The Trek Episode 2 on Education: Civics Unplugged discuss how to reform the education system and the future of Gen Z – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Ashley Lin, Founder/CEO of Project Exchange, and Maryam Tourk, Co-founder of CU Summer Camp discuss education reform on this episode of the Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on how to reform the failing education system 
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss what a successful education is to them and how to change what has been in place for decades
  • Future leaders of America discuss college, higher education, and how institutions are evolving and have evolved due to Covid-19 



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 –  a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Ashley Lin, Founder/CEO of Project Exchange, and Maryam Tourk, Co-founder of CU Summer Camp

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to group think. This is our series at CU, where we have open-ended discussions about anything that feels meaningful. And it’s all fueled by questions. We just come in with a topic, pose a question, and then see where the conversation takes us. I’m Madison, everyone else want to introduce themselves?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:26:

Where are you tuning in from Madison?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:29:

Verdigris Oklahoma. And I’m a high school senior.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:33:

Cool. What about you, Ashley?

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:36:

My name’s Ashley and I’m tuning in from Vancouver, Washington, and I’m also a high school senior.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:42:

And I’m Gary. I’m a part of the CU staff, Civics Unplugged staff. I’m tuning in from New York city. All right. Madison, you want to screen share? Awesome. You want to tee up the topic?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged:  01:05:

Yeah. So we’re talking about education. What question do you guys want to start with?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:23:

How do we define education? And we don’t have to like, you know, we don’t have to have a super comprehensive definition, but maybe we could just talk about what are some ideal objectives of education?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged:  01:47:

Do you want me to change it to that?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:49:

Yeah, actually, why don’t we do that? Okay.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged:  01:58:

I would just say in terms of like school education, I think like getting people, like, excited about learning, is really important.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 02:25:

Yeah. I feel like also just helping people make sense of the world around them and understand what’s going on.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 02:36:

Yeah. What about standardized tests? No just kidding don’t put that. Hi Maryam, do you want to introduce yourself briefly? Like where, where are you calling in from? What, what grade? You’re in. Hello everybody.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 03:00:

Oh, it’s cause you’re recording. Okay. I thought that was it. I was like what? Okay. Yeah. Hi everyone. I’m Mariam. I’m a senior from the suburbs of Chicago. Yeah, I’m really excited to be here. What else you want to know?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 03:19:

Maryam’s awesome. So, Maryam this is our second session of, of group. Think last week we talked about life design this week we’re talking about education. We just threw a question on in this notion doc, and we’ll just see where this goes. It’s totally freeform. It’s already, it’s already going to get good. What are some objectives of the ideal education, Maryam?

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 03:46:

I would say like equipping people to go out into the real world and do something with their education by giving them the tools to succeed in the real world. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 04:01

Like, that’s really interesting. I think in in like traditional like structures of education, I feel like on one level, like there’s the objective of making sure everyone graduates with a high school diploma. And then I think the next level is like making sure people are college and career ready. And then I think Maryam what you’re talking about is giving people, the tools to succeed in the real world is just kind of taking that like college and career readiness to the next level in the sense that the skills that you need to succeed in the real world are things like, how do you pay your taxes? And how do you do your laundry. I like, I don’t know, but like, I just feel like college and career is where like everyone else is at. And, and we just need to be able to push like what that, like what college and career really means beyond like getting a high ACT score.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 05:07:

Sure. So, Madison, do you want to write down some of these questions so we can, we can flesh, we can like start jamming on them at a later point in tonight. It’s great stuff. Maybe one question is what is the current education system optimizing for? So like for example, instead of preparing them to succeed in the real world, is it optimizing for certain proxies, for preparation that are becoming increasingly less tied to preparedness in the real world? And I know that was sort of a rhetorical question.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 06:01:

I mean, in terms of like the current education system, at least that like I’m existing in, it’s definitely preparing you, not even only for college, but just like to graduate high school. Like we literally have meetings like, “Oh, are you on track to graduate? Get your high school diploma?” Like, that’s it. I feel like a lot of things are on your own. I mean, even college, I have to like figure it out on my own. So it’s really just like getting that base level of requirement of getting your high school degree and then after that, you’re on your own.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 06:33:

For sure. It was actually shocking. I actually went to a school that I think it did foster my intellectual curiosity and all that. I was shocked by when I found out that there’s some schools that literally kick out kids expel kids to increase their high school graduation rates. And you might wonder how does that even work? Like what didn’t you factor in expelled kids into that rate? Nope. So literally like a kid could be in the school for 3.8 years, and then they would kick them out. So it’s just really interesting to think about what happens when, instead of fostering something like a life preparedness or, you know, personal flourishing, which is very hard to measure and proxies for that are many, many metrics that could easily be debatable. So instead of trying to do that I think because other schools are playing the sort of high school graduation rate game that gave us permission to any high school to play that game. That’s what I’ve observed.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 08:13:

If something feels illegal, I feel like why are you doing it? Like if you’re literally just doing something shady, like why is that? How is there any role for that in our education system? But I feel like it’s gotten a lot more normalized because of college. We were like, Oh, we’re hacking the system to make our school look better, like get kids into college. But it’s kind of like scary that like they can get away with things like in the name of more education, but they’re like ruining education at like lower levels too. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged:  08:43:

I don’t know. And like another thing is I feel like right now, especially with college, it encourages people to think like super traditionally and do things almost by the book in a way, and not do things creatively, especially with, you know, standardized tests, trying to get the highest scores and trying to play the college admissions game and following everything super specifically.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 09:18:

It’s a game. Games can be gamed. Did you ever watch those videos of I think it was a school in Louisiana that, I think, you know what I’m talking about? They like always filmed viral videos of their high school students getting into like Stanford or Harvard or whatever. And then like all the kids were erupt “Oh my God.” It turns out they were just forging GPA. And like the college counselors, I mean the high school counselor, I don’t even know what to call them. Like they were basically writing the recommendation letters like with the kids, like to just fully optimize for getting into college. I think it’s probably good that they were caught, but how many schools are not caught. And plus, because high schools know that other high schools are doing this, they have to play the game don’t they? Or at least they feel like they have to play that game.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 10:35:

I’ve also heard of counselors, like allowing like signing off for students to ED at multiple schools too and little shady things like that.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 10:48

Definitely. I feel like also, if you’re not playing the game, then you’re falling behind. Like, it’s not even like, you have the choice to have it play the game or not to play the game, but once other people start playing the game and then you don’t, then you’re Oh, okay, well, you’re like forced to get into this like negative system and like playing into all of these hacking the system by doing something shady or doing something that you shouldn’t be doing. And I think that fosters ideas within students that it’s okay to do that especially with online school too, like, I’ve talked about this with so many people. Everyone just has two computers open, and they cheat on everything. And it’s like, so normalized now that it’s like, Oh yeah, that’s fine. I mean, we have it. Why not do it? We’ll make the curve higher. Like do something that. But I feel like that sort of idea of “Oh, just hack the system.” And that’s the best ideal outcome of anything is just like really ruining people’s morality in a lot of senses on actual education. Like what are you doing it for?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 11:52:

Well said. A question that I have is if these issues are so widespread, how come they’re not very well known by people that are not experiencing them directly? So, for example, I’ll talk to people of older generations who assume that high school is fine. And it might’ve been fine 30, 40 years ago. It might’ve actually been fine, but the world was very different 30, 40 years ago, like so different.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 12:38:

I just think it comes back to almost a lack of empathy and people a lot of times don’t really care about issues unless they’re relevant to them. So, why would someone, in their sixties really care about what’s happening in high school? You know, they graduated high school years and years ago. I think that’s probably the mindset.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 13:07:

I mean, and at the same time, so much of this is about signaling. I mean, is that the signaling and making sure that you’re putting a good image out there and still on surface level, it looks fine. It looks like everyone has super high SAT scores and our graduation rates are soaring, and people are learning things, but when you dig deeper, that’s when you start seeing like all these broken pieces and people don’t advertise that they’re applying ED to multiple places. You find that after you do something. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 13:50:

I was going to say, if you use old measures of success in our current world, and you’re like still looking for those old measures of success, then you’re not going to find any problems with how things are operating right now. Just because by old measures of success in an older world, you would have been doing fine, but we’re in a different world now. So, how can you apply those same metrics of success? So, I don’t think it really works anymore. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 14:17

Yeah. What are we measuring to measure success? Because right now schools like success of schools are measured by the graduation rates. Like we don’t really measure anything else.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 14:29:

Nope. And neither do colleges. If CU takes off, Duke is going to take credit for CU. But even I am dis-incentivized about talking honestly, about Duke. So, I’m kind of answering the question. Why are these issues not well known? Because why it’s actually not in your interest to say any constructive criticism about your school, because it makes you look bad and usually you don’t have anything to gain. You’re almost like a martyr, right? It’s like maybe after a hundred or a thousand of you do the same thing, then there’s a critical mass and then there’s a national conversation maybe. But I’m not afraid to say that Duke doesn’t have anyone paid to support me. I wouldn’t blame them for taking credit for creating someone that was able to co-found something that did something useful in the world. I would, if I was a school administrator. Duke did a lot for me. But the narrative, no matter how true it is if an excellent student or just someone that does something in the world maybe in spite of their schooling, does something kind of remarkable then the school will take credit for that.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 16:34:

I think that like brings up an interesting point too, that they will continue to take credit for that because of how us as a society measure success right now. Like if going to a good college, it’s like, “Oh, they’re smart. They’re successful” then the good colleges are still going to be the prestige that everyone’s looking for. But if people are like, “Oh no, making a social contribution to our countries, like the new measure of success.” Then people are going to be like actively seeking that, if that makes sense. So, I feel like education system won’t want to redefine what success means, unless everybody else is thinking about success in a different way. So that’s kind of like your whole martyr idea. Why does it feel like futile to even talk about this stuff? It’s because like they won’t change it until society changes. And how can you change society unless it’s on a large scale, like the work that we’re doing right now.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 17:38:

Well, this is why, for the two people that may randomly stumble across this, we talk about things like Netflix shows, Disney plus show, right? That allows for a national conversation about all these important topics to be at least at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, a lot more people’s minds than two people. So, I think a lot of people are thinking about it. This is a strange thing about beliefs. There can be widely held beliefs that can be extremely feudal to bring up and see if other people believe it. If it’s not tied to kind of broader systems change strategy. It just you signaling to the world, the belief that actually more likely than not will harm you rather than help you. In many, many cases telling the truth can harm you more than it can help you. What don’t most adults know about the K through 12 experience right now?

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 19:42:

I think, I don’t know if this is what they don’t know per se, but I think something that they don’t understand is how stressful school is. I feel like school is this really stressful process early. For example, the college application process, I was just talking to someone who is an adult who was like, “Yeah most adults don’t realize how much goes into this or how stressful it actually is. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 20:11:

Yeah. It’s extremely emotionally, mentally and physically taxing.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 20:17:

Right. And I think it’s just taken for granted, like, “Oh, you’re just in school right now. Everything’s only going to get worse.” Or my only “gets worse” relative to like what we’ve dealt with now. But for right now, this is the worst thing, I guess, that we’ve had to deal with. It’s the most stressful thing. So, I feel like people are like, “Oh, well you’re not even in the real world yet.” So, I feel like adults, a lot of the time, takes kids struggles for granted. And I guess this even goes past the education system, but it’s definitely something that like they can’t understand or don’t value the struggles that we go through, through school or college and things like that. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 21:00:

I think all of you just heard me talk about my realizations about how it is uniquely difficult to be Gen Z right now, because the Gulf between your parents and the world that your parents grew up in and the world that you grew up in is so different. And then you also have to negotiate an identity to succeed in the high school environment, which is also very different from whatever kind of social media environment that you have which might be different from, if there is any identity beyond that, these like kind of identities that you’re putting on for other people, right. There’s this kind of amorphous kind of like distributed identity that is like, what do I do? So, there’s like three or four or five identities. And then if you include like the identity that you have with like a close group of friends that you may have grown up with, and then there’s a group of friends that you may do extracurriculars with.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 22:04:

So there’s like four or five, six identities that you’re really negotiate. And maybe add onto that, if you’re like Asian American, for example, you’re like negotiating your own racial identity or which is what I certainly struggled with when I was growing up. I think the social political conversation, at least for the longest time, I think even to this day, doesn’t have a place for Asian Americans. Either you are like, I remember growing up thinking like, what side do I align with? Am I more black or am I more white? We live in a very binary culture that the education system does not help you understand and negotiate these different identities. So I guess one way to kind of sum up it was hard for millennials, but it’s a lot harder, I think for Gen Z. And one thing I didn’t even mention is all the crises that were starting to bubble up when I was your age have just gotten a lot worse. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 23:50:

I think it’s interesting to think about identities and how school doesn’t help you like navigate them. I feel like it’s another thing that contributes to this one mentality you’re like, “Oh, you’re this, or you’re that?” Or you have to check a box every year, at least we have that for when we have to fill out, it’s like, “Oh, are you white? Are you black? Are you Hispanic?” No. And what do you even identify as, and I’m always just like in the other category, I’m like, what does other mean? It’s kind of weird to categorize yourself with boxes when we’re taught to think outside the lines, but it’s like, Oh, but when it comes down to it now, you’re put into a box or categorized into one thing or another. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been filling out all these forms for the common app and FAFSA and all this stuff. But, you know, everything is just kind of trying to like to fit you into one identity. But you’re saying, there’s a lot more than just that one box, so you have to check.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: (25:03):

Yeah. And it was the hardest thing. It was very, it was very painful too and I don’t think I’ve done growing. I don’t think we should ever be done growing, but to get to a place where I feel like I am able to present basically the same person in every environment that took my entire now 27 years to figure out and it’s great. I remember it was really draining to switch between identities.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 25:57:

Yeah. It’s kind of like the idea of code switching, but I didn’t even realize it was a thing until halfway through high school when someone commented on it and they were like, “Oh, you have that voice. And then you have like your normal voice.” And I was like, what do you mean? They’re like, “Oh, you know, like when you talk to people at school and you talk like this” and I’ve become more conscious of it. I think I didn’t even realize that you just kind of like do that. Like once you’ve been in a place for so long, you just slowly start doing what people are most receptive around you to, and yeah, I agree. It definitely takes a lot. I’m glad that I’m like also growing up in a time though, where I have outside, even if it’s not coming from the systems, I have outside people who are openly talking about this stuff.  I’m like, Oh wait, no, it’s more than me. It’s just going through it, but still tough to navigate it and look at day to day life of understanding your students.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 26:56:

Hi, sorry. I’m late. I was at a college thing.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 26:59:

No worries. Do you want to just say where you’re coming from and what grade you’re in?

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 27:06:

Oh yeah. I was senior in high school. And I’m from the suburbs of Chicago and my name is Noor.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 27:18:

Okay. I was just saying for me, at least, when you have to switch between identities so much, it gets really confusing because then you start to question which one is like your most authentic self and it’s super confusing.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 27:40:

I will say once you figure it out, you’re just like, “Oh, I am a unique figure in this world,” but again, it doesn’t happen overnight. And it requires a lot of support. I think this is awesome because you will have the support of all of you. You will all have each other. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 28:11:

Just like to Madison’s point of it gets really confusing switch between roles. I think the best way that I could relate to that when I go from finishing homework to doing something with CU or filling out a notion doc or reflecting or just doing something that I associate with CU, it’s like a weird liberation. I know how to robotically, almost go through problems and write the things because I know what my teachers want. I know the response that they’re looking for. So, then you go from that to the expectations for being here just because it’s doing what you want to do and something that you think is going to be beneficial for yourself which is a cool. It’s like a cool ship, but something that’s like really weird to sometimes grapple with.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 29:15:

Well said. Any questions related to education on anyone’s mind.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 29:32:

What’s essential to know. Ashley and I were talking about this earlier today, what are things that you just can’t live without understanding?

