Peter Hostrawser Intro
I found a job at a predominantly black and brown, high school, I was nervous, a lot of my friends were like, it's kind of a quote unquote tough school. I'm just a white dude from a small town in Indiana, these kids are they, they're experiencing things that I've never seen or heard of my wife, she gave me the best advice ever. And she said, just listen. That's really when I learned about how education is very inaccurate.
Arielle: I was lucky to be a guest on Peters podcast Disrupt Education. Earlier in 2021 and was happy to get a chance to have the tables turn and learn more about him and what motivates him both personally and professionally, this pandemic has truly caused me to question everything about the way we do education and really made me think twice even about the possibility of reforming what we have to prove is I'm much more aligned with self-directed education, advocacy, an activist, such as a feeler Richard, who I hope to have a chance on a future podcast episode. Nonetheless, I consider Peter to be the kind of educator that I think anyone would be lucky to get to work with and his passion for reform and creating something better palpable. And I go deep into the opportunities and educational paradigm shifts, and the potential rebirth that this pandemic has brought about, and how to create new ways to conceive and think about belonging when it comes to youth and ourselves. Peter is a well-known national speaker across the United States on strategies to improve education and teaches business courses at Stanford High School in Palo Alto, Illinois. He hosts the Disrupt Education podcast, cohosts the Teaching What's Not There podcast, and he is a Cofounder of “Hall Pass” Education specializing in Gap Year and Transition programs. Hello, everybody. I am joined today by Peter Hostrawser. Am I saying that right?
Peter: “Whoa Strawser go straw, sir. Yeah, there you go, sir.
Arielle: Peter Hostrawser. I have a name that's hard to pronounce. I'm very sensitive to that. So, thank you Peter for being a part of this being in our first season of the belonging in the USA podcast.
Peter: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.
Arielle: We were introduced through Lourdes Nichols husband, Andy. Florida's is going to be featured her family's story is gonna be featured in our third film. The story that suits your family, and we were introduced after I interviewed me because he was like you guys just must know each other, because we have a lot in common as far as how you think about equity and probably about belonging as well so, and you have your own podcast right?
Peter: I do. Yeah, it's called Disrupt Education. It's just about learning who people are and their educational journeys, and they're never the traditional one because I don't think it exists, and I just asked people how they would do education differently, and it's been a wonderful ride so far.
Arielle: How long have you been doing that?
Peter: Probably about, I would say three years now and started a YouTube channel and then I just kind of moved it with the YouTube channel into a podcast so I'm on, I will be recording my 150 episodes later today.
Arielle: So, we'll put that in the show notes so everybody can check out your podcast as well. I guess I want to start where I often can always like to start, which is just with this phrase that I chose to use as the central point of departure for my series, which is belonging in the USA. So, when I say that to that phrase, what does that evoke?
Peter: Wow. To me right now, it, I feel a lot of unlearning needs to happen. I want people to feel like they belong with their own talents and their own values. That's so kind of comes up with me and education. It's an emotion honestly, I feel, especially where I'm at in, as, as a secondary educator I feel in that time of people's lives there, they're trying to impress they're trying to fit all these categories in the stereotypes and these labels that were set upon by other people. And, you know there's a lot of isms and all those and what I feel is, I feel, empowering the individual that's where I want to go with that. So how do you belong. Well, you do, you just must unlearn the, the, I would say the box that people put you in and learn to be yourself, and to really promote your value to help others and you belong anywhere in the United States or in the world.
So, I think that's kind of the emotion that comes along with me.
I love that and that's a lot of how I see it as well I think it's a sort of fallacy, or it's more along the lines of like the difference between fitting in and belonging that people confuse and I think that if you, as of my little catchphrases if you existed belong. I truly believe that, but it is about sort of like a decision, just feel like I belong. I think first of all, in your skin your own skin right like I belong in this body, I belong in this embodiment that I've chosen or not depending on your belief of whether you chose to become this person you are, but absolutely in that period of adolescence and young adulthood when you're, I think we're, it's such an exciting time because there's so there's so many possibilities and you're really exploring you can be in a state of exploration, if you choose to be. So, you get to sort of help people with that so I'm curious for you as a younger person as a kid, especially when or where to do feel the greatest sense of belonging that's, you know, I, I tell the story a lot because it, it really begins with me getting outside my comfort zone.
I grew up in a small town in Indiana, and basically a bunch of farmers, not diverse at all just a bunch of people who hung out in a small town and we cruise on Saturday nights and different things like that. My first kind of eye-opening experiences when I was really challenged to do something outside of my comfort zone. I can, I can pinpoint a lot of small things within athletics I was an athlete, and I did a lot of different things there, but there was this one teacher, and she was a, an English teacher and I took speech and drama as a senior in high school, and there was a moment where we had to get on the stage and lip sync. I was terrified. I am not an actor, by any means. As a matter of fact I did not like speaking in front of people, even though I became a teacher at that at that moment I was just kind of, you know, give me to the credential and let me move on and because she I don't want to say force but you know it was it was an assignment, and she assigned us to challenge ourselves to do this. I started to think about what songs I would do back then there was a lot of evolution into hip hop, even in a small town with, you know, a bunch of white people in Indiana, but I always went back to my go to which was the Blues Brothers just one of my favorite movies and Cab Calloway.
