The Changing Game of Education


Clint Murphy Ana Lorena Fabrega


Ana Lorena Fabrega, Clint Murphy

Clint Murphy  00:00

Good morning, and we are going to dive into your book today the learning game. But before we do, can you give our audience a brief bio about yourself?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  00:11

Yeah, of course. Thank you for having me, Clint. I’m a former elementary school teacher. And when it comes to education in schools, I often say that I’ve been around the block a few times growing up, I attended 10 different schools in seven different countries. So I really got to see that inside scoop of what it is to be a student in different environments. And even though it was different countries, and they had different methods, and it was different types of schools, the teaching and learning was pretty much the same. And then fast forward now that I decided to become an educator, I started to teach in different schools in New York, Boston, and in Panama. And I started to notice sort of the same patterns, that I would pick up an ESA kid in order to survive this very flawed education, traditional education system that we still have. And so after a few years of teaching, I decided to venture out and start exploring different learning alternatives outside the system in the alternative education world that better match the needs that we have nowadays, in this world that’s constantly changing. And it turns out that there’s a group of people, a big group of people working on alternatives to sort of provide to kids to better educate them. And so I’ve been writing about these different things in sort of sharing my findings, and part of this startup called synthesis. So a lot of this ideas, made it to them, the book that you’re holding to learning game, and I’m excited to chat about it.

Clint Murphy  01:35

Perfect and let’s start right in with a hard hitting section. And interestingly, it’s coming from the introduction that you had David Pearl, right for the book, and I’ll provide what he wrote and let you color it in with some context. He said, Our schools are relics of the industrial age, they prize obedience over curiosity, in the name of learning, they’ve become anti curiosity machines. Despite the advancement in technology and learning science, our schools basically look the same today, as they did 100 years ago.

Ana Lorena Fabrega  02:16

That’s right. He wrote it beautifully. So if you actually look at the history of our education system, and how did we end up with this way that of teaching and learning because if you look at all the other industries in the past 200 years, they’ve all been evolving and changing, you know, to sort of adapt to the needs that we have, right? Except for education. If you walk into a classroom today, yes, you’ll see a little bit of technology over here and a little bit of smartboards over here. But the teaching and learning and the approaches and the methods that we use, and all the philosophy behind what we’re doing is pretty much the same. When it was originally created 200 years ago, it all started in this region of Germany called Prussia. And the need was to train a whole generation of kids to work in the military, right to become soldiers. And so it made sense to put them all together, group them by age, and put the squadron leader in the front and teach them the same thing so that they would be ready to fight different nations, right. And it worked really well. So the purpose of the system was perfect back then. And it started to spread across the globe, because it was, you know, Prussia became one of the strongest fighting forces in the world. And so other countries started to copy this model. And then around the 1960s, when we had after World War Two, and with all the industrial revolution, we started to see different needs for the economy. And so they started to switch and the US sort of took the lead here to switch from training kids, for the military, to training kids to work in factories and be managers of corporations. And so again, this method, and this system that we had in place worked really well, right. So just like it worked well for bullets and for food, and for cars, and you put it in the assembly line. And for clothes, they were like, well, let’s just kind of do the same for education, right, we put all the kids through the same system, we teach them in subjects, we ring bells every 45 minutes. Any kid who doesn’t fit the mold is labeled as defective, just like they would do in factories. And so this model became really prevalent, especially with everything with a standardized testing that we now had to sort of assess and make sure that this system was working. And I feel like you know, with time, fast forward to 2023, we’re still pretty much using the same system. And we call it different ways. And we’ve again, added a few things, but it’s pretty much the same. And so it was not intended to build a generation of independent thinkers have creative problem solvers have kids that can chart their own paths, that they understand what they’re uniquely good at and how they can contribute to the world, but rather training a generation of kids that are all following instructions that there’s this one way to be successful or to do things right. And everyone’s kind of thinking conventionally the same way, not encouraged to question things or do things a little bit differently or the Get things from different angles, right? Those kids are sort of the troublemakers, right. And so if you actually look at the things that we’re reinforcing in school with this system that has been in place for over 200 years, I think that it’s really damaging for the kind of kids that we want to be the generation that we want to raise for the future. And now, I would argue that we’re not really preparing them for this world where change is the only constant, and where you really need to find what makes you different, rather than how you’re the same as everybody else. And so I think that that’s sort of what David was trying to explain in the preface.

Clint Murphy  05:34

And then you mentioned in your bio, tying into that, that you had been to 10 schools in your childhood, and you write in the book that every time you were able to adapt, and then later in life, you realize, well, it wasn’t adapting, you simply learned how to play the game of school, you knew what the rules were, what were the rules? And why are those the rules that aren’t setting our kids up for success? 

Ana Lorena Fabrega  06:05

Yeah, so it’s very interesting, because it kind of hit me when I was student teaching as part of my bachelor education program. And I started to look at the kids that I was observing for hours and hours in these different environments. And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, they’re all playing the same game that I was playing, which, like you said, it was, it was sort of the game that I picked up in order to survive all the different academic expectations, you know, it was very challenging, being the new girl over and over again, and having to leave halfway through the year and having to play catch up all the time. And, and try to fit in and make sure you know, not only the social aspect, but like how do you meet all these different learning environments? And so I quickly picked up on the things that made me a successful student, right? How, what were the kinds of questions that would make my teacher like me, what were the kinds of questions that I’ve, you know, better not ask because they would get me in trouble. What’s what was kind of the behavior in order to sit up and be quiet and raise my hand to end you know, how many times I had to raise my hand to get that participation grade. And make sure that I’m, you know, coloring inside the lines and doing everything and waiting for instructions and not getting ahead of myself and completing all the worksheets and doing all these things. And that’s what in the book I call the game of school. And it’s a game that kids become really good at, right, they quickly pick up on the things that they need to do in order to get the school learning out of the way, so that they can actually focus on the things that they find interesting, right. And I noticed that a lot of this genuine learning would happen actually, outside of school, not only for myself, but for kids in general. Why? Because that’s the moment where they can do what they do. Naturally, we’re all born with the instinct to, we’re very curious, we want to learn about everything we want to explore, we want to try things and we take risks, right? That’s, that’s the nature of humans, right. And so that’s what they get to do when they’re outside of school. That’s what I got to do when I was outside the school, when I could learn and dig into the subjects that I found interesting, right? Not what I was told in the textbook, or the unit that we were learning. And that’s where you really got to experiment things without having that fear of getting things wrong, and having somebody put a bad grade that would then be in my permanent record for years. Right. So without that fear of being judged, which is a lot of the things that happen in school. And so that’s what I call the learning game. And that’s what I think leads you to the game of life, which is really the game that we should be teaching kids how to play the game of school, if you succeeded, and you become really good at it, then you become really good at, you know, succeeding in a school environment. But it doesn’t quite translate to the real world. Right? In the real world. People don’t really want to hire people that need to be told what to think all the time, and what to do all the time and wait for instructions. And we want people that are proactive, and that can think for themselves. And that can try things out. And that can be creative. And unfortunately, those are not skills that you pick up by playing the game of school. And so I did this over and over again, became really good at it. And then when I became a teacher, I started to notice that many of my kids not to say most were playing the same game. And it’s really concerning, right? Because if you think about it, kids are spending what I would argue the most important time of their lives, their childhood years, the first 12 years of their life, in this environment that go against everything we know about kids and humans and how we develop, right? We restrict movement, we make them tune in from the early in the morning, we make them all again, follow the same thing, the same script. When we know that everyone’s different. We know that we all learn at different pieces at different rates, we have different interests. And so I feel like it all boils down to this notion that there’s just one way to do things, which is the way that the traditional education works. There’s one way there’s one path. That’s not true like it that doesn’t work for everybody. And so I think that that’s sort of the root of the problem. And there are different things that we can do in order to escape this game of school and opt into the learning game. And that’s a lot of the things that I talked about in the book.

Clint Murphy  09:50

And so this visualization or mirroring of what you saw in yourself in your students when you became an educator, finally made you realize, Wait, I can’t keep doing this, I need to make a change. And I need to try to change the system or be a force of positive change within the system. What prompted you to finally make that decision? And there were a series of questions you started to ask yourself, or those questions, Ana.

