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Empowering Your Kids in a Changing World with Matt Barnes

Shana: 

Hello, and welcome to this episode of man alive. I’m your host, Shana James. So excited to be here today with Matt Barnes. Matt, welcome, and thank you for being here.

Matt: 

Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Shana: 

So, we are going to talk today about the role of the dad and how it’s changing over time, how technology is actually changing, the role of dad and your specialty of education. I feel really excited. It’s not always that we have a big shift in vision for a role that has been around as long as father. There’s something really powerful about this. What do you have to say on this?

Matt: 

Frankly, I like the way you phrase that; this shift of vision for an entire generation and an entire one half of the species. It is huge. It’s a tectonic shift. What we’ll see from dads in 10 years won’t look anything like what I went through with raising my own kids. I welcome it, I’m ready for it. I’m so excited to kind of help promote it. Alright, so you know that my work is called the education game. I’m a sports guy. I played all sorts of sports. I kept seeing that the strategy involved with education, paralleled the strategy involved in football. There’s a field of play and education, there’s a time clock, the referees, there’s coaches, there’s rules, there’s competitors and spectators, and there’s an objective. The problem historically has been, the objective is really small. 

Shana: 

I’ve heard people say that we’re still in an education model where we’re educating our kids to be factory workers.

Matt: 

Yes, we are. This This model was built in the early 1900s. The model is dead at this point but we’re still using it. When you play a game, you can play it to win the trophy, or you can play it to build a person of high character. If you think about the best coaches in the world, people like John Wooden, those are the folks that want to build the character of their player more than anything else, because a person of high character is going to sustain it.

Shana: 

I’m not as much of a sports person. I didn’t actually know that there were coaches out there who that was their goal.

Matt: 

Those are usually the best coaches. If you talk to athletes, they will say that the coach had such a meaningful influence on their life, not because they won or lost games, but because the coach was holding them to a higher standard. Back to the role of dads in education, that is what’s coming online right now. Education has shifted 180 degrees. Most people don’t even realize it. I’m talking to you right now and I didn’t even ask where you are right now. You could be across the globe and I wouldn’t know the difference. That is the new reality, where you can learn from anyone, at any time. on any topic. That is where we are. What is needed is not an institution that’s going to say, “Okay, here’s the class you will take and the order of coursework.” It is a decentralized learning model and in any decentralized learning model, you got to have somebody that acts as the strategist.

Shana: 

That sounds a little scary. Just decentralize it all. Who can we trust and how do we do that?

Matt: 

It’s coming whether we trust someone or not, or whether we know how to do it. It’s coming. The question here is, who and what part of the family is going to play the role of the chief; the head coach. They’re setting a vision like, “Who’s the child I want to give to the world?” It’s not, “What grades do I want, or class rank, or SAT score.” It’s, “Who’s the person that I want to give to the world.”

Shana: 

That is beautiful. I remember you saying in our conversation before we started recording, that you didn’t care that your child was valedictorian at their college or high school. That could be very controversial, but this is the point that you’re making. It’s who he is not, what he’s accomplishing.

Matt: 

That’s right. In fact, I sent a post out this morning on LinkedIn and said, “I don’t care that he’s the valedictorian and he doesn’t care.” What I care is that he is of incredibly high character. Again, you have a kid or an adult who’s really high character. It’s going to be really hard for them to lose at anything. Character matters more.

Shana: 

That’s so beautiful. That feels good. My kid, as a nine-year-old, is very into winning and making sure that there’s is a trophy? Or is there this? We went to a baseball game the other day and I said, “Your friend is playing baseball,” and my kid asked, “Well, what do they get for winning? Do they get candy?” I was like, “Oh God,” right? It’s really in the psyche to win.

Matt: 

Again, I’m not suggesting that competition is bad. I think there’s a place for it. It’s just a matter of what’s more important, and what do we as parents really value. So, when you think about the typical dad who’s standing on the sidelines of a football game, or a basketball game, that’s where dads tend to engage. They can be about either winning, or they can be about effort. If you take that and just change it from a basketball game, to education and effort, it’s not about the result. If you work hard, and you get a C, we really should be celebrating that. If you don’t work hard and get an A, that should not be anything that anyone celebrates. It’s the same logic. Dads know how to do this. Dads have seen a team that wins, but everybody on the team is not working hard. Yeah. Dads know that you don’t celebrate that.

