School & District Management Opinion

How Changing Your Story Can Change the World

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — August 17, 2017 4 min read
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Today’s guest post is written by filmmaker, storyteller, radio host and author Marc Levitt.

An all pervasive selfishness, shortsightedness and culture of fear has colonized our nation’s politics since the election of Donald Trump. Proposed tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts in essential services for the majority, a willful denial of the effects of human activity on climate change, paranoia about the ‘other’ and the privatization of our collective resources has threatened to shred our country’s social and ecological fabric. However, it would be a mistake to believe that the President alone is responsible.

These policies and their philosophical underpinnings have been part of our political landscape forever. They derive from, and find a willing host in a foundational story we tell ourselves about ourselves; that we are separate and discrete individuals who are disconnected from the implications of their own actions and from the behavior of others. Ultimately, as the story goes, we are responsible for our own destinies and those who can’t climb the mountain of success have only themselves to blame. I call this philosophy, ‘Shallow Individualism’.

This formative story seems to have only one contender for the minds, hearts and actions of our countrymen and women...one that is ‘charity’ based, emanating from empathy, or ‘feeling sorry’ for those ‘less fortunate’. This alternative, while noble, is nonetheless the weak, flip side to the grand narrative of ‘free range’ capitalism, one that identifies ‘winners and losers’, celebrates the winners and believes that a better life for all would be created by permitting the ‘winners’ to do what’s best for themselves.

A Third Way

There is however, a ‘third way’, one that is increasing in visibility and viability. I call this ‘Deep Individualism’. ‘Deep Individualism is aware of our interdependency and understands that acting from this point of view is not only healthy for our planet, but for our own physical and psychological health. ‘Deep Individualism’ posits that the fulfillment of an individual lies in the recognition and embrace of the idea of ‘mutuality of interest'; that we are nested within a social and environmental context and that our happiness, fulfillment and success depends on the health of this context.

What Does This Have To Do With Education?

As we all know, curriculum and pedagogy doesn’t come off the ‘mountain’ as ‘truth’, but instead, is birthed within, supportive of, and is the compost for its expression and continuity. Education in our individualist worshipping culture venerates great men and less so, woman rather than the social context within which ideas and achievements are birthed and nurtured. In our de-contextualized culture where interconnectivity, blowback and implications are often invisible, school subjects are too often siloed into discrete subject areas where :

  • we do not take advantage of things that fall outside of pre-existing borders that themselves are based on our prejudices, be it ‘race’ learning styles and/or gender.
  • an individual’s success is too often measured in money and power, tests measure individual achievement, rather than the ability to work and to communicate with others in project based educational opportunities.
  • democracy is a slogan rather than a starting point, student generated, real world reasons to study, create and alter one’s environment are under-utilized.
  • the goal of one’s education is to obtain the temperament and skills that fit well into the existing vocational matrix of society, creative thinking and the arts are underfunded and under scheduled.

The good news however is that while our politics seem to be embracing ‘Shallow Individualism’ more and more literature is pointing to our shared fate and to our predisposition to act accordingly. This understanding can be found in the work concerning our collectively ‘owned’ ecological and intellectual heritage, call the Commons. Examples can be seen in the studies of Nobel Prize winning economist Eleanor Elsinor, who identified those around the globe who have, for generations, protected cooperatively utilized resources. Many biologists, psychologists, sociologists, primatologists and philosophers have concluded that cooperation is innate and essential to our own and other species.

Which Story Will You Choose?

We are also coming to understand the responsibility and opportunity now being offered to create a world aligned to the growing awareness of our intertwined fates, one that promises more sustainable and fulfilling. Educators must realize that they play an essential role in this intellectual ‘realignment’ and that they must now hold themselves accountable to the story they are ‘telling’ and distributing. No longer can we imagine that our curriculum and pedagogy is ‘value free’ or as inevitable as the sunrise. We have the choice, the choice to continue promulgating a worldview that supports the likes of Donald Trump, or to nurture an awareness of our collective destinies and responsibilities while consciously teaching the tools needed to bring it forth.


Marc Levitt is author of ‘Putting Everyday Life on the Page (Corwin Press; 2007), A Holistic Approach For Cultural Change Character Education for Ages 13-15 and Changing Curriculum through Stories Character Education for Ages 10-12 (Rowman and Littlefield; 2017). Mr. Levitt has lectured and performed in over sixty countries in six contentents and has a web site for student writing about Third Culture Issues at www.ThirdCultureStories.com. He can be reached at MarcJoelLevitt@gmail.com/www.MarcLevitt.org

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.