functioning?
Patrick: Um, I think that there are some scholars that really firmly believe that. I don't think that's 100% true, but I definitely don't think its not accurate at all. Right, so my grandfather, for example, he's 90 something, he grew up in rural Nebraska, grew up on the farm working everyday. And like the generation before him everyone worked on the farm. If you could have a job doing something like that, your parents aren't going to put a premium on you getting a certain type of education for you that's A, is expensive, and B seems to not get you anything that you don't need now. So, I think there's something to that and I think it's a pretty complicated thing. We could have a three hour discussion on it.
Aryae: So, I wanna go to another direction in this, and you've seen what doesn't work and you've seen it close. In your mind, Patrick, what would an ideal high school look like today, if you could be in charge of a unified school district somewhere and design the high school, what would it be like?
Patrick: After I went to my fellowship, looking at was actually designing a high school in Palo Alto, and we were working on early parts of the design. The school board decided to stop doing it. So, I've visited a lot of schools around the country and I don't want to throw all schools under the bus. When I'm talking about the model now, I'm talking about the normal traditional model, which the vast majority of students by population go to. So there's 36,000 high schools in the US, but 17 million high schoolers, and the vast majority of them go to standard traditional schools. There's a lot of schools, there's a network of schools called big picture learning schools that have really cool parts of the model that I would want to institute if I had my own high school. For example, at a school I taught at in Oakland that is part of this big picture learning network of schools, they have a really cool mentoring advising relationship between the teachers and their students, so you have two years with 20 students with an adviser who really gets to know the students. That's a really cool element of their model.
Aryae: What would your high school look like?
Patrick: Yeah, I think that there's 10 core components of what a really cool high school would look like and I've seen a bunch of high schools with some of them or a bunch of them, I've never seen it with all of them. I think it would be hard for me to answer right now what those 10 would be because there's some nuance to it and I don't know how much we want to go into, but I could give you three high level examples.
Aryae: Yeah, give us the headline!
Patrick: Yeah, I don't want to dive too deep. So the first thing I would do is have fundamentally different relationships between teachers and students. So, right now in most high schools, teachers are like content deliverers. Like if I'm an AP US History teacher, my job is to deliver you content. In the 21st century, finding content is pretty easy, and what you really need to do is help students how to use the content and how to find what they want to find and how to be motivated to find it. So, I would change the role of teachers from being a content deliverer to being more of a coach or mentor or guide. So, basically changing the relationship of the teacher and student and how the adult relates to the student. That's one thing. The second thing I would do is radically change grading.
The second thing I would do is radically change grading. So in the real world like you know you guys have shared a few articles that have I have posted for Greater good and some of the first draft that I have written, I have gotten back from the editors there with comments like “this is a disaster, this is terrible.” I mean in nicer words but the base of this is like that. So they don't give me like a D and then tell me to go home. They are like this isn't that good, can you make it better. Here is the revision, go for it. So I would change grading. I would get rid of the A to E model and I would have more integrated grading system than a one-off grading system and I would have it kind of a reward system. How people kind of learn from feedback that mimics the real world much more as opposed to getting like one static grade.
So one would be like how students are rewarded and then the third thing is that I would radically change the school day. So the school day makes absolutely no sense for the brain and the body of the teenagers. So the average teenager now would use these three words to describe high school which is bored, tired and stress. And like eighty-nine percent of high schoolers are sleep deprived and that like half of them go to school with the equivalent of having drink in a beer in terms of their mental capacity because they're so sleep deprived. So I would have schools that would probably start at ten am and I would probably have like three hours of class a day, scattered throughout the day and much more individual work and I would have it work more for the brain of students and you know it means you sat down for seven hours in a row and got talked out inside a room like you can't pay attention at two fifteen pm after you've been (42:07) out for five hours. So I think radically changing the school day would be one of the third thing.
Aryae- I'd be skipping school myself. (Laughs) You have talked about to really change the teacher, change the grading and change the school day so those are three things you would change.
Patrick: I would say there are seven more. And you know I think one of the articles that you guys posted like seven ways to make high school more purposeful goes into some more of those.