Introducing The Blues Brothers and they were waiting, and he sang Minnie the Moocher. And I was like people aren't gonna get this but for some reason, I had the courage to do it. And I got on stage, they film this, I don't know why this film is, I wish I could find it. And they had a live mic on to make sure that you were actually lip synching that we kind of joked around because a couple people were sort of singing. I have no singing voice. I can't play any instruments, maybe a tambourine here and there but. So, I got up and I sang it and lip sync, and I had a hat on, and I put on my sunglasses at the time I was wearing glasses, and they were, they were prescription sunglasses over my contacts, and so I couldn't see anybody on the stage. And at that moment after I finished it was everybody started clapping.
And I was like, whoa, this is weird. Did I do a good job, and a couple of my friends and class came up that was awesome. And here I am singing, you know, an old school, you know, Minnie the Moocher does not like at the top of the charts at the time if you if you will for teens, and people are saying, this is, this is cool. So, I felt like I owned it. And I think, you know, at that point, that's when I started to feel like okay, this is how you do things you start to get outside of your comfort zone a little bit, you start to see things differently, but you also can bring your own lens and be open. So, at that moment it was that that is one of the places in my life that I know that that's a, that's when I changed and I started to really embrace, learning, and kind of getting outside of my comfort zone.
Arielle: It's a great story, I mean it's also incredible sort of link the concept of belonging to literally, you must be willing to follow the sort of still small voice in yourself to say I'm going to try this, I might have missed receiving is inevitably about being willing. Right, right. So you were like, well, this seems like a good idea if I was gonna do this thing and obviously put you on a path and to just being willing to do more things like that because I think that's the cool thing when you do take a risk and you don't fail, I mean because 99% of time you might use probably will fail but if you don't, then it can like propel a little bit. So, we're about these days. Where do you feel the greatest sense of belonging?
Peter: Oh, my goodness through me, through my colleagues, my students might not work. You know, it's always, you know you the five people you hang out with the most kind of attitude, but I am lucky enough that I get to, I get to hang out with about 150 students every day. I get to hang out with educators who are trying to change lives. I get to meet wonderful people like yourself through networking and so yeah you just you just bring who you are and, and I, right now I'm just, I'm in several different areas I teach high school and Stagg High School and on the south side of Chicago in payload sales, love it. We are in hybrid, having a lot of fun figuring things out and failing what the kids. You know I speak to some kids are in class and some kids are dots on the screen and you must figure it out. But you really must be your authentic self because they can really see you know, you're on stage and I always like I said, I go back to that moment where I was on stage in front of people, and I don't know what they're looking at because sometimes you know we don't make people put their screens on you, we want to be.
Give them the safest learning spaces as they feel, and then you know with colleagues, we're in this whirlwind of, you know, a pandemic and social injustice and I find the opportunity in that when you bring yourself, you're humble, and you say this is what I know, and you don't have to be right all the time because you're probably not. That's, that's, that's where I am today. And just honestly, it's, it's, it's a learning journey and ever believe that I always believed it was the end piece, you know I must get this, or make this amount of money or have this but then you realize, like we opened the whole conversation today is, those are those are expectations that other people have. It's not necessarily who you are. So that's kind of that's where I am, that's, that's where I sense my belonging and it's basically working with others and how can I connect with others and help others find and show value, and that in turn that actually helps me become more understanding and, and even bring more value when I have more lenses so yeah it's kind of I'm in the middle of, you know, the human experience and it's kind of weird to say that but it is it's, it's truly amazing right now, there's a lot of opportunity.
Arielle: Absolutely and I think that's interesting, and the connection is fundamental, I think, to all of us, but I think when you can become super aware and conscious of how important the connection is I think these times, like you're saying have made that even more present and clear for most people. But I also think there's this interesting connection between like connection itself and belonging, because I feel like first, at least this is my hypothesis you must sort of belong or feel a sense of belonging internally, then you can connect better. For more, even more authentically or maybe more real, like you can the only be real when you're being real with yourself. If you don't feel like you belong in your own skin. How can you possibly connect to another person because all you're going to be connecting with is projection?
Peter: Right, right. Yeah, I totally agree with that is it kind of reminds me of, you know, my first challenge with disrupt education, and I created a website, and I did a lot of work on that I do blogging.
Arielle: And I remember, you know when, when I was seeing things in school where people I just felt like students are walking through like zombies and I just wanted to help I'm like something's wrong with this entire system here, not knocking it all down, it works for some but for many that I saw those were the students that I would like really kind of, you know, be attracted to it's like they don't feel like they belong in school they feel like they just have to go through it and it's almost like a punishment.
Peter: So, I was going to change the world, of course, and I'm going to do it by myself. And this is a humbling experience because when I created my Disrupt Education website, and we were, I was working on a 20% project with students in the class I like to work with them, I don't think you can work above or below I think it we're all learning. And, and when I created the website. I was so proud I was like yeah, I got this, you know, I'm going to change the world.
This guy right here, And Oak Park, Illinois. And two months later into that journey, my old college roommate which we started a business back in the day right after college, threw me a message on LinkedIn and said, I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news but I think you have a misspelling on your, on your website, like okay I'm looking around and as I'm looking around, I'm going through all my blogs, I'm like where is this where's this thing, and I can't find it and finally I hit the homepage, and it's right up top. It's Disrupt is spelled incorrectly. And that was huge. That was the biggest gut check that, that I had at the time, and I had a choice and I share this with my students because I want them to know. You know you have that choice just like you were speaking about is, I had the choice to just close it down and crawl under a rock or, you know, this isn't for me, or to change it and keep going, you know, and I obviously chose to change it and keep going. But yeah, that's, those, those experiences are the ones that help you start to figure out okay you belong, and now the people that I knew I speak with many of them, they're very comfortable making mistakes, but they're also comfortable with being open to suggestions and working with, you know, all different kinds of lenses and there's a lot of empathy in there, you know, oh I did that too.
