it’s too hot and this kitchen sucks

You’ve probably heard the old saying: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

That idea was popularized by Harry S. Truman, who may have gotten it from a general or a judge. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect a president, general, or judge to say. It’s a challenge. A dare to rise to the occasion. Toughen up. That’s what it means to be an American. A man. An adult.

It’s easy to see why the saying has endured. It’s a brief, powerful metaphor that effectively conveys assumptions about shared values and expected behaviors.


What if the kitchen sucks?

And what if there is no alternative? Our entire planet is getting hotter. Deadly heat waves will be 3-10 times more likely by 2100. Exactly what are you going to do about it? Pack up your spaceship?

Global Warming in Education

Low pay, lack of respect, and poor working conditions are just a few of the reasons that the teacher shortage in America has hit crisis levels.

Many states and school districts cannot fill positions. Unqualified people are standing in front of classrooms full of students.

And the teachers who haven’t already quit or retired early? In addition to their teaching duties, they have to fight for basic resources.

Consider for example the teachers who are on strike in Columbus, Ohio.

They’re not looking for Lebron money, or even enough money to buy houses near the schools where they teach.

How about just not freezing or suffering from heat exhaustion in the classroom?

As one teacher put it, “(Students) should be able to come to a safe place where there’s not rats and roaches and hot conditions… As an adult, if you go to work and it’s freezing or 98 degrees or you forgot your lunch, you’re not going to be a productive employee. And school is the same way. We can’t have kids continuing to come to buildings and not have these basic needs, and we can’t expect teachers to come work in these conditions, either.”

I Sweat From Experience

In 2006 I taught a summer school class at James Monroe High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The class was held in one of those portables that never moved. The temperatures outside hovered around 105. Inside was hotter. The air was stifling. The sweat trickled down your back. The flies died of heat exhaustion. I watched one stop buzzing, walk a couple steps on my desk, and keel over.

The room had an air conditioner, but the thermostat was covered by a plastic housing that was locked and could only be opened with a key. I called maintenance to ask for help. No one answered. I called the front office. They told me air conditioning costs money.

I picked the lock with a paper clip, opened the plastic cover, and turned down the air conditioning.

The next day, I arrived to find the thermostat cover closed and locked, this time with a padlock. I shattered the cover with my elbow and turned the thermostat down as far as it would go.

Learning to Survive

At that time, Monroe was one of the biggest schools in the country. 5000+ students attended on a three-track, year-round calendar. When I returned for the next track, my classroom had been moved to one of the old buildings.

Instead of a local HVAC unit with a mechanical thermostat, now I had a wall unit with an electronic thermostat that was wired into the building’s ventilation system.

I read the manufacturing labels and starting surfing the internet.

The schematics were hard to understand. I don’t know much about heating and cooling systems, and less about electronic security. But I know how to read a phone number, and I called the company’s headquarters in South Los Angeles. I spoke with a representative named Celia who taught me how to defeat the electronic thermostat lock code, reset the DIP switch, and turn my classroom into the freezer aisle at the supermarket.

Outside it was sweltering. Mind-melting. But in that room, we could now relax. Talk. Think.

In Conclusion

If you can’t stand the heat, remodel the kitchen.

We have to change the conditions that require people to fight for a livable, learnable environment.

Then, once we manage our heating and cooling for the school year, maybe we can start stewarding our off-campus environment so the Class of 2100 has somewhere to live.


mistaks were maid

Last Tuesday, like most Tuesdays, I wrote my “Taste of Tuesday” email newsletter. I mentioned the attack on Salman Rushdie, whose book The Satanic Verses was published during my senior year of high school.

Reading Rushdie’s work over the years made an impression on me. The attack made an even bigger impression. I don’t like the fact that America is an intolerant and violent country.

When I wrote about Rushdie I made a mistake. I typed the year of Rushdie’s publication (and my own high school graduation) as 1998 (NINETY eight), instead of 1988 (EIGHTY eight).

It was a minor thing – it’s not like I taped over the original recordings of the moon landing – but my mistake did not go unnoticed. Readers called me on it. “I thought we were the same age!” “That’s not when Rushdie wrote the book!” “Are you trying to act younger than you are?” “Hey, we graduated together, dipshit!” (That last one is a direct quote from a good friend who is a highly regarded professional with a well-known podcast.)

It’s nice to know that people are paying attention.

Since I did actually graduate high school in 1988, and I am actually 52 (and a half!) years old, I don’t mind making mistakes in front of people as much as I did when I was younger. Sure, it bugged me a little at first – how could I hit the wrong key and not notice when I proofread? – but making mistakes is a big part of life, and a bigger part of learning.

