Imagined Conversations: Judges review Sir Isaac Newton's pitch of "The Calculus" at Techcrunch Disrupt

Isaac: ...and that's why I'm optimistic this technique will have nontrivial consequences for how we understand the nature of change.  Thanks for the opportunity to share it with you.

Judge #1: This limit notation is quite nice -- rather elegant really.

Judge #2: Yes it seems like a solid improvement over Descartes' use of tangents.

Judge #3: All that intellectual stuff is cool.  But who's the user?  I know he tried to sell the whole bit about 'mathematics as a universal tool that transcends human particularity' but seriously isn't this just another case of if it's designed for everyone it ends up being used by no one?

Judge #2: There's no doubt that his "Calculus" involves some advanced stuff but how does Isaac expect people to start actually using the tool.  It really goes back to your point about the user journey.  I'm not sure people are going to be busting through doors to learn abstract mathematics.  The absence of any sort of growth hacking is a bit disconcerting.

Judge #3: Precisely.  And that's before we get to this business with Leibniz. The IP problems present challenge enough but even that isn't the biggest issue in my mind.  Is this technique truly revolutionary if two people develop it independently at the same time?  Maybe this is better thought of as a modest evolutionary improvement?

Judge #1: I hear what you're saying.  A lot of this seems reminiscent of how the Greeks did infintesimals.  And you guys remember what happened with Xeno don't you?

Judge #2: Yes his "Achlls" play only ever seemed to suck up more and more money as it made less and less progress toward the much hyped "tortoise" theory.

Judge #3: Exactly.  That's the problem with these "brilliant ideas" that don't even bother to achieve product-market fit.  I might be wrong.  Maybe five years from now everyone will think this is cooler than 2042 but it's just so hard to predict when he has ZERO mobile strategy.

Judge #2:  Then there's Isaac himself.  He just seems SO certain about the idea.  I mean what if this technique really needs to be refined in application to optimizing social ad targeting.  I'm really skeptical he's ready to make that pivot.

Judge #1: I still think there might be something here in terms of theoretical advancement but you guys are right to bring up the huge variety of practical challenges to implementation.

Judge #3:  That's fair.  It's a good idea I guess.  I'm just not sure how well he can execute.  We'll tell Isaac we appreciate his insights but we just can't move conceptual approaches to the next round.

Judges #1&2: Agreed.

"But is it disrupting the disrupters?"

"But is it disrupting the disrupters?"

A Revolution in Measurement, An Evolution in Institutions

A few general thoughts about the potential of using big data to better understand cities

How can we more effectively manage cities?  How do we know what governmental interventions actually achieve their stated goals?  In the not too distant future, today’s ad hoc measurement of public programs will seem as quaint as the 19th century practice of budget-less city appropriations. 

Improving public management through measurement is not a new idea, but the recent radical growth in digital data offers hope that we might increase the frequency, robustness and scale of such techniques.[1]  Like all things in the future, the ultimate impact of such measurement is uncertain, but we can think deeply about what will and will not change with increased data analysis as a way to understand the scope of this potential and how we might realize it. 

Any trip to a town hall meeting will quickly demonstrate that the implications of a data analysis often depends on where you stand.  And as Kuhn brilliantly illuminates, even the purest of scientific inquiries are not immune to seeing the world through the lens of their particular position:

“Practicing in different worlds, the two groups of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction. Again, that is not to say that they can see anything they please. Both are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they see them in different relations one to the other. That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another.”[2]

This problem becomes more acute in tackling societal questions.  Any scientific researcher or industry analyst or public manager brings a unique set of experiences, values, and other biases. 

In conducting such inquiry, data allows us to attempt to “step outside” of our particular position and utilize the “vast and unique man-made imagination machine” that is mathematics.[3]  We might build a model to make rigorous the implications of our assumptions about a future scenario.  We might quantify observations to synthesize them into a judgment about past performance.  Or we might incorporate signals beyond our human sensory limits – say a GIS aerial map – to better understand where we are today.  Such abstractions or “maps” serve as incredibly useful tools for navigating the messy “territory” of human cities.

Consider how we might explore basic questions facing any public manager: What are the problems in a community?  How might we address them?  Any answer remains inextricably linked to time, place, culture and other local contingencies.  Moreover, unlike the physical sciences, how we go about answering such questions must engage such contingencies directly.  When a rocket scientist conducts an analysis, her subject does not think back at her.  A public manager does not analyze in a vacuum but rather engages such questions as part of a larger human community and other individuals with their own perspectives on these issues.[4] 

So rather than a new universal theory of cities or yet another attempt at a grand theory of human civilization, [5] the hope with big data is that we might create something far more useful: nontrivially better maps to guide us through the incredible complexity of human cities.  Progress here will be come not merely through analyzing data but testing our new maps in the messy reality of human cities.      

Although full of promise, this new inquiry also offers much risk.  In our excitement over new tools like machine learning, we might forget to adopt the proper humility towards the thousands of years spent tackling these questions using the tried and true human sort.  And in our rush to leverage all this new digital data, we might lose sight of the fact that humans have been making and recording observations – also known as generating data – since the dawn of symbolic communication.  One way to describe history is all the data we have collected so far, and we should not forget that old fashioned data collection methods like talking to the people directly affected by our recommendations have not lost their power.

We must also not forget that although we have new tools at our disposal, the problems we are tackling could not be older.  How might we as humans find a better way to live together?  We need to respect and preserve the wealth of institutional knowledge that’s been accumulated firsthand in addressing that challenge.  At the same time, we need to have the courage to follow reason even if it takes us to unexpected places and most importantly not take the current institutional reality of cities as a given.  Insofar as these new tools prove useful, we should design our basic public institutions to make use of them and continuously work to align the form of these institutions with the functions informed by our inquiry into big data and cities.

Although aspiring towards the elegance and predictive power of a field like physics, this project must remain humble and retain the lessons of softer fields like the humanities.[6]  Like the more general study of measurement and structure or what is commonly called mathematics, this inquiry into big data and cities will remain both an art and a science.


[1] Bill Gates dedicated his 2013 annual foundation letter to the potential of measurement.

[2] Thomas Kuhn p. 152 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

[3] See Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign for an excellent treatment of the foundational question on what is mathematics.  For other great takes on the unending tension between objectivity and subjectivity, please see Thomas Nagel’s The View from Nowhere and Quintin Meillasouix’s After Finitude.

[4] See for instance Luca’s critique about using data models to drive policy interventions.

[5] I suppose ultimately this question will hinge on one’s beliefs about the deterministic nature of the universe and individual human free will. 

[6] That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t methodological synergies.  See The Measurement of Uncertainty: a History of Statistics before 1900 for an incredible chronicle of how techniques developed originally in astronomy (notably the now nearly ubiquitous linear regression) impacted the social sciences.

The Uncommon Core: Stag Hunt's Nonstandards

For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth.
— Plutarch

The Uncommon Core Non-Standards provide a inconsistent, vague understanding of what students might learn, so teachers and parents remember to let youth be limited only by their imaginations.[1]


(A) that which is conducted in the common tongue,

a.1 Loyalty oaths and other pledges of fidelity

a.2 Your name please.

a.3 Everything below.

(B) facts,


b.42 What is the meaning of life?

(C) fun,

c.1 This list.

(D) requiring a suckling pig,

d.1 biological dissections.

(E) penciled,

e.1 doodles of Lord-of-the-Rings-esque lands to stave off the boredom induced by yet another documentary.

e.2 first drafts.

e.3 second, third, and fourth drafts.

e.4 mathematical proofs (or perhaps done in LaTeX)

(F) calculated,

f.1 Restaurant tips.

f.2 Order of magnitude estimates

f.3 Best left to a computer:

f.3a Netflix recommendations.

f.3b That requiring many easily repeatable tedious steps.

(G) that which is best acquired from the streets,

g.1 Savvy.

g.2 Pluck.

g.3 How to tell when someone is full of shit.

g.4 How to tell when you’re full of shit.

(H) included in the present classification,

h.1 see here.

(I) frenzied,

i.1 Pokemon.

i.2 Pogs.


(J) innumerable,

j.1 See Cantor's diagnol argument.

(K) drawn best in dirt,

k.1 Inscribed circles (until of course some Roman legionaire comes along and chops your head off).

(L) et cetera,

l.1 Starting a robotics museum on a field trip to India.

l.2 Reciting an order of magnitude more digits of pi than other students.

l.3 Inventing a new yo yo trick by their fourth pair of sneakers and realizing the scam of traveling yo yo troupes by their fifth.

l.4 Learning math by osmosis as a janitor in an elite university.

l.5 Rounding out high school by running for school board.

(M) involving a broken water fountain,

m.1 starting an epic water balloon fight.

(N) that very abstracted could be put in mathematical notation.

n.(n+1) see above.

[1] The Non-Standards have enjoyed a long and august reputation through the millennia, and doctor Franz Kunz traces their lineage all the way back to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.  

In its remote pages it is written that all learning is divided into: (a) that which is conducted in the common tongue of the emperor, (b) facts, (c) fun, (d) requiring a suckling pig, (e) penciled, (f) calculated, (g) that which is best acquired from the streets (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn best in dirt, (l) et cetera, (m) involving a broken water fountain, (n) that very abstracted could be put in mathematical notation.