Aryae: Excellent so maybe we can point people in that direction later on. I want to shift gears to something you mentioned and that is also part of your bio and that is meditation. And as I understand it, when you were in Cambodia you heard about a ten-day meditation retreat. You went there and that changed your life. Can you tell us about that and what happened?
Patrick: Yeah so I mean when I was nineteen or twenty years, I got an idea to ride my bike through Southeast Asia to raise money to build a school. I didn't really know what I was doing. I've never really owned a road bike before. I hadn't been to Cambodia before. So I ended up doing half-heartedly doing a lot of it and by the time I got things in hand and I'd been riding for like six weeks mostly by myself and you know riding like forty to seventy five miles a day and basically my legs were tired and I was sitting on a bike and I was out at some place near a river and started talking to this person and she was like well one of the ways that you could not ride your bike anymore if you did some meditation and just sat there. And so at that point you know I'd kind of been driving myself crazy because you know you're on your bike every day sitting there for six hours and I just wouldn't have like the best relationship with my own mind and I've always been curious you know like spending time thinking, what do monks do all the time and what is meditation and so she eventually convinced me to do this ten-day meditation retreat which is in Battambang which is like in Northwest Cambodia. So I rode my bike there and showed up. And then there was like a Goenka retreat that many of the listeners here know of. And you know then I figured out that ok you don't talk to anyone, you don't eat dinner, you sleep in something that you know to me was kind of for example the jail cell. They wake you up at three thirty and you sit on like a pretty thin little mat and then you meditate for ten hours a day which the woman next to the river hadn't really told me the whole thing but till then they had taken my bike away and I felt like ok I got to do this. And so you know with me it's probably a one hundred and twenty Cambodian and it was super hard.
Like the first three or four days like I remember like my knees were shaking because I had hurt my knees and across. So my knees with like shake with pain and I'd be sweating and it like oh please get me back on the bike, this is way harder than that. And it's probably the most like painful five days of my life. Those first five days of the retreat and growing up I just had a lot of anger and so I was like angry at the meditation teacher and I was angry at all the people around me and I was angry as if I have the right to get angry at. And I was like why did I do this. I was really angry at the person that told me about it and then on day seven or eight I just felt that someone has put an industrial vacuum cleaner like over my head and just like sucked out all of the anger from like every cell or pore in my being and I felt like sense of peacefulness and calmness that I've never felt in my life. And I remember thinking like, oh the meditation teacher is so great, the food so great. I love it here. Everyone is so kind.
Patrick: And so that was like a pretty important moment for me where I was like OK this is a practice that can help transform internal states in a way I've never been able to do on my own.
Aryae: Wow. So what happened then. It sound's like you continued doing meditation.
Patrick: Yeah so I mean I basically did like a ten day to month long retreat almost every year since then and that was in 2006. So I've spent a few hundred days in silent retreat and you know it got pretty into it and also the science of it and then the cultural history of it particularly from Burma. And so I practice when I was in Southeast Asia pretty frequently and when I moved back to the US in 2011. I worked with this organization called inward bound mindfulness education that is the main organization that teaches mindfulness in the secular retreat format to teenagers because these retreats had changed my life so much and just how the adolescent brain is wired like teaching a teenager it's so important and it's something in my life that I've never even heard of and now it's becoming much more normal at schools. I remember back in 2006 there were no mindfulness in schools back then and so this morning I woke up and meditated and it's still like a really core part of my life and my practice has evolved and changed but it's still like a really important part of my life and I spent a number of my years working to build this organization that now is like the leading organization in the country teaching teenagers in a retreat format.
Aryae: This meditation play a sort of specific role in the programs of a way of finding?
Patrick: Yeah so you know two of my courses colleagues are also mindfulness practitioners and we actually just finished our first set of recordings that go with the curriculum so for a bunch of our activity they start with like a guided meditation for the class. And you know they fall a little heavier on the self-awareness track but we basically have medications like sprinkled throughout the entire curriculum.
Aryae: Makes a lot of sense if you're talking about purpose as both the inner and the outer.
