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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


A is for Anarchist: the New Indie Student

November, 2009

3P-050 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 50th episode of Third Paradigm. Our title this week is A is for Anarchist: the New Indie Student. We're continuing our thread of looking at the educational system and whose interest it serves. Last week we examined the usurious student loan industry, which makes the predatory mortgage business look like a puny 250-lb sand shark. Wikipedia tells me that sand shark embryos practice intrauterine cannibalism, with the strongest pup eating all other embryos and eggs. This sounds a lot like our smiling banking industry with the conveyer belt rows of teeth. Even if you dodge the credit card canines and student debt incisors, the mortgage molars are sure to eat you alive.

This week, I read a book by Maya Frost on how to get a cheap, stellar, global education. It's called The New Global Student, subtitled Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education. In it, she describes how she and her husband kept to a budget of 35K for each of their four daughters' kindergarten through bachelor's degree educations. This included all travel, study abroad, tutors, and college expenses. According to Campus Grotto's list of the 100 most expensive colleges, this is ten grand shy of one year at the least expensive option.

They saved enough for one education per year by moving to Mexico and then Argentina when all four girls were teenagers. Their oldest daughter spent her junior year of high school in Chile, entered college in Canada at eighteen with enough credits to be a junior, graduated at nineteen, spent a summer on a tropical island working for the Gates foundation, and is working in Harlem while finishing a master's in urban public health. The next spent a high school year in Brazil, took online college courses while living in Mexico, spent a summer in Germany, did a semester in Canada, and studied Spanish in Argentina. She graduated with honors from an Oregon university and is interning in MTV's international division. The next one studied in Brazil and Argentina, and went to a Canadian college while being paid as a teaching assistant and a resident assistant. She'll graduate at nineteen and be a multilingual events coordinator on a cruise ship. The youngest has gone to school in Mexico and Argentina, and received a scholarship to a private university in upstate New York with enough credits to be a junior with a TA position. She's seventeen.

Any other parents of teenagers feeling like underachievers? According to Maya, this would be missing the point. There's no need for perfection, and no reason to choose someone else's path. What holds kids back is fego – a combination of fear and ego. Not theirs, however, yours. As parents, we're afraid of letting go, of not doing enough, of slowing down, falling behind, not structuring their time. We're afraid of taking control, and afraid of not having control. She compares fear to a lightning bolt and ego to the outdoor soaking tub we're immersed in. The lightning bolt is enough to zap us, but the ego tub really amps up the charge. She writes,

"Fego is the driving force behind the multibillion-dollar college-prep industry... When we let fego loose with a credit card, we end up with stacks of college-rankings magazines, vocabulary-boosting software, and essay-writing guides. We feverishly sign up our kids for three-week 'service experiences' abroad that cost $6,000... We are terrified that we might be a bad parent."

The culture we're in feeds our fego, and our kids' expectations. My oldest daughter, Veronica, is a senior in high school. While I'm promoting a self-directed, non-degree-driven education, every other adult is asking her where she's applying to college. Half of her friends regard her with a mixture of pity and envy that her parents aren't pressuring her through the same SAT/AP/GPA intensives and application fever. The other half are relieved that not everyone's going away next year and things can be just like they were in high school. I'm not sure which group depresses her more.

Our students need some new strategies for navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of crazy expensive colleges or being a stay-at-home loser. When we come back, we'll look at Maya's exciting and practical suggestions. And then I'll present some ideas of my own, sparked by her out-of-the-box thinking and the recent career fair at Cabrillo, our excellent community college. But first, let's hear a poem that echoes what we have to learn from other cultures, illustrating that we don't even know what we don't know. It's The Silence of the Stars by David Wagoner, followed by a passage from the Tao te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell.