It is in that ambitiously classificatory spirit that Stag Hunt is proud to present the 42nd edition of the Uncommon Core Non-Standards!

Sts Beginnings 2nd edit 1 - Copy - Copy.png

On The Importance of Programming

by Krystof Litomisky

Scholar, athlete, photographer, and machine visioning extraordinaire

I recently represented the company I work for at a career fair in New York City. The ranks of job-seekers were large and diverse in terms of background, age, and experience. Among the job-seekers, however, one group stood out: people in their late 20s to mid-30s who were looking to start a new career as programmers, having recently made up their minds to dramatically change paths. Here were former investment bankers applying for an entry-level programming position. By itself this is not particularly surprising: many people realize that the careers they enter right out of college are not quite what they expected and decide to switch tracks. Given increasing demand for programming and computer science-related jobs, it is natural that many turn to explore this field.

This group of people, however, had something much more intriguing in common. When asked about their first ventures into programming, many people used phrases such as “I never knew it was so easy…” or “it really surprised me that…”. Here were bright, curious people, most of whom had done reasonably well in their past lives, accidentally catching glimpses of how some very simple programs work and being taken completely off-guard by it. These people were so intrigued by the world of programming that they could not help but dive deeper into the rabbit hole. A common path was an intensive program taken over the course of a few weeks (General Assembly was a popular option) and then a full plunge into the world of entry-level job hunting.

This leads to a very important question: why had these people never been exposed to something with so much utility and transformative potential throughout the many years they had spent in the education system?

The problem with our current education system

At the source of this is an educational system based on an outdated view of what it means to be computer-literate. With regards to any kind of technology, people fall into one of three broad categories: those who do not know how to use it, those who do know how to use it, and those who understand how it works and can manipulate the technology for their own purposes. For the modern digital age, these groups could roughly be described as those who have never used a computer or smartphone, those who use one or both, and those who can program.

It seems generally understood that those who do not know how to use a computer are significantly hindered not only in today’s job market, but also in significant ways in their personal lives. In response to this, schools across grade levels invest significant resources into furnishing computer labs and into integrating computer use into their courses. Students are taught to search for books in the library system, use specialized software to process data from science experiments, and research and write essays on computers.

This process, however, succeeds only in preparing students to be users or consumers of technology. Ask a graduate to perform a task on a computer that he has been shown before and he will likely have little trouble doing so. Even tasks that are new to people often pose little issue: provided with software designed to accomplish a particular task, a technologically-savvy person will typically have little trouble learning how to use a particular function, being able to access a wealth of tutorials and guides on the internet. But ask a typical graduate to automate anything that their software wasn’t designed to do, and they will be a dumbfounded. How do they accomplish something when they haven’t been given the software to do it? Where would they even start?

Why programming is for more than just nerds

The answer, of course, is that they will need to be able to program, which is something that most graduates have never been exposed to. This makes the task seem particularly and unnecessarily daunting. Programming is still seen as the domain of nerds and geeks who have mastered arcane skills through countless lonely hours in front of their computer screens. This is unfortunate not only because it is inaccurate, but also because it discourages people from finding out for themselves, creating a self-perpetuating myth.

The root of the problem in embedded in our educational system. According to, a non-profit dedicated to growing computer science education, nine out of ten US high schools do not offer programming classes. Where programming classes are offered, it is often as an afterthought or niche: in 37 states, computer science courses don’t count towards high school graduation math or science requirements. In higher education the situation is better in terms of accessibility to computer science courses as well as the credits awarded for taking such courses, which makes programming skills more accessible to those who want them. On the other hand, taking a programming course is often not a requirement for students of all majors, which does nothing to remove the aura of technological mysticism that many non-technical people perceive around programming.

Just like writing has uses well beyond english courses and numbers have uses well beyond mathematics, programming could pervade many lines of inquiry and belongs in much more than specialized computer science courses.  In a literature course, a student might run a few queries to acquire sentence length data in Thoreau’s Walden and strengthen their argumentative essay that the book is long winded.  In science, a student might use a script to automate taking pictures of Saturn each night with a remote telescope, or to model the planet’s orbit.  In history, a student might build a game to analyze the decisions that JFK and Nikita Krushchev faced in the Cuban missile crisis.  Throughout these exercises, students would learn how to manipulate programming abstractions to concrete situations, increasing not only their programming skill but also their understanding of the classes’ subject matter at a fundamental level.

In fact, the core concept behind programming – unambiguous, logical thinking – is so intuitive, naturally interesting, and ultimately rewarding, that it is a waste not to introduce young people to the concept of creating programs even before high school.  Courses designed to teach programming to pre-high school children have already been developed. These often involve writing simple programs to guide a virtual robot or dog, and are designed to keep young children entertained. The tasks involved are simple, yet sufficient to teach the basic concepts of programming. Given the ease with which new programming skills can be learned once a basic foundation is in place, this can be enough to have a profound impact on a person’s life.  

Like any language, programming forms a scaffold, and early programming education empowers students to teach themselves.  Because programmers are by necessity a tech-savvy bunch, an extensive support network for just about any programming-related task can be found online.  This includes not only documentation on all the features of a particular language, but crucially also mature question and answer communities that can guide individuals through anything particular tricky, from low-level language details to high-level algorithmic considerations. A noteworthy example is Stack Overflow, the success of which has led to the creation of a whole family of similar question and answer sites on topics as diverse as chess or the english language.  

An important factor contributing to the broad transformative potential of the ability to program is the fact that many of the tools programmers use are free to use (or, at least, free alternatives exist). This minimizes the cost to schools to train their students in industry-standard environments and techniques, and gives individuals access to many of the same tools that a large corporation might use. This includes even highly specialized libraries, such as OpenCV, the computer vision library. OpenCV is free, includes implementations of the best algorithms published in recent research papers, and is the de facto standard in programmatical image manipulation. As a result of such free and open source software, programming skills are highly transferrable between companies as well as industries.

Regarding this broad utility of programming, Gabe Newell, founder of computer game maker and online distributor Valve, says “the programmers of tomorrow… are going to look like they have magic powers compared to everybody else”.  At a different time in human history, writing was the provenance of a small educated elite. Today, the democratization of programming has the potential to be just as transformative as the near universal literacy that exists in the developed world today.

What everyone can do with programming

Allow me to illustrate with an example. A friend of a friend was fresh out of college and needed to get a job fast. He found a data entry position in a large company, where he would be one of many people doing the same task. This person had a degree in literature, but had taken an introductory programming class during his undergraduate studies. Within a few days, he had written a script to automate the data entry process, allowing him to finish each week’s workload in a few hours. Here was a task that people had been the same time-consuming way for months, and someone with a basic knowledge of programming was able to automate it in a few days’ time in a manner that increased productivity by a ludicrous amount. Why shouldn’t every person be exposed to the skills that have this transformative potential?

These skills are useful across the working hierarchy. An executive at the company I work for recently needed to make some decisions that would impact the user experience. To make these decisions, he needed data. And we had the data – as thousands of entries in a database. He could spend hours or days going through this data and trying to glean insights from the information, but if he had basic programming skills, he could have written a script to parse the data and produce informative charts for him automatically. What ended up happening, of course, was that he asked a programmer to do this for him. This got him the data he wanted – but it was through a middleman programmer, and that programmer had to fit this task into his schedule, resulting in unnecessary delay and lost productivity. Ultimately, the process would have been much more straightforward if the executive had had basic programming skills.

I’m not arguing that we should all be programmers as our primary job function, or that programming should replace other skills – far from it. Programming is just one tool that should be in the toolbox of any effective human being, along with skills like reading, writing, mathematics or communication. It is not a replacement for any of those other skills, but rather a complementary skill that should always be at the ready. Given that more and more of the information we process and produce is digital, it is only natural that being able to rapidly analyze, use, or transform it programmatically is an asset that will grow in importance for people of all walks of life.

Indeed, programming isn’t just for the people we think of as “programmers”. The very distinction of programmers as opposed to non-programmers is bound for obscurity, because programming is for everyone. It is the foundation of a massive and forever-increasing slice of our lives, and even today the ability to program separates passive consumers from active creators where technology is concerned.  In the same way that those who couldn’t read and write a century ago were locked into a marginal, ever-disappearing way of life, those who do not understand the concepts of programming will become marginalized a decade from now. A vast online ecosystem already exists for learning these skills, and the time has come for our education system to fully embrace this change and unlock the transformative potential of programming so that all students can benefit from the revolutionary power of the digital age.


Why don’t we use the web radically more to connect communities to schools?

by Patrick Atwater

For the past few years, I’ve dedicated many of my nights and weekends to supporting California’s schools as a volunteer and director at two education nonprofits committed to connecting students to the wealth of knowledge in the community around them.

And throughout that experience, I’ve marveled at how much potential such programs afford.  Showing a student who’s never been in an elevator the inside of the Delloitte office buildings can inspire in a way that words never could.  Connecting a student passionate about entertainment to an internship at NBC studios answers “why am I learning this” in a way that even the most engaging classroom lesson never could.