Patrick: Yes. How I think about it is that mindfulness is a really powerful tool for helping you examine your own mind and understanding yourself better and having a better sense of -- a better relationship with yourself. But it doesn't necessarily help you figure out systematically how to take what you've learned about yourself and apply it in the world. So in some ways to me, the purpose of education just became a continuation of the mindfulness education but bringing in the external, project-based, "how do I contribute to the world in a more direct way." How I think of developing a sense of purpose is, one, humans don't just have one purpose. That's a linear myth and one that we're trying to get rid of. Two, purpose happens cyclically. So you learn more about yourself and then you apply that to a project in the world. Then you learn more about yourself and then you apply it to the world. I think of it as a cycle. So if you just do a lot of things in the world but don't learn anything about yourself or reflect back on it, you might be doing more harm than good. You might not know what's motivating you. And if you're just doing your internal naval gazing your whole life and working on yourself, working on yourself, working on yourself, well, there's a lot of other people that you could be helping. So it's a balance of those and there's no equation of how to do it. I would say that all the purposeful people I've spent time with are self-reflective and have some sort of contemplative practice of some sort whether it's meditation or something else, and they are doing something in the world to make it a better place and they understand why.
Aryae: It sounds like what you're doing is right in sync with what this community does of "Change yourself, change the world."
Patrick: Yes. Exactly. That's why I was drawn to talking to you guys.
Preeta: Aryae, if I could just jump in.
Aryae: Sure Preeta.
Preeta: I just wanted to say that we are reaching the top of the hour, so if anyone has a comment or something they want to share, please go ahead and hit *6 on your phone or put in a question at Ask@ServiceSpace.org or share a reflection via the webcast and we will return to it shortly Go ahead Aryae. Thank you.
Aryae: Okay. I was just going to ask another question or so and then I'll turn it over to you anyway. Just one other thing I was curious about. When you were traveling, Patrick, you saw a lot of injustice in various parts of the world and you got involved in Myanmar and probably other places as well. When you're looking at that, I imagine that any of us looking at "How do I address this world with all of this injustice?" it can be overwhelming. And I can imagine that young people today might definitely feel that way. "What do I do with all of this, with what's going on in the US right now, with what's going on in the world?" What do you say to young people. How do you face injustice? How do you find purpose in the face of that?
Patrick: That's a good, big question. That's something I've struggled with my whole life, so I don't have some -- if anyone had a silver-bullet answer, I'd be pretty skeptical. I think one thing that I would say to them is that, one of the things we do with our curriculum is that when people talk about purpose, generally, it's like some far off huge thing that you have to climb up a mountain for and it sits at the top of a mountain. How we try and break down our curriculum is developing a sense of purpose in my experience, and if you look at the literature, research literature on it, is that it starts by doing smaller projects that feel purposeful that grow into bigger projects. For example, my first purposeful project was doing that bike trip through southeast Asia. That was me and bike raising $20,000 and giving money to Room to Read to build a school. Which is great, but I'm not going to solve world literacy. Ten years later, the project I'm working on is at a much bigger scope, but it kind of feels the same. So I guess one of the things I would say is that, one, it's totally natural to feel overwhelmed; and two, sitting in your overwhelmedness isn't really the most fun feeling; and that, three, starting with something that you actually can do often leads to things that are bigger that you couldn't have imagined.
But if you don't get started, you're not going to do it. So that's the practical side. You know, at a deeper spiritual level, I think there's something about that you can only do so much as a single human. If you are leading a life that feels purposeful, there's no purposeful person that's ever changed the whole world for good or bad. There are people that have had massive affects for good and bad, but the idea that you're going to somehow save the whole world or make the whole world how you want it to look isn't going to happen. So there's just some acceptance of, if you feel like you what to you feels like enough and is at your capacity and capability, then there's some resting in knowing that that's what's happening. So you could either sit there and think of all the things you're not doing, or you could be grateful for doing the things that you are. I think that's a super challenging thing to come back to, especially when you think of what's going on with the Rohingya in Burma or what's going on in Florida with our schools or what's going on with our racist president. I'm not going to change Donald Trump, and I'm not about to stop the Burmese military from doing what they're going to do, but I did spend a number of years trying to do my best to work with Burmese activists, and I'm trying to help young people be more compassionate and thoughtful. Along the way, you're not going to stop some of the things that some humans are going to do to other humans or the earth.