Ana Lorena Fabrega  10:21

Yeah. So the first red flag was when I was student teaching, like I mentioned, I noticed I was observing kids in different placements. And I was like, wow, they’re not really tuning in for the joy of learning. They’re not excited to be here. They’re just sort of following the motions. And so I’m playing the game of school. And I said, No, I’m going to do things differently in my classroom, you know, I’m going to create an environment that students centered where I’m going to try to deviate from the curriculum as much as I can to kind of dive into the things that they’re already curious about. Because once they’re curious about something, you don’t need to battle with them for their attention. And you don’t need to motivate them. They’re naturally motivated, right? They want to learn. And so I started to do things differently. And I think that I succeeded to a certain extent, like kids were excited to come to my classroom, they were enjoined to read and learning math and writing and all these things. But what I started to notice was that as they moved on to different grades, this spark for life, and this, you know, desire to ask all these questions and to, you know, sort of, like, try new things and take risks. It was start to temper count, right, even when they went on to great teachers. So I started to wonder like, well, what, what’s going on? Like, they loved math here, they love to be reading, why do they suddenly not like to do these things anymore. And so I started to realize that, you know, young kids have an inner desire to explore and to learn. But when they enter this system, where suddenly we remove all their choices, we remove all the autonomy, we tell them, you know, what they’re going to learn how they’re going to learn them, how we’re going to assess what they’re learning, we remove all the things that get you excited about learning in the first place, right. And so we do this over and over again, until the point where they just feel like this is something that’s out of their control, right. It’s something that we’re enforcing in them. So a lot of kids just naturally lose that lifelong desire to keep learning. And so it became really frustrating, because I’m like, I kind of feel like I’m wasting my time, I’m wasting their time. But But what can you do? And so I started to realize that it’s very, very difficult to make changes within the system, right, and to make things move in a different direction. Again, this is a system that has been in place for many, many years, there’s a lot of stakeholders, and forces and curriculums and standards that need to be met. And so I was like, Well, how can we go back to what get kids excited to learn? What do we know about how kids learn? And how do we nourish that? What are the kinds of skills and they can be soft skills, right, that they’re going to need in order to thrive in this, you know, future that they’re getting themselves into, regardless of what they want to do? Right? How can we focus on doubling down on their strengths rather than focusing on remediating their weaknesses? And when I started asking all these questions of like, how can we help them opt out of the learning like the game of school and into the learning game, I realized that I wasn’t going to find the answers within the school system. And so I don’t think the school is going to go anywhere that traditional school system is it’s there, you know, it works as a babysitting center in the first place. And it’s really hard to get rid of it. And so however, there are ways and again, I discovered this whole, like alternative education world where you can actually start to rethink education from the ground up and focusing on the things that we know deep inside, especially educators that go into this profession, I want to believe with the for the right reasons, like and how can we build something new, build something fresh, right, based on these things that we know about kids and then tweak along the way, right, I feel like we cannot have something rigid, because like I mentioned earlier, there’s not one way we need diversity of approaches, right, and then be able to, like pivot along the way. And so I think that that’s where I lay now, I ended up leaving that system. And I got, you know, really frustrated and sad when I realized that, that I wasn’t gonna be able to make any changes within the system. And, but I, there’s a lot that I can actually do outside. And it starts by sharing a lot of this alternatives that I’m finding with parents that feel frustrated for the same reasons, but they don’t really know where to look or where to go. And it turns out that there’s a number of things that you can do, even if you can’t pull your kids outside, you know, out of traditional school, which happens to be the reality for many families through still things that you can reinforce at home, or that you can do at home. Because if there’s something I’ve learned is that the best teacher that kid will ever have is their parents. And so what has happened is that a lot of people have just delegated all of their kids education to the school system, you know, thinking that that’s where everything’s happening, but the reality is that it’s not and so there’s a lot that you can do as a parent, but you need to have when it comes to skin in the game, right and get really involved and start to really, you know, think about the lessons that you need to help your kids on learn outside of school, so that they can actually thrive in this world that we are currently living in.

Clint Murphy  14:55

So you weren’t the only teacher who left. You shared a story that was mind blowing to me. And pretty amazing. You talked about a teacher, John Taylor Gatto, who left the New York school system and it shocked everyone in New York. I’m gonna let you share why it shocked everybody that he would leave and do this. And he wrote a book about some of the challenges he saw, called dumbing us down. And he identified seven dangerous lessons that the school system perpetuates. And what’s his story? Why is it so shocking when you think about it? And what are a few of the lessons that really jumped out at you that we should be aware of? And that’ll get us through? You know, here’s the challenges, and then we can dive into some of the ways that we can fix these things.

Ana Lorena Fabrega  15:46

Absolutely. So I love that you bring him up, because John Taylor Gatto was actually one of those people that inspired me to make that jump and say, Wow, no crazy what I’m feeling like he said, so many teachers feel this. But what was so powerful from his message was that he was such a celebrated educator, right? He had won Teacher of the Year, several times. And the way that he announced that he was leaving the profession was actually when they were giving him one of those awards, and you have to give a speech, and everyone was like, oh, here, he is going to be thinking, you know, the education system and this and not. And in reality, he was like, I’m leaving, I’m quitting this job, because we are teaching, you know, we’re really damaging the younger generation by doing the things that we’ve been doing. And so he wrote this book, along with some other great books, this one in particular is so powerful, because he talks about the seven lessons that kids need to unlearn once they leave the traditional school system. And he talked about the things that we actually do as educators, you know, unconsciously right, because it’s part of what they ask us to do. 

But for example, he talks about how we teach kids in difference, how first we segregate knowledge into subjects, which we know that’s not the best way to learn, right? Like our brains are interconnected, we need to understand how math fits in with science and fits in with literacy, and how all those things come together and how we can then put that knowledge into practice in the real world. Otherwise, we forget, right? But instead, in school, we segregate knowledge into subjects, right, and then we interrupt kids every 45 minutes with the belt, it doesn’t matter if you know, Clint was super interested in this, you know, science lesson, we need to stop, you need to close your book. And now you need to open math, and you need to tune into math, by constantly interrupting this flow. Even when kids are like starting to get excited about something we’re teaching them not to care too much about anything, right? Somebody else is going to dictate when you need to tune in, and be excited about something and when you need to tune down. 

So there’s this implicit message that we’re sending you, you know, you don’t need to care too much about anything. And you need to wait until an authority or somebody else externally tells you, you know, when you need to tune in and tune out, which is sort of a messed up way to learn. Then he talks about how we’re teaching them how to seek for external validation, which is tied to this indifference lesson, right? Kids who constantly you know, being evaluated, and you’re waiting for that good job, from the teacher or that sticker or that F, right. And so instead of you being your, you know, learning how to be the own Judge of the things that you’re learning, and how to grab feedback, and then improve it things and if we’re just waiting for that grade, and from that comment from the teacher and being liked by the teacher, or the approval from your parents. And so, again, we are externalizing something that is really a process like learning is a very unique process for everybody. Right. And this was one of my biggest frustrations that I think that the whole point of education is to empower kids to want to continue to learn on their own, once they graduate, any form of education that they’re doing, right. That’s the way that you keep growing. That’s the way you keep evolving, like you need to have that desire and that thirst. 

And you need to understand why you need to want to continue to learn. And I feel like that’s not what’s happening, right. And John Taylor Gatto talks a lot about this. He also talked a lot about, you know, how kids don’t have privacy or space to sort of take their ideas into different directions, or let things marinate or you know, wait until a connection strikes and so that you can actually get through a unique idea, right? Like everything is so scripted, everything is planned for you. You need to you know, they tell you everything from like, the way you need to address what you’re learning what size, what side of the notebook, you need to write on what pen to use, like everything is sort of decided for you. And so again, we’re removing an element that we know that humans need autonomy, they need to feel like they have control over something as important as the learning process, right? And yet, this very simple and powerful idea, we kind of forget about it in the school system. And so he talks about how, you know, we’ve sort of we’re manipulating kids to a certain extent and crafting everything in a way that actually ends up being really resentful kids because that think that learning only happens in school kids that we give them all this labels, right? Like you see kids that are fit Getting and are moving. And our first instance like, well, there’s something wrong with this kid. And then if it continues, then we’re like, oh, you know, maybe this kid has ADHD boom, a label, we talk to their parents. And in reality, no, if you look at what kids need, they need to be moving a lot, they need to be releasing a lot of energy. And it’s not normal to put them in these chairs where they need to sit up in sand Street from 7am till 3pm, with very little movement breaks, like that’s just abnormal. That’s not natural. But yet, we make them believe that that’s what’s right. And then when they do things that clearly show that it’s not right, to make them feel bad about it. And so it’s very difficult, you know, there’s certain kids that fit really well in this system, and they thrive in this like, because, again, it’s one way to do things, and some kids benefit from it. But then what about all the other kids that keep falling behind and keep falling behind, and then they think that there’s something wrong with that, and then they never get to sort of catch up. And so obviously, it becomes like a problem later on. Because if you, you have all these gaps in your knowledge, I mean, it’s not because you’re not good at this, just because maybe they’re reinforcing the kinds of things that you’re not good at the moment, and you never had time to sort of pick it up, or you tuned out that day, or that’s not the way that you learn. And so it really is sad when you look at all these kids that are graduating with a bunch of academic junk that has dubious expiration dates, and they don’t really know what they’re uniquely good at, or you know, how to double down on the things that they’re great what they want to do for the next few years of their lives, how can they contribute to society, what makes them happy. And so it just, it’s a really messed up way to raise this generation. So Johnson legato ended up leaving, and they’re more lessons in the book. And when I read that, I was like, I can really identify with all of these, like he put into beautiful words, you know, what a lot of us teachers feel. And so it was very clear that I had to leave. And so and I think him, you know, he’s no longer in this world, but because he really made it very clear and put that message out very bravely. And it’s, I believe it’s true.