Shana: 

That makes sense. That’s clear to them. It’s an education mindset.

Matt: 

Exactly, but what’s happening now is, education is shifting, and the foundations are cracking around us. I’m encouraging dads to now reclaim a role of leadership that they actually know and understand. In some ways they’re built for it.

Shana: 

In some ways, I imagine even if there’s an overwhelming sense of it feeling scary to do that, I imagine that somewhere inside there is a calling, or a longing to play that role.

Matt: 

Bingo. You talk to a lot of guys, and you work with men, and you know that purpose is actually the thing that drives. It’s not about accomplishment. It’s about a larger purpose. This larger purpose is, “You have the chance to liberate your child.” It’s motivating. For those that are listening, I hope you can see me because I’m amped up right now. So, this is what we’re looking at, and the thing that really bothers me is that nobody in education circles are talking about it. They’re all talking about, “We got to get back to normal.” There is no normal.

Shana: 

When there is no normal, it’s an amazing opportunity to create something new. It’s also a time where people tend to stagnate, swirling around in an eddy until we get spit out. Often, the getting spit out is not an easy moment. What’s your sense of why dads aren’t stepping up into this role?

Matt: 

Let me give you the history about it. For the last 50 years, the role of parenting has been diminished in our society. It’s been mom’s job to raise the kids, dad’s job to go and provide. That’s been the logic. If you go back 200 years, the family operated as a single economy, a business. Everybody had a role to play and every role was absolutely essential. If one person didn’t play their role, the whole family might starve to death. So, for the last 50 years, we’ve been isolating moms, isolating kids, isolating dads in their individual roles. Now, again, I had a meeting before I got on the call here. Normally, it’s a face to face meeting. It’s now gone virtual. I have meetings with people all over the Western Hemisphere. Those are meetings that can happen anytime, anywhere. What’s happening is all of the assumptions around how education worked, are falling away. So now this gap, this vacuum, is going to pull people into it. Whether you want to or not, dad is going to get pulled into this conversation of, “What do we do now,” because our child’s not being prepared for the 21st century. That is a great question.

Shana: 

What happened to us in the pandemic? A lot of what was happening in school is not happening anymore. Do we want to just coast through the year and chalk it up to, “All right, our kids get to suffer,” or do we want to actually take it into our own hands?

Matt: 

Bingo, and once you do that, then you have to put on a different hat, you’re no longer just the passage. So, back to more sports analogy. I’ve worked with parents for 15 years and there are five general groups of parents. The head coach is the ideal, but then you also have parents that are kind of cheerleaders. They cheer, but they don’t really do much. They don’t play any like real, critical role.

You have spectator parents as well. My job is to push parents to move all the way up that ladder until they are now the head coach. Back to what you said this past year, when things fall apart, a parent has to choose how they are going to engage. A parent has to choose if they are going to engage or if they are going to wait. Well, if you engage, the next question is, “How do I?”

Shana: 

I will say the thing that I was going to say is, my life this year has been very challenging. Even yesterday, a friend of mine was over, and she said, “You know, it never was written that you would be the teacher and the parent of your child at the same time.” Now, some people do choose that role. What you’re saying is, actually, we could choose it more.

Matt: 

I would tweak the language that your friend used saying, “No one really said that the education game has to be played the way that the school has defined it.” That’s the real issue. I talked to parents this past year. Probably 90% of conversations was about reframing education. “If education is school, and if school is going online, that means I need to take the same classes and I need to study for the same tests.” No. Things moved online, and everything is now changing. What are the critical pieces that our child needs to know? They need to know how to communicate. There are three types of communication that I would recommend: verbal, written, and visual communication. Those three things are superpowers. You know what I mean by visual communication – Canva, putting the other videos, all of the ways to communicate an idea in a way that’s just highly in a way that’s received.

Shana: 

That’s funny, we were working on a project and an RA created slides that were full of text, the whole thing. I said, “Okay, well, you know, there’s what you want to communicate, and then there’s how you want it to be received, right?” You got to consider if people are going to be able to take in the information you want in this format.