Aryae: Yes. You're not going to save the world, but you can do something.
Patrick: Yes, and I would say -- it sounds cliché, and I always avoid and hate sounding cliché, but you have to start somewhere. Then I think that things can snowball faster than you think. But the one thing that I'm pretty clear on is starting small with something that's meaningful and purposeful and seeing what happens is a trillion times better than, A) feeling like you can't do anything; or, B) feeling like no matter what you're doing isn't enough.
Aryae: You're reminding me of a saying in my tradition, in the Jewish tradition, the rabbis say, "You're not required to complete the task, but neither are you are at liberty to desist from it."
Patrick: Yes. I think that was like when I worked with Burmese democracy after some were jailed for over a decade for their beliefs, is any one of them going to get rid of the military dictatorship in Burma? No. But collectively, did they move the ball forward in Burma? If none of them had done anything, would things have happened? Also, probably no.
Aryae: Thank you Patrick. I've really enjoyed our conversation. I'm going to turn it over to you now Preeta for some additional questions.
Preeta: Yeah thanks so much. That was really beautiful. Patrick and Aryae especially the stuff at the end, that was really wise and deep about doing enough. It's enough if you are at your capacity and capability. That's really phenomenal. So Patrick, I wanted to take a little bit of a host's prerogative and ask a couple of questions. We also have a couple that have come in through the web forum and anyone else who would like to ask a question live, feel free to press *6. So I was kind of curious. You're like the All-American kid, All-American lacrosse player, went to Brown, obviously did well in high school yourself in that traditional sense and were in touch with your grandfather who grew up in Nebraska. I'm wondering, given your own journey, a lot of which involves contact with Asia, kind of more natural ways of connecting, how has the environment in which you grew up, your family, your friends, your own high school atmosphere, how have they responded to that and how are your relationships? I'm just curious about that. It seems like you've taken quite a journey from where you started.
Patrick: Yes. My dad did human rights activism growing up, and my mom is a Jungian psychoanalyst, so I didn't fall too far from the tree I would say. My family, especially my immediate family, my sister was in Munich and she studied at Saint Andrews, so for my immediate family I think it totally makes sense. I haven't lived in the town I grew up in since the day I graduated from high school. I would just say, I feel really at home in California. Thank God for California because it's a place I fit in. With my friends and community and people in California, I would say my journey is probably different than a lot of people that I went to high school with, but it's not that different from people I spend time with out here. I don't know if that answers your question.
Preeta: Yes, that does. I'm fascinated by you for many reasons. First of all what you're doing is phenomenal. Your journey's been phenomenal. But it seems to me that you have, given your background, that you have a capability of bringing a lot of these ways of thinking into more mainstream, traditional American environments, like that traditional mainstream high school you were talking about. I think, given your profile and given your background, so that's why I'm kind of curious how they respond to you when you talk about mindfulness, when you talk about some of these things, wayfinding, in kind of this eastern Polynesian sense.
Patrick: It's hard, because there's so many different populations I work with, so I would say it's a little bit tricky to navigate. There are times when it's helpful. I've gone and taught mindfulness to lacrosse players, and they might not have listened if it wasn't someone that had my background. I take young men on rights-of-passage wilderness trips in the woods where we hike a lot of miles and then talk a lot about our feelings. They might talk a little bit about their feelings because they see that I can hike a lot of miles, which is funny but it's true. I try to use some of the things that I have that are a little atypical for my upbringing to connect with people that have an upbringing that I do.
Preeta: That's fabulous. We have a question. I'll refer to some of the questions, and I have a few more if we have time later. Briana in Dallas has a number of questions, and she says, "As a parent, how do I facilitate getting Project Wayfinder into my son's high school offerings? What are ways the schools incorporate it into their curriculum offerings?" I know you've touched a little bit on that. She also has a couple of other questions related to that. "Does Project Wayfinder work with groups or individuals outside the school system to be able to offer the program in other venues besides schools to expand the program's reach? It seems many high school districts don't have the resources to implement this type of incredible program."