And, Oh, I hear what I hear you saying is you did this wrong, and, and that really you know, that really helps me personally feel like I belong but it also helps you know students, you know, they, you have to put them at ease and when I say students I think we're all students again I try to picture that but, but yeah That for me is, is the place where you show, you know, we all do belong because we all are not perfect. And it is learning is failing. So, I like to tell that story because that's, I just remember is di s t r u p t. So, for about a month or so some of my friends will be like hey, disrupt, you know, they would say kind of goofy, but you know you roll with the punches, and you go.
Arielle: That's a great example. Yeah, we do. I mean, I can say from my own heart I was such a one woman band for a year, with my business I mean I literally still do film and, you know, I filmed my own interviews I It's me and the person, I think I do that for really intimacy and connection versus, you know, having a big crew and making people feel extra weird about the already weird experience of being interviewed. But over the time that it wasn't till I became a mother, that it really became clear I cannot continue to be all things to all people, I just can't. And I had a great business coach who helped me, and she was like, I think you need an answer because I was like, I can't do I can't nobody can do it like me and I'm like, of course, now I'm like my editor I couldn't do without me so brilliant and my editing team, you know, but it's those baby steps and sort of being willing for me to control and I'm a huge recovering "control freak" perfect so recovering perfectionist self.
So those two things which I, one of the books I read over the past year was waking up white, and in it, you know, he talks about the tailwinds of whiteness sort of how we have this tailwind, something else in propelling us along but also about perfectionism, being a part of white supremacy right like and how it shows up in our entire cultural constructs structures and programming but then obviously our individual acts themselves and how we try to do things I love, I mean, so I have a grandmother, one of my grandmother's I'm blessed to have two still with us, and she might one of them used to be a secretary so when I was starting my business and I would send out my newsletters. She was my she would always be after I already send it but she would always send me an email back being like there's this is misspelled. Thank you. Well, it's already gone out to 500 people, but now I know. Yeah, but how is it as an educator, as a person who grew up in white rural America. I'm not going to put in I'm putting here I'm putting you in new boxes right for a second. Yeah, but how has your relationship changed to a sense of belonging in this country at this time when, you know, the group you can be a representative for you to be put in that box is the quintessential belonging in the USA right for sort of the stereotypical white man belonging, that's who belongs here right that's who this country was made for.
How do you relate to that?
Peter: That's a great question. You know, my wife got her master's degree at the University of Michigan and when I came back into education I wasn't always in education. I came out of a volunteer job where I was volunteering with some students in the South Bend area of Indiana. And I just had a glitch there was something there that said I need to I need to learn more, right, and more. Most of it was the educational part, right.
So, as a white male that's really, I mean it was built by white males and you look at it and it's, it's very comfortable, and then when you see something that wait a minute, like, so that the initial part of that was where I was doing video announcements with students, and these were third through fifth graders, and there were a few kids who were quote unquote good with education, and there were a few that were, quote unquote, like labeled as, you know, you're not really academic let's get this kid on my class I need to go do the announcements with Mr. H and I found while everybody was working through this announcements thing we were doing a VHS tapes and they were doing math and they were doing English because they had it was one year at the time, old school stuff. And they had to do the calculations and they had the right scripts, and the kids who were quote unquote labeled as they were challenged as education or academia or however else we do it.
They started really like tagging into hey this is cool. I like education, they were succeeding in their math like their quote unquote scores and everything were going up. So that was that was a click for me I was like wait, something's wrong here, right. And again, most of these students were white. There were a few black and brown students in the school but not, not many.
So at the time I went back to get my degree in education, and this was circled back because my wife was going to get her master's degree at University of Michigan, which language literacy and culture was her master's degree, and of course I'm learning things through her were talking about you know professors and classes and just the amount of people in Ann Arbor that are just from all over the world all that, you know, and we were really exposed to that through that so I'm looking at education as Wait, there's something wrong here, she's seeing the multicultural lens coming in. And so, when I was going through and getting my, my, my certification to teach, she finished, and she was like we're gonna move to Chicago.
Okay, that's cool I was on a two-month camping trip or two-week camping trip with students. And when I, my first teaching job in Elkhart, Indiana we went all the way up to Bar Harbor, Maine, and so I'm literally at a campsite when she called on a payphone and said we're gonna, we're gonna move to Chicago. If one of you or I find a job, so I'm like alright, so she found a job, and I found a job at a predominantly black and brown school, high school, and I remember the day before. I was nervous, a lot of my friends are like, it's kind of a quote unquote tough school and all these different things that are happening, you know, and I asked my wife, I said, what, what should I do what I'm, I'm just a white dude from a small town in Indiana, these kids are they, they're experiencing things that I've never seen or heard of.
And she gave, she gave me the best advice ever, and she said, just listen.