Matt: 

That’s exactly right. I’ve seen people at the age of 12, who have mastered verbal communication, they’ve mastered visual communication, and they’re actually really strong writers as well. Those kids now can start doing things you can do online. They can start businesses at 12. I know people who’ve done this. If school is what education looks like, then you don’t have time to master some of those skills. Sales is another hugely valuable skill set that never gets the light of day in a typical classroom. What I’m doing with you is sales. I’m trying to sell you on my way of thinking.

Shana: 

Beating a pandemic, we started looking at, okay, what could Auri sell? What would that look like? How would it be creative? Who would the money go to? How would we be philanthropic? That totally fell apart. Because of the pandemic, but the intention was there. This is where what you’re saying comes in because without that guidance, and trying to do it all on my own, that that didn’t materialize.

Matt: 

It’s hard, right. It’s hard to switch in a rushed, pandemic environment where we’re all uncomfortable. For the last 13 years, I’ve been doing this stuff before it became fashionable. There’s a whole story about why we moved out of the traditional educational system, and it was trauma and all these sorts of things, but I learned how much you can learn online. I learned how quickly a young person can take ownership of their own learning, which is when I say liberation; we’re trying to liberate kids so that the parent doesn’t have to shepherd them anymore. 

Shana: 

I was watching your video on the inverse relationship where parents start owning responsibility for their kids’ relationship, but ideally, the goal is, as parents decrease, the kid increases, and then schools tend to just take responsibility until they throw the kid out in the world. Then, suddenly they’re responsible and don’t know what to do.

Matt: 

That’s right. The school will enable a child to avoid taking responsibility and ownership of their own learning. That’s a real problem. You also mentioned entrepreneurship. That is a skill that requires someone who’s able to learn from failure 1000 times in a row.

Shana: 

That would be amazing; The School of entrepreneurs.

Matt: 

There are some that are popping up. They’re just they don’t fit the normal model, and so the states don’t support them. They have to be small, private environments, but it’s exactly what a child needs to be learning. I was talking to people all over the world, and the entrepreneurs I talked to you say, “You know, entrepreneurship is not really that complicated. It’s problem solving, and it’s considering value. That’s all we’re doing. We’re problem solvers.”

Shana: 

The rest of it is mindset, working with your mind.

Matt: 

You have to deal with failure. If you think about a school, the worst thing you can have on a test is an F. You failed? In an entrepreneurship environment, you actually take that failure and go, “Okay, what happened and why did that not work? I’m going to try it again but I’m going to do something a little bit different.”

Shana: 

Celebrate that failure and learn from it as opposed to, “Something’s wrong here.” Speaking of entrepreneurship, I know you’ve got a couple books you’re working on, but one of them I love, Elon’s Kids vs Yours: A Disruptive Education Playbook for Non-Billionaire Parents. That’s brilliant. So, that entrepreneurship model, I imagine, comes in there. 

Matt: 

Most people don’t realize that Elon Musk, love him or hate him, is doing some things well. One of the things is that he loves to learn and he’s raising his kids in this very unusual educational structure. It’s not a school, technically it’s more like a makerspace. He wants them to be curious, to know how to build things, to know how to problem solve. He’s able to do that because he’s able to say, “You know what? I’m going to do my own thing. I’m going to do what’s best for my kids because I have the money to do it.” We have to be a little more strategic because we can’t just throw money at the problem like he could, but the learning model is exactly the same. The child is becoming the owner of their learning, the child deepening their curiosity, the child producing rather than consuming. Each kid needs someone who is playing the role of the head coach to say, “Okay, daughter. You’re interested, or you seem to like to build things. So, we’re going to now push you in that direction. Son, you seem like you’re really good at social activities. We’re going to feed you the social side of it, and we’re going to start to figure out how you can take that social part and maybe you start a podcast. Maybe you are an event planner. Maybe you are in sales.” These are the ways that a head coach will look at their players and go, “Okay, that kid’s got talent in this area, I’m going to feed that,” rather than what the school does, which is everybody play the same role, everybody learns the same work. 

Shana: 

I can’t help but think of my relationship with my kid through all of this. My kid at one point said, “I want to build a bench.” So, I looked for carpentry camp. I found a carpenter camp this summer. If that doesn’t happen, even though I don’t have the skills, what an amazing project that would be for us together, to go learn the skills and find a teacher, or a mentor, who can come in and guide us.