Clint Murphy  21:53

 Yeah, I have so much to unpack in that one. And we’re going to tackle a bunch of it, what really stands out for me is as a father of two boys, so I have a 15 year old son and a 12 year old son in grades 10 and seven, and a total contrast in children. And one of them, plays the game of school, and does very well. So just had his best report card he’s ever had. And the other is like I was as a student, which was a poor student, if you will, in that my entire school career was straight BS until college. And that’s when I realized, wait a second, I actually am intelligent, which was partly driven by my girlfriend at the time now wife, and my youngest son embodies a lot of what I had going on Anna, and has the ADHD label, and in any standardized tests, so we’re gonna jump into standardized tests, and any standardized tests, he’s told, yeah, he’s a poor performer, you know, he’s got an IQ. Not a great, not a great score, I won’t say it on air, because he’ll listen someday, it’d be like, Dad, that was very nice. But you have a conversation with the little guy in from 10 years old, he would talk to you like an adult, and be able to talk to about a wide range of subjects very eloquently. And so I always wonder, because you talk about this, I never found school hard. I only got straight B’s. But that’s because I didn’t do anything. I did exactly what I needed to get a B because my parents wouldn’t yell at me if I got to be, which was basically nothing. It was show up. I don’t remember doing homework, my entire childhood, maybe two assignments. And in the little guy, I think, does the same thing. So maybe even more than his big brother, he’s actually learned how to play the game of school better, because he does way less and kind of just floats through. It’s not the difficulty. It’s the boredom that you talk about in your writing. So so that was a really a long, wide ranging TED talk that I just gave you there on my pass. And my little guy, like, what is it about this system that really works against people like us, and doesn’t set us up for success in life?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  24:25

I’m very glad you shared that, because it’s a great example of when I would see over and over again, with so many of my students, right? And just think about all like you said, you were just playing the game, like do the bare minimum not to get in trouble, right? But imagine all that wasted potential, right? Imagine if you actually catalyzed all that energy and all that passion that you clearly have. I mean, look at what you do now, from a young age. The thing is, so I saw this over and over again. And I think I have an example in the book. I love this example. When one parent came up to me she was like, I’m so worried about, you know, my son who’s in your class. I really think he has a memory retention problem, I would love to test it. I mean, sort of. And I was like, Well, what what makes you think that she’s like, well, he’s just having such a difficult time, you know, learning and memorizing like all the states of the US and then the different parts of the cell, but specially this and I’m like, okay, so you know, he doesn’t have a retention problem. I don’t know if you know this, but your child knows every single Pokemon card out there like every you name it, he knows it back and forth, he can tell you all the details everything. And she was like, You’re right. I’m like, yeah, so he doesn’t have a retention problem if you actually ask him because I asked him, you know, what, what is it about this? Like, why aren’t you learning that? And he’s like, I don’t care about the states. I don’t I don’t want to memorize the states in the US. Number one, I can find those on line number two, I live in Panama, like, I would rather learn the nine provinces of Panama, because that’s more useful third grade. And I’m like, Well, you, you’re right, you are 100%. Right. He doesn’t have a retention problem. He just did not care. And I think that this is an example of a lot of what happens, we’ve decided, what are the subjects that the kids have to be interested in? That’s not how life works, right? Kids have different interests, and they tune in to different things at different moments in their lives. And when you try to force them to be interested in something, that’s where, you know, you’ve already you lost that battle. And of course, you know, people come up to me, they’re like, yes, and about people, like kids need to learn specific things they need to learn reading, they need to learn writing that I’m like, Yes, but there’s a specific moment and a gate, well, you know, a little door for you to sort of peek into their interests, when they you start to highlight the relevance of the things that they’re learning, right? When a kid you tell him that we’re gonna learn about money, because this is what comes in the unit. They’re like, they don’t care, but it is certainly wants to buy something or they’re interested in, and you tell them, Okay, we’re going to teach you about money. They’re suddenly like, oh, wait, I do want to learn about this, you know, a kid that’s obsessed with dinosaurs, right? Maybe you that’s a good moment to start teaching them about decades, and about Millennium about all these things, right. And so you start to look at what the kids are actually. And actually, if you look at the research, it shows that knowledge decays really quickly. And if you don’t put it into, you know, into practice the things that you’re learning, or you don’t use it in the productive world, in 14 days, knowledge, the case you forget about it. And if you look at you know, kids would ask me all the time, okay, we’re learning this 1am I going to use this? And my answer was either Well, you know, someday, when, you know, in the future, when you come across this hypothetical scenario, and even when I was saying it, I felt so silly. I was like, I’ve never used this in my life, yet. That’s the answer, or I have no idea when you’re going to use this. And you know, it was so frustrating. So they would be like, well, thank you for being honest. But then there’ll be like, I’m checked out, I don’t want to, like, I don’t care about this. And so if you look at what, you know, some of the schools that I highlight them, and that I talked about, that I think are doing things, right, the kids learn through projects, right, and kids or, or through, like, open ended problems. And so kids like yourself are like me, and I can share a little bit about my story as well. And your younger kids like thrive in this kind of environments, because they get to actually think for themselves. So you talked about, you know, the boredom component, I am convinced that kids crave challenges, and they want something that’s hard. They don’t want the easy stuff like we we have this misconception in school that we need to water things down. And we need to break this apart. And we need to sort of like tell them exactly what No, that’s boring. If you look at video games, something that I really admire, that I think video game designers know and understand really well. They never create a video game. That’s easy. Nobody would play that game. Kids want the challenging game, and they keep going. And they keep trying. And it’s hard. Why is that that’s what motivates them. They’re motivated by the confusion by the challenge, right. But they receive the right kind of feedback, they know what they need to do in order to improve and it’s something that they’re interested in, they opt into the different games that they want to play, you can’t opt into lessons in school, right, you’re just sort of forced into them. And so going back to this idea of okay, like the whole, you know, because I kind of defeated talk about the boredom and this component. But once you start learning through projects, and through problems, kids get to first see the connection between the different subjects, and they get to apply right away the things that are learning. And so immediately, once you put it into practice, you get to crystallize this, you see the valley, you see the relevance, you want to keep doing it, right. And those are the things that stick, and so forth. I mean, that and I don’t think that only for kids like you are like me, or like, you know, your younger son, I feel like every kid would benefit from this kind of approach where they can actually see how knowledge is interconnected. And you put it into practice, right? And it’s also a way more exciting way to learn. And here’s the other part, that’s interesting. Every kid is good at something, right? It just sometimes it’s not an academic aptitude. Right? And so schools are only focused on those academic aptitudes. And so if that’s not where your son fries, then he’s never going to hear Oh, you’re very good at this. Look at your strength. No, he’s going to always hear during the reading remediation group or you’re in the math remediation group or you don’t know this yet, or obviously that they get that they’re not motivated. Why would I even try hard if I’m clearly not good at this right? And so they just fall into the game of school. And so we know and you probably know this, like our psyches need three things in order to sort of thrive right and be healthy and be happy in the real world right? And this is autonomy, which we’ve talked a little bit about. And, you know, competency, which is what we’re talking about, like that feeling of, oh, I’m actually very good at this. And I can improve this. And relatedness which is like that feeling of that you connect with other individuals in the social aspect of human nature, right. And if you actually look at what happens in school, and I would argue that this is probably what happens to people like your son, it’s like, a lot of them never get to feel well, the autonomy component, we’ve already talked about how everything is decided for kids. And so we’ve really removed all this chances for them to have a saying over anything, what book to read, who to work with, where to sit, if you want to stand up and do your writing, or if you want to sit down so that kids are really, really lacking. But then again, the competency component, a lot of kids never feel competent, because what if their skill was music, or what or their skill was something that’s just not part of the curriculum, then that’s when it’s very important for parents to detect this at home, and then find a project or find a community or find an after school or something and enroll them in this in order for them to sort of nourish that talent, right, so that you know, it, this is super important. And I talk about this a lot, because I’ve noticed that a lot of the people that I admire, and that have done great things for humanity, and that, you know, are people that were able to find that thing. And when I talked to like, I would really take time to get to know all my students, and I would notice they all had something that they were obsessed with, like irrationally obsessed with. And therefore, if you willing to give them you know, either the tools, the environment, the resources to take that productive interest or that interest into a productive direction, you’re able to achieve incredible things. Like I’m convinced about that. And everybody has that, you know, and sometimes it’s not obvious, right? And sometimes it’s not something that we as parents understand, sometimes we’re like, where is my kid going to take this obsession with, you know, Pokemons, like, where is it, but you never know, like that may lead them into something else, as long as you nourish that, and you sort of, you know, validate that this this hard work that they’re willing to put in and this hours that they’re willing to spend on this obsession that they have, then that’s going to lead them to somewhere good, in my opinion. And so a lot of these things are crazy, because your kids are lacking all these aspects like the autonomy, the relatedness and the competency in school, and then they leave school. And that’s when you start to see that they start to seek for this because we need it just like our bodies need fat and carbs and protein in order to be healthy, our psyches need these three things. So you’re not getting it in school, which we talked about how they’re not, then they’re going to try to seek it in the you know, once they’re out of school, and sometimes these channels into video games or things that parents are not quite, you know, excited about? And I think that’s part of the problem, right? 