And from that point on, that's when I started to realize that's really when I learned about how education is very inequitable listening to, you know you have this pressure of scores and different things like that, but when you listen to, I call them clients they're all my clients because I'm a business teacher, but you listen. And it's such a different lens. So, I was kind of thrown into that as, oh my gosh you know that was I was learning different lenses. While I was learning how to teach, and so it’s kind of just morphed with me, and from that point on, there was another layer or two or three or 10, outside of you know what learning and education really is. And so then, you know I ever since then I was blessed to get a job in Oak Park, Illinois and I worked there for a while and I went to Glen Bard, and then now I met and so I, I've been blessed to see and learn from students from all over the world, different relate races, religions culture sexualities, all these different things. So now on my value is that I want people to bring their lens and value and then how do we build a place or places to where everybody can just learn and grow. Before all this journey.
And I, unfortunately, you know, still know people who are, you know, they just, they assume. And that's just such a terrible word for me the assumption. If it's the old kind of, quote, If I don't really know you or agree with you or understand you. I need we need to just kind of have more conversation, right, and I love doing that in the classroom. It's tricky, there's a trust aspect and everything and now we're on camera and classrooms and such. But I embrace that and all I just really like finding out more about people who aren't like me because I know people are like me, you know, that's easy. I don't think, once that I had a Muslim student in my class until 2018 Right, so it's, it's like, wow okay tell me more, tell me more about this and knees and, you know, so it's, it's never ending I mean that in a good way. So, yeah, we, we have a long way to go. However, I still feel like you know there right now, There's no better time to be alive, to, to, you know, face up to these things and let's see what we can do the layers of and like you said, the length of our assumptions to write because it's to unpack your own assumptions to be able to even get curious about someone else and that's why I said I started preface this with, I know I'm putting you in this box, based on assumption and I know from talking to you this is not how you identify yourself for who you are but when you know it's like well we show up we walk into a grocery store we walk into a room we come in with our appearance right yeah and then to really connect or to really be seen ourselves too we have to really be willing to see other people as they are, that as we assume they're going to be or as we think they should be or as we were taught that we're going to be or any of that stuff and nobody likes to be put in those boxes and that's what I find so ironic, actually about all the ways that we have become such a stratified us and them, but I mean yes coming in curious, and being willing to, because I especially I mean I was a substitute teacher at my old high school which was nuclear High School, which is probably one of the whitest places in the world with very small pockets of, you know, quote unquote, other, whatever that means.
Arielle: And then when I substitute teacher my early 20s And maybe learn I did not want to be a teacher in the traditional way, but I absolutely loved connecting with the students and getting to know them and I was there pretty much every day all day for over a year so I was in the building all the time so I met and develop relationships, together we have the same student in multiple different classes in one day. And it was so beautiful to see these budding humans just being and discovering things and gosh I hope to one day come on your podcast so I want to talk about education separately with you because I've been on my own journey with that in the past, during the pandemic, but I feel like there's not a lot of time or room in the way things are set up for authentic connection right with students.
Peter: And on the one hand, maybe the pandemic is allowed, almost more intimacy because it is so different to look at people like this in their space in their face. Right, right. But on the other hand, you can also hide.
So, true, true, what you know it's interesting on that, you know, we do see people say we you know we walk into the grocery store and there is, you know, we have been programmed to think of a person the way they look like. Well, what's interesting is the only pictures that I have of some of my students, who I've never seen in person, many of them is a dot with letter in it.
And, you know, I was a little upset because the school, you know, made the choice of not allowing them to create and put whatever picture in there, which I don't quite agree with I'm sure some people were failing with that if you will, but that's okay, you know, it helped me understand the student, just a little bit, you know more about maybe their humor or who they were. But now, I don't see my students a lot on a on a camera. There's a name, you know, and names carry some sort of connotation sometimes and assumptions but it is interesting, because I've had conversations with some students who, you know, whether they're struggling financially or motivation wise because I'm a business teacher, and I've never seen them, and we just have conversations you know they see me, I'm always, I always put my camera on and but yeah it's it is, it is very interesting in education right now.
A lot of people will say, Man, I can't wait to go back and I'm like no, no, let's take pieces of this and go forward, because I do believe there is a facet of our learning community that do feel like they belong where they are right now, they're excelling in this type of learning. And again, I don't think it's ever been one for all, but I think, you know, education systems as much as they can possibly do to give people choice on how do they want to learn where do they want to learn, and it'll be that's what's so interesting about being alive right now and being a teacher and this aspect, you really start to see when people's backs quote unquote are against the wall, as educators, where we have to perform in a certain way that is way different outside of many of our comfort zones. You see the people who are in, and then you see the people who are not in, and then you just try to help the people who are not in, you know keep flowing forward or, you know, that's so it's it is a very interesting time to see where, where people do belong in education and in learning. What do you mean, in, in verses in their comfort zones are able to perform in this way, or do you mean, like, like how some people, you know, were very introverted looks and didn't want to get dressed and now they can just do the work and learn the stuff and never have to worry about right, all that other stuff versus it is a yes and it's yeah it's always said like in high school, honestly, if you are driven, and you have the right tools and the right amount of time and the right mentors, you can finish high school in two years or less, I mean you can. It's a checkbox system, but I think we're really starting to question that we do need and I've always like said this quote many times like start teaching students and non-subjects.
And that's, that to me is very important. I mean if you can imagine though I mean we do have 150, 120, 550 students every day, and I think your capacity of like really getting to know people are way less than that, so you know that's a challenge is I must, you know, sometimes assumptions are made in order for me to try to move forward with a young person. And, and that's hard, that's hard to do, it's draining. But I mean at the end of the day, you keep moving forward and you keep trying to figure this puzzle out, but you must be okay with no enclosure like the puzzle may never get fixed completely, but man is exciting hunting for those pieces that's, so that's what I love about education.
