Stories of Men

Did school fail us? How we can learn better as adults

One of the things that gives me enormous pleasure in life is learning. I just love learning new things and going down the rabbit hole. The beauty sometimes is that you just don’t know where it will lead you.

It can be while reading a quote in a book, or listening carefully to someone during a conversation; it may even be learning a new word.

It reminds me of an Alan Bennett quote that gives me goosebumps when I read it and the relationship you can have with an author when reading their work:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

I can really relate to this. I just get this satisfying jolt of pleasure when I come across something that I hadn’t really thought about before or when I learn something I previously didn’t know. It can be something that makes you see yourself and the world around you differently.

Now, when I mention learning, you might immediately start thinking about classrooms, whiteboards and teachers droning on.

To be fair, that was my experience of learning at school: a dull classroom with Mr. Cannavan teaching science, where all we did was copy notes from the chalkboard. Incredibly boring. There was no encouragement to think for ourselves, critically analyse or to ask questions. We were just expected to memorise enough to pass tests. 

Then there was English class, where we would have 10-15 minutes of free-reading before the class properly began. 

I wouldn’t read a word. 

The most effort I’d make is pretending to read, making my eyes go from left to right across the page whenever Miss Pridden was looking in my direction.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t enjoy formal education. As a result, I didn’t excel at school. I wasn’t terrible either…a typical straight C student.

The thing is…mainstream schooling isn’t set up to allow us all to achieve our full potential. Listen to this episode of Stories of Men in which Dale Pollit talks about how he achieved his full potential after dropping out of school.

But, rest assured, a commitment to lifelong learning doesn’t need to be a repeat of an uninspiring experience in the classroom. It can be much more rewarding than that.

First of all, unlike when I was at school, I now have carte blanche to learn whatever I want, whenever I want with whoever I want. There are no boundaries, no restrictions….Therefore, learning becomes a way of broadening my mind. If I know something today that I didn’t know yesterday then I have something tangible to show for my daily effort.

Dedicating myself to continuous learning is also proof that I’m able to get outside of the box and develop as a person. Whether that learning is about finance, human nature, philosophy or bird-law is up to me.

The learning I choose provides the opportunity of becoming the person I want to be.

For example, right now I’m single, and, as I look over at my bed, instead of having a partner gazing back at me, I have books on psychology, business, autobiographies of 80’s Manchester musicians, money, ADHD, men and masculinity, podcasts and a number of other topics. The list goes on…

I’m growing in the areas that are of interest to me and they are not determined by the choices or the systems set in place by someone else..

Basically, because I have the freedom to explore my chosen topics, I’ve become an avid reader. And there’s so much more to explore. My journey is never-ending.

So why don’t more of us take the opportunity to expand our mental horizons? 

I think a lot of it comes down to our previous experiences.

Going back to my school days again for a moment, I remember feeling as if I’d been put into a box where I was simply not “academically gifted”. This meant that I was never expected to excel and so it seemed pointless to even try.

It makes me think of the pygmalion effect that I was reading about recently where someone expects a lot from you and therefore your performance increases. My teachers didn’t expect a lot from me and therefore I didn’t massively excel.

What if a teacher put a lot of time, attention and expectation into me and it came from an inspiring place? If that happened to any of us, who knows what we could achieve?!

Here’s another example: My sister, Claire, was in all the bottom sets at school. She was in set 8 out of 8 in maths and she never forgets a teacher saying to her “you’ll never amount to anything in life!”

What a lovely way to inspire the youth to be the best they can be in life and to instil the belief in them to reach for the stars!

Side note, she went to university and is now a nurse high up in the NHS so she metaphorically puts her middle finger up at the teacher quite frequently.

This isn’t a pop at teachers per se as they’re just doing their best in an antiquated system that was built following the industrial revolution. The problem is that time has moved on, we’ve moved on.

It’s as if the education system has knocked the desire and thirst for learning out of us with the exam culture that’s in place. Therefore, when many people leave formal education it’s as if they’ve wiped their hands of learning and they think ‘thank f*ck for that, no more learning to do’.

We’re all bonafide, creative geniuses. 98% of us when we were pre-school children anyway, and that went RIGHT DOWN by the time we hit high school – just 12% of those initial 98%. We’re not educated to learn, we’re educated OUT of learning it seems…

Sir Ken Robinson talks a lot about this in his amazing TED talk.

“We are educating people out of their creative capacities… I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.” – Ken Robinson.

As I’m writing this, I’m starting to think that I really am bashing our education system…oh well. I still have gratitude for some small aspects of it though.

In a nutshell, the problem with the formal education system is that it is too formal.

I’m an advocate for informal education, where you pursue knowledge not because you need to prepare for a test or follow a curriculum but because you genuinely want to learn.

You’ll find that your attention, retention, engagement levels and all of the other important ways of demonstrating real learning will be activated when you pursue the things you have an actual interest in.

On the topic of learning in a formal vs a more informal environment, listen to James talking about how a move to a strict form of education almost crushed his spirit.

Once you start your learning journey, you won’t want it to stop. You’ll discover all of that potential that was waiting for the moment when you were ready to tap into it.

So go and make today count. 

Go and take the time to learn something new.

Lastly, If you’re already a lifelong learner,what aspect of learning recently was so special to you that it felt as if a hand reached out to take yours? 

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           PROFESSIONAL
 

Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

Experience in Industry: 3

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Potatoes

Favourite Sport: Wild swimming

Favourite Show: Anything Marvel

Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights

           PROFESSIONAL
 

I’m the community manager at Stories of Men. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests. What I love most about working for Stories of men is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

Industry experience: 3 Years

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.

           PROFESSIONAL
 

I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Stories of Men podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

          PROFESSIONAL

 

Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Stories of Men’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  

 

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: 15 YEARS

                 PERSONAL

 

Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.

           PROFESSIONAL
 

I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Stories of Men podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues regarding men that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: 10 YEARS

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

           PROFESSIONAL
I’m the Editor of Stories of men. I craft compelling narratives from the stories of our fantastic guests, editing their interviews and scripting the episodes. I’m a freelance journalist and audio producer from Northern Ireland, currently based in California. I cover social issues, health and gender – with reporting in The Guardian, Vice, NPR, Cosmopolitan and many others. My focus is shining a light on the communities and initiatives that improve people’s lives. I have a background in the nonprofit space, having worked in communications for a mental health charity, as well as an education start-up. I mentor young female writers and sit on the board of an NGO that empowers women in global supply chains. 
 
INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE: 11 YEARS
                 PERSONAL

Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live 

           PROFESSIONAL
 
I am the host of Stories of Men. I help to find men that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 
 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet men from all walks of life and many of these guys had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Stories of Men’ because I wanted to give these men a platform to share their stories with the world.

I love the detail that people go into and how people craft stories in different ways. My dream and vision for the future would be countless people messaging to tell us how a particular episode has changed their lives!

                 PERSONAL
 

Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.