Patrick: The logistics of it is, we have 25 schools now and next year we're expanding into colleges, and we're doubling the number of our high schools. So it will probably go from 25 to 50 high schools and then add ten colleges. In terms of a school becoming a partner, the best thing they could do is show them the Project Wayfinder website, and then we have two summer trainings this summer, one at Brown and one at Stanford where one to three educators from a school can come and get a taste for our curriculum and then decide if they want to pilot it back at their school. I think the best think to do would be if there are any K12 educators that would be interested or college educators or parents, is to show it to the people that would be interested in coming to one of those, and that's the first part. The second part is, right now we have don't work with individuals and communities. We hope to in the future, but we're just getting off the ground, so we don't want to spread too fast in too many ways. So that's something that we anticipate doing in the future, having more of a community model, but we're not quite there yet I would just say stay tuned.
Preeta: Awesome. Is that something that -- when you talk about community model, what that include parents coming together and offering this to a group of kids?
Patrick: Yes, specifically engaging parents.
Preeta: So Briana also asked, "What suggestions do you have for parents to help them assist their teens navigate the detrimental aspects of high school that you astutely enumerated such as poor teacher/student range, lack of cooperation, etc. that pull our students away from finding purpose.
Patrick: My best answer to that is really good experiential programs in the summer. I think on the article that you guys shared on Daily Good yesterday about helping teens find purpose, I talked about four different experiential activities that students can do, and then I list good programs that I know next to them for each of them. So I would say check out that article and check out some of those programs. The woman I started Inward Bound -- not started with, co-led with her for a few years, she went to a really harsh boarding school in New England and had a rough time. For her, going to these mindfulness retreats every summer, she described it as, it kept her going. It kept her breathing throughout the year. For me, every summer I went backpacking or I did something outside, so I think having students have transformative summer experiences that they can carry with them and remind them that high school isn't the only thing the world has to offer is the quickest fix. So if you're going to a normal public school and you don't have the chance to change that, then this is an alternative workaround.
Preeta: So just for people who aren't familiar with the article, it was in yesterday's DailyGood.org (Seven Ways to Help Highschoolers Find Purpose) and we'll also send the link out to it: to everyone who RSVP'd for the call. It's an article where Patrick laid out opportunities for youth over summers and things. So DailyGood.org, and it was yesterday's (February 16, 2018) edition. So with that I'm going to turn to Wendy who has some questions. I think she's live.
Wendy: Hi Patrick. I'm here by the ocean in Half Moon Bay. I have a couple questions. One is you had mentioned about core values and that discussion of core values and understanding core values is such a big part of your program, and I'm wondering if there is some common themes in the core values that you hear from the students? Also, are the core value different in different cultures? So that's my first question.
Patrick: We have this activity call "Build Your Boat." Basically how it starts off is it lists a hundred-some values, and students spend time combing through these 100, and they pick 10 they identify with the strongest. Then they have a chance to add some of their own. Then what actually ends up happening is pretty cool. There's a sheet next to it that you cut out and turn into an origami catamaran, and the students put their values in it, then you turn the classroom into an ocean. Then you have the students walk around like they're on their voyage and they share their values with one another. So I did this exercise last year at Pearson College which is a United World College which has students from dozens of countries up on Vancouver Island, and I think we did it with ten kids from eight different countries, and it was really fascinating because they're sharing their values and it's supposed to last 45 minutes, and I was in there with them for two-and-a-half hours. The students do have pretty different values from the different countries in some ways and then they share a lot in other ways. I think it's hard for me to answer that question, Wendy, directly because we have such different schools doing our curriculum, but I think what's interesting is that when you give students a chance to share their values, then we have them share a story of where it came from and why it's important to them, then even if their values are different, they have an understanding of why and where they came from. So that's actually one of the most valuable parts, is being able to have students who may have different values share with each other. Then one of the things we're trying to do is next year have a summer Wayfinder Student Ambassador Program where we bring one student from each school, so we'd have like 50 kids. We have all Islamic schools now. We have the Green American after-school program I mentioned. We have schools with a lot of native Hawaiian population. So one of the ideas there would be to bring together students from these very different backgrounds and figure out what you share and what's different and how can you learn from each other and what's cool about that. Part of my experience living in Turkey and Burma and Thailand and going to 40 countries is some people have really different values. So I would think, "Huh. I don't think I would believe that." But once I live with you and you explain where it comes from, that makes way more sense to me.