Arielle: Well, this kind of, I mean what you're talking about does tie into my next question, in a sense, because I think this time in general is all about this question and the question is what is freedom?
Peter: Man, that's a good question. Freedom to me is being able to do. And, and to learn and to grow, where you want to. That's such a broad concept, but I feel in, in schools, and I'm going to I'm going to try to tag this to what I know, but I think learning is freedom. Right, I think that when you learn, and you're able to learn the way that you want to learn and what you want to learn. I think everybody really wants to be good. I think everybody wants to help others. I think everybody has. And I'm not like it's weird because I, when, when I say that I feel sometimes like suddenly, all the, all the boxes get in my head when I'm sitting down, cross dressers to have to hear all these different things.
But it is true.
I agree, I believe that people I mean I am on that spectrum of. I feel like there are certain things in life that are black and white and it's like Rand Franklin even believe people aren't currently good, or you know, and I do believe people are inherently good whenever we've defined as good. And I do believe that little children, especially in babies they'd come out and they want to learn, grow, expand connect and not destroy Exactly. Now the disruptiveness of our human race also is part of that, because I think it's more about experimentation than actual destruction, it's just that we have, like, maybe because there's so many people who do believe people are inherently evil, but it goes, right, right, what shows up in your reality is what you perceive, and how you think it was, you know what I've what I've found in, you know, using freedom in education, if you're open in your lens and understanding, okay this is why I see you might want to go this way.
Tell me more, rather than you need to go this way. That's freedom to me, when, when the students are you give that to them in a classroom, it's amazing what happens, it really it truly is it truly is. I like the students right now and I think it's, it's across the world people are asking what if, like, what if this look like this and education. And it is freeing people, a lot of a lot of students including myself some days would go into a school feeling like I'm in a prison. I am being forced to do this, I had a student last semester and I love portfolios I love students to just show your value with what can you do, whether you can, you know, play the saxophone or if you're in sports or if you can code or whatever you want to do, you can show that, and this becomes you. I had one student who is not, quote unquote, the best student. He is academically challenged all the labels are on grades are low and all that, don't get me started on grades but and I was, I was chatting with this young man, and he actually has a job in retail, and he loves it. He's all about fashion and he's like, I want to create a business here and this and the manager is giving this young man keys.
At the end of the night saying lock up you know you can take care of it and everything we're talking about. Let your eyes off this 18-year-old kid. And so, we're, I'm, I'm kind of helping him along say hey, what would you put, what do you think about putting that experience in this portfolio online portfolio and you know him. He said something that was very, very, I it was it was an eye opener. It was a world changer for me, he was like, I know this is important. And I know this would. Would you put, what do you think about putting that experience in this portfolio online portfolio and you know, and he said something that was very, very, I it was it was an eye opener. It was a world changer for me, he was like, I know this is important. And I know this would be cool, but I don't like it because school is telling me to do it. And that's when, that's when I realized, you know what can go back to freedom, he doesn't feel
free to really put his learning and his value out there in a certain system. That's what I want to change.
Arielle: And I feel like because So Michael D and my first film I don't know if you've had a chance to watch the stranger update and the cardia but he says that freedom is finding that place, what you're meant to do and that place where you belong, and I think that what you're talking about is helping people to explore and experience their purpose right, you have to do. You know what did you Peter get put here to do you clearly love really helping people to connect with their own purpose you do that's part of, I mean in business is nothing like successful business is nothing more than finding what you love doing and doing it well and sort of sharing that value with people, right, you're gonna have a successful business, you better know how to sell it. Sell yourself and you is the thing you're selling your own passion. If we had a system. And I think I'm really interested in the difference between education versus learning because I don't think that it's the same thing. If we had a system that was focused on learning, again, like you're saying the individual.
The individual learning the individual getting to be seen and show seen and heard and celebrated, and then that whole way through, connecting to. You're really talented at that instead of like what we do now where it's like, well you might be really good at that but that's an empty value in this classroom so you better go to this other thing where it's like well why did we decide that you have to be good at all things are there, you know, the people who know how to accept the boxes I was a really good student, quote unquote, but I was never a straight A student because I really didn't care. I just knew how to do the things I was supposed to do, first child, you know, they're responsible, so I could definitely do the whole thing, but I asked myself now all the time what pieces of myself I silenced or miss out on. I'm so good at doing jumping through those hoops so there's also a mentality in our society that's like, well, you're not supposed to feel free to post it's supposed to be suffering and penance like sort of moralistic religious concept to So for you, where do you where the
When do you feel the freest?
Peter: Oh man, it's interesting, any time. It's hard because I try to feel as free as I can while I'm teaching. It's hard because you do have to jump through hoops you have to check boxes. I feel the freest like today, right, like it's we don't have school today. But when I woke up this morning, I have two or three opportunities to speak with people. I'm able to sit down with my coffee and read. I'm able to play around on my computer and try to figure out how am I going to do a next video or how am I going to, you know, that learning is just, it's what I can do. I'm also able to sit down with my family. It was interesting because Marielle, who wrote in distractible. Yeah, is a wonderful book, actually he said something about, you know Valentine's Day and we don't really do Valentine's Day that much but you know, you know when my wife and I we sit down on the weekend for at least an hour and put everything away, and we drink our coffee and we have conversation, and that's free, right, like, I'm able to do that and I and, you know, I think, you know, what is freedom to me is not going to be freedom to somebody else, but I think everybody deserves that, to have whatever they can explore whatever they can learn whatever they can communicate whoever they can love all these different things that come along with it.