Clint Murphy  32:36

Yeah, and you brought up a lot of things there that I want to dig in on. So self determination theory, I love that you went pretty deep on the three facets to that. So we got that covered, we’ll come back a little bit later to internal versus external, or intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, because we want our kids to want to learn. But one of the things you talked about there, I’ll digress. First is, is I love that idea of because we always talk about nature versus nurture. One of the best lines ever heard Ana was nurture their nature. So when you find that passion, and you see it, nurture it, so I love that you emphasize that it’s really big for me. But what I want to go into is the gamification. So you talked about the games and absolutely great way to teach the kids and they seem to thrive on it. But you talked about the fact that we often get it wrong. So we try to gamify the classroom or we as parents, we try to gamify how we teach our kids and how do we motivate them? But often we don’t actually properly do gamification, we simply do what you referred to as point suffocation. For the listener who’s not really aware of this concept, as popular as it’s becoming, what is gamification? How can we use it well as parents or is educators? And how would you contrast gamification with quantification?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  34:02

Yeah, this is a great question. And it actually ties to that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, right? So when I was I became curious, I’ve never been a gamer myself ever. But I just wasn’t quite intuitive when I was growing up or as an adult. But as an educator, I started to notice, okay, my kids are not interested in this lesson. Like they’re just not tuning in. They don’t like it when they get things wrong, and they’re scared of failure, right? Once they get something wrong, like, they don’t want to come back to it. So I’m like, how am I gonna get them excited to learn from their mistakes if they’re scared, obviously, because there’s this bad grade and this red mark in their paper. And so but then I started to notice what happened when they played video games and I started became becoming super curious, right? I was like, what is it about video games that gets them excited to keep going even in the face of failure? What is it about videogames like getting most of the kids on this planet playing and obsessed with them? And they just want to keep going and they can spend hours like, what is it? Is it really like they have this addictive component or is there something else? So is it a little bit of both? Like, I just became really curious. And I was like, What can we learn from game designers and from video games in general that we can kind of extrapolate and use for learning and for education and parenting. And it turns out that there’s this very, you know, this buzzword, gamification, which is when you grab it sort of the least essential, like the least exciting components of games, and which are the badges and the characters, and you know, the points and the pizza parties after you get something right. And all this sort of like, immediate rewards and extrinsic rewards that are not even tied to the subject matter, right to the game that you’re playing, or to the lesson that you’re learning. And so, the thing about this is that people think they work because they do work in the short term, right? Like, who doesn’t want to get you know, a chocolate after they got this math problem, right, right. Or, you know, play with, you know, this apps that kids are using today to learn math in school, and they have like the piggy bank, and you go, and if you pass, you know, this level, and you get this problem, right, then you get to buy clothes. And that’s sort of what kids are focusing on, in order to do whatever it is that we took away to trick them to do what we want for them to do, right. And so what I notice about this is that, yes, it works in the short term, but once the math or the reading or whatever it is, the learning starts getting really hard, these extrinsic motivators start to fade until they don’t work, right. It’s not enough to want to push through the challenging stuff. That’s number one. Number two, what are we promising kids, when we tell them that we’re going to give them something in order for them to do the right thing, or in order for them to learn? Or we’re telling them that again, like this innate desire to learn or the whole purpose, it’s separated, right? Like instead of teaching them know, you’re learning because for the sake of learning, because this is going to help you in this in this in this way, like you want you know, how do you nurture that desire? It turns out that it’s not with all this gamification, and all this fun elements that we keep injecting, you know, in schools, you walk into classrooms, and you see the leaderboard, and you see like, the little characters and how you do this, you get the sticker and this and all those things are like points suffocation, which is sort of like the term that I actually got this from PhD game designer, Jane McGonigal, she’s like, that’s not gamification, like true gamification is tapping into the intrinsic elements of games that make things exciting for the sake of it, right. And so, if you forget, and you sort of strip out all those extrinsic things, and you actually focus on get on what it is that kids are looking for, when they’re opting into this game, right, which by the way, it has to be something that they decide to do, right? So if you want for them to learn something, and then you’re recreating a game, and you’re like, Okay, you’re going to be doing this, then they’re not opting in, you’re deciding that for them, and which is why eventually it stops working. And so how can you create a lesson or an element or a parent, if you’re a parent at home, again, that’s actually connected to something that they are excited about, right? That when you’re not around, or when this game ends, they’re going to want to continue doing. And so she talks a lot about this concept of flow, right? And how do we get kids to be in this state where everything sort of stops, and you actually get to concentrate and spend hours doing this thing, which is something that they get into when they’re playing video games, for example. And so, again, grabbing on, you know, a challenge that they’re excited about, then making sure that it’s very, very clear how they can improve. Okay, so like that, like the feedback loops that we give them, they know exactly what they need to do in order to get better, and not penalizing them. When or the, you know, if you’re penalizing it’s second video games, right? If you fail, then you just get to try again, you lose a few points, but you get to try again, right. And so it’s not like the end of the world, right. And so that kind of like those three things are end to end, a Goldilocks challenge, which is, you know, a challenge that and this goes with the zone of proximal development, where it’s not too hard, but it’s not too easy, right? It’s like right in that zone, where it’s challenging, but it’s you don’t feel like it’s impossible, and you know what to do to reach that goal. And but it’s not too easy, because like we talked about, you know, when it’s too easy, you tune out, it’s boring, you don’t want to take on that challenge. And so I found that fascinating, and something that we can apply to many things. And I’ll give you a quick example, in this startup that I’m part of called symphysis, we created a digital tutor. And when we were creating it, I was like, Okay, we need to be very careful, because all these apps that are used in schools, again, have all these extrinsic, like gamification, points suffocation, right? That get kids excited to like play and this and that, but then it doesn’t work, like they’re not really learning, right? And so how can we make sure that that doesn’t happen. And so we started with math with this digital tutor, and we’re like, we’re not going to use any of those things. We’re not going to use the colors, we’re not going to use the shoes, we’re not going to use the money. But we’re not going to have any of that. It’s going to be just straight up. And we’re going to make it exciting for kids because we’re going to explain things in a way where they get to apply them right away, they’re going to see the relevance of the math, they’re going to see the beauty of learning math and why it’s so useful. And that is going to be what keeps them engaged to keep going to bold claim and I was like, okay, that’s the goal. Let’s see how we do it. And we were actually able to I mean, it took a whole year to design the first lessons for math, but we did it in a way through stories through examples and get practical application through problems through projects where kids are learning. And they are like parents or like they become addicted to this tutor, right? They go in and they’re playing and they’re, and there’s, we stripped out all those points of vacation kids are they like it? Because so many kids are like, wait, I’m actually good at math. Like I didn’t know that, you know, I thought that I was not good at math. But no, it was just not explained to me the way that it that it clicked. Or it was just, I wasn’t understanding why this was important for me to learn. And suddenly, when you use structured in a way where it’s like, Oh, my God, this makes so much sense. I see why I need this, oh, my God, this is fun, this is going to help me be able to do this. And this, then kids are naturally like it goes with that theory, that hypothesis that kids our kids are naturally inclined to want to learn, they’re naturally inclined for a challenge. And the other beauty of having you know, the tutor, which also you can’t have in school, it’s like it’s infinitely patient. So it will still stay with you. If you’re one of those kids that, Oh, I already know this material, then it will just jump you to the next level. Like it’s not going to make you waste your time and get bored with something that you already know. Right? And so you don’t lose that student, you don’t you know, that that students engaged because you’re just moving them to the challenging thing that they yet don’t know. And then you have the other kids that come with a bunch of gaps in knowledge, right, from previous years that they were never able to catch up. And then you teach them and you stay with them until they actually learn the material. So you empower them, you’re like, Okay, I actually know this. So I can move on to something more challenging. So it’s an example of, you know, you know, this kind of gamification done right, you’re tapping into the intrinsic elements that kids are already inclined to?