As Hall of Fame UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden put it, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.”

Stupid Mistakes

Before anyone mistakes this for a Mistake Sanctuary, I’d like to point out that some mistakes are genuinely stupid. Makers of stupid mistakes are not themselves necessarily resistant to new or dissonant information (i.e., we shouldn’t automatically assume that they are as stupid as what they just did), but their actions are definitely attention-getters.

In a 2015 study entitled, “What is stupid?: People’s conception of unintelligent behavior,” Balazs Aczel and colleagues identified three categories of behavior that are commonly called “stupid mistakes”:

  1. Things people do when they have more confidence than skill. This phenomenon is also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it accounts for some of the most spectacular examples of stupidity, such as the man who robbed a bank without a disguise because he believed that he was invisible. Poor performers often simply don’t know any better. They can’t tell the difference between high and low quality, so they overrate themselves and drive the rest of us nuts.
  2. Things people do when they act on impulse. You don’t need to buy anything on display at the checkout stand. Congressman, you don’t need to text that picture of your genitals. Whenever you do something that indicates a lack of control over your impulses, you are buying a ticket to Stupidmistakesville.
  3. Things people do when they stop paying attention. I personally believe that mindlessness is a bigger problem than Covid, Monkeypox, Polio, and today’s GOP put together, but lapses in attention are not all created equally. If you’re a pilot who forgets to lower the landing gear, or a surgeon who forgets to remove the forceps before closing, yeah, you’re making a high-stakes stupid mistake. That is very different than looking for the eyeglasses that you left on your forehead or rereading a sentence because you realize you don’t remember reading it the first time.

Do I Care?

Spoiler: Yes, I do. I care a lot. About arguably way too many people and issues.

When it comes to mistakes, I care mostly about two things.

First, I care about doing things with quality. I like knowing what I’m talking about and I like doing things well. I can’t stand the phrase “good job” – what does that even mean? – but I really like it when someone I respect compliments the quality of my work. I extend this care to everyone with whom I work – students, clients, colleagues… even my own family. I sincerely believe that excellence is a habit, even though it would be a mistake to continue attributing the idea to Aristotle, and I do my best to make quality contagious.

Second, I care about taking the kind of risk that helps me grow. Watch a beginner learn how to walk or learn how to ski. If they’re not falling, they’re not pushing themselves far enough to improve.

Living the second principle enables us to develop the understanding and skill that brings us to the first. It’s the ERROR part of trial and error that teaches us the most.

Don’t Be Too Careful

Too often, young people learn to act like they’re perfect. We don’t like admitting we don’t know something, or that we’re flat out wrong. That is a problem when it becomes a habit. Covering up mistakes may not seem like a big deal on a fourth grade math worksheet, but the child who doesn’t admit forgetting multiplication tables grows into the adult who doesn’t admit administering the wrong medication or forgetting the memo about the terrorist threat.

Feeling like it’s OK to make mistakes gives us the opportunity to explore and reflect. Plus, the process of making mistakes actually enhances our ability to learn. In a wonderful blog post entitled “How Making Mistakes Can Accelerate Learning,” performance psychologist and Julliard faculty member Noa Koyegama points to the findings of University of Sheffield professors Stafford and Dewar (2013): “Greater initial variation is linked to higher subsequent performance.” That’s a diplomatic way of saying, “Screwing up in practice is the best way to win when it counts.” So much for perfect practice – better to take chances, get something wrong, figure out why, and correct your own work.

One of my favorite things about Open-Source Learning and the public internet in general is the opportunity it gives us all to improve through feedback. When I first encouraged high school students to start websites and curate their learning online, everyone thought I was nuts: “Aren’t you worried someone will post something inappropriate?”

Nope. Thousands of students and millions (billions?) of posts, comments, videos, and all sorts of digital artifacts later, there has been exactly one instance of a student posting something that another student found inappropriate. And what was the response?

“Hey, did you mean to post that?”

“Gah! No. Thanks for telling me – my mistake.”

Go Make New Mistakes

Whatever I do in life, I will always remain grateful for those people who give me honest feedback. My people are hard on ideas and soft on each other – if they seem like a tough crowd when it comes to evaluating quality, it’s because they care. What kind of friend doesn’t tell you about the spinach between your teeth or the toilet paper on your shoe?

I used to have a sign in my classroom: “You don’t have to be sick to get better.” It’s true for me. I did OK today. But it’s never perfect. At the end of each day I reflect on what I got wrong, forgot, didn’t finish, etc.

