When Those You Respect Respect You

Thinking of success & excellence as being entirely independent of other people only makes sense in an atomistic world. In reality, those we respect and admire are mirrors for our own values and ability to strive towards excellence.

I consider myself successful in an endeavor when other people I respect begin to respect me in that domain. This is not a sufficient condition for success or excellence in a given domain but has proven to be a damn good indicator that I am making positive progress in my striving. For those that know me, this may come as a surprise given my philosophical foundations in individualism and virtue ethics. Eudaimonia is not based off of being popular — Aristotle himself argued against this in the Nicomachean Ethics on the basis that the life of popularity (“the political life”) is too contingent on having property and the support of others when compared to the life of the mind (“the contemplative life”).

Yet, success need not be defined in terms of others and their conceptions of ourselves and it need not be defined in everybody else’s conceptions of ourselves. Rather, by carefully selecting those whom we respect (and with whom we associate via friendship), we indirectly and inadvertently get a benchmark against which we can measure our own virtuous progress.

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When Those You Respect Respect You

Content Roundup and Updates on Forthcoming Work

I’ve been busy with work with the Praxis team the last few days and building out our improved education program for preparing apprentices for on-boarding at startups across the country.

The End of School is currently on sale for the lowest price that Amazon will allow it to be sold at and the reviews are starting to come in.

I plan to write more regularly in the next month, contributing to The Mission on Medium and have been republished a number of times over at FEE.org. My focus for the next few weeks will be on subjects related to education, finance (monetary policy), technology, and social change.

Recently featured on LinkedIn’s Editor’s Picks: The Student Debt Crisis Hurts Us All by Stifling Innovation and Growth

Recent podcast interview: Slayback to the Future with Isaac Morehouse

Upcoming Speaking Engagements:

  • July 16, 2016 — Pennsylvania DeMolay State Convention — Seven Springs, PA — Speaking on The End of School and how to approach career and education as a young person today.
  • July 20, 2016 — d10e — San Francisco, CA — Leading a panel on the future of work.
  • July 30, 2016 — Global Innovation — Mexico City, Mexico — Speaking on how to get stakeholders to buy into an idea.


Content Roundup and Updates on Forthcoming Work

On Resentment, Indignation, and the Emotional Case for Political Diminution

An understanding of the expectations of a given community helps inform where resentment and guilt ought to be targeted in times of crisis. This is hard when your community-of-reference is large.

In times of national crisis, emotions run high and influence policy debate at a disproportionate level to the norm. People who would otherwise consider themselves to be levelheaded, rational, and not influenced by their emotional feelings in matters of policy and reform are overtaken by rhetoric that plays on resentment, guilt, and indignation.

This certainly pollutes a lot of discussions, especially those in which the cost of broadcasting your opinion is essentially zero (e.g., on twitter of Facebook). It makes it feel like that the quality of debate has gone downhill and that we are marching towards a national Zeitgeist of immature pandering and childish accusations (although this is inaccurate). A few days after the crisis or tragedy, there’s usually a reactionary wave of people telling everybody else how valuable it is to be levelheaded and not allow ourselves to make rash decisions fueled by emotions.

The pendulum swings back and forth between these two camps — one fueled by righteous indignation and the other by cool rationality (or the desire to appear as such) — until the next crisis or tragedy changes the locus of attention to a new pet issue. It’s not uncommon to feel pigeonholed into one camp or another, forced to choose between appearing insensitive to watershed moments or looking like you can’t step back and stoically address serious issues.

What if both camps are wrong?

Continue reading “On Resentment, Indignation, and the Emotional Case for Political Diminution”

On Resentment, Indignation, and the Emotional Case for Political Diminution

On Fetishizing Failure & the Rise of Failure Porn

“Ten things I learned from failing.”

“How to Fail Forward.”

“What Failure Taught Me About My Relationship”

“How I Launched My New Venture and Failed and Am A Better Person Because of It.”

I don’t know if these are actually titles of pieces talking about failing and overcoming it but they easily could be. These could be articles in your very stream here on Medium when you click back to the home page. They infect our social media feeds and signal to us the bright side — even the joy — of failure.

The rise of social media and open blogging platforms like WordPress and Medium make these possible. Before these platforms, you wouldn’t hear about other people’s failures as much because media outlets figured people would rather spend time reading about the successful, the beautiful, the sexy, the rich, and the powerful. Who wants to read about a guy who’s coffee business failed? Who wants to read about the girl whose marriage fell apart? Who wants to spend time hearing about failure?

Turns out a lot of people do.

The Bright Side: Failure Isn’t That Bad

There’s a virtue to the proliferation of this genre — it teaches us that failure really isn’t that bad. After 12–16 years of school teaching us that failure must be avoided at all costs and that failure at a given venture = failure of the individual in question, articles recounting stories of failing and turning out okay are a welcome reprieve.