Clint Murphy  41:32

Well, one of the things you talked about in that is this idea of storytelling in so as an example, I put my newsletter out today. And in the newsletter, I wrote a parable, because it’s one of my favorite ways to get a point or a message or a lesson across. And then I said, Hey, here’s this parable, let me give you an example of how that concept. And it’s the concept of always asking yourself, and then so you can walk something through to the end, and then come back. So you make sure that you’re playing the game, you actually want to win, you’re not playing a game that you’re gonna win, and then you realize you were playing the wrong game in so that parable, I always find is a great way to teach and to learn. And you just talked about how this tutor will use storytelling for the kids. So what is it about this concept of storytelling, that sort of ingrained in our DNA from you know, early caveman times? We’ll say, with our paintings and our sitting around the fire, what is it about storytelling that works so well for teaching?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  42:39

Yeah, absolutely. I love it. So people don’t remember formulas, right? We remember stories, right? And we want to learn about things when there’s this human behind it with a good story. And again, like you said, this goes way back to like our, you know, caveman, like when that’s, you know, the knowledge was passed on through stories, why? Because that’s really how things would stick. And one of the reasons for this is that we’re constantly looking as humans to connect with other people, right, and we’re looking for inspiration. And we’re looking and so when you see a formula, you can’t quite connect with that, right? It’s just sort of like this, a bunch of like, different things together that you need to memorize. But when there’s certainly like a story behind it, or somebody that, you know, went through hardship, and went through this, and that until they finally achieved something like, like, if you look at the little kids are so into this kind of stories, and they’re constantly imagining things and making up their own because that’s like a bet. That’s a human instinct, right? We’re drawn to that. And I’m willing to bet that when you think of, you know, a teacher that you remember, right, or one of your favorite teachers, like I’m willing to bet that they were good storytellers, right. And they had, they would relate the things that you guys would like that you were learning to things in the real life, or they would bring in stories, or they would tap into things that you know, from your personal life, and you could kind of like connect to. And so that is super important. And there’s been lots of research done to see what happens when you teach through stories. And the results are that people literally remember the material. And they’re more excited to apply this to the real world, because they get to again, see the relevance from you know, what they’re learning, and they get to sort of be inspired by a character somebody that they can emulate. And so stories are one of the best ways to get kids hooked into whatever it is that you that you’re going to be learning about. And yeah, with the tutor, for example, it’s incredible because it will remember so that the stories that you talked about, and then it will bring them back again, and it will bring in your brother and your cousin and it’s like, you know, like you really feel like you’re part of this. And so it’s an incredible way a very powerful tool in order to learn. 

Clint Murphy  44:39

Okay, let’s go in another direction, Ana, because something you’ve mentioned a few times throughout the conversation is this idea of not only learning, but I’m learning and you wrote that. Alvin Toffler said, the illiterate of the 21st century, will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. So for the for the audience, what do we mean by learn, unlearn, and relearn, and what are some of the dangerous lessons that we need to unlearn? 

Ana Lorena Fabrega  45:17

Yeah, so I love this topic, because it’s something that anybody can do at any stage in their lives, right? Even if you’re listening to this conversation, you’re like, oh, my gosh, I went through the traditional school system. And I’m realizing all these lessons that got enforced and engraved and that are now part of my identity. How do I fix this? Because of course, you need to sort of work on that yourself before you can start asking your child to do things differently or inspiring them to look at things from different directions, you need to reflect on your own teaching and learning experience, like how were you as a kid growing up? Like, what was your experience in school? And what were those lessons that you learned that you’re better off on learning. And so I’ll give you a quick example. For me, I always hate it to write like I did not like writing I in any school that I went to was just not my like, not my thing. I found it super hard, I still find it super hard on I do for a living. But it was just I didn’t see I just didn’t like it. And then I became a teacher and I had to teach writing. And so every day, so I would teach the way that I was taught and the way that I was reinforced in grad school. My kids do not like to write there were a few that like to ride the bike. And then it turns out when I, you know, left the school system, and I decided to take a writing course with David Pearl, that course was so powerful for me, because it helped me unlearn all these things that were making me not like writing and holding me back from the most important things, which are the ideas and how do you execute these ideas, and you put them out in interesting ways and, and in ways where people are going to engage with them. And so I had to go through a process of on learning all the things that I have learned about writing, in order to then, you know, learn again, and do it in a way that actually works for me. And so I started to become fascinated with what are the things that we’re learning in school that that we would be better off unlearning. And it all starts by having, you know, these realizations and reflections and having conversations about it. But for example, this whole notion in school, we teach you not to question things, right? And if you look at kids from a very, very young age, and I mean, you have two kids, uh, you know, the moment they start talking, their favorite question is why, and why and why? And you tell them why. And they’re like, Yeah, but why, and But why, and it just keeps going until, like, forever, right? Until you stop them. But then you start to notice that as they enter school, and as they get older, they start to lose that right, we start training them not to ask many questions, for several reasons. One, and the most common one, because the adults that are considered to be the fountain of wisdom are that’s a misconception we have in schools. We don’t have all the answers, of course, and we’re scared of saying, I don’t know, we think there’s something wrong with that. And so when we start to feel that threat, like, Oh, they’re asking, just stop asking questions, because they said, so or, you know, I know, we need to move on, or, you know, and so, we start to tamper down. And really what kids are doing is, they’re trying to think for themselves, right? They’re trying to unpack all the things that we’re throwing at them. They’re trying to, you know, think from first principles. And so when we start to shut that down, or you know, we’re humans, we’re parents, we come home, we’re tired. And the kids like, ask me why don’t you just don’t have the patience at the moment. We’re like, stop asking questions. So they start to learn, oh, it’s a negative thing. I get in trouble and this and that, when in reality, like, that’s the core of my work, right? Incentivizing questions, when we start questioning things. That’s how you innovate. That’s how you challenge the status quo. That’s when you start to move things in a different direction. That’s how you evolve. And so it’s very, very difficult to get trained out of that. But it’s possible right through the process of unlearning, when you start to realize wait, you know, yes, in school, I’m not allowed to question authority. And there’s appropriate way to do it. I’m not saying like, you need to speak out and you know, be No, no, no, there’s a way to question things, or you don’t believe everything that you read. And even if it’s in the textbook, or you know, you find different sources, you try to detect your own biases, you know, so and these are things that I think parents, again, have the role to help them realize and help them unlearn at home. And then you teach them how to start questioning things again. So that’s like one example. Right? The other example, if we talked about briefly today is the whole notion of failure, right? In school, we teach kids to fear making mistakes, right? How by penalizing them, every time they get something wrong. And it’s very silly, because this is the time when you’re little when the stakes are low, where you should be making tons and tons of mistakes. Why? Because you’re learning because you don’t know a lot of things right? And because again, you don’t have a lot of responsibilities or things that are tied to this. So instead of creating, instead of school, being a safe environment for kids to constantly fail, pick themselves up and develop the right attitude in when they don’t get things right. And then learn from those mistakes so that they can improve. It’s sort of the opposite, right? We sort of leave it at here’s the background. Here’s this yes, some teachers will sit down with the kid and try to correct that but kids are not tuning in because they’re already scared by that like stigma. that we’re putting right in that in that grade. And so we’re teaching them not to take risks. Or if you take risks, you know, you may get that bad grade, or they’re not quite excited to learn from the things that they’re getting wrong. And I think that this is a very important one that we need to fix, you know, fix ASAP, or pay a lot of attention to, because that is what’s going to get you, you know, if you look at, again, all the people that are doing incredible things for humanity, they know, like, if you look at their history, they’ve had tons of failures, and tons of things that have gone wrong, but what separates them from other individuals is that they’re willing to stand up and shake it off and say, I’m going to try again. And that attitude of Let me try again, and let me try again. And let me try again, I feel like we’re not nurturing in school. And that’s something that needs to be honored in order to develop that attitude. Right. And also, then, and I’ll talk about one more before we move on, because I mentioned a few in the book, but, and this was very personal to me as well, this whole notion of fitting in, right in school, again, there’s this one way to do things, and they teach you from the very beginning, like this is the path like these are the people you should admire, these are the careers that you have available. You know, like, this is the way that we do things and you owe a math problem, this is how you solve it, you go to the same answer. But you know, you need to show your work. And the process is not the same. Oftentimes, you you know, you get it wrong, and it’s like, okay, it’s something that you know, you need to color inside the lines, we all need to do the same thing, we need to think the same way, when you look at the real world, those that thrive and those that are happy. And those are those that think differently, and that are able to see something and look at it from different lenses and find that breakthrough discovery, because they’re looking at it from a different perspective. And so instead of encouraging kids to do this, to take a step back and try to look at the things that not everyone’s looking at, we’re doing the opposite. We’re like, no, no focus on this focus on this focus on this. And I feel like a lot of people would be better off not everybody, you know, breaking from the pack and charter charting their own path and trying to be different. And this is something that, you know, as I moved from to so many schools, so my default state was try to fit in, try to fit in fake the accent so that it sounds like you know, the people in this school and do this, you know, don’t do anything that’s going to make you look different,cause you’re already different. And on top of that, the school system would reinforce this idea of fit infinite. And then I realized as an adult, after a lot of things had happened, I always also labeled ADHD, I was also given the medicine, I was told for so many years, like, you’re disruptive, you talk too much, or get in trouble, you’re impulsive, you need to take this medicine. And it was like not me for so many years. And it’s the same thing. As I was saying with you like all that wasted potential. Imagine what would have happened, because it turns out that all those aspects of my personality that the doctor and the teachers and my parents would tell me that were wrong with me ended up being my assets and my strengths and the things that make me wake up every morning and want to work really hard. And on this mission that I have right to change childhood education. And so there’s so many kids like that, right. And it’s tied to this idea of, I’m way better off standing out, like trying to be different, right? not fitting in. And I wish I told my younger self like stop trying to fit in, it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to hang out with the kids actually hang out with the kids that think differently, because those are the ones that are not the conventionally minded, right? Those are the independent minded, they’re going to push your thinking and make you grow and make you learn faster. And so anyway, this is a message that I hope to reinforce in my children, and that I wish more parents were aware of so that they can help their kids unlearn this idea of fitting in. 