Those moments are dear to me. Tomorrow I’ll make different mistakes. But not the same ones I made today.

So, thank you in advance. Please feel free to Contact Me and let me know how I can do better.




civil liberty

Recently a teenager told me that he wanted to skip college and work as a journeyman electrician. His reason: “I just want to live my life and not have to answer to anyone.”

I get it.

But at some point he’ll realize, as Bob Dylan put it, that “You gotta serve somebody.”

Or maybe he’ll see it more like Bill Withers: “We all need somebody to lean on.”

400 years ago John Donne said it best in a poem (from which Ernest Hemingway borrowed a line for a book title): “No man is an island.”

We don’t operate well in isolation – examples abound, from the cruelty of solitary confinement to the loneliness fallout from the pandemic. We depend on each other for everything, from goods and services to relationships and positive self-regard.

Our connections and feelings of affection and belongings are no small matter. We are social animals. That’s why the older, fight and flight parts of our brains are not nearly as well-developed as the thinking, responding, executive functioning frontal cortex that enables us to do things like empathize, reason with each other, and occasionally collaborate on projects or even resolving our differences..

So, civilization may be on the verge of collapse, but that’s no reason to be rude or give up on each other. More than ever, we need to learn how to operate in systems: families, communities, schools, organizations, teams. Countries. Earth.* (*No joke on that last one. Seen the weather reports lately? Are you composting yet?)


The word civic originally comes from the Latin corona civica, a crown of oak leaves awarded to one who saved the life of a fellow citizen in battle.

It may be useful to think of civics in the context of fellowship in the face of adversity. Even if we’re not fighting an actual battle against a common enemy in a war, we need to identify anything that may divide us and pit us against one another.

Here are some civic issues I see that create conflict between coworkers, friends, and even family members:

  • Money
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Morality

You don’t have to agree with everyone you know, but you do have to understand their reasoning, and you have to make the commitment to stay in connection with them – if you are going to maintain the strength of the relationship and the system you’re in.

Civil Liberty

Civil liberties are freedoms and guarantees that governments commit not to abridge (i.e., limit or mess with in any other way, such as making laws, or interpreting right and wrong, etc. etc.).

One commonly cited example is the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. In my experience, it’s important to spell this out in precise language, since most Americans seem very comfortable slinging pieces of these phrases without having any real idea what they’re talking about.

For example, many people mistakenly assume that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. It does no such thing. Here is what is says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Read that again. The First Amendment says nothing about what you are free or not free to express. It only says that Congress is not allowed to make a law limiting freedom of religion, speech, the press, or our right to assemble.

Clearly, we don’t have unlimited freedom. We can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater or cause immediate or irreparable harm to the nation or its people; we can’t engage in obscenity that serves no artistic, democratic, or scientific purpose; minors on campuses where educators are charged with the responsibility of acting in loco parentis routinely run into challenges. The list goes on.

We don’t necessarily have to agree on everything, but we do have to negotiate understandings that support our coexistence and interdependence. The first step is becoming knowledgeable about the issues.

Civic Fitness

Civic Fitness is the third of Open-Source Learning’s Five Fitnesses. Unlike Mental Fitness and Physical Fitness, which begin as purely individual, everyday practices, Civic Fitness is something we consciously and intentionally practice in full view of other people.

On the one hand, this is nothing new. When Plato wrote The Republic nearly 2500 years ago, he included a section in which Socrates describes the qualities that a citizen must have in order to function effectively.

More recently, Nelson Mandela famously observed that, “The time has come to accept in our hearts and minds that freedom comes with responsibility.”

Schools don’t teach Civic Fitness the way I’m describing it here. What does it mean to be of sound mind and body? And further, when did we forget that reading and math are necessary, foundational skills for voting on public policy, entering into contracts, and managing our financial resources so as to be an interdependent participant in shared value, rather than a burden on society or a predator?

We can demonstrate Civic Fitness through acts as as simple as picking up litter in a neighbor’s yard. Volunteering. Voting. Making sure we have enough money to cover our payments. Understanding our system of government and our economy well enough to contribute good ideas and make good choices.

The One Thing We Can’t Do

We can no longer afford to act like we don’t need each other, or like we don’t owe each other our best.

At some point, that teenager who told me he doesn’t want to answer to anyone may very well become a journeyman electrician. But he will fail if no one hires him. So he will need customers and clients. And it’s highly likely that some homeowner or general contractor will frustrate him at some point.