And I must going back to kind of the beginning of the conversation I have to internalize this, and you have to realize, you know what you're doing, you have to pause and reset. You must understand, okay this is really what I like, this isn't what social media likes or like my friends like this is what I like to do and being able to own that and I think that's the first step into freedom. I heard this somewhere I was on a clubhouse chat, I didn't say this, but this was a great saying that somebody put out into the world was, we don't have an education, workforce, or job area, we have a credential job area right now like we're where people are just building credentials, and that hit me hard because it's true. We're checking boxes. Still, and the humanistic approach is now just starting to evolve to where we can start to allow, somehow, to get a better understanding of what freedom is and what does it mean to belong in your own self, to learn, and then help whatever entity or wherever you are. So, yeah, that you know the education industry needs to evolve, and we need to kind of get rid of the credential industry, I feel like so much of it is linked to this opportunity, for lack of opportunity.
Arielle: Yes, the equity of that, which has always been an issue and as always is very connected to this concept of belonging to because based on your groups, or your identities or your any all of that stuff that has been so complex in the formation of this country in the evolution of this country, based on all that you do or do not have certain opportunities and I think that what you and I may be as, you know, white identifying, or people who identify as white.
The only thing that I know that I can do differently as a white person his beliefs people that are not white about what their experience has been and what their opportunities have or have not been and then learn as much as I can about that so that I'm not part of the problem of denying that or questioning it or wasting the energy on, or is it really that bad because, you know, If people have so many people are not even if so many people if one person is saying to me, this happened to me. You know, I can choose to believe them or not and it's, how would I feel when sort of this empathy this radical empathy is saying, I don't have to understand or have gone through what you went through, I just have to be willing to listen to and understand why it was so hard for you or what his obstacles were that you had to overcome and doesn't. We have a big issue in this country with sort of looking at reasons as reasons versus excuses right there are reasons for things or systemic issues but that doesn't mean that that's an excuse, either right like and it doesn't mean that people saying this and this and this are true, is an excuse for anything, it's just, yes, have black people been oppressed, from the moment they were brought here as enslaved people yes they have. How can anyone deny that right and the people do because you must really be willing to again put aside your preconceived idea of something and the way that you were. For generations, it's still happening in our education system.
There's not a lot of time or space and, you know, part of my project was started around the Muslim ban because I just couldn't believe I could not wrap my head around that we were living in a time when that could exist, right, right, it was still gonna keep happening in this like banging your head against the wall, repeating of history with the different group.
Arielle: Right, right. No, yeah, Yeah, it makes me crazy. So, so that also ties into this idea of neighbors and neighborliness, how do you think of this concept, I mean I love Mr. Rogers, I don't know how old you are, but he was a huge part of my childhood and, you know, ideal and the practical level, what do you do to be both be a good neighbor promote that idea of neighbors Lemus in your students and your family.
Peter: Yeah, I mean, communities themselves are super important in education and I think there is a disconnect there. To be honest, you know, one thing that I'm that I'm working on is a project where we start to connect, reconnect even because in the past it used to be this way where the community and the educators would work together. I think that's part of the problem when you know we look at, okay, well, this school doesn't have that well why well, I'm going to go in there and I'm going to show them what they need.
That doesn't work.
That hasn't worked, and that's a major part of the problem right like I'm not going to go into a different neighborhood that I don't know anything about the culture, the whatever's happening in that neighborhood, and try to tell them, Okay, this is what my school is doing so you guys should probably do this. I think there's a connection there where we can, where we can create our youth and their challenges that in there, when they're not like you said like free kid playing around and they don't, they don't box themselves in on, you know, cynicism and in the things that that kind of block us, they ask what if more and they you know, and I think there's something to that to actually help any community out there that congregates students into an area to open up the opportunity to learn and to grow and to create a better community. Also, though you also have, you know, outside.
The reason I'm like right now I've never been broader on my reach, in my network. When we're in a pandemic it's weird, right like so. I've talked to people in the Far East I've talked to people in Africa, how it could be too late, and I have no idea like wow, tell me what's going on there, you know, tell me what you all are seeing it's what's very interesting is it's very similar across the you see the similar. There's a lot of synergy in the challenges. And so, you know, adding a worldwide view and a local view together is super important. You can adapt a worldwide view, If you, if you want, it's there, but I really think the structure of a community. So, what I want to do is I want to I want to build.
Somehow, I mean we use the terms that we always use like curriculum and these things though but build it around a community. So, look, we have a challenge of getting kids from their home to school safely. Right. I didn't have that challenge in Indiana, it was like, you know that made no sense to me it's like well just do something different I you know, but now like, I can't say that I haven't lived that I don't understand that. So how can we have the youth come up with different ideas. And in the communities to really and then you bring government in and then, but I don't think we have enough student voice I don't think we have enough Student Action to do that. So, in a neighborhood. I would love to see and for me it's getting involved with our high school here and it's hard now because we're in a pandemic, to do it differently because we're all kind of scrambling. But how can we really correct. Think differently in each community to help, you know, maybe solve some challenges that we have.
