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I'm sorry if this one is dense! Rarely do I feel like I really need more than four minutes, but this time I did!! Two things I've been thinking about:

1. When I say that shared worldviews and knowledge helps us communicate and work together, I don't mean that we CANNOT work together without shared stories...obviously we can! I just think that education provides us with shared knowledge that allows us to work together more effectively. I honestly think this is one of the main benefits of college education...just giving people shared frames to simplify communication. Which, of course, is terrible when higher education is denied to people who can't afford the ludicrous costs and then people are like, "There's just some reason why it's a little harder to work with people who didn't go to college" or, worse, "This person doesn't know about X or Y thing and so they must be stupid" when, actually, they just didn't get the EXACT SAME education as you, asshole. We need to get better at working with people who do not have shared frames, and that should be part of education.

2. Being the kind of person for whom barriers to success were basically non-existent does NOT mean that success is guaranteed. Both luck and hard work are necessary even when there are no barriers. But the absence of a barrier is not the same thing as luck for me. To me, luck is writing a Harry Potter song that got me invited to a Harry Potter convention that resulted in me meeting a conference organizer who helped me build VidCon. Luck is not being born with enough money in the bank that I never had student loans...while almost all of my peers did have student loans. That's structural inequality. I think getting confused about that can lead to a lot of successful people thinking that, just because they had to work hard AND get lucky, that anyone on earth could have had the same outcome with the same luck and hard work.

3. Oh, and also, turns out there were three. Success is arbitrary and it is what you decide it is and individualist narratives are also narratives that re-inforce a very specific thing as the best possible outcome. While many people find a great deal of satisfaction in lives that won't be written into books AND THEY SHOULD.



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Good Morning John, In your last video you were talking about how, often stories of great accomplishment are told as stories of individual genius rather than, like, collective progress.

And I feel like we’ve talked a lot about this on Vlogbrothers,

I wrote a couple of books about it. So forgive me if I have a lot of thoughts about WHY this is the case.

I think a lot about teaching and education. One thing I know for sure is that you can not know everything. And yet we have to understand enough about our world and how it works in order to live in it.

And there are a bunch of different things that allow us to do that. One of those things is having access to real information about the world. This thing is just  about the quantity of  information and it is in general what we think of when we think of education.

Sometimes we get so focused on imparting the quantity of information so that you have all the necessary data about the world that we have to simplify a lot of stuff. And that simplification  actually comes at the cost of other parts of what is necessary to have the tools to live in the world. Let’s have an example.

When it comes to the invention/discovery of the smallpox vaccine, there are like 3 things that you should know. One, smallpox was very bad but we cured it. We did that with a vaccine basically that’s very much like the vaccines that we use today that work by exposing people to an attenuated form of the pathogen.

Third, there was a person  who figured it out some way. Those first two things are facts that are important to have in your head. But the third thing is just a story, and I think oftentimes we simplify stories to make them good so we can have context to hang important facts on.

We do this a lot in education and I don’t think it’s a problem. Simple stories, especially good ones that fit into established frames that people are familiar with are really good ways to help people remember stuff. But it turns out that the story itself, doing a ton of work in the overall scheme of what education should be doing, which is giving you systems with which to understand and interface with the world.

And as I said a moment ago,  you may have forgotten, we’ve  been all over the place. Quantity of bits of information is only one part of education. Education also gives us lenses of which to understand the world.

And those lenses are often stories. They also give us shared lenses. Shared knowledge, shared values.

Shared worldviews, all of these things help us live together and work together and communicate. And so it’s super worth asking in what ways individualist stories serve learners, and by learners I mean human beings, and in what ways they don’t. I often find myself on the anti-individualist side of this debate, and I think that’s mostly because we focus on that so much.

This does not mean that I think people aren’t served  by individualist stories. I think we are. People should understand that to some extent we are responsible for our own fate.

And our outcomes are definitely dependent on how hard and how much and how smart people work. Not wholly of course, but in part, and I think it’s also important to note that this is more the case for people who have fewer barriers than for people who have more barriers. And so individualist stories work a lot better for folks for whom, like myself, a lot of barriers were really low.

But I also think the focus only on individualist stories can do harm in part because a lot of people can’t see themselves inside of them, and not just in the traditional representation matters way, which it does, but also just in the way that many people have barriers that other  folks don’t have. That’s  something to fight against, but it’s never going to be something that we are  entirely free of. So I  think it’s important to have stories that recognize the fact that nobody does anything alone and nobody contributes not at all.

If only through conversations we have with our friends and family, everybody adds something to the human story. So obviously we should fight against the urge to individualize every accomplishment that happens. But also we need to teach people that, for some extent, we are responsible for our own destinies.

We need to remember that the stories we tell aren’t just tools with which  to learn things, they are  the thing we are learning. And also we should know that acknowledging or in my case revelling in the fact that nothing is possible without the contribution of millions of people both alive and dead, is good! That doesn’t lessen individual accomplishment, it should increase our pride in our ridiculously badass species.

John, I’ll see you on Tuesday.