Beautifully Irrational Arguments: Wayfinding, Designing, and Staying Foolish
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary….Stay Hungry, stay foolish.
Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech, 2005
In twenty-seven years of coaching high school debate, I doubt I ever coached my teams to go all in on the emotional appeals at the expense of reasoned, rational, evidenced arguments. After all, aside from a liberal sprinkling of pathos here and there, you don’t win debates with irrational arguments based solely on emotion. Besides, I graduated from a liberal arts college that schooled me in empiricism and rational thought, even as I pursued an English degree and numerous credits in the Religion department.
And yet, a growing body of research (here for example) within the past 10 years reveals that humans are not the rational actors we thought we were. (See also our own post “When We Feel What Makes Your School Unique.“)
For designers, this may not come as a surprise. Good design makes arguments at ethical, rational, and emotional levels. You might say that good design argues at the level of purpose, utility, and aesthetic. This, too, is no surprise. It is the aesthetic level—call it beauty, simplicity, elegance, truth—that moves users to engage with design. For example, Apple’s iMac, when first released, was not more powerful or faster than the majority of PC’s on the market. But it was “different”… its aesthetics and design touches shocked consumers who were used to generic, flat-beige PC computers running a rather uninspiring operating system. (Some readers might recall that “No Beige” was actually a slogan for the original iMac’s ad campaign.)
Education, too, is far less successful when practiced from a purely empirical angle. Sure, Descartes may have helped usher in the age of rational empiricism with his insistence on thinking as the essence of being, but he did no great favor for students in Western society by doing so. Our hearts, the traditional symbolic seat of emotion, are far more important to our decision-making processes, and thus to what we learn and why than our power of rational thinking alone. A recent article in the National Association of Independent Schools’ publication, Independent Schools, includes a full section on Emotions and Thinking.
The recognition that most modern schooling, aside from meetings with counselors and the occasional gym, art, or English teacher, has often overlooked or shied away from the messy, unpredictable, irrational realm of emotions is not a new one. Few teachers graduate their teaching practicums without knowing the primary importance of establishing caring, working relationships and emotionally safe environments for their students. And yet those practices are some of the first to fall by the wayside as teachers establish themselves and realize that what the system actually cares about is test scores, normalized results, and “Adequate Yearly Progress.”
How teachers fall deaf and blind to the natural, emotional landmarks that help them get their bearings in the classroom is as much due to the pressure to perform and bring everyone up to standardized proficiency, as it is to the fact that for most teachers, and I include myself herein, we did well in the system that “produced us,” and so we naively believe that repeating what was done to us is what will best benefit our own students. Rare is the teacher who experienced in primary or secondary school (and, for all intents and purposes, in college as well) meaningful and sustained classes in socio-emotional learning.
And this is why an organization like Project Wayfinder (from whose week-long Teacher Institute I just returned) or The Future Project is so crucial to the health and welfare of our students as well as our teachers. These organizations understand students as well as our teachers. They engage learners at the intellectual AND emotional core. From start to finish, Wayfinder and projects like it recognize the necessity of the emotions–both their chaotic, productive messiness and their powerful mnemonic potential–as the precursor to deeper learning about everything. Finally, and Wayfinder is non-apologetic about this, we can’t hope for our children to live meaningful, purposeful lives if we deny the reality of felt experience and embodied knowledge.
Finding our way in life is not something we should leave to chance, and yet our educational systems do a poor job at helping students truly understand how to achieve what is in their hearts. Most wind up following pathways already mapped out by others, following what are, essentially, best guesses or paths of least resistance to ho what we think we want to do with our lives.
And sure, navigating our ways to futures beyond our horizons is a seemingly impossible thing to do, so it helps to have a map of sorts. But what if there were another way, a way absent maps, a way that employs a cycle of “experience, reflection, sharing, and experimenting” to design a life?
Wayfinder’s powerful focus on students’ emotional learning is no accident. It is the result of the project’s reliance on design thinking and its empathetic approach to curriculum development. It is the result of a researched understanding that what drives us to do anything (and here we can go back to the work of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, or more anecdotally, the work of William Glasser in Choice Theory) are our emotions. If we do not feel it in our hearts, then the learning experience in which we are engaged will be, at best, moderately effective…however you chose to measure the effectiveness of learning.
As an educational consultancy practiced in design thinking, PlusUs also starts with empathy and a focus on the most emotionally impactful stories our users relate. PlusUs, like Project Wayfinder, helps you navigate your way not only to better defining your purpose but also designing a meaningful solution to your challenge.