Arielle: Did you see the film and we saw the film in it read the book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Yeah, yeah. Is that being that, you know, there's a real life or death issue here. Yes, let's ask kids what they would do, you know, and it's so funny because I feel like I think your kids have kids I think around the same age as my daughter and I don't know what we're doing as parents’ generation that's kind of really frustrating me, which is not letting the kids have much say in what they do or their choices and so, you know, my daughter had a little silly conflict with a neighbor kid that they've been really good friends and that it was like she scared her and she didn't mean to and. And my daughter's first thought was, well why can't she and I just have talked about it.
Yeah, and that wasn't allowed to happen, I'm not gonna go into the whole thing, but it's just like yeah, obviously it would be great if we gave kids if we empowered kids enough to know that they, they are able to come up with great ideas and have solutions and, you know, and truly make a better world, right, they can see things that we aren't doing necessarily great or we're still doing things in an outmoded way, they might be able to just fix quickly because A, they have more skin in the game I'm gonna be here. Right, but I also think there's this beautiful potentiality right now with the pandemic of both feeling. The feeling of isolation, the feeling of not being able to connect is also helping us to see how important that is right and how, how much we need community empowered and what is a community and where do you really feel like you belong, or you feel that sense of right neighbor connection because I would say for me neighbors. I have people I feel like close neighbors who live in other countries for sure, like, I think of them as neighbors and is that think local Think global act local. Right, philosophy, I think part of what you're talking about too is reflection, right, is giving people the space and asking the questions that lead to reflection because if we don't make time to reflect, we can't even notice what we're feeling, let alone do anything to change what we don't like what is uncomfortable.
Arielle: Right, right. Yeah, what are, what are some more of your personal daily practices that you use to center yourself to motivate yourself to keep going in this, especially in this really challenging pandemic.
Peter: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's interesting. I have two dogs, so they are so much help for me. But I get up in the morning, and I let them out, and I do my best not to even look at a screen for an hour, you know, I believe in meditation. I do sit and center myself, I do a ton of note taking, I'll write down thoughts, and that's where my blog came from a lot of my earlier blogs will, if you ever read them. I'm mad. A very angry, and that emotion drives. And I've learned that, you know, to let some of those things go, and to, to write so those are those are some of the things that are my outlet for me I mean it's important to, you know, sometimes I'll get on, like, a phone call with a friend of mine, Saturday, I had an idea in my head and it wasn't a zoom call or you know the things that we're constantly doing it's just kind of, you know, breaking it up a little bit. I like to every night as much as I can I know not everybody can do this, but I get to sit down and have dinner with my family, you know like those are the things that some sort of consistency where I'm able to just kind of sit back and, you know, soak in life. In the morning I'll just sit down on the couch and just try to listen. It's quiet in the wintertime but you know you'll hear birds you'll hear all these different things and taking walks and getting outside and I live in a neighborhood like you so there's lots of houses when the Chicago lots and such but when it's nicer out I'll take a walk every evening with my wife and or our dogs walking them around. So those are the things, but it's important to center yourself, and in kind of getting back to you know that's my lens, and the more I talk and speak with people about you know their lenses and where they are. I think those are the basic pieces that people need, and if they don't have them, that's where I, you know, how can we help, like how can we figure out different ways to give people that inner peace, because there's many places on this earth, there's not any space for that. And so how can we even move forward with those things, you know I hear it in a lot of, you know, I've been on clubhouse a couple of times just hearing chats.
[Arielle] What's clubhouse?
[Peter] clubhouse is an app, it's where basically you can get in and it's like it's almost like a radio, there's a couple people on stage so talking about a subject. And I did this I jumped in on one about education reform and everything and of course I started talking about my lens and it was, I didn't, I didn't realize the challenges that other people were having when I, when I was speaking and that was an error because other people who were on stage were saying things much more serious than me. And it was like, oh my gosh like how dumb I feel right now I failed forward right, and I'll own that. But they're right, like why you know if man I had would really love to have three meals a day. And then there are people fighting to have one meal a day, right. So, my problem isn't that bad.
So, I can, you can sense why there's an urgency of people to get the word out and how can we how can we get basic needs taken care of before. So, you know, I think, like, going back to the education and the communities together I think there's, allowing and opening that up to in the credential system, somehow, to have that as part of your day. I don't want to say to hypothesis, but I would think it would help more than it would hurt.
Arielle: It's true like things like food insecurity, I mean, I think, I mean, again, it's, it is about moving forward. But I do think there are things we can take that have worked. And those things are usually the most, you know, human connection these things like, if you know not that every teacher is going to connect with every family or every student but if, if the teacher really knew the family and knew what the issues were in their home, because you like you're saying it's not gonna work with 150 kids like you can't have that capacity is one human to 150 families in your heart right at once. So, if it was smaller, maybe, then you could really say, you know, gosh, back in as an abusive household. And when they come in looking solid or for large instead of assuming that they're just being snarky, maybe you know, especially in high school really coming heartless that happened last night or this morning or whatever and coming at it from that instead of, they have, they aren't the problem.
Arielle: And it's in our system right now doesn't have that capacity to hold the humaneness of where we are right now, it's been rattled though because when, you know, when a student will drop their mic and talk, you know, in class. Sometimes you hear 13 people around them. And then you, you start to understand. Maybe this is a, therefore they're not getting their homework done right. They have 13 people in their house and you know baby's crying and all these things so we're actually now we're in other people's places and this is why I, I'm very hesitant to have them be forced to turn their camera on or to say anything if you guys want to type something out and then allies offer a one on one, you know like, you know, as, as challenging as that is, I think it's a good thing that we're seeing that in education now because people are starting to realize, oh, well maybe math worksheet for wasn't that important, you know, or how do we change it to where we give when they're in school.