That’s why I’ve never understood why there weren’t more effective web tools and institutions built around them to create radically more of those connections.  If I wanted to look for a date online, I could search by age, education level, geography, job status and a million other preferences on sites like  

Yet in my experience matching for example an accountant to one of our finance academies only gets done the old fashioned way – personal networks.  That’s great but isn’t exactly scalable.  I’m proud to say we serve tens of thousands of students in LAUSD but ultimately that’s a small slice of a district that educates over 655,000 students

Sure there’s a variety of generic volunteer matching services like Idealist and well-meaning linked learning catch-alls like ConnectEd Studios, but there’s no tool that really does the trick.  Why isn’t there a or OkCupid to connect teachers with volunteer resources in the community?  

The graphic below outlines a potential user experience using such a tool and clicking through to the link will showcase some (very) rough wireframes of what it might look like.

See here for a simple user journey of what that might look like, courtesy of Patricia de Llano, Kyle Frost, Christine D’Alessandro and Jennifer Emick from the SF GovJam.

See here for a simple user journey of what that might look like, courtesy of Patricia de Llano, Kyle Frost, Christine D’Alessandro and Jennifer Emick from the SF GovJam.

Still while there’s tremendous room for improvement, the challenge of opening up the wealth of knowledge in the community to students requires more than simply a new tool.  Consider the possibilities a robust matching platform for teacher and community members creates.

Imagine if a high school environmental class could find and schedule an opportunity for a guest seminar at a local water recycling plant as easily as connecting for a Friday night date.  Imagine if students could learn high school government by actually spending time seeing how the sausage gets made in their local city.  Or just like we have guest lectures in colleges by practitioners from the field, imagine pillars of the local community like Father Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries teaching a class say once a week.

Those experiences have proven transformative for the students served by our nonprofit work.  Why not have radically more?  The fact of the matter is that the web is an incredible platform for connecting people who never otherwise would have met.  Why not get creative in how we might use it to radically scale these connections?

Some might wonder about student safety in connecting community volunteers to teachers via the web.  Yet it’s fairly simple and only fifty dollars to get a background check, which is what currently happens in these sorts of programs. So just make that a prerequisite for joining the matching platform.  

The more cynical might wonder about whether the community members outside of parents will actually make the necessary commitments.  Yet education ultimately is the process by which we pass knowledge from one generation to the next.  So while it’s certainly optimistic to expect community members to create these opportunities for the next generation, isn’t it far more hopeful to expect improvements in education without the support of the community?

That challenge in building community support highlights the fact that building these connections is about much more than simply more robust tools.  What’s needed is the inspiration to create that commitment and the courage to pioneer new school structures that reflect the world we live in.  

So how might we create more flexible class schedules so that if a student has an awesome internship aligned with their interests they’re free to pursue it?  Or how might we rethink assessment so what a student learns exploring a water recycling plant isn’t lost in the formulaic four choices of a fill in the bubble scantron?

Does learning only happen when one adult instructs a group of children in a room with chalkboards and specialized deckchairs?  So why not leverage the web to embrace the fact that the world truly is every student’s classroom?  

Californians must come together to improve our schools

By Marcus Ruiz Evans

Author, California's Next Century 2.0

California schools have lost the golden luster that they had in the 50’s and 60’s.  Sure there are pockets of excellence -- many California public schools top national rankings and the UC system still produces cutting edge research.  And yes the golden era wasn’t golden for everyone -- particularly if you weren’t a male of a palish pink hue.  Yet despite all the qualifiers, two simple facts remain: California public schools were once unequivocally the best in the nation, and today they are far from it.  What happened?

Many blame policies like Proposition 13, which changed the ways schools were funded, or the legalization of collective bargaining for teachers unions, which changed the way schools are managed.  The real answer is simultaneously far simpler and far more complex than those structural tweeks would have it.  Californians simply care less about the quality of education that the average California child receives.

Sure we talk a good game and a large chunk of the state budget goes to education.  Yet the commitment by local communities through business, education nonprofits and other neighborhood groups varies widely across the state.  These organizations provide the critical opportunities that make school relevant, build social capital, and frankly make learning fun.  Put bluntly, schools cannot prepare children to become productive members of society if adults don’t do their part to include all of California’s children.

Yet rather than coming together as a village of Californians to raise our children, we’ve implicitly accepted the reality today that a child’s opportunity is determined by the zip code they’re born into. This fractured commitment to public schools is directly tied to the changing face of California.  

In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s immigrants moved into California from Latin America and Asia in increasingly record numbers.  What was once a largely homogenous, largely white state quickly became the poster child of a newly diverse America.  Californians with money moved to “the better part of town”, paid more for a home, and enrolled their child in a better funded public school, or paid for their child to go to a private school.  

California's Population by Race / Ethnicity

Source: Public Policy Institute of California

Source: Public Policy Institute of California

When University tuition went up and up and up, Californians with money largely did not complain, because they could afford the fee increases. It was the poor and below middle class who could not afford to move to a better area to receive good schooling or afford to be part of a private school, or afford the tuition hikes of universities. So you began to have a permanent underclass, one that would never receive a good public education to start with and then would not be able to afford going to a university full time, or the multiple amount of years it takes to complete a degree.

The majority of Californians were quietly acquiescent. They watched as gangs went from being something that only existed in the inner city of LA and Oakland to something that every single city in California had to deal with. They watched as their public schools were rated the worst in all of America, year after year, decade after decade. They watched as areas of concentrated poverty went from being a place that was not pretty to drive through to being a place that was literally a death sentence to drive through at night.  They watched as concentrated poverty also spread to almost every city in California where originally this was something only found in the “big cities” of California.

The majority of Californians watched “things change” in our state, because they felt isolated from the problems. They just stopped going to parts of the downtown of every major city in the State, they just accepted that gangs were part of life, and shootings and death and no go areas of every city. Upper middle class Californians for the most part were able to feel isolated from these problems despite their creeping expansion into all areas of life, because poor education for the overall mass of Californians did not affect the pocket book, the check at the end of the day of the well to do, upper middle class, well educated Californians.  

This presents a huge danger for all of California -- upper middle class included -- as the book A New California Dream warns us: “If California continues down this path, it will soon enough cease to be an identified place and transform into a primitive collection of tribes— ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, business organizations, labor unions, environmental interests, and other groups that care primarily about protecting their turf.”

Upper middle class Californians can still afford a good education for themselves, and for their children, and afford to live most of their life in a nice safe part of the city. Many don’t believe that the abundance of Californians without access to high quality education affects their financial well-being over the short or long term.  And therein lies the answer. 

So how do you get the majority of upper middle class and wealthy Californians to believe that their economic success is directly linked to the availability of quality education for all Californians -- rich, poor, black, white, brown, whatever?  

This is the secret laid out in my new book “California’s Next Century 2.0”:  diversity is not merely soft feel goodery that we must tolerate but rather the hard nosed key to our economic future.  Consider the fact that:

A)  People who come from another country and keep connections to their original country are economic lifelines between nations.  “human bridges”, “Umbrella people”, or simply “immigrants”, whatever you call it, these people are pipelines for ideas, information, news, money, loans, investment, and business opportunities.  Nations who recognize this and encourage and support their immigrant community can use them to dramatically increase the wealth of their nation.

B) People who are exposed to many other cultures, and languages and types of people grow up or eventually develop a capability to relate and understand even other cultures that they have never meet before. This ability is critical for trade and building economic connections in our globalized world economy.

C) Success in the knowledge economy increasingly demands creativity and higher order thinking skills.  Experience with diversity gives people more mental building blocks -- perspectives, attitudes, modes of thought -- to combine and create the new ideas and innovations that push humanity forward.

California's incredible diversity positions the state perfectly as a global trade and diplomatic hub going into the next century.  California has incredible diversity.  Think of the UN building in New York City stretched to be the size of the average large nation state such as Italy, France, Germany, England, Turkey, or Pakistan.  And we have an incredible opportunity to capitalize on California’s diversity and immense other resources to build a good and global commonwealth -- the shining city on a hill America has long aspired to but never quite achieved.

Yet we cannot ignore the hard realities of racial, class, and other tribal affiliations.  As Stag Hunt Editor Patrick Atwater's A New California Dream reminds us:

“Californians need a way to remember that we are all in this together, bound as we all are by the laws and geographic confines of this place, and that therefore “our own” is ultimately all of us—white, black, brown, public, private, labor, green, business, whatever.”

As trite as it may sound, our children are that reminder.  They solidify our commitment to each other and symbolize our shared future as a society.  If California is the dominant center for global economic traffic and international negotiation and communication, then all immigrants who live in California are important and all children who grow up in California are important.

So recent Latino and Asian immigrants need to succeed in school not only because it’s intrinsically worthwhile but because that’s critical in securing our economic future.  Losing or underutilizing links to foreign countries cannot be considered acceptable.  

Pete Wilson’s infamous 1994 television ad attacked illegal immigrants with an unforgettable image of Mexicans running across a freeway while a narrator dramatically intoned “they keep coming.”  Law and order is critical to a free society.  But the ad did more than advocate that.  It drove a wedge between Mexican and white Californians.

Instead we need to be saying “they keep coming” and may more keep coming to California!  May people from around the world freely and legally come to California.  We need to shout it from the rooftops!  That is how we make California the shining city on a hill that it’s positioned to be.  Ronald Reagan, a Californian through and through, frequently spoke of a “shining city on a hill” in his speeches.  

