#98 You're More Powerful Than You Think: Eric Liu

If you're disillusioned, depressed or downright furious at the state of politics today, this episode is for you.

Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University, says that you're more powerful than you think. We discuss the stories, strategies and ideas raised in his timely new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen"

The key to fighting back successfully is to have a strategy and know how to read and write power,” but most people have no understanding of power and how to use it.  

Political illiteracy is one reason we feel so powerless. “I think the reality of American life, right now, is that so many people have neither the motivation nor the ability to read or write power,” Eric tells us. “They lapse into this “House of Cards” or dark conspiratorial vision that all politics are like "Scandal,” and out of that are born people like Donald Trump as President.” 

The truth is that ordinary people are able to accomplish extraordinary things.  We learn about Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City-based campaign against predatory payday lending and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers - a surprisingly powerful movement for farmworker justice.  

For decades, poor and often illiterate migrant workers picked tomatoes in rural Florida, "laboring essentially under conditions of indentured servitude." Instead of an hourly wage, growers paid them pennies per bucket of what they picked, says Eric. The Immokalee farmworkers successfully demanded higher wages and better labor conditions. "In 2001, they organized the first-ever farmworker boycott of a fast-food company, against Taco Bell," writes Eric in his book.  Four years later, Taco Bell's parent company agreed to raise wages and reform its power chain.  

Eric's solutions:

  • Learn how power is organized. His book has nine strategies for changing the game. 
  • Vote. In his book, Eric Liu writes that voter turnout (in general) is rarely above 60 percent (at best).
  • Exercise your "we muscle.”Join a club or group and learn how to work with others on game-changing ways to improve the odds for a cause or a hobby that you care about.
  • Keep it local. Eric argues that too much attention is given to power politics in Washington D.C. Often the best way to bring about change is in the neighborhood or city where you live.
  • Schools and colleges should improve civics education, giving students a much clearer understanding of grassroots democracy. 

Learn more about citizenship and civic power from these online Citizen University videos.

Read a review of Eric Liu's new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think," by New York Times journalist David Bornstein, co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network. David is one of our "Fix It" show guests, listen to Episode 47.
 

#93 Emily Esfahani Smith: The Power of Meaning

Are you happy? If not, perhaps you’re asking yourself the wrong question.

Our culture is obsessed with happiness - a right that’s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. But living a life of meaning, instead of the pursuit of happiness, may bring much deeper, longer-lasting satisfaction, says our guest, Emily Esfahani Smith, author of "The Power of Meaning Crafting a Life That Matters.

In 2013, comedian Louis C.K. struck a nerve when he spoke of the human condition on the Conan O’Brian show. “Underneath everything there’s that thing - that empty forever.”   The video clip from the “Conan” show went viral with more than 12 million views on You Tube.  

We look at solutions for that “empty forever life.”

“A meaningful life is connecting and contributing to something that is bigger than you," says Emily. Her book examines the wisdom of philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, neuroscientists and novelists and provides insight on how to lead a more meaningful life.

Emily argues that leading a meaningful life is more important than a happy life. "When we don't find meaning, we end up becoming more depressed, prone to suicide and more alienated."
 
Find out why cultivating connections with others, working towards a purpose, telling stories about our place in the world, and seeking out mystery can enrich our lives.

We also discuss belonging, alienation and politics. In a recent New York magazine article, Emily writes: "President Trump is like the neighbor, a man who unthinkingly builds new walls and fortifies old ones — walls to keep out immigrants and refugees, walls to divide the establishment from working-class Americans, walls to protect American manufacturers from American trade partners."

Additional reading: "The Road to Character" by David Brooks of the New York Times.
 

#82 Lessons from the World's Best Schools: Lucy Crehan

What we can learn from the best education systems in the world? A lot.

We learn about PISA - The Program for International Student Assessment - and why this international test on math, science and reading has disturbing results for U.S. schools.

 

We interviewed British teacher Lucy Crehan, author of the breakthrough book, "Cleverlands", went on a remarkable journey to Finland, Asia and Canada, to study the world’s best schools. We find out why a simple question from a student in her science class, “Miss, why do we sneeze?" sent Lucy on a two-year quest to learn how to improve schools. 

Playful, enthusiastic, and full of common sense, "Cleverlands" is a personal story, an adventure, and a how-to book on how everyone can improve children’s education.
 
Lucy paints a picture of school life, making sense of the theories and data through the stories of teachers and children.

Solutions:

  • Get children ready for formal learning. Early education is important but don’t focus on academic skills. The most effective programs build motivation, character, and cognitive skills through playful learning.
  • Play is very important; children develop skills through play, such as self-regulation, planning and language development. One of the top performing school systems don't begin formal academic instruction until age 7.
  • Let children take breaks. 4 out of the 5 school systems Lucy studied had 10–15 minute breaks between every lesson.
  • Encourage children to take on challenges rather than making concessions: Delay dividing students into different classes based on ability until age until 15.
  • Emphasize the importance of effort rather than intelligence. It’s easier for children to tackle a challenge if they believe they can change the outcome through hard work. 
  • Combine school accountability with school support. Instead of punishing "bad" schools, provide more help and examples from successful educators and schools.
  • State and local boards of education should design a curriculum with a set of principals rather than detailed instructions for every week of the school year. This gives teachers greater job satisfaction, more autonomy and freedom to motivate students to do their best.