We give them more time and go back to that more freedom to actually move ahead and their studies and or nourishment or whatever that looks like and you're right, we have to understand the, what is going on in that young person's life, and there are too many assumptions there are too many assumptions made when in fact just, I don't even think it's just the other people I think just as people, people like I, I've been walking around, I would say for probably the last five years, really consciously aware of because I've gone through some horrible things and that opened my eyes to like oh my gosh, you just look around at all the people you're passing on the street, and you just don't know what they're going through. And so if we can maybe start to define what it means to be humane. Yeah, it's one another and actually focus on that as a concept, because so many of our especially when we're dealing with distant planet that is so more and more populated, right, right, and if it, you know, if you live in a big city if you live in a highly populated area, it becomes easier and easier to not see people as people to just see them almost as like holograms right by you. But we also must recognize Well, I think asking what makes us human, what is the difference, and then doing more of that, and highlighting it, I think maybe as an educator with piloting that humanity versus taskmaster.
Peter: Right, right. It's one of the, one of my favorites, two of my times, my favorite times of the day are driving into work and then driving home from work. You wouldn't say that like if you knew Chicago traffic, but you know it stoplights and such. You know I look around, I'm, I noticed you know, and I was guilty of this too where you pick up your phone because you're bored for half a second or you get a notification or whatever. I throw on the music that I love, and I've been making a big effort just to watch and, in the morning, now when I traveled to work.
The sun is always rising if, if it's you know, clear day, and I just make, make sure that I'm looking for those things, even though there's a skyline or there might be, you know rain on the horizon or whatever, and those of you right i mean it as much as we can give people opportunities to really just soak those things in and to realize that so I just tell those stories to my students all the time. And then you know have write down wins, as much as possible and not deflect losses or challenges that you have in your life, but really, it's, it goes back into mindset and being able to reset every day. And yeah, as more and more we can do that, I think you're right, I mean we will start seeing people more as individuals, rather than you know that person who just cut me off because they hate me or bumped into this person or whatever.
Arielle: So our minds are always trying, I mean, I think, our minds are like most of us have these minds I don't know if there's anyone that doesn't, maybe, maybe, instead of having a mind that is just looking for things that are wrong and the victim, like I think that's just part of the ego right we are victims and we have to always overcome and this like this fight to the death just to be alive. There's a whole like if you are someone who pays attention and notices things and spends time in nature or takes has the privilege really of being able to find any kind of peace, in a day.
That starts to open those little pockets of opportunity and that same business coach I had seen and make this amazing exercise that really helped me, especially overcome my perfectionism, which was every day at the end of the day writing down three miracles, and a miracle was something that I wished for to happen, it could be tiny as like, my husband bringing me a glass of water, right. You wish for to happen, happen like you get a parking space you know those little details but it's kind of what you're saying, focusing on those wins.
And then the more you focus on that the more you notice that you notice those things are showing up so even if things are dire in some ways in your life, you can always find the silver lining and again maybe you and I are both "pollyannish", but we need good people. So that's my last question to you, which is what most lifts your spirit. These days what most inspires you?
Peter: Other people. I mean it's a really is learning from other people that are like me, that, that to me it just, I just feel privileged to be where I'm at, and to, to learn from, from youth. I you know I just posted on LinkedIn today when one of my good friends. He opened a gym, very different, very Italian family first gen. In the United States, and you know he had this vision he bounced around education, it didn't work out. I saw him in his ups and downs we had conversations, but I think it was today he did his grand opening, and that just brings me joy that that those, those stories Bring, bring me so much like more I just I just want more it's almost the ether of the, of the greatness that's happening around us.
I had a young man who, the day after his 18th Birthday published his first book on poetry and those things are like those are big things, but even the small wins when you see, and you can just feel it. That's what keeps me going, because it not only just helps people move forward but it also helps me move forward. So, I think if I can tie their success into. I didn't do that for him but that I was, I was there to see it. It motivates enhances my, my want my, my purpose to help others show even more value.
Arielle: I always say it's my last question and I really have one more way to do that. Because I want to make sure we have a resource guide for people on our website that's like books, films, podcasts, all those kinds of things but I want to ask you specifically about books that have most inspired you changed your life that you feel in your community.
Peter: Sir anything by Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools was a game changer for me I had the privilege of hearing him speak overseas when we put together a trip for students, and that was just wonderful. I will say like, anything and everything in education that is around it, I mean I can plug a book and it's called the Unlearning Leader and it's by Mike Bloomfield and Nick Polyak who are superintendents right here in Chicago Nir Eyal and yeah, his Hooked and” Indistractible”, I think are folks at this time. They're really facing the challenges of you know what our youth are going through. And, as parents were going through, you know, it's a different time than when we grew up right like so. So yeah, those are those are the few of the books I just read a lot. I also read a lot of World War Two. My grandfather was in World War Two, and so I just personal histories and how we tie into world history I love that. Thank you so much for this conversation, it was a highlight of my day and week so far.
Peter: Excellent. I appreciate, I appreciate it and thank you, thank you so much for, for having me on this chat, going to get you on Disrupt Education Show.
Arielle: I can't wait.