Turns out, life is full of failure. Lots of people we think of as successful have failed in previous ventures and may even be failures in other areas of their lives.

Before the mass-popularization of pieces that highlight the failure of common people, the closest equivalent you could find would be articles talking about how many times famous people failed before hitting it big. These are obviously intended to inspire. “If Richard Branson can fail this many times over, you can too!”

The primal risk-aversion internalized by the fear of failure is, ironically, the dangerous part. What started as an evolutionary mechanism to keep our simple monkey brains from falling off a cliff or signaling to the tribe that we are incompetent and should be left behind in times of emergency has made people weak and flaccid. It’s led to several generations of people — especially since the relative wealth boom of the Industrial Revolution — who are more interested in safety and risk-reduction than they are in trying new, interesting things that may bring with them the chance of failure.

Instead of pushing the envelope to do everything from finish audacious building ventures ahead of schedule to traversing the solar system, from launching a multi-million dollar venture to launching an etsy business, a lot of people would rather settle for a paycheck.

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb

So these feel-good articles and blog pieces about how you can recover from failure have a huge bright side — they assure us that if you do give into that temptation to try something different and scary, chances are, you’ll turn out okay. The bottom in the United States really isn’t that low (especially when compared to anywhere else for the rest of human history) and it is rare that somebody stays at the bottom.

The Dark Side: The Rise of Failure Porn and Losing the Nuance

Still, I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable when we see these articles shared around on Facebook or twitter. Their intention is presumably good, but the fact that entire genre has popped up from this little thesis is disturbing. At its most insidious, we’ve seen the development of the genre offailure porn — a genre people enjoy to make themselves feel better about their own failures, oftentimes rooted in Schadenfreude.

If we sit back and bask in others’ failures so much that we begin to fetishize failure, the element of failure that our monkey brains understood and understood well starts to die off.

The biggest danger here is losing sight of the fact that failure sucks and it should be avoided as much as possible. Failing sets us back from the progress we could have made in other areas — opportunity cost is felt most when risky ventures fail — and can be psychologically jarring. We see articles and stories about people recovering from failure so easily that it seems less-necessary to avoid.

Levi Morehouse, CEO and founder of Ceterus, put it well in a discussion on this topic:

Failing is not the end, but it it awful. Choose the right wall, climb it well, push through challenges, and succeeding is better than starting a wall and quitting and trying a new one repeatedly until hopefully succeeding.

Avoid it but do not fear it. Falling happens to everyone, those who avoid it but do not fear it are best positioned for ultimate success. Failing is giving up on a goal, avoid this at all costs.Failing does not happen to everyone. It is not the end but it is worse than falling.

We lose an important nuance of failure when we indulge in these articles — fear of failure should not keep you from trying something, but failure should still be avoided as much as reasonably possible.

Understand that failure isn’t really that bad (especially today, for what most people are trying), but also know that failure is rooted in the decision to give up.

Don’t let the fetishization of failure make you give up before you otherwise would. If you’re going to fetishize anything, fetishize success so that more people strive towards that.

Kudos to Levi Morehouse for discussing this topic with me on multiple occasions and being a breath of fresh air on this topic.

Continue reading “On Fetishizing Failure & the Rise of Failure Porn”

On Fetishizing Failure & the Rise of Failure Porn

Four Ways to Think About Changing the World

I recently finished the phenomenal series of essays by Venkatesh Rao, Breaking Smart, focused on how software is eating the world and the implications from this. It’s easily the best thing I have read this year so far. This turned me on to a little compilation of essays by Rao called Be Slightly Evil  (Taylor Pearson has a good little chunk of excerpts here), which focuses mostly on how to navigate organizations and present yourself in workplace conflict.

In BSE, Rao presents a dichotomy for how people view whether or not people can change. He lines up idealists and tragedians. Idealism is a common theme in American culture (especially politics), he says, and is defined by the belief that people can change. The American Dream and the rise of Self-Help are testaments to this. The idea of changing towards an end — like what you may see in an inspirational instagram post — is the theme here. Self-betterment, personal development, and the study of getting an individual from the place where they currently are — imperfect — towards a more perfect end (Rao notes that this phrase appears in the founding documents of the United States) are mindsets in the idealists world.

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Four Ways to Think About Changing the World

Updates on The End of School Release

I’m excited to say that the pre-orders for The End of School went out this Sunday. Those who pre-ordered the Kindle edition received a beta version of the book. I’ve found in my work with entrepreneurs and founders that it is more important to get a product into the hands of users than to wait for a perfect version of the product to come along.

The “1.0” version of the book will be released this week. Those who pre-ordered the book will receive an updated version. Those who are looking to purchase the 1.0 will be able to on Amazon, both in print and on Kindle.

