No capital or curriculum can solve all our educational problems. We must individually and collectively make a lifestyle change. Introducing genius to each other is a start; sharing our innovative genius with each other is a beginning. Forget a classroom as the root of education; spirit is always the root, whether you believe in spirit or not. Call spirit something else if you really want to, even call it nothing: you will not insult it because both spirit and you know that even nothing, the great emptiness, is something or eventually becomes something, even if it is simply death.
But we have this life, and we live. We live! Our lives cannot be meant to be binding to a piece of paper that is a degree, so that if you have that paper it is no longer your duty to think, or if you do not have that paper, you believe you have never had the duty to think. That piece of paper is dead: paper is dead. There is no longer a need for paper and pen. People text most of the time instead of writing things down. Pen and paper—I do not predict we en masse will ever revisit those things again. Time passes. We are all now geniuses. That is the truth of this moment. Today in the year 2013 we, average gente, know more than any and every single human being knew in the year 1913, only one hundred short years ago, which is not even the blink of an eye in the dimension of the totality of time. We now know more than every single past human being—from the coffee picker to Albert Einstein. Knowledge is beyond the speed of light.
Albert Einstein did not know we would fly to the moon or that Mickey Mouse would rule the world. At the touch of our fingers, literally inside of our pockets, we have answers that no human being had in 1913 or even in 1993, only twenty years ago. The information is free to you through your I-Phone or Google glasses. We are literally geniuses if we can now access so much information so rapidly, so painlessly to satisfy most of our needs, either abstract or concrete needs. I know and can know so much right now at this precise moment that it is like I am a walking library. Therefore, now we must admit that knowledge is not enough, and this should be proof that pure information alone is not enough for us to be truly educated. Just because we know things or can know things, this is not enough of a motivation for us to search for education. We must want to search for enlightenment, or else people will search for stupidity, and that is what we love to do to delude ourselves from truly thinking. The mass media thrives on peoples’ blunt stupidity.
Purpose, purpose, even if it is illusory, it is what we desire, and the first purpose that we have is life. Right now you are breathing, and if you are reading these words you have some type of purpose, whether it is to get through this page or to eat or to plan; you have purpose. Animals do not ask about purpose; they don’t care about that. But we question this existence, and we will never find the answer, no matter how educated we get; there are simply too many stories. Inside of ourselves, we want to invent our own story before we expire. The problem with education today is that most education does not help us to invent who we are and who we want to be. The best type of education is one that allows us to invent ourselves: this is the best we can do. These are the most motivating and inspirational truths I can imagine: If we develop a lifestyle of learning, conversing, suffering, playing, and living, then we can change education from something that is stagnant to something that is honest. Honest education would admit that it may not lead you to a “happier normal” life but may actually bless you a more intense suffering, yet I would argue even if that had to be the case, you will have a more feeling, more interesting, more alive life. Our students no longer accept the lie that education will solve all their problems. My favorite ridiculous reason for education: We will all get happy jobs!
I don’t know what your purpose is for you, but I know what I want. For me the goal must be a giant pie in the face and smashed banana in the hair party; that must always be the goal, to laugh at our absurdity, to happily share our preposterousness with each other. In the recognition of the ridiculous there is living genius. With that spirit as a base, we can accomplish anything and have a good time while we are doing it. If you don’t want this as a goal, then you can promote educational capitalism, like test taking skills, but ultimately I believe even our students know that leaves a person with the delusion of emptiness. Like all of us, I have shot for emptiness, and it also keeps finding me, but let’s not be fooled—even in the process of venturing into the abyss, there can be excitement and an addiction, a healthy addiction that keeps me learning and loving education.
We are in a miraculous crisis. As Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman stated, “Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change.” Should I complain about how much education, even public education costs nowadays? How many today in the next ten years will even be able to afford an institutional higher education? Should I chat about what students are actually learning in the classroom, even with well-thought-out Student Learning Outcomes? Perhaps I should rant about teachers’ unions or corporate conglomeration? How can we all be committed to such mass educational schemes that run themselves around in circles? I know nothing about myself; how can I know anything about those things? What can one man do?