Wendy: Thank you. My second question is, given what's happened in Florida recently, how do you talk to the high school students about living in such a violent society and also that they are at risk just by going to high school, so how do you dialogue about that topic that's become so important and right now is on everybody's mind.
Patrick: It's a good question. It's a very big question. At my high school, it was different, but we had cop cars outside almost every day, and I would say there were anywhere between two and ten cops in or around our high school almost every day. There were a lot of fights at my school and I would say violence was a pretty pervasive thing at my high school. So a lot of people at a lot of schools feel a small to large amount of fear almost every time they go to school. I certainly felt that way on a number of mornings. If I was a high schooler right now or I was a teacher, I'm sure I would be feeling a lot of that too. My honest answer is I don't have a really good answer for you because I think it would depend so much on each school and their own history with violence and their own feeling of safety within each school. I've been to some schools where students do feel pretty safe, and I've been to other schools where there's a shootout outside the school while I was teaching and we all got put on lockdown. So I just think it's so specific to what each school's relationship is with violence in the sense of safety that they feel already or lack thereof within their own school.
Wendy: Thank you very much.
Preeta: Patrick, I wanted to jump in here and ask if you would share a little bit about your spiritual background, how you grew up, how you consider it today, and I'm wondering specifically if meditation and mindfulness for you, are those part of, would you consider those more of a way of being in the world that allows you to connect more deeply with yourself or do you see it as kind of a spiritual thing or just a tool for a better life? Just curious about your views around spirituality as it's developed.
Patrick: Yeah. I grew up in a secular DC household, so I wouldn't say religion or spirituality was something that was explicitly talked about, but it wasn't shunned or anything like that. It certainly wasn't a core part of how I grew up. Today, I certainly don't view mindfulness as a tool. I would say the two biggest influences on my spiritual practice are one, meditation and Buddhism and I still go on the retreats, every year, every other year, and I practice weekly and it's a pretty core part of my world view. The other would be a connection with nature and the earth. At this point, I would say that's actually a bigger component of my life in terms of a sense of spirituality and connection to something bigger. So for a lot of the last few years, I was in a cottage in West Marin pretty close to the ocean and I still close one to three days a week at a little cottage pretty close to the ocean and try to spend time intentionally each week and each day connecting with the earth and the natural world. That's actually why I love surfing so much It's really fun to catch waves, but even on a good surf day, you're mostly just sitting on a surfboard in the ocean. So I would say, those are the two practices I draw on the most heavily, a deep connection to the earth and the natural world, Buddhism and meditation.
Preeta: That's beautiful. When you were talking about Project Wayfinder, I think you mentioned, did you say, about 20 high schools that you're currently in?
Patrick: We have 25 right now, and about 4000 kids and 200 teachers.
Preeta: Wow. That's a lot for your first year. How do these schools find you and how do they -- I'm just curious for others that might be interested in bringing this into their schools -- how do they fund it? The teachers getting trained.
Patrick: It started at the Stanford Design School which has a big reach, so the way people heard about it was through that. I also have an extensive education network built up over the years, and then our core partner in Hawaii and in Polynesia, the Polynesian Voyaging Society -- we work closely with them to develop the curriculum and to make sure it was culturally appropriate, and they felt good about it, so we ran a training with them on Oahu last year. So they've been a big partner of ours. It's still a mystery to me a little bit how people hear about us, but I guess they do. So right now, we're amidst actually recruiting for our summer institutes this summer, so we'll have 50 educators at each of them. We have an application process. If you're listening and you're interested and you're a K12 educator or you know someone that would...if you go our website there's a banner. It's the first thing that pops up. That's our Summer Institutes page. http://www.projectwayfinder.com/2018/ In terms of how schools pay for it, usually we offer some scholarships, but the trainings are about $1000 and usually schools pay for it with professional-development money. Then if we go train at school on site, then they use professional-development money and then they pay for the curriculum each year that we've developed, and that comes out of a curricular budget. Often when people hear what we're doing, they assume it's a fancy private school thing, but we only have two non-parochial private schools out of 25 this year. We work with a very diverse range of students. Most of them are smaller, so the average school we work with, we serve 150 students at the school. So it's not necessarily a school-wide model, but it might be just for one grade, or just for the senior elective. There's a lot of different ways it can go into a high school, and we're pretty open about it fits in if you want to make it work.