“ was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

May Californians of all colors and creeds and classes come together to improve our schools and provide opportunities beyond the school day.  May we find it within ourselves to see that “our children” extends beyond families who look like us or talk like us or live a similar lifestyle to all our neighbors in California.

May we build that shining city on a hill and show the world that we can tap into our common humanity to improve education for all of California’s children.  


Stag Hunt's La Canada Flintridge Water Reform Survey

Dear Neighbor,

You might have seen some Stag Hunt letters around town or friendly Stag Staffers walking the streets to conduct a little good government survey.

California’s current drought and ongoing imported water supply challenges highlight how critical water is for La Canada’s quality of life.  

We believe these issues warrant wider public awareness and are conducting a short survey asking for feedback from La Canada residents on how we might better address those challenges. 

We hope to present the results to the La Canada City Council and local media outlets. Here's some more information about the drought and California's water management.

The Association of California Water Agencies recently highlighted the real challenges California faces in dealing with the ongoing drought:

As summer gets under way and agencies begin to prepare for 2015, the water community is extremely concerned about the effects of continuing drought conditions. As outlined above, a dry 2015 would wreak havoc on California’s citizens, the environment and the state’s economy, including its world-renowned agricultural industry. Even if the state receives above average rainfall next winter, the past three years have exposed the fragility of California’s water management system. This crisis should be a wake-up call for state government and water managers throughout California regarding the need for comprehensive action and significant investments in a more resilient water supply. Working together, we can improve the state’s water future for generations to come.
— Association of California Water Agencies
Current Water Conditions.png

The Public Policy Institute's of California's canonical Managing California's Water highlights the importance of effective management in meeting those challenges:

The inability to prevent these looming crises reflects major weaknesses in California’s current system for governing and funding water management. The highly decentralized nature of most water management – with many hundreds of local and regional agencies responsible for water supply, wastewater treatment, flood control, and related land use decisions – has many advantages but has often resulted in uncoordinated, fragmented water and land use decisions that contribute to chronic groundwater overdraft, impairment of watersheds by a wide range of pollutants, ineffective ecosystem management, an rapid development in poorly protected floodplains.
— Public Policy Institute of California

Re-imagining Reform in OUSD


Jonathan Hasak

Socratic Challenge Winning Essay

Walking up the stairs to school, I notice two dirty-white trucks parked across the street.  My gut tells me something went wrong.  An entire summer to renovate half of an elementary school and they still didn’t finish.

Snaking through a maze of ladders under wires and fluorescent lamps exposed from the ceiling, I approach my principal who guarantees they’ll be done before students arrive.  And to her credit, they will.  There will even be a tray of donuts thanking them when they pull down their last ladder and finally leave that first day as families walk around them towards classrooms that haven’t had time to be set up.

Staring incredulously at cardboard boxes stacked like towers, students enter their rooms to the sight of empty corkboards.  The clocks on the walls tell different times.  Confused teachers poke their heads into the hall where classes lining up for recess are stalled because paint on the stairs has yet to dry.

Welcome to the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) where nothing gets done the easy way.

Oakland needs a new education paradigm.  Having witnessed how public education affects the region’s high level of unemployment and the shortage of people with critical job skills, civic leaders, community stakeholders, politicians, educators, and parents need to transform how they support Oakland students and teachers.  This shift will require a departure of reliance on accountability – where teachers, unions, poverty, or someone or thing is always to blame – to one of a shared responsibility to educate all.

To start, the district must purge itself from focusing solely on basic reading and math skills and consigning more advanced skills to second-rate priorities.  The consequences of accountability provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act have unfortunately created an environment where OUSD schools are not incentivized to collaborate as school leaders must use limited resources and energy to ensure their school makes adequate yearly progress (AYP).  At the fear of being put under program evaluation, or worse, stuck in maintaining the status quo, OUSD schools have become insular and skeptical of collaborative initiatives.

I began working in Oakland in 2010 as a special-education teacher at the K-5 Sankofa, serving a largely African American student body from the surrounding neighborhoods.  Despite being located five minutes from a Blue Ribbon school that was outperforming Sankofa in academic achievement, both schools operated in isolation.  In fact, not once in my three years at Sankofa was there any attempt from either school to actually collaborate: no sharing of resources, no mentoring, no teacher visits.    

When I started at Sankofa, 40% of students were proficient in English Language Arts (ELA). As the Coordinator of Intervention during my second year, I identified a need to initiate structural changes due to ineffective and inefficient reading coordination between teachers and tutors.  I also aimed to shift behaviors through strengthening teacher infrastructure based on collaboration and responsibility.  By introducing a successful intervention process that differentiated instruction and support for students at varying levels of reading proficiency, I sought to ingrain a system based on shared investment into the fabric of our school culture.

With better coordination, the 2011-2012 state tests revealed our school made the greatest gain in ELA in OUSD; proficient and advanced students increased by 12.2% while the number of far below basic students fell by 9.3%.  Yet nobody in the district seemed interested in scaling successful programs like ours to other struggling schools.  Perhaps because like most urban school districts, OUSD was heavily focused on eliminating its debt and tending to the many problems emerging on the ground.  After the state legislature passed a $100 million emergency loan in 2003, the district was put under state control and only regained receivership in 2009.  In addition to its high level of teacher attrition, its Superintendent, Tony Smith, abruptly announced his resignation during the 2012-2013 school year, leaving the district to hire Gary Yee as its acting Superintendent.

Narrowing the gap between espoused theories and enacted practices is a prerequisite in shifting to a culture of responsibility.  A more responsible OUSD would develop its communities’ social capital through transparency of its expectations and empower families by providing them human and capital resources to help instill a sense of collective responsibility in their neighborhoods.  Evaluations of principals, teachers, and district personnel would now include metrics for collaboration such as sharing best practices and resources across schools and classrooms.  Rather than rewarding schools that meet AYP benchmarks, Yee’s successor should incentivize shared OUSD accountability by awarding regions that make the most progress in mastering Common Core state standards over three-year periods to allow time for cultural and instructional changes to be reflected on exams.

Given some of the harsh realities of OUSD – nearly 40% of its senior class did not graduate in 2011-2012, its average beginning teacher salary of $39,456 is one of the lowest in Alameda County, and more than 16,000 students have left the district since 2000 – transformative change also requires innovative thinking.  With nearly 70% of its student body represented by African American and Latino students, the district must recalibrate its strategies to better serve its students and families of color.

Having worked to push low-performing students towards grade-level mastery for three years, I noticed state standards were not sufficiently aligned with the critical skills necessary for Sankofa’s students to participate in today’s labor market.  Furthermore, I was skeptical that OUSD was in a position to set its 46,298 students up for success.  Embracing cross-sector collaboration that connects Oakland employers to the potentials of its K-12 student workforce would offer an opportunity for students to link their schooling experience to career opportunities.  Last summer, California budged $250 million in state dollars for a Pathways Trust Fund to invest in career pathways, develop strong regional collaboratives, integrate academic and career curriculum, and provide clear pathways into postsecondary education aligned with regional economic priorities.  Cross-sector collaboration can, therefore, provide guidance of what skills are needed in today’s economy so that schools can begin incorporating skills with real currency in their instruction.

While much of California’s education reform movement has traditionally sought to influence inputs in existing schools and districts, too often these resources have proved ineffective.  The result is that reform-minded policy makers can seem overzealous in throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.  The examples of small school initiatives that began in Oakland in 2000, backed by a $9.5 million grant form the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the community schools initiative ushered in by Superintendent Smith have not led to significant gains in academic achievement.  Aligning regional interest of reducing the nearly 8% Oakland unemployment rate, which does not account for those who have become discouraged and left the labor market entirely, with education reform that prepares students for success after graduation can achieve a more durable impact on Oakland’s economy.

The district can accomplish this by beginning to link student progress and achievement to work preparedness need of Oakland’s business community.  In 2012, the state Legislature directed the State Board of Education to add measures of college and career readiness to the state’s school accountability system, which currently includes only standardized test scores.  OUSD should go a step further and begin releasing report cards, where embedded under the same district standard would be academic progress of students and progress in skill areas relevant to workforce competency.  As soon as Oakland schools and businesses can track the same data, they can begin prioritizing those academic and job skill gaps that need to be filled.

With different visions and priorities pulling stakeholders in many directions, OUSD would also benefit from better alignment of its instructional core (i.e. the interaction of teaching and learning that takes place between teachers, students, and content).  Shifting strategies will require Yee to immediately engage with the OUSD school board so that a strategic planning process involving all respective school site leadership members and community partners can be ready for the new Superintendent to implement.  Reframing the district’s mission of “Community Schools, Thriving Students” would be a priority during this process.  The new Superintendent would use current designated task forces, such as its Strategic Plan Implementation teams, to begin aligning the conceptual skills necessary for mastering Common Core state standards and rewrite the district’s strategic plan to reflect critical thinking skills.  Replacing the community school strategic plan with a new mission around teaching students problem-solving skills would be far from simply a semantic change.  Instead, it would provide better cohesion for district, school, and classrooms of the skills students need for success in college, career, and citizenship.