My life for a righteous cause. I do not write as an administrator or as the best professor, but I write with an energy and purpose to transform. If you read this, I am in your mind. We are in each other’s minds. I am not humble about it; I may actually be ashamed of it, yet I continue because this is what I believe inside of my heart that can no longer hold the dam:
There is no truth except imagination.
Once upon a time, the truth was the Earth was flat. That was the truth for more than one thousand years and to disagree with that truth was to be tortured for your imagination. Once upon a time, the truth was that I was supposed to be a dishwashing convict criminal and to disagree with that truth was to fight against the universe.
I chose and continue to choose to fight the universe with my most powerful weapon, my imagination. But how, how can we possibly fight against the universe with only imagination? How can we be good, loyal people by depending on unreliable imagination?
Do not betray your highest truth, your imagination. Imagination believes in the impossible. Imagination loves that which is not logical. Imagination, and subsequently life, is not about only efficiency (which is important and beautiful) but also about the invisible intuition that does not have any quantifiable value.
Invent your destiny.
Know that your destiny is not simply bequeathed to you as if you are royalty; the days of corrupt kings and queens are over. Destiny requires imagination, and imagination requires work, faith, and most of all, luck. You have the consciousness to appreciate your luck and the power to place yourself in situations that trigger your imagination and uplift your life.
It is not intelligence that will fulfill your desires. No, to transform your life, you need your own genius that comes from within yourself. To invent your destiny, you must appreciate your base knowledge and synthesize it with other knowledge and predictions, and create something new, unimagined by others.
My subjective successes, from the strolling on the street to the desperation in foreign jungles to the smiles on stage, they were all inspired by the desires and sublime that are reproduced here in this overly simplistic but effective list:
• Fall in love with the moment.
• Esteem the original.
• Marvel the power of your own mind: spot issues, synthesize information, think critically, invent arguments, and imagine a new, better world, even if that world can only be imagined for you. It is your mind.
• Love to love, not only those who are close to you, but also the universe inside and around yourself.
• Exercise and enjoy your physical temple.
• Cherish both the positive and negative aspects of your own heart.
• Predict a loving future, even in the worst case scenario.
• Trust in your imagination.
To a certain extent, you will ultimately have to accept the limited and unlimited potential of your imagination, and have faith in something completely senseless or totally genius. It is you who must confront the imagination to yourself. You have this gift. Now it is you who must reward this gift to yourself.
Deserve your destiny by inventing it yourself.
For me, for all of us, a new beginning is always dawning if we simply wake up to it. I have had the luck and creativity to constantly perform fresh and crazy feats, beautiful stunts. One of my most pressing personal assignments is implementing a curriculum for struggling students and our entire community so that they can all embrace a lifestyle of learning. Education is not merely about K-12 or college classroom education. Education is about a lifestyle, from the crib to the death bed! Every single day of your life is an education. Still, many want to solve classroom problems as if that will confront the root of the problems. As a formal educator for the past fifteen years, I have not felt student progress en masse. Certainly, I have seen many students develop to become great leaders and successful people. If I listened to cliché advice that says I should be content as long as I help one person, then I should now rest and be satisfied with myself. I have already helped more than one. Perhaps because of my ego and/or my own understanding of how complex ideas are valued in the world, I know I am responsible for so much more.
Of course people are bright, but they usually scratch only the surface of things, and who can blame them when our society promotes so much forgery that is normalized everywhere. To be genius is to be strange, yet strangeness and boldness are exactly what our students need to evolve. I know there are many educational programs out there, such as college success classes, but those types of time management classes are not enough. Time, as a concrete and abstract concept, is much more complex than time management. Time, for example, is actually here right now, even though it is invisible. Time is in the future even when we will not be there, yet we do not pay time the respect it deserves because we have never contemplated its true tricks. How can we expect our students to respect education when we do not respect the obvious? An introductory course dedicated to the understanding of profound universal concepts can help our students become better university level thinkers, better universally human thinkers. Currently, I am implementing a curriculum in San Francisco’s Mission district that presents to HOMEYS the opportunity of embracing an intellectual identity and lifestyle. With this type of identity, melded with a spirit of purpose, they will become better writers and thinkers, true leaders of an authentic educational culture, regardless of the classroom, institution, or non-institution.