Matt: 

I would even go further. He’s nine. At nine he I would argue you can buy him some power tools. Go on YouTube. Learn how to do it. Go to the lumberyard and ask them what kind of wood. Create a makerspace. You’re now teaching him how to solve his own problems and he’s going to now produce something on his own completely different. Take pictures of it because he’s going to go, “This is awesome. This bench I made is fantastic.” You look at it, and it’s leaning to the side, and it doesn’t matter because he built it.

Shana: 

I think about that too. As an entrepreneur, when I launch a new course, when I put something out there, it’s doesn’t always go the way I want it to go. There are always these surprises along the way to always learn something and always make new connections. It’s such a beautiful process.

Matt: 

We don’t need to wait until that child is 25 to start. In fact, I would argue that we end up really injuring kids who know that they’re capable. Between the ages of 13 and 22, they’re capable of producing, they’re capable of leading, but we treat them like we treated the five and six-year-old, and they’re not.

Shana: 

Oh, this is exciting.

Matt: 

Well, it is, and it’s hard. That’s the other thing I want to be clear about. It’s not easy.

Shana: 

It’s exciting. Nothing that’s meaningful is usually easy.

Matt: 

That’s right. I don’t know who said this, “anything that’s a value, costs.” There’s a cost to everything I’m describing here but we know what we get in the traditional model. Now, you see kids grow up who are emotionally, and spiritually weak. That is because we never give them the time to practice lifting the mental weights of failure, the mental weights of sitting with a problem and not knowing what to do with it. We tend to not allow our kids to go into that space. Schools oftentimes enable that behavior by answering questions or giving kids very tight space around which to operate.

Shana:

I love this. This is really powerful and exciting for my own future, and for the future of dads and kids everywhere. We could talk about this for four days. Is there anything else on this topic that we have not covered that stands out to you?

Matt:

Before I got this work, I worked as a volunteer with boys of color for a number of years. The normal logic was that, with boys of color, dads weren’t around 90 percent of the time, but when I interacted with the dads they said they wanted to play a role but they didn’t see themselves playing the old role of a nurturing dad, but they could see themselves as being the head coach. Also, before I got into education, I was in healthcare. I ran outpatient medical practices at a large Children’s hospital in Houston. When the parent of a sick child comes into a hospital, they take on a personality that is powerful. They’re not going to let anybody touch their child or poke them or do anything until they understand exactly what’s happening. In education, we’ve been led to believe that we should just drop the child off and walk back. We shouldn’t ask questions, and if we ask too many questions, we might be seen as pushy. For a child that goes off course in education, it is the same consequences as a child who goes off course in a hospital; it could be life or death. That’s the thing. So, the role of the parent is to reengage in a way that says, “I’m in charge. I’m the head coach and I’m going to make sure that I choose the pathway that I want my children to follow.” That’s the mantra I’m promoting.

Shana: 

Amazing. Thank you. So, anything that you personally struggle with on this path that you think would be helpful for our listeners or for dads?

Matt: 

So, one of the main challenges for dads, and this is maybe another conversation, but is aligning between dad and mom. We’re different. I think we’re different on purpose. Of course, I’m using generalities,

Shana: 

There are gender generalities here. We could talk about the more masculine role, or the more feminine role, or the more nurturing role. 

Matt: 

Thank you for better language. The coaching role is one that sometimes conflicts with the nurturing role. Both are important. The question is, how do you find enough balance where you’re not nurturing to the point of what I call loving a child to death? I see it all the time; moms who have that sometimes. If he’s 25, and you’re making his breakfast, and you’re tucking him in at night.

Shana: 

It starts here, and if I have to do the slow slide from nine to 25, there’s got to be a point where you actually make that change.

Matt: 

There is where some of the coach language comes in. A coach would never say, “Okay, it’s practice, kids. Go ahead and just hang out; do whatever you want. I will make food.” There’s an expectation of some activities. Some talk in terms of freedom and responsibility. If you’re not responsible, then you really can’t have freedom.

Shana: 

 That’s powerful.

Matt: 

The dad is usually the more masculine role, usually one that’s insisting on the responsibility, and the more nurturing is more on the freedom side. We got to make sure there’s alignment there. That is a really difficult conversation for a lot of families, including myself. This is not something that I’ve mastered. My wife and I still have struggles around the same issue.