Once the district has rewritten its strategic plan, the new Superintendent cannot just entrust authority of monitoring its progress to his cabinet but must also begin building capacity of horizontal leadership within school sites.  District professional development days should be used to build teacher capacity by making expectations clear to all OUSD personnel so that leadership committees at schools can confidently operate towards shared goals.  During these trainings, teachers on special assignment, skills specialists, and school site leadership teams would collaborate and learn new norms and roles required to emphasize more metacognitive skills.  Additional professional development sessions at school sites would focus on developing support systems for helping teachers incorporate these skills in classrooms.

Replacing the factory-line mentality of teaching with a new theory of change focused on student progress, entitled “Building a Better Tomorrow,” would clearly communicate to all stakeholders that once students acquire critical thinking skills, they will be able to fully contribute in Oakland’s economy.  Indeed, this theory of change could serve as a compass for students in becoming more productive citizens in their communities.  Once Yee’s successor approves this theory of change, it must be used to evaluate all resources and tasks at a district, regional, and school level.  The Superintendent’s cabinet would then be assigned to report on each school region’s progress of alignment during weekly meetings.

One of the tradeoffs the new Superintendent will encounter in changing OUSD is witnessing slower growth in the first few years as teachers, students, families, and employers adjust.  With the urgency to fix schools, patience is often considered a political luxury.  But it is precisely patience that will allow the district a higher rate of return as it builds a sturdier infrastructure that can withstand future external changes, like transitions of Superintendents.  Through patience and monitoring of its mission, OUSD would become more thoughtful and entrepreneurial with its policies.  Perhaps this process would even lead to innovations in the way the district supports its struggling students.

For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, OUSD was accused of over-diagnosing African American male students into special education.  Rather than continuing to wait for students to fail before considering special education services, OUSD could start piloting preventative programs that would allow students to be promoted by completing units that correspond to grade-level content.  The goal of this would be to reduce grade-level retentions and special education referrals by allowing struggling students time to retake specific units they missed or failed.  Piloting programs like these and evaluating their value at improving student achievement would provide evidence to the district for how to best support its most marginalized students.

Certainly, people could be uncomfortable with redefining OUSD, especially veteran teachers who have ossified their beliefs to the status quo.  The district should promote listening tours with the teachers’ union, invite input from its leadership team, and employ grassroots tactics such as community organizing to convince all educators to embrace these adaptive changes.  To compete in new environments, OUSD has to reshape a culture of responsibility, engage in cross-sector collaboration, and align district strategies with an emphasis on critical thinking skills.  Implementing these changes will require dedicated leadership and a commitment to bottom-up systemic reform.  But by strengthening the district’s infrastructure on collaboration and responsibility that is not reliant on an individual or Superintendent to maintain, it would soon become ingrained into the fabric of a new district culture.  Over time, OUSD could become a truly transformative school district – one that is more thoughtful in preparing its students for the challenges of today’s economy and more empathetic in how it educates them.




Wally Longshore,

Octogenarian * Reader * Bookman * Publicist * Essayist * Poet * Community Activist


We are challenged to accomplish the greatest creative act in history: On a planet of more than seven billion, with accelerating technological materialism abusing the Earth's environment to a degree that threatens man's very existence within decades, without a paradigm of the kind of world we must create, increasingly floundering in chaos, with most of the seven billion in denial that we stand on the edge of the Great Abyss, we must rapidly attain an unprecedented profundity of thought and intensity of creativity.

The only way I can see of doing so is by a massive florescence of authentic reading, an unprecedented heightening of consciousness, a hundred and eighty degree turn from this “age of wholesale trivialization” to immersion in the depths of thought to be found primarily in substantive books.  We will triumph over the threat of extinction only by maximizing our brain power, making the fullest use of the 200 billion neurons and more than 125 trillion synapses in our craniums.

Authentic reading is profound thinking, to be in proactive dialogue with the text, decoding, absorbing, comparing, accepting, challenging, improving. . .  It is to have a passionately critical, charged mind.  It is to know that a great book is a creation of awe and wonder, a miracle of the human genius.  It is the means by which one can obtain an “intimate” consciousness of all Ages, distant cultures, races, and ethnicities, the various learned disciplines, and the inner struggles of each other.  It is to be in interface with the totality of man's knowledge, where the bubbling cauldron of creativity is most animated.  It is to transmute text into being.  It is a way of life as essential as eating and breathing is to man's fate.

How can a sufficient portion of the seven billion plus humans on this planet (a number of proactive citizens capable of turning the tide of human affairs) be inspired to become authentic readers?  By a creative transformation of the public library.  By creatively building on the magnificent traditions of the public library and the world's best public servants, librarians, to a degree that enables us to effectively meet the increasingly demanding intellectual challenges of a population struggling to triumph in a world of mega-crises. By cities recognizing the high priority of heightening consciousness and, in consequence, making the requisite investment in public libraries—in collections of books and materials, in new information technologies, in an architectural beauty that  inspires patrons to an intellectual sublimity (where, outside the maelstrom of urban life, patrons can come, sit, and meditate surrounded by a beauty nobly dedicated), in a staff of a size and level of education to be able to foster a culture of creative reading from the youngest to the oldest patron and has that authenticity of purpose to attract unprecedented percentages of residents to actively use the library.

Public libraries must open doors to every child and adult in their service areas hospitably inviting each to explore virtually all of man's knowledge, either housed within its halls or by convenient, inexpensive links to the collections of other libraries, or by the new information communication technologies.  It is the right of every resident on the globe to have access to the totality of man's knowledge, for he or she has a right to have a relevant say in what man elects to do in facing the mega-crises that if unsolved means extinction.   

To successfully recruit patrons and to persuade them to make the 180 degree turn from trivialized existence, public libraries must be works of high architectural art so that the sum of their parts have the glory and power achieved by Gothic cathedrals, designed on the principle that by experiencing intense beauty one is inspired to sublimity of mind.  Every visit by a child, man, or woman should reinforce the knowledge in the marrow of his or her bones that great books are wondrous creations, that by transmuting text into being as an authentic reader one reaches toward our highest humanity, and that they are the resource for achieving a quality of creativity that will enable man to triumph over the Great Abyss.  Creating public libraries that are cathedrals of the mind is critically urgent.  The time to rise to greatness is now!

If you'd like to learn more about our effort to pioneer a more human education ecosystem, please click here for more information.

Pioneering a more human education ecosystem

“What is this but the most diverse, creative and longest-standing mass migration in the history of the world — that is California.” – Jerry Brown

The world needs bold experimentation that pushes the human race forward – particularly today. The knowledge economy no longer needs masses of “average” graduates like what our "factory-like schools" churn out each year.  California stands ideally positioned to pioneer a much more creative, individualized, and frankly more human education ecosystem than what we have today.  More than the home of Silicon Valley and Hollywood, the state welcomes innumerable creative spirits.  

Roy Choi’s Kogi Taco offers a perfect example.  This little innovation fuses together Korean BBQ and Mexican tortillas in an awesomely creative -- and delicious -- concoction.  In his own words: “There it was. Los Angeles on a plate. Maybe it wasn’t everyone’s L.A., but it was mine. It was Koreatown to Melrose to Alvarado to Venice to Crenshaw crumpled into one flavor and bundled up like a gift.”  The Kogi Taco stands as a perfect example of California’s habit of pioneering zany fusions and exactly the sort of creative mindset imperative for success in the modern economy.  

Yet current public schools remained trapped in antiquated factory-like structures that too often stifle rather than nurture creativity.  We still batch students by age in 2014—as if their most important attribute is their date of manufacture. We notify students that they should go to their next class by ringing bells, the same signal used for shift changes in 19th-century factories. We continuously measure student achievement with standardized tests.

Public schools are run with the logic of mass production and the goal of optimizing the outcomes of average students. Yet as Tyler Cowen points out in his book Average is Over, the world economy increasingly rewards rare and exceptional talents. The huge demand for semi-skilled, high school-educated workers that defined the mid-20th century has dried up.  The trick then, if we have a hope of realizing the American dream that the next generation will live a better, is to figure out how to unlock the unique talents within each individual student.  

Faced with this landscape, policy wonks will ask a fairly predictable question: how do we teach fusion as exemplified by the Kogi Taco?  How do we educate the next Roy Choi?  Yet a better question than "how" is perhaps "where".  In what environment does this sort of creative, quintessentially Californian fusion naturally occur?  The problem with "how" is that by its very nature such combinatorics elude a set process.

So instead we might look at an entrepreneurial ecosystem (i.e. take a trip to a startup weekend in Silicon Beach) or a skunkworks environment like Community Partners by Union Station or the creative milieu that is Hollywood spilling into the coffee shops and yoga studios of West LA.  And we could perhaps distill a principle that such fusion is a function of an environment that has lots of useful parts (i.e. tasty ingredients from korea and mexico and all over Los Angeles in Roy's experience) and a high degree of rigorous measurement.  If you don't have a well defined standards of excellence, you're just throwing spaghetti at the wall.

So what might we do to put students in that sort of environment? Here it’s important to note that children learn to create just as part of being well children. Have you ever met a five year old that didn’t want to explore the world and try to combine different things together? The challenge is to make that open-ended, exploratory approach rigorous. Luckily we have a quintessentially California archetype to look to: the startup entrepreneur. These individuals create something out of nothing and by definition chart new paths.