Preeta: You mentioned that you are in the process of getting evaluations. Do you imagine modifying it annually or every couple of years? Do you imagine even kind of shifts for next year?
Patrick: We've already changed our curriculum for next year. We spent every Tuesday doing that using feedbacks we get from teachers. So, it's kind of a constant process. We will print the curriculum for next year sometime this summer and we will probably start adding a new year to it and revamping our old one next year. I mean we are always changing.
Preeta: You mentioned it's like for 13 weeks?
Patrick: Right now it's 30+ hours of programming that is very clearly laid out with another 30 + hours of supplementary programming. So, it could be done over a year, so by next year a lot of schools will be using it over a 2 year period.
Preeta: As far as you know, are most of the schools doing it within a standard curriculum or is it a after school thing?
Patrick: Unless it is an after school program, it is all during the school day. So a lot of folks use it during advisory. Some folks use it during career development. We have one teacher that integrated into his senior poetry elective. We have another that used it in their project based learning curriculum.
So there is a variety of ways that our school partners use it. We designed it be used in school, not like an after school thing.
Preeta: Great. We have another live caller.
Bradley: First of all, I want to thank you, Patrick, Aryae, and Preeta for this wonderful call. My question is regarding if you think back to middle school or high school, and I ask this because I am going to be piloting a course this summer, hopefully, using a different curriculum. It is only two weeks and I'm going to bring in a lot of things that you have already talked about, but how do you think you would have received what you discovered your sophomore year of college? Because I'm going to be talking to some middle school kids and have them discover what service is.
It took me until I was in my late 40s. And I'm also considering doing the Stanford Institute. I don't think my school is quite ready. We change but we change very slowly. So the question would be bringing that into my classroom and taking what I can from it. Do you think would still be beneficial?
Patrick: For the middle school part, I would check out this school called Millennium School in San Francisco. They have a cool middle school advisory model that they are spreading. So I would check that out. And then there is a program called ISAK summer school in Japan. And they have a middle school program that is really cool. That is actually where the high school that I taught at was born from. So those are the two cool middle school models that I know of.
I try not to talk about things I don't know about, and I don't know much about middle school. So I'd kind of direct you there.
In terms of the summer, I know schools change slow because I've worked at them. That is why we don't have a school wide implementation model. Then I'd probably wait until 2000 and million to be able to do anything. So we actually want teachers to come and if they like it, and they have space to incorporate it into what they are doing. So sometimes we do work with all school models. But some of our most successful pilots this year have been with one teacher who is into it and finds space into one of their classes. It is a lot easier to point to something that is working within a school and being like, "Let's do more of this." Than it is to say, "Hey, can we do this thing that you don't really know what it is, but it seems kind of complicated."
So if you have space in your school day next year where you could do it, then we do pilot with a lot of just one off teachers within the school. And I've found this with mindfulness over and over and over. The best school-wide models often came from it starting with a few champion teachers who really liked it and then proved the model. And then it invited people in. As opposed to having some new thing pushed down from the top.
Preeta: Thank you so much. I wanted to conclude with asking you how we as a broader ServiceSpace community, which is a global ecosystem of 500 thousand strong around the world, can support your work and your mission which is a beautiful one?
Patrick: I would say the first thing now is if you are a k-12 educator or you are a parent interested in this at a high school or college level, just let people know about our summer trainings. The link is right on the website. Just spread the word about that. I think that is the most concrete, helpful way.
In the future, we are talking about the community model and involving parents. I would guess that we'll pilot something within the next year, probably next fall. So stay tuned for that. When we launch that we will have a parent or community kit, and that would be a way that you could engage with us even though you're not working with adolescence in a school or after school setting.
Preeta: Well, Patrick, thank you so much for your incredible insight, your work in the world, which is phenomenal and just growing, and obviously we are just seeing the beginning of that. So that is really exciting.
And Aryae, thank you for your wonderful conversation and expert moderating. Looking forward to seeing and following Project Wayfinder and Patrick's work in the future.
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