Clint Murphy  53:17

Yeah, and it really resonates with me, because I basically tried to live my entire life, not wanting to be put into a box. And it feels like all of society is geared towards making you complacent, and making you be a widget on that assembly line that we talked about earlier. And the moment you deviate for, from that assembly line, you’re labeled, as you said earlier in the conversation, we were labeled defective. And they you know, they tried to and defect us and put us back on the assembly line. But in reality you need what they call defective people to change the system and add value to it. So I often similar to you, I look, I look at this label they’ve given me about ADHD and think for sure that’s my superpower. It’s what’s changed my life and allows me to achieve at the level I achieve. And I don’t want my son to lose that I’ll definitely never attempt to medicate it out of him. Luckily, I wasn’t diagnosed early until it wasn’t until I was an adult it was pretty obvious in hindsight that that would be the label and my parents answer was just more school sports and teach you to love reading. So I was either playing sports or I was reading books and in that allowed me I think to become the person I did. And we’re going to talk a little bit about that in a minute. But I want to take a step in a different direction because you mentioned something about looking at common problems from a different perspective in order to solve interesting problem or come up with interesting observations. And I learned a new term when I was reading the book, which was vuja de instead of deja vu, so for our audience, what is vuja de and what are some things that we can do to encourage it in our show?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  55:16

Yeah, so I love this term, I learned it from Adam Grant. So Deja Vu is a common term right when you when you go somewhere new, but it feels familiar. Vuja de is the opposite, right is where you go somewhere that you’ve been before, or you see something you’ve seen before, but you’re able to look at it from a different perspective. And this new perspective enables you to sort of get a bigger sight, and to spot things that you hadn’t seen before. And so for example, really quickly, this just came to mind, I love to read to my my 13 month old baby, he loves storytime. And I notice he sometimes picks the same books over and over again. And he will start to find every time I read it again, something new, he will point at something he doesn’t have. And he will get so excited about this, you know, butterfly that is in a little corner that we had never seen. And I had overlooked 100% Like I had never, or you know, oh, I didn’t realize that the little warmth that appears in the story actually appears in every page, he was able to like I had never noticed that we’ve read this book 10 times. But by the 10th time he noticed, he’s like, Oh my God, this thing character keeps appearing in every page. So it’s an example of again, we’re going through something familiar, but he’s looking at it from different angles, and he’s able to find new things. And I think that this is what leads to a lot of breakthroughs in science, a lot of breakthroughs. You know, it’s like people looking at things. So they’re like, Okay, let me step back and see what I haven’t found yet. Here’s the thing, though, in order to be able to do that, you need to be able to have space, and you need to be able to have time. And I think that nowadays, you know, downtime is what leads to creative ideas, right. And for example, for me writing I, in order to come up with something interesting, I need to let it marinate, I need to stop and go, You know, sometimes it’s a week, sometimes it’s two weeks, where I need to read about other stuff, pause and I’m like, and then eventually I’m in the shower, I’m doing something and it will pop in. And I’m like, Yes, this is, you know, the insight that I want to share, here’s how I’m going to take this writing piece. And I think this is true for many people. And for many kids like ideas, don’t just click in the moment, you need time to sort of process them and can go away and come back and step in a different angle and look at it again and let it marinate. Kids don’t have time for this, right. They’re in school for so many hours, again, switching to subject every 45 minutes, and they leave school, they have sports they have after school, they have homework, they go to bed, and they start again. And they do this for 12 years. It’s like if you look at schedules nowadays, it’s like some schedules back but a CEO schedule like it’s insane, like thing after thing after thing. And it’s insane. Because it’s like I understand parents are with the best intentions, like I want to keep my kid busy and entertained, so they don’t go and do crazy things. However, we’ve seen through research that, again, those spaces of inactivity are so important. Getting bored is so important for creative ideas in order to generate creative ideas. And so I feel like, you know, one of the, you know, ways in order to sort of spark this Bucha their mindset is to encourage that downtime, and to let them you know, have a period of a few hours where they’re home where they’re not doing anything. So they actually have to think for themselves and, and, you know, reflect on the things that they’ve been learning and all the information that they’re being constantly bombarded with, right? They can digest that, and they can be like, okay, and sometimes that comes through boredom or inactivity, or you know, having those like periods of downtime. So that’s one thing. The other thing is, for example, having them in a write something, having somebody else read the writing out loud to them, that’s an interesting way or I love to do this with my students where, you know, they had written a piece and I was like, Okay, now you’re going to write it from the third person, the same story, but you’re going to write it from the third person, or now you’re going to write it from another character’s perspective, like the same story, but from the villains perspective, or the wolf or whatever. And then just by doing this activity of going through the same exercise, but now you’re forcing them to think from a different, you know, perspective, they would suddenly come up and they’re like, Oh, Miss found my third piece was the best one. This is the one that I want to publish like, this is, right, because it gets them to sort of like tweak things and look at it from different angles. And so things like, and they also talk about this because it’s related to this idea of range and to sort of like trying different things. If you look at, like the Nobel Prize winners or this people that are like, you know, like the rock or, you know, I was just watching the documentary of Arnold, I can’t pronounce his last name short. Schwarzenegger, yes. If you look at the highs they come from, it’s amazing and so inspiring. If you look at this people, what they have in common is that they will in addition to this desire to stand up when things don’t go right and keep going that we were just talking about. They come from a generalist background, they’ve tried many different things before they sort of like go into whatever it is that they want to do. And that’s sort of what makes them special because they’ve developed or tried out different things and so They’re really good at their craft eventually, because it all ends up connecting, right. And so I think this connects to this idea of vuja de, because the more you let your kids experience different things, eventually it sort of like comes together and lets them do whatever it is that they’re doing a little bit better, right? Or gain that that new perspective. For me, for example, I write about education and parenting, but I don’t I rarely read books about education and parenting I do sometimes, of course, but I mostly try to read things that are completely out of my scope and out of my field, and then I’m able to find those connections. And that’s what I think makes my writing interesting, right. And so but I’m able to do that, because again, I tried to learn about different things. And so I think that that’s something that parents can encourage from a very young age for them to try many, many different things in order to sort of bring to whatever it is that they’re working on.