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 29:48:

I will say one thing for sure is a knowledge of how money works or how money is supposed to work. I don’t even know how to phrase this question that is how lost I am in the world of money. I took economics and even had to do a budget project where we had to plan out how we would live after college. But even after that, I still have no clue about a lot of things related to money or how that will all work when I’m older. So definitely something to prepare me for all of that when I move out of my house. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 30:29

Yeah. And kind of similar, I would just say you should have kind of an idea of what you want your future to look like. And I don’t think that should look like pressuring people to go to college. I think in that, again, back to like the ideal education, you should kind of design the future that makes the most sense for you and what you’re passionate about and what you want to do, ultimately, what impact do you want to make.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 31:10:

You know, on that note, I was surprised at first at how often I heard the answer to my question of “What do you want to do?” The blankness and uncertainty and confusion. Like I’ve never thought about that question. What’s the point of high school if it doesn’t even begin to prepare you for that? How can you even recommend that a kid gets into a huge amount of student debt or have their parents fork up hundreds of thousands of dollars if they don’t know what they want to do. To Madison’s point, what they want their future to look like. And on that note, a knowledge of how money works like we should, I mean, no one would agree to this experiment, but if you had two high schools that were basically the same, you had one high school that you put in a really good financial education, how would that affect how the higher education or post school decision-making of the two schools you think that I want to be an artist? So, should I, because there are risks and I will have to really work very hard toto break it into the world. Should I take on 50K every year of student debt for four years so I’m 200K in student debt. Should I do that? Probably not if you had a financial education.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 33:20:

That’s such a good point. It’s almost like schools are at a disadvantage if it doesn’t fit the patient system. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 33:34

Well, the current education system now, we were talking about this on my call for college and it’s totally fine if you don’t know what you want to go into because over half our kids are undecided and that was that’s comforting in the world we live in now. If I didn’t know about how screwed up the education system is, I’d be like, Oh, cool. I can go in undecided. I don’t have to know what I want to do. But now, knowing what that is frustrating would not be prepared for that. Cause I don’t think that what I want to do fits into a pallet.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 34:15:

And look, if you’re designing your own college major, you better have designed that before. I mean, it’s more cost efficient if you spent at least the summer before or even a year before or a gap year designing what that major might look like.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 34:37:

Right. And ideally that’s the point of high school, right? It’s to give you the tools you need to actually explore what you’re interested in and be able to find your U-shaped hole in the world. Because right now we are just kind of all floating through life. We’re all floating through life undecided. Like that’s what most students are doing. I also think something that is essential to know is just how to learn on your own. How do you look for content and ask questions and do experiments and just figure things out on your own without someone telling you what to do and without like meeting a textbook to guide you? 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 35:38:

I feel like another thing that schools push is learning stuff outside of school. Only super intelligent people enjoy learning outside of school sort of thing. But it’s like everyone should enjoy learning outside of school. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 35:57

But then school takes that time from you. Like you’re either learning stuff that you want to learn, or you’re doing what you need to finish high school, which is a weird frustration. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 36:08

Also, Ashley to your point about giving you the tools, you need to explore what you are interested in. I think that’s really interesting because Gary said you’re met with blank stares; people don’t consider it. But I almost feel like when we try to it’s so overwhelming because it’s like how the world is such a chaotic place and I want to make a difference, but how do I even go about doing that? And there’s so many ways of doing that, but how can I use my strengths to optimize that? Like there’s so much that goes into it and also with the money, how do I make sure that it’s still stable and everything. So, then it’s just this huge question with so many layers that we don’t have the skills to tackle. So, then it just becomes this big question mark. And then we get back to the undecided where we’re like, “Oh, well, I guess I just don’t know.” But there’s so much more. And I feel like people don’t give us anything to deal with this huge question. And then you get to the scenario where you’re undecided or you just decide on something and stick with it for the rest of your life. And then you’re middle-aged, not happy with what you’re doing. So, I feel like that’s something that really so many people are afraid of. I don’t want to wake up at a desk job when I’m 40 and realized I don’t like what I’m doing, but how are you going to prevent that from happening? If you don’t have anybody helping you not make those same choices? 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 37:34:

Well, you just made the greatest pitch for the kind of ongoing evolution for CU, which is being that rare space, that rare community advisory system that is excited to help young people figure out their strengths, passions, values, vision, carve out like concrete steps for creating that perfectly suited future for yourself. And, you know, we have a long way to go to making this kind of a repeatable process. And you all are kind of the pilot cohort for us to even know if we have what it takes, but the cool thing is you’re both the beneficiaries of, and the builders of the solution.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 38:47:

I feel like that’s also how it should be, because if something’s supposed to be helping us, we should be making sure that it will actually help us. So It’s great that we’re allowed to be part of the process. Cause I feel like a lot of the times we’re just left out of it and then some things are just like given to us and we have to like deal with things as they are, but it’s nice to have our input and we can help choose like how our life is going to be running.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 39:15:

Also, to Gary’s point of I think it doesn’t help you recognize what you’re passionate about, but it’s taking concrete steps to get there. Because I know something, I struggle with a lot is I can envision this, but it feels so abstract because it’s not something that I’ve been trained to think could happen. But I think part of the point of an ideal high school system or education system is that I feel like so often we hear these stories and we’re like, “Oh, that’s a one in a million chance of happening” or dreams. You want to take like concrete steps to get to a bigger picture. But we’re never taught to actually think of the bigger picture. So, I think that the concrete steps aspect is really important because it’s not just think super big and you’ll get there. It’s like think super big and we’ll help you get there using like actionable things that you can accomplish.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 40:57:

What would it take to get high school to the point where it’s actually achieving the mission? Like high schools everywhere, to achieve the kind of objective that Ashley stated, how would you get that to be widespread? And that’s the big question.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 41:29:

Yeah. I’m not even sure if that’s possible with the structures of the current education system, at least where everyone goes to school in a four walled classroom, and we take standardized tests and we need 24 credits to graduate. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 41:48:

Well, I’m just getting so excited, listening to the way that’s structured.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 41:53:

Yeah. I just think that, I mean, there has to be so much systematic and culture change. I think Maryam brought up such a good point about, you know, the education system’s not going to change until people change their minds about how you educate them. And so I honestly think it might take until, you know, we have to have a whole generation that realizes that the system is not serving us and we have to change the culture in order to change the system.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 42:36:

The tricky thing for your generation is that our civilization is sort of collapsing global civilization is collapsing. So, we don’t have time. I remember when I was in school, like, “Oh, all the racists will die out.” We don’t have time. I don’t think we want people that just believe in the high school system to die out or whatever. We don’t have that many years to wait, so what will it take? And I’m not even saying that this is enough, but this is why we just to bring it back to the whole Netflix Disney plus thing. Like we not only need, like all of you to be talking about this on the biggest screens possible, or that we’re the biggest megaphones possible. We need tons of shows about this. We need like lots and lots of conversation about this. So we need like the most famous people in the world talking about this, or like, well, at least like sharing their platform. So you could talk about this and even then, right. Like imagine if everyone in the world was talking about this, even if it was like the most attractive thing for a politician to push this, it would take forever. Like they just, just do that thought experiment. It would take so long for them to craft the policy and like, you know, get the votes. And like, it would go into effect many years from now. It’s like, Oh, well, it’ll start in 2023.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 44:20:

So, I guess this one is just an idea, I need to spend more time thinking about this, but I think there’s no silver bullet here. I think we need to give more parents the option of un-schooling or homeschooling, or we’re just an alternative model where you can actually plug into, I don’t know enough about charter schools and like whatever people are calling pods, but I think we need to give kids more freedom to choose. For example, if they were able to watch whatever future Netflix show or they were just inspired for some reason that like, “Oh, I now know what my older sister went through.” I don’t want to do that. There’s another option. I want to opt for that for my high school experience. I think fast-tracking the option to have a different high school experience is probably our best bet versus hoping that these very, very, very slow moving system is going to change in time.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 45:40:

Yeah, no, I definitely agree with that. I do education policy work and we’ve been talking about a new mastery-based graduation pathway for two years now and nothing has changed, and we do not have a new graduation pathway. So, I just don’t feel like I definitely agree that like unschooling, I think like the future of learning will be in like Junto groups and be in small communities where I learned the most, even in the college application process, I’ve learned virtually nothing for my counselor because we have like a 500 to one student to counselor ratio. Like I learned from like my friends and people who were a year older than me and graduated and I know I’m going to pass on this knowledge to my sisters. So, how do we create those smaller pods of people to support each other’s mutual growth. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 46:50:

I think that like a huge part of that is I don’t want to say call for reset but call for a reset. Because now I think one of the changes that came with COVID is obviously education, but also before it was really weird. I think it was still an option to, at least for me to stay home and online. But we did something with a genuine 80 or something like that. And then you weren’t actually talking with the teacher. And a lot of people frowned on that because they were like, why wouldn’t you go into a classroom? Like, why wouldn’t you stay with your peers. And I still think it’s somewhat frowned upon like a lot of my school went for like a hybrid option. And a lot of them were like, why would you stay online? But I think slowly but surely people are getting comfortable with this idea. We just need to feed that comfortability a little bit, not a little bit, a lot. So that it’s less frowned upon. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 47:55

Something that I’ve wondered is because obviously because of COVID there’s been more flexibility options as far as either fully online or hybrid or whatever. And why haven’t those options already existed? Like, it just makes sense to me that education should be adaptable to the learner because obviously if you don’t enjoy going to school, it’s going to affect your learning experience. So why aren’t we giving options to students?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 48:31:

Because the most successful students, again, they have an incentive to not talk bad about the institution that is saying that they’re smart and then the middle and lower tier students according to the system, if they complain no one takes them seriously. And I chatted with a few of you about this. We are missing out on a major opportunity by not tapping into the, I wouldn’t even go so far as to say in a lot of cases, the wisdom of the people that are just like totally checked out of the system, cause it’s not clear who is safer. I say this to someone that put up with this is, I think you have it much worse, but like who is safer?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 49:36:

The person that’s like, this is clearly BS or the person that’s like, I’m going to tear down. I’m not trying to incriminate any of you here, but like, you have an incentive from your other classmates to not do as well. Even just at one point, it’s just like, Oh my God. In a time when we need to work together to solve all of the mutual exacerbating crisis that we face on a local state, federal national international level transnational level, cause our coral reefs are, you know, biodiversity is getting destroyed. We’re still saying that only a few people can be successful or like the, the given resources to like do stuff. And also like, what do they end up doing? They ended up joining like McKinsey or something or Goldman Sachs, right? No offense. I mean there is a role for those companies, but the brain drains the talent drain. This is a good place to kind of wrap. And if this was a good experience, this is kind of just encourages us to keep doing more. Right.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 51:08:

All right. Well, I guess we’ll wrap here. But let’s definitely do this more and hope this was a little bit motivating for you to, I mean, just because I speak for the whole senior team and also just the rest of the community that we really believe in in you. And just like, this is just the plain fact. If you weren’t able to be kind of honest about your experiences, we wouldn’t know how much we need to do to begin to address the many issues that we face. Because I would say the failures of our education system are the greatest indicators of the pathologies of our of our society. Because if we’re failing our kids, we’re almost by definition failing our future. We’re destroying our future. So, you know, no pressure. You kind of have to save yourself with the help of some people. But we really believe in you, so, all right, we’ll do this again soon.

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