Below is a sample of the ten week program I have developed and am now employing in the HOMEY community. The young men and women are discussing genius concepts, and with that knowledge, they will desire to embrace higher abstract ideals. Normalizing an appreciation for genius is one goal. Having students interconnect genius with their own lives is the ultimate purpose.
DEVELOPING A LIFESTYLE OF LEARNING
BY BENJAMIN BAC SIERRA
This program is a ten-week multi-discipline curriculum designed to instill in students an intellectual, empowering, actioning identity so that they become successful leaders in their classrooms, careers, personal lives, families, and communities.
The ten-week program consists of ten lectures/discussions on the following topics:
1. Introduction to Intellectual History and Transformative Leadership
3. Time: the concrete and abstract components
6. Physical Fitness and Nutrition
Students need this type of program so that they can gain an urgency and confidence for their academic studies and lives. The big challenge today is not that students cannot engage in intellectual activities; the problem is that they have lost faith in academics relating, being purposeful, to their real lives. They are alienated from their own minds. “Developing a Lifestyle of Learning” teaches them practicable life genius ideas in action so that students will truly reflect, desire to further develop their own ideas, and become active participants in transformative education both inside and outside of the classroom. With successful participants as leaders, they will offer social proof that intellectual discourse can be powerful and fulfilling, thus normalizing empowering dialogue and conversations in their communities.
Using a similar self-administered program, I have transformed myself from being a lice headed little jungle boy to being a clean shaven loco professor writer. With over forty years of life locura and fifteen years teaching experience, I have enlisted myself into the grassroots frontline of education, successfully training thousands of students to empower themselves. Dedicated to the soul of literature, I have tattooed thousands of painful and liberating pages (essays, poetry, fiction, short stories) and published a unique homeboy novel, Barrio Bushido. As a motivational speaker, I have presented extensively, in hoods like East Oakland, San Francisco’s Mission district, and East San Jose, yet have also been televised nationally. This bold “Developing a Lifestyle of Learning” curriculum has identified a key component necessary for student success. Through it, students can gain the will to learn. It opens up the concept of genius in their very own lives.
A program like this can help students with more substance than just raising their test scores; it can help with true education, which must be a lifestyle devoted to learning. The ten-week program helps students want to learn gigantic concepts and apply them to their lives. This, of course, will especially boost students’ writing ability because in their academic essays, the students will develop their ideas using profound points. Most professors, regardless of background, want students to engage with powerful ideas. Also, in most college majors and careers, it will be writing, not test scores, that will prove people’s competency. Students who successfully complete this course will be more readily transferable to universities, and they will think of ultra-education as the standard. When transferring to four year universities, they will think of education as something more than for simply obtaining a career.
I do not have the definitive answer. By writing these suggestions, I am not contradicting the introduction to this essay. This sample curriculum cannot substitute for our individual and collective desire to perpetually learn. I predict that unless parents, for example, lead the way for their children’s curiosity, little will actually change. No program may work. Nevertheless, I am not a nihilist. I have an idea, am actioning upon that idea, and believe it will move something in the world. It is really up to you to dialogue further with others about education and life. It will be you who transforms the ideas here into something I have never imagined. Hasn’t the invisible always been here between us?
Imperfect as I am, I am still your “minority” Latino success story. I grew up below the poverty line, have worked hard and intelligently, and, most importantly, have been extremely lucky! There is no way to quantify the unexplainable luck I have converted into who I am now. A real American, I suffered stupidly on American streets yet also served in combat in the toughest military unit, the United States Marine Corps. I have diverse institutional education: a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, a teaching credential program certificate and M.A. from San Francisco State University, and a Juris Doctor degree from U.C. Hastings, College of the Law. Read more about me and you will see how I have I battled through education and how I attempt to try truth.