Clint Murphy  1:00:46

And the other thing we want to look at with the kids. And in you hit on this one earlier, I’ll bring it back is this idea of softness or fragility? And so if we see a lot of children nowadays, and trigger warnings everywhere, and you can’t talk about this, and you can’t talk about that, what are some of the challenges you see, with the fragility in kids in how can we start to develop our children to be more anti fragile, if you will? Some people may say, Well, what is anti fragility? I’ll let you share that with them. And do you see a role for sports to play in that?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:01:26

Absolutely. I love this question. And it’s something that I got to witness a lot as a teacher, and now that I’m a parent, I see how hard it is, but how important it is, right? So I would actually argue that kids are born anti fragile, right? Of course, they’re fragile in some ways, right? Like, they’re putting terms of like tough skin and their desire to try things and to, you know, go up in this thing without fear of like, what happens if I fall and they’re just go for it, like, I see my know that my baby’s walking and running around, it’s like, every, I need to change him all day long. Because otherwise, like, the amount of accidents that he would have, however, I try to do it from a distance, and I try to let him take a few bruises a day, we try to say like, no more than two a day, because that’s where you know, but I lead and I try not to use words like careful, or, or you know, instead of like, do you feel safe? You’ve got this? Do you need my help? I’m here if you need me, Okay, watch what you’re doing. Look where you’re putting that. And then so those words are like, Okay, you shouldn’t be scared of this, but you need to do it carefully. So it’s this idea of Jordan Peterson have, you know, don’t intervene when kids are doing dangerous things carefully. Why? Because that’s sort of the precursor to what leads them to continue to be anti fragile. What I believe is that we’re raising a generation of kids that have become very fragile, because we’ve over protected them and sort of intervened way too much with the best intentions, right? Because that line of like overprotection, it’s a thin line, right. And we have, we don’t want for anything to happen to our kids, we want for them to be healthy and be happy, and we don’t want for them to be sad, and we don’t want for them to struggle. We don’t want for them to experience pain. But that’s an idealistic world. Like we live in a world that’s, unfortunately filled with adversity and with pain and with suffering, and you know, with failure and things are not going to go right. And so the more we tried to shelter them from this reality, the more harm we’re doing, it backfires, right? We think that we’re protecting them. But in reality, we’re doing the opposite. And I saw this a lot with students, you know, my third and fourth and fifth grade classrooms where they did not want to take risks, they did not quite know what to do when there was danger around or they were clearly over protected. We couldn’t talk about certain things in front of them or, and these kids were very fragile. Like they were constantly looking for mom, for dad for the teacher in order to sort of like imagine what’s going to happen when mom and dad are not around, and when they’re thrown into the real world. And they actually have to experience all those things that inevitably will come their way. So when parents tell me like, but I just want my kid to be happy. I’m like, Well, if you want your kid to be happy, you need to expose them to sadness, from a young age, obviously, moderate ways depending on their age. And then you teach them how to overcome that. And you teach them that these feelings are normal, that they’re going to experience them and that there’s something they can do about it and how to move on from that right. And the earlier you do this, the better the more prepared they’re going to be when they get to, you know, experience this on their own. And so I remember struggling when I when I wanted to have certain conversations with my students, because I would try to reason with the parents like okay, but you can’t cover everything with your finger like your kid will hear about these things in the bus from, you know, older kids from kids that have no idea what they’re talking about, from Tik Tok? And wouldn’t you rather for them to have this conversation from a trusted source that has thought through the talking points and that will answer their questions and that will let you know what we’re talking about. Like that’s the kind of people that you want your kids to be learning from for especially this like hard conversations, right? And so that’s part of it. And then the other part of it’s like trying to like a lot of parents were like trying to solve the problems for their kids and intervening and this and that, and it’s like, just like your kid is experiencing. You know, this classmate That’s not nice. They will eventually experience coworker that’s not nice, and you’re not going to be around to go and solve their problem when they when they have that bad boss, unfortunately, that they’re stuck with for a few balls or years or, you know, you need to teach them. And these are skills that kids need to learn and how do you learn these skills by constant practice? Just like failure? How do kids learn how to pick themselves up and keep going and develop that, you know, attitude of, I have no idea what this is, and I probably will fail, but it’s okay, I’m going to try anyway. And I trust in my ability to figure that out. That’s a skill. And that’s something that you learn by practicing. So the earlier that we give kids practice with these things that feel uncomfortable, but you know, knowing that they’re going to make the better often and more strong and anti fragile adults in the future, the better. And so that’s what I try to encourage, and I talk a lot about in the book. 

Clint Murphy  1:05:48

Well, the fun part with that, too. And is I often find it fascinating how as adults, so many of us forget what we were like, at the age that our children are eager to take relationships. For example, parents will say, Oh, no, my kid doesn’t do that at that age, like no way. And I’m thinking to myself, Well, wait, I was dating my wife at that age. Like, I’m pretty sure I remember exactly how our relationship played out. And if anything, kids do everything faster nowadays than we did. Like we think we’re protecting them from things but they see them on tick tock YouTube, like you name the social media challenge. They’re insanely exposed. So I’m always fascinated by how we as parents forget what doesn’t seem that long ago to me. Well let that one go. So one of the things that we can do that you talked about that I was fascinated to see in your book was when it comes to fragility is this idea of stoicism. And stoicism is something that I love. And interestingly I found it exactly how you talked about in your book because no one ever taught stoicism in any course I took it was simply an industrial psychologist, somewhere in my career recommended a book on cognitive behavioral therapy. I fell in love with CBT changed my life. did some research found out that CBT came from stoicism. And so I dove deep and started reading books about stoicism. So I guess the where that drives to is for a lot of people that are listening. They’re like what stoicism ancient philosophy? Like what the heck is that? And how can it help my kid? So I will leave it to you to make that link for them. What is stoicism? And what are the virtues in stoicism that you think translate to helping our kids be anti fragile? And what are one or two of the lessons you really want people to take away from stoicism. 

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:07:52

Yeah, absolutely. So I’m still like scratching the surface. Because like you said, it’s a very ancient philosophy that has been around for many, many years. And it really, it covers a lot, but I love how there’s this for, you know, virtues that he talks about that I was instantly like, wow, you know, in school, we focus so much on the academics and this and that. And we often talk about, well, how, how do we teach kids to have this like moral compass, right. And regardless of your religion, regardless of you know, what you believe in, or there’s four things that are true for everybody, and that if we all sort of practice this in our daily lives, I feel like the world would be a better place. And it’s just as important as all the academic stuff that we try to teach kids. And so the whole idea behind stoicism is you know, understanding that there are things that are within your control, and they’re things that are not within your control, and then trying to do everything you can for those that are in your control, and then letting go the ones that are not right. And it’s very focused inward, right? Like what are the things that you can do? A lot of people think like, you know, this happened to me, and this keeps happening to me and things don’t happen to you, like you choose how you respond to every scenario in your life. And the earlier we learn this, the better we’re able to navigate all these different things that we talked about, and all this adversity that comes you know, with life. And so there are four virtues that that you know that for example, like one is courage, right? And courage doesn’t always mean like, Oh, you’re not scared of anything, right? You don’t have fear of it. And no, it means like, even when you come across something that you’re scared of, you are able to find the sort of, you know, trust in yourself and that bravery to say, Okay, I’m going to try to overcome this obstacle. And yes, I may feel on my way, but I’m going to pick myself up and I’m going to keep going and I’m not going to give up. Right. And so that’s sort of like the idea behind courage and I love teaching this through stories for kids. You know, there’s a lot of like myths in Greek mythology that are appropriate for kids where you can sort of talk about this and I love the ones that are it’s important, you know, to highlight not only like the winds and the trim for this, but also like just you know, how they were very courageous when this was very scary or a big deal. and how they overcame that, and you know that as a virtue. So that one’s a very interesting one. And then there’s temperance, right, Temperance is sort of like knowing, you know, we want our kids to be courageous, but we don’t want them to take it to an extent with their reckless, right. And then when they’re like just running around burning things, and doing things that are clearly going to put them in danger, like, right, so having temperance in sort of like knowing what’s that right balance between being courageous and being reckless, like that compass in the middle? And how do you sort of like develop that? And a lot of this comes from questions and from reflecting and from sort of, like the whole, like metacognition process, right, like, where am I now? Like, what am I doing, and really thinking about your thinking before you do, and before you act, and I put a few examples in the book for this. And then we talk a lot about like, justice. And justice doesn’t always mean like giving everybody the same thing, right. And this one’s particularly important in schools. And when we’re talking about kids, like, as we’ve talked about, and we know, we’re all very, very different than when you have kids, you probably know this, you have tickets, like, it’s important for them to understand that, you know, sometimes you give something to an older kid, and it’s going to look different for you, younger kid, and that doesn’t mean that it’s unfair, or that’s not No, it just means like, this is appropriate for one and it looks different from the other, right. And so understanding that it’s very important. And then there’s wisdom, right, which is sort of knowing the difference between all these different things and knowing when to put on what I talked about, like the learning hats in my book, which is like the different thinking hats that you can put on in order to have a more holistic picture of everything that you’re learning. And as you go through the world, and wisdom is really understanding like when to put what hat right, like, when do you want to be the judge? And when do you want to think critically about this? Like, when do you want to be like a passive listener? Right? When do you want to jump in and lead and understanding that and the process that you’re constantly evolving, and you’re constantly learning. And so, again, a lot of this, virtues can be told through stories, they can be taught, something that the stoics used to do, and that I think is fascinating is that they kept it through to journal, which I think journaling in and of itself is a, it’s a wonderful practice for everybody. Even if you don’t want to be a writer, even if you just the act of trying to put your thoughts into paper is therapeutic, as many people know. Because it really makes you one, you know, face your sloppy thinking, and realize the things that you know, and the things that you don’t know, sometimes you have this urge and this impulse or this anger or the sadness, and by writing about it, you’re able to like let it go and not act on it. And so anyway, but what’s interesting about a virtue journal is that it focuses a lot on you, like we were saying, stoicism is about the things that you can control the things that you can improve, how do you contribute to this, you know, problem. And so I remember trying this with my students, and they had this journal where there were a few prompt questions where it was like, Well, how did I contribute to this problem? Yes, it was clearly the other kids fault. But like, what did you do to sort of, you know, cause this? And it’s like, you’re putting it sort of like, what, what can you do next time so that this isn’t happening, like, what do you think? And so it makes them reflect in a way that again, puts the ball on the record, and they get to make decisions about how they feel about the situation? What you know, do you want to feel sad about this, though? Like, do you want to be and you want to be the victim here? Or do you want to, like, push through and keep going, like, what’s going to make you feel better right now being sad and feeling like the victim or, you know, and so this kind of reflection and mindset, I feel like leads to just being happier adult, right and doing the right thing for others. And so, I love I love all the ideas of stoicism.

