Open Thinkering


Why I spent my twenties unlearning my teenage years.

In 2008 I removed myself from Facebook. It’s only this month that I’ve re-activated my account. I’m connected to over 4,000 people on Twitter, but only 7 on Facebook; I ignore connection requests on the latter. For me, Twitter is a forwards-focused social network, whereas Facebook is backwards-leaning.

In fact, the difference between the two was put even more pithily than that (on Twitter, of course) as:

Facebook is for people the people you went to school with; Twitter is for the people you wish you went to school with.

In 2009 I returned back to the North-East with my nascent family after a 6-year self-imposed exile in Doncaster. Like many ex-pats (especially Scots for some reason?) whilst I was living down there I remembered the place I grew up through some kind of mental rose-tinted glasses. The dissonance hit me hard when I came back – as I explained last year in You’re doing it wrong.

Upon my return I saw the area for what it is: broken. The story of my teenage years isn’t a particularly uncommon one: able boy gets bored at school, doesn’t achieve his grade potential, yada yada yada… It was only when I began to study Philosophy at university that I learned that it was OK to be interested in the way the world worked, alright to have an opinion based on values and beliefs, and fine to be seen reading books.

Regret is a wasted emotion, but I feel something close to that having been brought up in the area I was. It’s an uneven playing field, for sure. I feel this emotion especially for those who haven’t managed to escape an area and a mindset that is, to put it quite bluntly, a cycle of despair now several generations deep.

The biggest thing I had to unlearn from my teenage years? A (disguised) lack of self-worth that so often manifests itself in the arrogant, and sometimes aggressive, behaviour of young men. Any time you see someone ceaselessly bigging themselves up it’s likely that this is the underlying problem. Some people attempt (and succeed) in escaping this through religion, some through work, some through sport and some through transformative relationships. I suppose that, whilst it’s an ongoing journey, I’ve achieved some of that self-worth through all of these at some point. Others, it’s sad to say, haven’t.

The above is one of the reasons I’m joining with others to form Purpos/ed. Whilst I’ll do everything I can to make my children confident and full of self-worth, they will spend a significant part of their formative years in a formal educational  environment that could be as damaging to their character as my schooling (almost) was to mine.

Let’s start building the capacity to change that.

13 thoughts on “Why I spent my twenties unlearning my teenage years.

  1. I think you make some very interesting points here, the one on Facebook is very true. I have felt similarly when interacting with people on Facebook for an extended period; that it can be really backward looking whilst also being a massive time sink. I like the way you characterize social media as backward and foreword looking, and that has given me food for thought on what to aim for in terms of interactions on social media.

    Although the ‘education’ tribe on twitter is certainly very forward looking I am sure there must exist other subsets of users with similar atmospheres to that of Facebook. It’s all about how you approach it, which your characterization makes very apparent.

    I don’t have children, but I have to say I share the trepidation in your last paragraph about the effect the formal education system can have on young people I know. I look forward to seeing the direction that Purpos/ed takes…

  2. I’ll be watching purpos/ed closely and may also contribute. I’m sure many of us experienced a similar situation as your own, but not everyone finds the way back. I’m glad you did.

    As Steve Wheeler says, the school classroom “has been largely bypassed by the last century of progress”. If you’ve not read it, Steve’s post on personal learning vs. universal education is worth consuming:

    After spending a lot of time researching education methods, the way children learn, and so on, my wife and I would like to homeschool my son. Quite a task, but hugely worth it if done well. This isn’t about strict teaching and pushing a child too hard. This is about allowing my son to enjoy his life and explore because he’s interested and inquisitive, curious and excited, uncertain yet confident in the quest for new discoveries.

    And he’s already surprising me at 2 and a half years. After I casually showed him one of my books with penguins in (he asked to see it, I let him), he surprised me a fortnight later by pointing to a penguin and telling me it was a King Penguin. He was right. Another week goes by and he points out a Gentoo Penguin. I had to check… Again, he was right.

    He’s also taken an interest in Pre-Raphaelite art, just because I had a book on the shelf about the movement. He asks me to tell him about the paintings. And he remembers much of what I tell him. I’m sure he’ll soon be questioning stuff out of genuine interest.

    Perhaps some schools may be able to provide that environment. But how many? And how consistently? School isn’t a necessity; education is.

    I’m sure purpos/ed will find many alternative ways of stirring the mind in amazing ways. Best of luck with it.

  3. As a retired HT, I’m very interested in what schools do to children often without intending to. We think we have their best interests at heart but so often miss the point. Have signed up for purpos/ed!

  4. I’m obviously a late starter – I’ve spent my thirties trying to unlearn my twenties in a similar way to you unlearning your teenage years. I disagree about regret, however. Regret linked with high self esteem is a powerful agent for change. There is currently no framework for ensuring self esteem is covered within schools – some schools will do it well, other’s won’t get the point.

    Yet even if there was a framework for self-esteem, it wouldn’t work. Raising self-esteem happens in communities – through networks. It is through networks like purpos/ed that self esteem can be raised between educators who can then pass it on to students.

    Then maybe we can do something with all this regret.

    1. Indeed, inspiration is what’s needed. I was reminded of this UNICEF report
      today from 2007 by Ewan McIntosh showing the UK at the bottom of the
      ‘happiness league tables’ for children.

      I have to question whether this is where I want to bring up my son and my

      1. There’s enough positive folk around. It’s like you said in your post – you’ve got to get together the kind of people you wished you went to school with, like you have on Twitter – you’ll be teaching your children ‘happy networking’ (to coin a phrase) – they’ll see what you do and follow your example… No pressure then. ;-)

        1. Yes, but my concern is that because of the millions of micro-decisions that take place with people wanting the ‘best’ for their kids we end up with an inequitable and just society.

          That’s one reason I wouldn’t work in, nor send my children to, a private school. It might be in their best interests but, balanced against wider social justice issues, it’s just not worth it.

          1. Interesting and I’m with you on that. I write this at a child protection meeting where most of the delegates are from private schools. I can see a debate occurring later today…

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