My daughter Laura invited me to tag along with her on her trip to Idaho this week for the Special Olympics World Games. She’ll be blogging about her experiences here and all that she is learning, but I wanted to introduce the readers who follow me here to Noah Gray.

Laura got to hang out with him last night because both of them were asked to speak at a dinner for the Global Youth Activation Summit. Each of them shared their stories about using the net for social good, and then they responded to questions posed to them by a panel of other young people from all over the world.

Noah is the most passionate sixteen year old I’ve ever met, and his story is pretty incredible.

Laura was psyched to meet someone a few years older than she is who is doing amazing things to give young people a voice. I was psyched to meet his mom, Ellen. She’s been terrific company for the last twelve jam-packed hours, and several great conversations have begun that I’m eager to continue with her, including the fact that some of Noah’s teachers have concerns about his ability to do well in college.

I find it hard to believe that a kid like Noah will struggle, and yet, I suppose that might depend on what it will take for him to succeed. If it means sitting in rows listening to experts drone on about things that have no interest to him and little bearing on his future work, I can imagine things may not go so well.

Here’s my question: should he have to successfully endure that kind of reality in order to get a degree?


Update 2015: This is what Noah’s up to now.

Here’s what I’m wondering now: which of Noah’s college experiences best prepared him for the work that he does today? Which ones had little influence at all?



  1. “.including one that concerns Noah’s future and the fact that some of his teachers have concerns about his ability to do well in college.”

    First of all, great post.

    Second of all… I’m seventeen. On monday I’m getting out of school to watch a bill that I wrote be voted on in the Senate. I came up with the idea, I pitched it, I helped the legal people over at OLS write it.

    I also just completed a blog post which about 600 people read, and about 10% left comments (62 comments to be exact)

    … neither of those things could have happened unless I had good writing skills, good people skills, and good problem solving skills.

    Here’s the fun part: I’m getting low 70s in both English and History class. It’s not because I’m not trying hard enough– it’s just that I’m bad at memorizing things.

    My parents are concerned with my ability to get accepted into college because of my lousy grades.

    Here’s my problem: I don’t get it. How is it possible that school’s assessments have become so out-of-whack with what real-life wants from students? How is this acceptable to parents? How is this acceptable to employers, how is this acceptable to colleges?

    Every morning when I’m thinking about what I did at work, I have to tone myself down for school. Teachers aren’t interested in my opinions, problem-solving skills, or ability to get people to work together. They aren’t interested in developing that. They want to get me through in an assembly-line fashion.

    If I’m able to thrive and be productive and happy in the workforce, then why doesn’t my school’s assessments properly assess that?

    How can we be so STUPID?

  2. Yet another example of what young people can and should be doing! It’s amazing what we learn to do well when our purpose for learning it is driven by deep desire. I think assessment can happen like this too. Maybe not all the time…but certainly most of the time. The work that you describe here is a profound example of what assessment could look like.

    What prompted you to do this work? How did you make it happen? Great stuff here–hope you will share.

  3. Hi,

    I actually used to live in Shanghai (Jeff Utecht –if you’ve heard of him– worked at my school and first turned me on to learning 2.0). About halfway through the year I decided that I wanted to get involved in politics because I read a report on the recidivism problem.

    I asked my parents to send me back home next year. Once I got back (yes, it was the next year) I applied for an internship at my local Senator’s office. Started off as unpaid, answering phones and opening mail… that got boring, asked for something to research… got that.

    Recognized that I was being given a chance to prove myself, nailed the report, senator signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that the report said would solve the problem. Started getting more and more research assignments until I got handed a NJ STARS report that said that NJ had a severe lack of science/math/tech teachers, so I poked around online, figured out that most teachers leave before their 5th year. Decided that we’d start paying back student loans the 3rd year to make their lives easier, pitched it to the senator, she set up a few meetings for me with the legal guys over at OLS, we wrote the bill, and it’s being voted on today.

    • Hi Marcus–
      I follow Jeff Utecht on Twitter and keep up with his blog…certainly do know who he is. Something interesting… you may know, the Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Throughout the week, her family has been actively involved in the entire event, and her grandson has been working with all of the kids in the Global Youth Summit that Laura is a part of. It’s been kind of surreal for us, but on the trip back to our hotel two nights ago, I got into a conversation with some of the adults in my company about how incredible it must be to be a part of a family that trusts you will do great things in life. I see this often with kids who accomplish the sorts of things that you and Noah and others do. You simply feel that you can make a difference and you try to. Because you can, that’s why. So you do. It doesn’t matter to any of you that you are “just kids” or that you might not be able to do what you plan to. This whole thing has been percolating in my mind for the last few days. Here I am at the Special Olympics reconsidering what it means to be “special”, what it means to be excluded/included, and what it takes to accomplish what we set out to regardless of labels or the low expectations that some may maintain. Kinda just thinking aloud…..maybe more to come later on this one.

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