Clint Murphy  1:13:23

And one of the most beautiful books on stoicism is effectively a virtue journal. So we have Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. So we have, at the time, the Emperor of Rome, the most powerful person on earth, and he wrote a virtue journal, he wrote observations daily in his diary, and 1000s of years later, we publish it. And we all get to read, we all get to read the musings of the Emperor of Rome. And it’s an absolute kind of mind blowing book. And we’ll leave the learning game for a minute, and I’m going to fire some rapid fire questions at you. And then ask you a last question on the book. So the where we’ll start, what’s been one of the books that’s had the biggest influence on your life?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:14:19

So I think, I mean, I’m probably going to change my answer once I see you hear this podcast, but the first one that comes to mind is the one of John Taylor Gatto, domino sound, who was one of the first ones that I read, and that really validated the what I was feeling, but also, like, fired this thing inside me to say, okay, you know, I’m not crazy. There’s something I can do about it. It’s time to leave. And I think that that’s how all these wonderful things have started to happen since I left the system and make that decision. And that was the book that pushed me there. So let’s leave it for that one for now.

Clint Murphy  1:14:50

Okay, and what’s on the shelf right now? What are you reading at the moment that you’re enjoy? 

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:14:55

So um, I have a 13 month old at home and so I’ve started to this, you know, read a lot of different parenting books that resonate with my philosophy. I’ve actually abandoned most of them because I’m like, no, nope, nope, this is not. And then I found one that I’m really obsessed with. And I reading it for a second time, just because there’s so many nuggets of wisdom there and recommended to any parent listening to this. It’s called good inside by Dr. Becky, it focuses on you know, how every kid is actually good in the inside, regardless of the behavior that they’re showing, regardless of the things and then what can you do as a parent to react to all these things that will inevitably happen as they’re growing up? And how can you be the best parent for them, and help them become from a very young age, give them the tools and the skill so that they develop, you know, how they can act in, in social environments, and just through everything, and in a positive tone. So it’s a wonderful book. 

Clint Murphy  1:15:50

Love it and what is one thing that Ana has bought in the last 12 months under $1,000 that you have thought, wow, I wish I’d bought that sooner.

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:16:04

All I can think is baby stuff, because this has been my last year.

Clint Murphy  1:16:09

 I thought it would be that’s okay. Maybe it’s Sophie the giraffe. 

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:16:13

Yeah, yeah. So actually, I think it’s the Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m thinking about kids stuff all the time. But I bought this Montessori shelf. For my kid, we’re not doing screens. I’m trying to delay that as much as possible, even though I see all the wonderful things that screen spring. And so books have been a big part. So I’m like, How do I make him pull them up with learning. And I have this 123 bookshelves all around my house, I have like, at least I have four in the kitchen, in the living room in his room and in his playroom. And I read and I change the books every week or every two weeks, and I realized that it has become his favorite thing to do. And he cannot stay still. He’s one of those boys that’s running around all the time has his mom’s energy for sure. And the one moment that you said, you know, throughout the day that you see him sitting down quietly, and being just happy is when he grabs his books, and it’s because they’re out of reach. And so I bought four, yeah.

Clint Murphy  1:17:03

And when you said it has his mom’s energy, Ana, I don’t know if you ever plan on having a second but my observation with ours that I share with people is legitimately from the time they’re in the womb, our firstborn. Sometimes Lesley would have to check like, Hey, I haven’t. I haven’t felt this guy kick for a day or two. Like what’s going on here? And he’s the calmest child I’ve ever met. You know, you could put him in his car seat underneath the table when we go out for dinner and you’d forget there for two hours. And then his brother he was like doing like somersaults in the womb, spinning 360s kicking her non stop. And he came out and he is just a wild rambunctious kid. So you know, their nature, the nurture, I think a lot of this is legitimately like from the get they get that energy pattern and see the so the last one there? What is one mindset shift habit or behavior change that you’ve made, that has had an oversized impact on your life?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:18:09

I think the habit of breaking from, you know, reading and consuming information, podcasts and videos and everything, on the things that I’m naturally like super interested in. I was like, okay, for example, at the beginning, it was like education. So all I would do is like consume things on education, education. And then I realized, wait, no, let me venture out. Even if I’m not that interested in this particular sports book, or this, I realized by giving it a try and expanding sort of like that consumption, like the material that I was consuming, that’s what has led me to, you know, creative ideas and sort of that unique lens in all the things that I share and has expanded my horizons. So talking to people outside of my field, listening to interviews and podcasts for people that have nothing to do with education. And like I said earlier in this conversation, reading books that have nothing to do with education, I think that that has really been game changing.

Clint Murphy  1:19:02

So that breadth of knowledge, when you add it to the depth you already have in one area just rounds you out and allows you to apply things from in multidisciplinary ways, which is beautiful. The No, we went pretty wide pretty deep in the book. So just what we were talking about there wide and deep. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to make sure you get across to the listener?

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:19:24

Yeah, well, I think you did a great job really tapping into all the things that are important. I think that if there’s one thing that I would want to leave, whoever’s listening is that idea that we briefly talked about, of, you know, parents are so important in this equation, and there’s so much that you can do to sort of save your kids, even if you can’t pull them out of school. And so hopefully, it’s an optimistic message and not like, oh my gosh, like I just realized how terrible school is like, what am I going to do? Well, there’s a lot you can do and you need to trust your instinct. You know more about your kid than anybody regardless of what parents tell you what teachers tell you, and being that perfect in Abler I think that that’s really when you have parents that support again, you’re crazy sometimes irrational obsessions, and make you believe that you can achieve anything if you work hard at it, and you spend several hours in it and you’re passionate about it. I think that that single belief on your child makes a huge difference so.

Clint Murphy  1:20:18

Love it. And how can our listeners and audience find you? 

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:20:23

Yeah, so I’m online on Twitter or X as an anafabrega11. I have a newsletter called Fab Fridays on Substack. An Instagram msfab_learninglab where I share a lot of videos and clips of all these topics. And my book, The Learning Game, it’s online, wherever you shop for books, you can find it in bookstores in the US, and I’m starting to hear that outside of the US as well. And on my website, if

Clint Murphy  1:20:49

Love it. And thank you for joining me on the show today. That was fun.

Ana Lorena Fabrega  1:20:53

Yeah, thank you so much, Clint, for having me. I loved your questions.

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