So what might we learn about learning from a well-developed entrepreneurial ecosystem like Silicon Valley?  First, note there is a clear and unavoidable metric: fiscal sustainability.  We need to draw a clear line between learning as an educational goal and as a way to meet the demands of entrepreneurial capitalism.  Yet an important point remains: what works is what matters – not arbitrary standards.  Second, note that rather than following the instructions of ostensibly omniscient teachers, entrepreneurs cultivate a network of mentors and advisors who can help them navigate inherently uncertain terrain.  Third and perhaps most importantly learning is recognized as an inherently lifelong activity, something that transcends titles and formal schooling.

Public education needs rigorous measurement that actually reflects real learning.  Students generally understand the importance of graduating high school, and the fact that there’s a test that’s (somewhat) a prerequisite for that.  But today’s High School Graduation exam assesses little more than the number of students who’ve been pushed through the system.  So why should students care about the exam?  Sure many students care in the sense that they care about showing up to school on time, but why should they actually care about passing the test?  

What if instead students completed an open ended project and presented their results to a panel of community judges?  Kids from around the state could collaborate on science experiments or starting a small business or investigating a public problem -- really anything that moves humanity forward.  Such things already happen in schools across the state.  We need a thousand time more.

Similarly we might learn from the importance of mentorship in entrepreneurship.  People who’ve already walked the path students want to trod can offer guidance and advice on “why” students are learning what they’re learning and how it connects to where they want to go.  

Currently a student might meet a mentor through their family or perhaps if they’re lucky through an after school program, but these pathways are poor and underdeveloped.  Web tools exist for connecting volunteers to classrooms but are far from optimized for education.  If one were to look for a date online, they could search by age, education level, geography, and job status.  Yet a nonprofit looking for more volunteers in their business partnership program would probably be better off picking up the phone book.

More broadly, we too quickly forget that schools are but one pathway for learning and that substantial areas of human knowledge are necessarily unmapped. Community members have a wealth of knowledge on their craft and really just life that students could benefit from.  Think of what a doctor learns in residency, a novice carpenter learns in an apprenticeship or an aspiring public servant learns in a Coro Fellowship. The whole point is that such practical insight, what the ancient Greeks called metis, cannot be gained in a classroom or through a book.

Today such knowledge can be spread organically and through a mindboggling array of pathways.  The Internet has dramatically matured, providing categorically new pathways for learning. Platforms such as Quora offer a virtual glimpse into how community might transform education towards a more inquiry based model. The popularity of social media sites such as Meetup and Skillshare suggests a hunger for local knowledge and a desire for lifelong learning across diverse groups.  

Why can’t formal public education build from these existing platforms?  Why can’t high schools host meetups for a local historical society or a quadrocoptor hobbyist club?  Why does public school act like learning isn’t a lifelong activity and why do we insist on segregating students away from the rest of the population?  Why not enable the world to become the student’s classroom?  And who not work towards an education ecosystem where a student’s ability to learn is limited only by their capacity to dream?

California today is famous the world over for its creativity and entrepreneurial ability. And remember, education at its limit is nothing more than a subset of culture, as one generation passes on knowledge to another. Why not seek inspiration and build from those quintessentially Californian strengths to tackle our pressing educational challenges?

Announcing Stag Hunt's Latest Venture: Data Sophistry Services

"The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all."

--Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief Wired Magazine

Who really wants the truth anyway?   Clearly only intellectuals and academics with way too much time on their hands.  In other words: losers.  

And you want to win right?  The world today is awash in information.  Yet how can you find the answer you want in that ocean?  

Millions of consulting firms will analyze your data and glean insight for you.  Yet who really wants to deal with all that statistical mumbo jumbo?  We'll spare you all that "math" and get right to what you want: results.

Want to prove a point?  We'll find just the fact or figure to fit your argument, and for a premium, we'll even generate an authoritative sounding data source to say whatever you require.

Want pretty graphic so you can crush the opposition? We offer arbitrary two axis qualitative graphics that'll position your product / organization / service right where it needs to be: at the top right. 

Want your biases confirmed?   Take a look at our psuedostatistics services.  We'll be sure to cherry pick the correct data to get the answer you want, or better yet for the right price we'll get our crackerjack team right to work generating the "right" data.

And folks honestly that's just the beginning.  We've got big plans for this firm, big plans we say.

                         Look on my data, ye Mighty, and despair!

                         Look on my data, ye Mighty, and despair!

Recapping Stag Hunt's Year of California Adventure

“'s very much like your trying to reach infinity. You know that it's there, you just don't know where-but just because you can never reach it doesn't mean that it's not worth looking for.” 
― Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth

Almost exactly a year ago, I dove headlong into a quest.  I'd been passionate about pioneering better government in California for years ,and I'd increasingly become curious about the role current technology could play in allowing new pathways for delivering public services -- particularly in reimagining education.

I had spent all my free time reading everything I could on the subject and running a few experiments in local schools.  Yet I had massively more questions than answers about the whole gov 2.0 / reinventing government / government reform thing, and I wanted to devote my life full time to figuring out what this frontier really meant:

What if 20 years from now we’ll look back on the history of the internet and the frontier phase from the 1990’s to the early 21rst century will be seen as merely a warm-up to the radically larger shift in political economy that information technology allowed by revolutionizing the challenges of bureaucracy? What if the current barrier to that transformation wasn’t technical so much as institutional inertia?

I actually just left my job as a public finance analyst to move up to Silicon Valley because I deeply believe this opportunity reflects the most important challenge facing public servants today.  That might sound a little crazy but the decision becomes obvious when I ask myself a simple question: what will excellence in public service look like in 10 years?

In many ways, it's intuitively obvious that we stand on the cusp between old and new institutional orders. About a century ago basic public institutions were transformed as we shifted from an agrarian to an industrial society in the late nineteenth century, and many of the basic bureaucracies we take for granted like professional police, food regulation, universal public schools and safe public water supplies were pioneered. 

Since that time information technology has transformed how humans connect to one another, yet the basic structure of those bureaucracies has largely remained unchanged. I didn't know how precisely how this change would occur, but I knew this was a big wave and I wanted to do my part.  The issues were complex, but the underlying dynamic struck me as simple.  A Stag Hunt in game theoretic terms:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau described a situation in which two individuals go out on a hunt. Each can individually choose to hunt a stag or hunt a hare. Each player must choose an action without knowing the choice of the other. If an individual hunts a stag, he must have the cooperation of his partner in order to succeed. An individual can get a hare by himself, but a hare is worth less than a stag.

My good buddy from high school football -- and frequent co-conspirator on fun little creative projects -- David Thomas was eager to launch a venture and hopped on board.  We were faced with many unknowns but knew one thing for certain: ultimately no proactive change was possible without the people of California.  So we decided to walk the earth:

Vincent: You serious? You're really thinking about quitting?

Jules: The life?

Vincent: Yeah.

Jules: Most definitely.

Vincent: Oh, fuck. What'cha gonna do, then?

Jules: Well, that's what I've been sitting here contemplating. First, I'm going to deliver this case to Marsellus, then, basically, I'm just going to walk the Earth.

Vincent: What'cha mean, "walk the Earth"?

Jules: You know, like Caine in Kung Fu: walk from place to place, meet people, get into adventures.

Vincent: And how long do you intend to walk the Earth?

Jules: Until God puts me where he wants me to be.

Vincent: And what if he don't do that?

Jules: If it takes forever, then I'll walk forever.

We didn't have a ton of resources (just some personal savings accrued from me working while living at home to survive for a year in a quinoa and hammock lifestyle).  So we put together a cash prize to kill our marketing and content acquisition birds with one stone.  

And we embarked on a hunt for pioneering insights on how to build government that reflects our globalized and technologically connected world and we got to work telling the world.

Stag Hunt went up north to the fabled lands of Silicon Valley and won best analysis (complete with a $1000 prize!) for our work on Oakland Unified's community schools programs.

Stag Hunt went up north to the fabled lands of Silicon Valley and won best analysis (complete with a $1000 prize!) for our work on Oakland Unified's community schools programs.

We tried some unconventional marketing approaches.

And we took the leap.

David boldly leading an exploration of Catalina island -- truly a pioneering spirit.

David boldly leading an exploration of Catalina island -- truly a pioneering spirit.

For Patrick, of course, this sort of pioneering spirit often meant exploring bold new ideas.

For Patrick, of course, this sort of pioneering spirit often meant exploring bold new ideas.

For whatever reason, people didn't want free money and we only got two submissions to the challenge -- one of which was pretty wierd.  So in accordance with the rules, we decided to build the thing ourselves.  We tapped a few smart friends at top notch consulting firms and grad schools like Stanford and Cal Tech.  We put together all our ideas and burnished them in the fires of our Long Beach Garage office.  And we produced the first issue of the Stag Hunt, a deep exploration of how current technologies might revolutionize California's suboptimal bureaucratic structures.

For whatever reason, people didn't want free money and we only got two submissions to the challenge -- one of which was pretty wierd.  So in accordance with the rules, we decided to build the thing ourselves.  We tapped a few smart friends at top notch consulting firms and grad schools like Stanford and Cal Tech.  We put together all our ideas and burnished them in the fires of our Long Beach Garage office.  And we produced the first issue of the Stag Hunt, a deep exploration of how current technologies might revolutionize California's suboptimal bureaucratic structures.