This sample curriculum is a representation of an effort. My words and ideas are a combined scientific and humanist approach meant to empower our students and community. The curriculum does not pretend to be a perfect pedagogy; it is meant to evolve. Whatever the ultimate evolution, it must promote a lifestyle evolution and not simply a classroom or educational band-aid. In this era, especially with the economic recession and an unprecedented technological boom, students yearn for a new type of curriculum, something outside of institutional bureaucracy. Many students are becoming convinced that education may not be practically obtainable for them because of rising tuition costs and because they may not get jobs after graduation. Students who discover this sample program can hopefully enter education more for the beauty and challenge of the idea and the excitement of trying out those ideas in their own lives.
Times have changed, and times are changing, and times will continue to change at a breathtaking pace. As community members, as learners, as teachers, as human beings, we must look at education in a new light instead of using old lenses that were meant to measure how well our students could function as factory workers. I am one man, but I am also every man. Initially, I was not a scholarship boy. My story is not unusual. My story is our collective story. Our collective story must include others’ stories and others’ genius as well, especially genius we cannot afford to dismiss.
We do not know what the exact future holds, but we can predict that technology will complicate our understanding of education. In the near future, we may very well have chips that can be downloaded into our brains that contain all the information that is on the internet. With information as obsolete, how will we test students? What kind of education will matter when all of us may know calculus just by thinking about it? Even with all this great knowledge, will we care about asking profound questions, or will we use this technology to feed our silliness by scrolling through gossip, propaganda, or the daily news? With that technological revolutionary reality upcoming, as an English instructor, should I also be teaching text messaging and Facebook writing and blogging? We must train ourselves to create intelligent connections for the beauty and glory of learning—connections that the internet has not even downloaded because that information does not yet exist. It is up to those of us who are conscious to create new knowledge. Imagination will be the test, even more so in and for the future.
We must take risks, regardless of the research or lack of research. It is about the invention, and the invention does not care about research; it just actions. At this point in our history, there is no way we can lose. In fact by investing more money in education and trying more of the same, we still, nevertheless continue to lose! General economic statistics show that more money in education does not equal better education. A simple point: per year California spends $10,000 per K-12 student, yet most of our minority public high school students eventually drop out and most who do actually graduate cannot even write university level essays or perform university level mathematics. Privatization is also not the answer because corporations do not offer anything radically different to our students for the $40,000 a year university tuition the corporations charge them. It is not money that we really need; it is a lifestyle change that we need that will not be found in the classroom but that can be fostered in the classroom. The student must will it upon herself to desire learning, and the teacher must be a leader of honest education, of learning for the sake of learning.
We must all become Renaissance Homeboys and Homegirls. Renaissance because we must embrace a multitude of ideas and combine them together with our own concepts to invent new dreams that make our lives more livable, honest, and fulfilling. We must become homeboys and homegirls because we must empathize with those common kids on the lowest strata of society. Without that embracing of the homeboy/homegirl identity, we will be disconnected from them, thereby losing valuable genius ideas that can benefit us all. Without embracing the homeboy/homegirl, we will not believe that education actually works, that they can actually be educated, and that is a disservice to our own imagination. I am a testament to the truth that a homeboy can accomplish unprecedented achievements, all while still being a homeboy but also being more than a homeboy.
A renaissance in action: My name is Benjamin Bac Sierra. The Benjamin represents an Old Testament theology about a favored son and brother, but Benjamin is also a renaissance founder of this great nation. Bac means bone in the Mayan language. Sierra means mountain in Spanish. In English, here now, I am literally Benjamin Bone Mountain, a homeboy representing the spirit of this new country and of the mountain of my ancestors’ bones. Spawned from the streets and your classrooms, I am your Renaissance Homeboy, always for you, always for amor.