The Silence of the Stars

When Laurens van der Post one night
In the Kalihari Desert told the Bushmen
He couldn't hear the stars
Singing, they didn't believe him. They looked at him,
Half-smiling. They examined his face
To see whether he was joking
Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men
Who plant nothing, who have almost
Nothing to hunt, who live
On almost nothing, and with no one
But themselves, led him away
From the crackling thorn-scrub fire
And stood with him under the night sky
And listened. One of them whispered,
Do you not hear them now?
And van der Post listened, not wanting
To disbelieve, but had to answer,
No. They walked him slowly
Like a sick man to the small dim
Circle of firelight and told him
They were terribly sorry,
And he felt even sorrier
For himself and blamed his ancestors
For their strange loss of hearing,
Which was his loss now. On some clear nights
When nearby houses have turned off their visions,
When the traffic dwindles, when through streets
Are between sirens and the jets overhead
Are between crossings, when the wind
Is hanging fire in the fir trees,
And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove
Between calls is regarding his own darkness,
I look at the stars again as I first did
To school myself in the names of constellations
And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,
I can still hear what I thought
At the edge of silence where the inside jokes
Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,
The C above high C of my inner ear, myself
Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:
My fair share of the music of the spheres
And clusters of ripening stars,
Of the songs from the throats of the old gods
Still tending even tone-deaf creatures
Through their exiles in the desert.

~ David Wagoner ~
From Traveling Light

* * * * * * *

Chapter 74

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren't afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can't achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter's place.
When you handle the master carpenter's tools,
chances are that you'll cut yourself.

~ Lao Tzu ~
From Tao Te Ching, trans. by Stephen Mitchell

The poem was The Silence of the Stars by David Wagoner, and passage 74 of the Tao te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell.

[Stephen Mitchell – How I Got Interested in the Tao Te Ching]

I love this passage (74), which expresses the same sentiment as the Stoic Epictetus, who we quoted last week, or the prayer that embodies the Alcoholics Anonymous practicum in the fewest words:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

We're not the only ones to notice the resemblance between this Christian prayer and the thinking of early Sanskrit, Greek, and Roman philosophers. This has caused theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's claim of authorship to be questioned. But he writes,

"Although it may have been spooking around for centuries,
I honestly do believe I wrote it myself."

How different this pre-Christian prayer is from the advice we give students. We tell them that they can be whatever they want – they just need to know what that is. They should set their sites high, and achieve it. Dream big. Be all you can be. Stay the course and don't let anything stop you. You are the master of your own fate. And if you don't achieve your goals, you have no one to blame but yourself.

But the Tao says, when you handle the master carpenter's tools, chances are that you'll cut yourself. You can achieve anything, but only if you're not afraid of dying. This puts achievement in a different light. Death doesn't seem to be in anyone's "Oh, the Places You'll Go" essay. But the Tao says you don't need to control your circumstances. You have to leave room for the master carpenter to work, trusting the design to reveal itself in time. This is the fine line that Maya's students not only walk, but where they find room to dance: achieving by letting go and being fearless, and going with instead of fighting change. "Say yes to opportunities," one student counsels, "even if they aren't what you thought you wanted. In the long run, you never know where they might lead."

The cost of higher education boxes students in too soon. There's no time to explore without the ticking time bomb of student debt giving urgency to every deliberation. But we also expect too little from our students in terms of taking responsibility for themselves. We see US campuses as safe extensions of the playground, even though lax gun laws, college shootings, police brutality, and rape drugs make parents in other countries afraid to send their kids here.

How multicultural are US students? Here are some statistics: less than 1% of college students study abroad for credit. 60% of these are doing doctoral level research and 20% are getting their master's. Only 16% of the 1% studying abroad are undergrads. The most common profile is the white female humanities major who goes to Europe. According to the Institute for International Education, most go their junior year, stay less than eight weeks, and the most popular destination is the UK. This make the London pub crawl the top total immersion program.

55% of college-bound students say they're fairly certain they'll study abroad before they graduate. Why do 54% change their minds? Let's look at the costs. Universities charge up to 20 grand a semester, sometimes charging room, board, and tuition here while they're in another hemisphere. Study-abroad coordinators are falling over themselves to attract US college-students, because we expect education to cost an arm and a leg, and we'll pay for all sorts of extra services because we don't trust people who don't speak English. How embarrassing. Day trips with other Americans in a foreign country is called "submarining" – yes, you're immersed but there's little chance of getting wet.

In The New Global Student, Maya Frost develops the concept of the indie student traveler. Her recommendation is: go early, go solo, go long, and go deep. High school is the optimal time for catching chronic wanderlust, but the gap year between high school and college is also good. She recommends American Field Service and Youth for Understanding as excellent options, but has chosen Rotary International for their four daughters. There are 1.2 million Rotarians in 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries. And it's cheap – an average of $4000 including airfare and visas for a full year. Plus, they're committed to humanitarian work on both a local and a global scale, especially in fighting polio.