California Revolution
Stag Hunt Enterprises
And like many Californians before us, we set out to explore the next frontier.

And like many Californians before us, we set out to explore the next frontier.

We took our ideas around the state to explore how we might get more of a pioneering spirit in our government.  We listened to innumerable Californians from all walks of life.  And yes, we did go surfing at the Capitol.

We also had a bit of an informal survey at the Capitol, asking people who walked by: "how much does our current government reflect the world we live in?"  Some of the best dialogues that resulted: "The scary things is probably a lot."  A long conversation with John Laird about California Tomorrow and Chesterton's Fence.  "Clearly not at all."  And the perplexed: "I don't deal in riddles."  Here's a great video Public Innovation's Ash Rougani did on the event.


We put out a craigslist ad offering a (very) small stipend and our cramped extra car seat for a "rugged internship for revolution."  Many applied, but only one thought we were full of shit.  Yet somehow we managed to convince him that this was a worthwhile endeavor, and he dropped everything to move from Cinncinati to California.  His name is Michael Jon Leonard, and he's still a Stag Hunter today.

And then we were three.

And then we were three.

We traveled all over California, from Watts to Mendocino, exploring more nooks and crannies than we as lifelong residents of this great state knew existed.

We traveled all over California, from Watts to Mendocino, exploring more nooks and crannies than we as lifelong residents of this great state knew existed.


We got busy networking, and set up meetings with cool dudes like Bob Hertzberg to discuss how California might pioneer better government that "reflects the realities of our globalized and technologically connected world."

And then went on to sign some cool new authors.

And then went on to sign some cool new authors.

His name is Alan Clark, and he draws the news.  He's pictured here in his volcano lair -- we mean Stag Hunt's Long Beach garage office.

His name is Alan Clark, and he draws the news.  He's pictured here in his volcano lair -- we mean Stag Hunt's Long Beach garage office.

And we landed the publishing rights to acclaimed author Marcus Ruiz Evan's next book on California.

We got in an epic battle with John Steward (or honestly the windmills we constructed out of his pizza truce slander of California).  It's ok though.  In California, we're not limited to those standard pizza paradigms like marinara sauce and don't consider the thickness of the crust to be an innovation.  We're willing to think beyond the pie, pioneering zany culinary fusions like the insanely delicious Dean's Thai Curry pizza pictured here.  Seriously you should try it.

We got in an epic battle with John Steward (or honestly the windmills we constructed out of his pizza truce slander of California).  It's ok though.  In California, we're not limited to those standard pizza paradigms like marinara sauce and don't consider the thickness of the crust to be an innovation.  We're willing to think beyond the pie, pioneering zany culinary fusions like the insanely delicious Dean's Thai Curry pizza pictured here.  Seriously you should try it.

And everywhere we went, we always made sure to make time to slackline.

And everywhere we went, we always made sure to make time to slackline.

That got us thinking about David's twin brother Phil's invention: the Slak Trak.  People loved it, and we thought: why not give it to them?

That got us thinking about David's twin brother Phil's invention: the Slak Trak.  People loved it, and we thought: why not give it to them?

So we had a  few epic ideation sessions, and we headed off to startup weekend -- the veritable den of the digiterati, Slak Traks in tow.

So we had a  few epic ideation sessions, and we headed off to startup weekend -- the veritable den of the digiterati, Slak Traks in tow.

We did some uber-lean, hyperlocal, super-non-buzzwordy market research in the nearby Santa Monica original muscle beach.

And we poured our heart and soul to pitch the Slak Trak.

Overall, we built a badass team, crushed expectations for our non-digital band of misfits, and capitalized on that momentum to:

Filming some epic promo videos.

Filming some epic promo videos.

Getting some solidly branded product in the mail.

Getting some solidly branded product in the mail.

And check out our epicly designed business cards (thanks David and Ping!).

And check out our epicly designed business cards (thanks David and Ping!).

We even had an advanced R&D unit building a CNC machine to automate and streamline our future slackline innovations!

We even had an advanced R&D unit building a CNC machine to automate and streamline our future slackline innovations!

We launched our Indiegogo excited to take on the world.  Sadly, people were much more willing to play on already set up Slak Trak than they were to set it up themselves.  Our most excited slackers were little dudes and dudettes in the late elementary to early high school age, and we look forward to working to integrate slacklines into schools with the Slak Trak.

This year has been an amazing experience, and now it's time to bring that chapter to a close.  We've taken another lap around the sun and are hopefully wiser for it.  Honestly, it's obvious now that many of our dreams and aspirations weren't perhaps the most mature but they were perhaps quintessentially Californian:

"I realize now that greedy teenage dream of a place where people lived in glass houses surrounded by spectacular vistas and spent their lives being paid handsomely for surfing, making love, and demonstrating for noble causes, yet also managed to be laid-back, forward-looking, and amusingly eccentric, was in its essentially the 'California Dram' of natural beauty married to extraordinary freedom and opportunity that inspired Bruff, and generations of emigrants that followed."

--Thurston Clark, California Fault

We might not have met our financial goals but we have learned skills, brought awesome new creations into the world and been burnished by more failures these past few months than most people have in a lifetime -- assets that not even a zombie apocalypse could take away.

“It has been a long trip," said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; "but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn't made so many mistakes. I'm afraid it's all my fault."

"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.” 
Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth

It's ok if we fall.  

It's ok if we fall.  

We've learned how to pick ourselves back up again.

We've learned how to pick ourselves back up again.

Embolden by the past and excited for our future, here's to the next Hunt.



Learn Math, Part N+1

The LA Times has a great op-ed out today on mathematics education by *gasp* an actual mathematician!

Most of us never get to see the real mathematics because our current math curriculum is more than 1,000 years old. For example, the formula for solutions of quadratic equations was in al-Khwarizmi’s book published in 830, and Euclid laid the foundations of Euclidean geometry around 300 BC. If the same time warp were true in physics or biology, we wouldn’t know about the solar system, the atom and DNA. This creates an extraordinary educational gap for our kids, schools and society.

If we are to give students the right tools to navigate an increasingly math-driven world, we must teach them early on that mathematics is not just about numbers and how to solve equations but about concepts and ideas.

It’s about things like symmetry groups, which physicists have used to predict subatomic particles — from quarks to the Higgs boson — and describe their interactions. Or Riemannian geometry, which goes far beyond the familiar Euclidean geometry, and which enabled Einstein to realize that the space we inhabit is curved. Or clock arithmetic — in which adding four hours to 10 a.m. does not get you to 14 but to 2 p.m. — which forms the basis of modern cryptography, protects our privacy in the digital world and, as we’ve learned, can be easily abused by the powers that be.

We also need to convey to students that mathematical truths are objective, persistent and timeless. They are not subject to changing authority, fads or fashion. A mathematical statement is either true or false; it’s something we all agree on. To paraphrase William Blake, mathematics “cleanses the doors of perception.”
— LA Times Op-Ed, 3/2/2014

Announcing the Winner of the Socratic Challenge

Dear Readers,

Please congratulate Jonathan Hasak for his winning essay on Oakland Public Schools.  We're excited to publish the work and hope that you please pass along your congratulations.



Original Challenge

Calling everyone who's tired of our one-size-fits-all factory-like education system: How will (or has) YOUR local school district move(d) to embody the principles of creativity and adaptability mapped out by Sir Ken Robinson?  Describe in 2042 words how you plan to change or have changed education paradigms in your district (or ideally a combination of both).

Policy shifts like the new Common Core State Standards, California Governor Jerry Brown's local control funding formula, and the new California Collaborative for Educational Excellence make local school districts dramatically more autonomous.  Such changes provide a golden opportunity to transform education’s much derided, one-size-fits-all factory model into something that is quite frankly, more human.

We want to know how school districts will take advantage of the new found flexibility in order to build a more fertile educational ecosystem that embodies Sir Ken's principles of creativity and adaptability.  This challenge is hunting for both prospective plans with strategies for change and retrospective case studies documenting change in Sir Ken's direction.  We imagine the strongest submissions will likely be a combination of the two. 

Key questions to consider in your plan include: what is the current reality of your school district?  Please include both qualitative observations (ideally firsthand) and quantitative metrics (demographics, student achievement, etc.) in your description.  What is your vision for youth as they matriculate through and then graduate from your district?  What educational structures (class schedules, community involvement, curriculum, testing) would you change and how would that enable the learning environment to move from today's reality to that vision?  What policies (if any) at a state or federal level prevent those changes? 

Submissions will be judged on their pioneering spirit, applicability, and ability to really shift people's paradigms.  Imagine you are writing for a superintendent or other education leader interested in Sir Ken’s ideas, but is unsure how to implement them.  California has a golden opportunity to move in that direction, and we want to hear the best  pragmatic, actionable ideas from around the world so that we might seize that moment.


 Jane Patterson, Wesley Farrow, Miho Kuwagaw, Annie Chang, and Daniel Cheung 

Our judges have a strong background working in the front lines of education and have a well documented record of implementing real change.  Together, they garner a broad swath of experience as teachers, tutors, school and district management, nonprofit support leadership and as other pillars of the education community.

Education Reform isn't enough. We need a Revolution.