Shana: 

Is there anything you can say to a dad who’s struggling with that, with his wife, or partner? Who is the more feminine one?

Matt: 

Yes, I’ve also seen dads who are more on than nurturing side. So, you got to have a third party. You got to have somebody, and I don’t know if you do this work, Shana, but someone who essentially is the referee. Yeah, it’s not exactly therapy but it’s close.

Shana: 

It is more of a coaching role in that way. There are times where you go into those deeper issues, because they show up on the surface in that comment, or that misalignment, or that doubting, or things like that.

Matt: 

But ultimately, here’s what usually is the problem -there’s not agreement on the vision. How do you describe your child at age 25, in detail, and not what they’re doing that describe who they are; their character? Describe that. Now, if the husband and wife agree that one of the things that their son or daughter is going to be is a really hard worker, then they can start to think about what that looks like as a nine-year-old. So, that means that maybe they are cooking their meal, right? Maybe they’re cooking the meal a couple times a week?  I want them to be about service. Okay, so at nine, that means we need to be thinking about what are the activities that can start building that skill set today?

Shana: 

I’m laughing a little bit because sometimes I think about, “Okay, if I were to react this way, I would be encouraging my kid to be an asshole, you know, at 25, 30, or 45.” If I were to react a different way, it might be a little bit harsher, or a little bit more expecting responsibility, but then I’m helping create or guide who my kids will be in the future.

Matt: 

Yeah, that’s right. It’s a tricky balance. The last one maybe I might mention is around negotiation. You know, a nine-year-old, he is far more mature and aware than most parents understand. I know I only recognized that with my kids after the fact, by the way. So, at nine, there should be negotiations around what it looks like.

Shana: 

It’s good to know.

Matt:

There should be negotiations like, “Should I cook meals every day? What would be a fair way to do this? Maybe are there things that you could do to help around the house.” You know, otherwise, the mom or the dad is working, and the child is hanging out enjoying themselves playing games. You can have that negotiation with the child. 

Shana: 

So, I just caught myself saying like a slave and that’s obviously an awful reference.

Matt: 

I think we need remove emotion from that language. Some of the language I’ve used about slavery is for parents who don’t send their child to a school, and they don’t have options to send them out someplace else or to do something else. That means they can’t negotiate, and if they can’t negotiate, then they are a slave. If you’re not going to allow your child to negotiate, they’re very much slave. They do what you say whether they want to or not. They never learn the skills to decide for themselves. That’s not what we’re about. So, I would lead into that because that language is important in that matter.

Shana: 

What I appreciate about your work that I’ve seen, is that it is controversial. You are stirring. You’re a hipster in a way. You’re strong and you’re standing for something. You’re standing for this vision. I love how you went back and said, a lot of times the disagreement comes from not aligning on a vision. When I work with couples, or even people as they’re wanting to be in a relationship, I say, I know this is going to sound weird, but it’s really powerful every year, or every quarter, to really look at, “What do we want this relationship to be? Why are we in it in the first place?”

Matt: 

That’s so huge. That is exactly the conversation that should happen with your kid every quarter, every month, because kids, particularly younger kids, are changing so quickly. This is the opportunity that is presenting itself, in large measure, because of COVID. It is a recognition now that learning has just broken out of the school and it’s never going to go back. Now the question for families is, “What do we do about it?” I want to help families navigate that.

Shana: 

Awesome. Thank you so much for this really incredible, necessary conversation. Where can people find you?

Matt: 

Yeah, well, you can go to the educationgame.com. That’s where I live and breathe. I’m also very active on LinkedIn. Matthew C. Barnes.

Shana: 

Yeah. Great posting there. Highly recommend checking those out. Thank you.

Even men at the top of their game find themselves wanting more from life. Whether it’s more meaning, a bigger impact, unshakable confidence, a hotter sex life, more money, deeper love, solid friendships or a powerful legacy: how can a man actually reach the end of his life and look back without regret?

Man Alive is a series of bold, raw and gritty conversations with experts on success, power, sex, love and legacy. For the past 15 years, host Shana James, a love and leadership coach, has worked with thousands of men and women around the world and collaborated with hundreds of teachers and coaches. Shana doesn’t buy into the need for rules, games or limitations. She works with men individually to find their unique power and keep them from settling for less than amazing.

 

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