They offer great support before, during, and on the rebound – the reverse culture shock of coming home. Dr. Dennis White specializes in culture shock, working with Peace Corp volunteers, missionaries, and exchange student coordinators. He outlines four phases – the honeymoon period, the irritable why-don't-they-just-speak-English stage, the reality check where you finally resign yourself and buckle down, and true biculturalism. The last is a move from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism – where you internalize that there really is more than one right way to do something. Experiencing culture shock is a sign of deep immersion and the processing of a life-changing perspective.

But what I appreciated most about Maya were her subversive ways to get around the University of Usual. The GED? Not just for pregnant prom queens anymore. Want to skip the SAT's? Community colleges don't require 'em and transfer students don't need 'em. Do the two-step shuffle. Or do a gap year after high school. If you miss the window for travel during high school, check out community colleges. They make it cheaper and easier to transfer the credits. But to make sure they stick for the four-year degree, take some tips from Tara the Transfer Diva. She's the second daughter who rocks at the game she calls Credit Quest. Want a jump on the international job? Become a halfpat – someone who moves and settles in on their own, then applies to the multinational company.

Let's break for an old classic that expresses the passion and restlessness of these years. This is Bob Seger with The Fire Inside.

[Bob Seger – The Fire Inside]

That was Bob Seger with The Fire Inside. The song and video, posted at, powerfully evoke how the passion and idealism of youth are squandered by our culture. The simulation of purpose, through sex, drugs, and rock and roll, are like empty calories consumed by a bulimic. They don't satisfy and leave them wanting more. The bursting-through-their-skin yearning that could remake the world is being thwarted into the pursuit of sensations, stuff, and self-destruction.

But travel can be a journey of the soul as well as the body. Here are some quotes, compiled by the website brave new traveler.

  1. "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign." Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. "Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it." Cesare Pavese
  3. "When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don't know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in." D. H. Lawrence
  4. "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." Martin Buber
  5. "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home." James Michener
  6. "To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries." Aldous Huxley
  7. "When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable." Clifton Fadiman

As another one my friends, Marie, an unrepentant globetrotter, quotes:

"Those who share a passion always speak the same language."
She was talking about yarn, but the same could be said for anything. Maya demonstrates how to establish personal connections with expats in other countries within 30 minutes on a computer. But I think that our students could make themselves the most sought-after house guests on the planet in one simple way: develop some reciprocal skills to say thanks for their room and board.

This week, Veronica and I went to the Career Fair at our community college, Cabrillo. For $29 a credit, you can learn early childhood education. You can attend the culinary school and work at their excellent restaurant. The new horticulture center offers classes in permaculture. A world-class jazz teacher offers the same class he teaches at the university. Unlike the university, you can study journalism.

What if students developed resumes for what they offer in return for home-stays? Music lessons. A garden. Building a chicken coop and hatching its first residents. Installing a bee-hive. Four gourmet meals a week. After school care. Painting and decorating a room. Sewing curtains. Fixing appliances. Fixing computers. If you fix plumbing, you're welcome to live with me.

There would need to be some parameters – 10 hours a week of free labor, plus a couple of hours when everyone cleans the house. If you could get free room and board for working only two hours a day, wouldn't you do it? We've led our teenage children to believe that it's their job to go to school and get good grades, and our job to make the money plus cook, clean, maintain, fix, and pay, pay, pay. We don't have to divide into trade school for dummies and colleges for the elite. I want to start a radio station in partnership with Cabrillo, so students can hear Wendall Barry, Michael Pollan, and Raj Patel while hoeing the field or prepping the food. To break out of the servant mentality, we need to take the bull of academic fego by the horns. Everyone should know how to make themselves useful. They should be making the place they live better for everyone, every day. Doesn't making a fair and equal world also start at home?

This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Maya Frost for The New Global Student, which is just the inspiration I needed. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for sound production and to Mike Scirocco for web production. Thanks also to Theresa Dominici for her note of support and offer of help. We go out with another classic travel song: Roam by the B-52's. They definitely put the fun back in dysfunctional.

Thank you for listening.