He will also need friendship and love. His relationships will challenge him too.

He should be so lucky.








learning about longevity

Open-Source Learning leverages the idea that we learn best from an expansive network of resources beyond the classroom. It’s a straightforward principle: If you want to fly, find a pilot and a plane.

Open-Source Learning also helps us meet a variety of needs through learning. In order to make the most of this life, we must optimize our mental, physical, civic, spiritual, and technical fitness. Living a good life is about more than mastering subjects or getting good grades.

Without Open-Source Learning, school is a tough place to build a quality of life that will sustain us for the long haul. Where in school can you learn how to prepare for awesomeness in middle age and beyond?

Take physical fitness for example. You’d think that the institution responsible for young people’s learning would teach us how to develop the strength, energy, and endurance we need to survive. And think.

Nope. No one learns jack shit in P.E. Or health class. I didn’t figure out how to eat until I was in my early thirties.  I’m still trying to get more and better sleep.

I did play basketball at competitive levels in high school and college, but as an adult, I learned that a lot of what my coaches taught (like running sprints and bleachers in hot SoCal summer gyms with no water until we puked) was actually harmful.

Finally, just before the pandemic – as the Lead Learner in an Open-Source Learning network – I sought out an expert and leveled up my physical workouts.

Sometimes you have to get out of town to see the forest for the trees.

Thriving over the long term engages every OSL fitness:

  • Mental fitness to sharpen our focus, manage our stress levels, enhance memory, and navigate emotion;
  • Physical fitness to maintain our energy as we rise to occasions and endure over time;
  • Civic fitness to steward our relationships, financial resources, and information we share in community;
  • Spiritual fitness that keeps us connected to the big picture; and
  • Technical fitness that helps us identify and use the tools we need to our greatest advantage.

If school’s not the best place for you to learn and practice this stuff, where do you go?

Getting back to nature is the best way for me to supercharge my fitness.

So last week I packed up the car and headed north on 395 toward the Eastern Sierras. I panicked a little when I saw the smoke from the latest California wildfire.

Then I got inspired. Just past Big Pine I turned around and took a second look at the turnoff sign:


Bristlecone pine trees are the oldest living things on Earth. Some have been around for more than 4800 years – these trees are hundreds of years older than the Great Pyramids of Egypt! How had I never seen them? I turned east and followed my curiosity into the White Mountains.

The Journey is the Destination

The Bristlecone pine forest is on the way to exactly nothing. The highway is the destination. I lost count of the twists and turns. I drove slowly and honked at the blind curves and the one-lane stretch, but on the way up I didn’t meet a single car coming the other direction. As the road climbed, I popped my ears and quietly focused on the sun-baked asphalt instead of the dizzying drop offs beyond.

My reward was a 4.5 mile hike on the Methuselah Trail at the Schulman Grove. About halfway through, I realized I was standing near the highest point in the lower 48 states (I had just driven past Mount Whitney), in the presence of – I’ll say it again – THE OLDEST LIVING THINGS ON EARTH, staring out at the lowest point in North America, a valley with death right there in its name.

I know I saw Methuselah, the oldest of the old, but I don’t know exactly which tree it is because the Forest Service can’t trust us with nice things. I’ll verify my guess with my Uncle Mark, who worked for the Forest Service in the Sierras for 40+ years. It doesn’t really matter if I’m right – every single one of these ancients has a powerful presence.

I felt it.










The Takeaway

Survival and success require resilience. My childhood mentor Coach John Wooden talked a lot about handling adversity, and every motivational poster quotes Nietzche and Hemingway, but I always thought those ideas were just admirable responses to the challenges that find us. The Bristlecones teach that seeking out circumstantial hardship is literally a growth opportunity.

Check out the plaque at the entrance to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center at Schulman Grove. Shakespeare. Dude.

Bristlecone pines live where other things can’t. They don’t have to compete, because no one else plays their game or even survives on their field. They eat bad weather and hard soil for lunch. Ever seen a root dominate a dolomite? It’s badass:


Leaving the Bristlecones for the relative comforts of hiking and mountain biking, I asked myself: What are the harsh conditions in your life, or at your school? How are you adapting to survive and grow stronger? What can you do today – right now – to improve your mental, physical, civic, spiritual, and technical fitness?

As we begin another school year, I hope your learning gives you more than a paycheck or a GPA. Strengthen your roots. Seek out the challenges that test your mettle. Let your continued existence and perseverance tell your story and inspire your community.

Be the Bristlecone.

I wish you the best and I look forward to re/connecting with you here and elsewhere.