For the past few years, I’ve dedicated many of my nights and weekends to supporting California’s schools as a volunteer and director at two education nonprofits. That experience has solidified some nagging doubts about the foundations of our education system that began when I was a student in California public schools more than a decade ago.

As a kid, I never understood why, regardless of our individual talents or interests, we all had to learn at the same pace. Or why watching a documentary on river dams in school counted as class but building one in my backyard did not. Or why filling in bubbles on a Scantron test measured progress but reading books I loved didn’t.

Today much sound and fury is being spent on the new Common Core standards—detailed expectations for what every student must learn at every step of their public school career—and Governor Jerry Brown’s new funding formula for local schools. Those are steps in the right direction.

Yet by themselves those policy shifts do nothing to change the basic factory-like structure that sucks the life out of public school. In the early 20th century, influential author Ellwood Cubberley argued: “Our schools are, in a sense, factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life.”

We still batch students by age in 2014—as if their most important attribute is their date of manufacture. We notify students that they should go to their next class by ringing bells, the same signal used for shift changes in 19th-century factories. We continuously measure student achievement with standardized tests.

Public schools are run with the logic of mass production and the goal of optimizing the outcomes of average students. As Tyler Cowen points out in his book Average is Over, the world economy increasingly rewards rare and exceptional talents. The huge demand for semi-skilled, high school-educated workers that defined the mid-20th century has dried up.

Why, then, is it considered radical to question basic structures like bell schedules, grade levels, and standardized curricula? How come the status quo is not seen as a radical departure from common sense?

Education reformers talk about how Common Core will move us toward more open-ended inquiry—and away from standardization. But the new standards still assume that students should learn at exactly the same rate and in the same order, step-by-step as if they were climbing stairs. I remember tons of kids in Glendale Unified who could grasp some concepts way above grade-level but struggled with other basics.

Why then do we build our standards and our curricula on linear scaffolding? Is geometry following algebra supposed to be some sort of metaphysic? What if high school sophomores watch the film A Beautiful Mind and are inspired to start playing around with game theory? Why not let them?

Under the logic of the current public school system, the proper response is another question: How can we put a game theory teacher in every high school? Standardization is the natural reflex.

The better question is: Why do we need a teacher for game theory at all? Why not let precocious students learn from the wealth of knowledge in their communities and around the world? Technology makes it easier to open those doors. We don’t need to push iPads into classrooms. We need the will to reimagine what constitutes a classroom in a world where every student can go online.

I remember all the things I learned outside the classroom. After school, and free of adults, our little gang of kids in La Crescenta would play games on the streets and venture into the nearby canyon in the foothills of L.A., where we learned important lessons in autonomy and self-directed inquiry. When we needed to resolve a freeze tag rule dispute, we gained sound experience in problem solving. And if we tried to build a dam on the canyon stream and needed information on dam construction, we’d figure out the right people or books to consult.

Why not allow more of that go-explore-the-world mindset into our schools? That’s not actually a new idea—it was just as applicable during Plato’s Academy as it is today. What’s new is the Internet, which has the potential to scale that sort of open-ended inquiry by connecting people who might never otherwise have met.

Some people say the public schools won’t change until we spend enough money on education or vaporize the teachers’ unions or something. The real barrier, though, is an ingrained industrial paradigm that says school must be limited to a predetermined curriculum taught by a few specialized teachers.

Why can’t students connect with a person who has experience that aligns with their professional, intellectual, or other educational interests? Why can’t class happen in a co-working space or a canyon? That would certainly beat watching dull documentaries in 45-minute chunks.

Common Core isn’t a problem in itself. A baseline is absolutely useful. The problem is that, all too often, we let a floor become a ceiling. We need to look at unconventional models tailored to the individual needs of students.

The definition of a classroom, according to, is “any place where one learns or gains experience.” Maybe one day we’ll look at how students actually learn and build an education system founded on that human need rather than the demands of mass production.

Now that’d be a revolution.



Source: http://mckayschooleducators.files.wordpres...

Shifting Gears: Viable Cycling for the Underserved of Fresno

Dear Reader,

Stag Hunt is nothing if not a plucky band of civic minded nerd jocks.  In that vein, we'd like to interrupt you're regularly scheduled programming of esoteric political economy and reckless philosophical speculation on the implications of information technology for government to show you this excellent plan from none other than Marcus Ruiz Evans, a collaborator on Stag Hunt's latest book project.



According to the last census, most of Fresno's population – eighty-five percent according to the most recent United States census – consists of minorities, women, youth, the elderly, and low-income people.(1)  But the 1% of the population that cycles regularly comes from the remaining fifteen percent of Fresnans!  That one percent is largely male, white, able-bodied, middle-income and young or middle-aged. (2)   They have easy access to the present system that offers the finest riding experiences. (3)


Why is this?  In 2011, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), one of the largest and oldest rating organizations in the United States, rated Fresno's bicycling system as the fifth best in the nation.  (4)


To date, the City of Fresno has spent $36 million to implement its Bicycle, Pedestrian & Trails Master Plan (BPTMP). (5) To fully carry out the plan will require another $1.3 billion. (6) Will this investment be effective to increase ridership beyond the existing 1%?  Even fully implemented, the master plan infrastructure will not be attractive to these communities because the plan neglects a critically important factor – people's fear of bicycling alongside automobiles.


The BPTMP, along with bicycle advocates and people who use the system now, say that those who do not bicycle just need to be taught how safe and fun bicycling is.  The master plan has an entire section devoted to education and encouragement. (7) Taking this approach places the burden on those who fear sharing the roads with vehicles and not on driver behavior.  


The master plan suggests that people need to get over their fear of bicycling on streets with cars – however, such statements fail to acknowledge that cars are moving fast and weigh thousands of pounds, and motorists are often contemptuous of bicycle riders.  


Instead of telling frightened people not to be afraid of what they have every reason to fear, the BPTMP should focus on creating facilities that remove the reason for that fear.


Most of the research carried out over the last decade on why people do not bicycle finds that lack of education is not the problem – traveling on roads with cars is the problem. (8)


In 2011, for the Fresno General Plan and Development Code update, a survey of bicycle users in Fresno showed that “Most people [of Fresno] feel safer on Class I facilities” -- that is, bicycle lanes completely separated from streets. (9) For the development of the Bicycle, Pedestrian & Trails Master Plan, another survey yielded the same result. (10)


Yet the master plan states that the only really important obstacles to bicycling are things like freeway crossings or streets in county islands where bicycle lanes are not painted on the asphalt. (11)


The Brookings Institute declared that the City of Fresno has the highest concentration of poverty in the United States. (12)   Many who live here cannot afford cars; they are transit dependent even as bus service has been shrinking because of budget cuts. (13)  With the country still in the worst recession in a century, transit systems, which are heavily subsidized, are at risk of losing additional funds. (14)


A system of connected Class 1 bicycle facilities, like a well-designed freeway system, would allow low-income people to travel around Fresno on bicycle as easily as in the cars they cannot afford. SEE MAPS.


Actually, a well-connected Class 1 system would provide economic, environmental, and health benefits to the entire population of Fresno.


Commuters would no longer have to be stalled in traffic; they could wave to trapped motorists as they flashed by on their Class 1 way to work.  Children could bicycle safely to school (imagine the savings in time and fuel that would bring about, not to mention the improvement in children's health).  All kinds of errands could be done by bicycle.  People could reach appointments by bicycle.  Families could bicycle together for recreation.  


A fully connected Class I network would attract bike enthusiasts from all over the country.   The Sugar Pine Trail already attracts people from outside Fresno (15)  – imagine the money-spending tourists and competitive events that an entire system would attract. (1    6)


Fresno could have a future in which 20% to 30% of the population use bicycles, rates commonly found in Europe.


Before we spend $1.3 billion to build a bicycle system that will have few Class 1 facilities (poorly connected to one another at that), how can we redirect our efforts to make bicycle riders out of people from the ninety-nine percent who do not bicycle now?  Here is a three-step program:


One – Fresno city and county must recognize that the public will take bicycling seriously only if they have Class I (fully separate) facilities.   The Clovis Sugar Pine Trail is an ideal example; anything less will not address the concerns of ninety-nine percent of Fresno's population.


Two – The BPTMP to focus on creating a system of interconnected Class I trails that link residential areas with meaningful destinations.   To make it affordable, use the railroad lines and canals that crisscross the city.  There are precedents for this.  The Clovis Sugar Pine Trail was created from a former railroad line. The City of Fresno converted land along the Enterprise Canal into a bicycle trail.


Three – The people who do not bike must be made aware of the benefits of a Class I bicycling system.  They need to become advocates of such a system – to articulate their fears of riding in traffic, and to demand the health, environmental and financial benefits that a usable, viable system would provide.


The City of Fresno has already stated in official reports that it sees the value of using canals for bicycle lanes. (17)   As for railroads, the California Air Resources Board has identified rail yards as a major source of health problems for people who live near them. (18) Because Fresno has a very large rail yard near low-income residential areas, the railroads may be willing to open their rights of way to bicyclists in exchange for air quality offset credits.


There aren’t many cities that have full bicycling networks.  Fresno should make use of its incredible canal and railroad opportunities to have the best in the United States.  It would benefit the entire population, especially low-income groups, provide health benefits, increase family income and attract needed dollars to Fresno's economy. (19)


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