This is an exciting and fun process — the “beta” approach to publication is something that is really only possible on a large scale because of the connectivity that the Kindle opens up, and is something I’m glad I have been able to play with.

If you’re interested in receiving an email about the updated book once it is released, sign up here.

Updates on The End of School Release

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Startups (Courtesy of Isaac Morehouse)

My friend Isaac Morehouse recently completed a short (~under 4 hours) podcast series on “The Beginner’s Guide to Startups.” It’s one of the better, no-bullshit compilations of interviews and information with experts and people who have been through the fire on starting a company, fundraising, funding a company, and selling a company.

Isaac actually does not currently have all four episodes and the information related to them posted in one place, so I wanted to go ahead and share that here.

Continue reading “The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Startups (Courtesy of Isaac Morehouse)”

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Startups (Courtesy of Isaac Morehouse)

Quick Thoughts on the Prevalence of High Caliber Young People in Schools

I’ve been emailing back and forth with a few students who showed up to a talk I did the other day on the practical steps they can take to build social capital and launch an enterprise. Some common themes:
> Lots of the students expressed to me a desire to learn, just not a desire to take tests.
> School generally is seen as an impediment to learning things that actually matter to them (especially true of the 16-18 year-old demographic). “I used to fight against all the testing and required classes, not I just give into it. It’s exhausting,” one student wrote to me.
> Lots like the idea of “business” but have little idea what that means — even the really smart, experienced students. Most of them have never been exposed to “business” outside of a suit-and-tie context. They see suits and ties and accountants on one end of the spectrum and technology and t’s and hoodies on the other end of the spectrum. The reality is different — business is everything that *isn’t* school or government. But can you blame them for not really knowing that? They’ve spent the last 12 years spending 8 hours every day in a place totally removed from the marketplace.
> Despite the increasing amount of schooling and the way it crowds out opportunities for young people to engage in the market, there are still lots of promising young people out there. I met one young man who has a patent for a product that IBM had been trying to get to market for years and has successfully raised over $200K at a $2M+ valuation to grow his company. He’s 16. I met a lot of others who have the potential to do that, but just haven’t taken the leap yet.
The message I left them with — one my friend Isaac has taught me to use — was that it’s better to ask yourself, “Why not do these things?” instead of “Why?”
Quick Thoughts on the Prevalence of High Caliber Young People in Schools

Project for Individual Excellence: April 2016

It’s been a while since I publicly announced my monthly Project for Individual Excellence. I like to announce it for the sake of shared accountability. If I don’t meet my public goals, others can call me on it. Skin in the game is needed for personal accountability more than anything else.

Physical Excellence:

  • 30 minutes of strength training, 4 days a week
  • 30 minutes of cardio training, 2 days a week

Intellectual Excellence:

  • 30 minutes of Spanish training through Duolingo, every day
  • 30 minutes of German training through Duolingo, every day
  • Read 4 books by May 1, one fiction
  • Complete node.js competency by May 1

Professional Excellence:

  • Successfully publish The End of School by May 8 in both print and Kindle
  • Successfully have The End of School reviewed by several outlets by the end of May
  • Release the interview series I’ve been accumulating over the last two months


Project for Individual Excellence: April 2016

Paul Graham on Making Pittsburgh the Next Silicon Valley

These are my notes from Paul Graham’s talk on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at the University of Pittsburgh. Graham is a graduate of Gateway High School in Pittsburgh, PA and left the region after graduating from high school. These are rough notes taken during the speech, please excuse any grammatical errors.


What does it take to make Pittsburgh into a startup hub? 

He didn’t think at first that he could give an optimistic talk when he first started preparing this — he thought, without much research, that he could only do a talk on what Pittsburgh could do, but later found a NYT article about the youth-driven food boom and found himself more optimistic.

This youth-driven food boom is significant.

After leaving Pittsburgh during a time of free-fall after graduating high school, he had nothing to compare it to. But now, things are changing. The youth boom (7% to 7.6% in recent years) is a big and important change. There’s a new energy in Downtown Pittsburgh that didn’t used to be there. Young people are actually excited to be in the city. This energy is what keeps people here.

The net-attraction of young people is a really big deal. Startups are made of people. They are specifically made up of 25-29 years old. These young people have already shifted the center of Silicon Valley. After Pinterest and Stripe moved to San Francisco, that’s a big deal. Now all of the big winners are in SFO and not in the Valley because interesting, talented young people want to live in the city.  Founders know they have to live in the city in order to win the talent war. 

He’s obsessed with the 25-29 year olds moving to Pittsburgh statistic because you need these people. This is the city  equivalent of the beginning of growth for a young startup. Pittsburgh actually has a higher percentage of 25-29 year-olds than the national average by about a percentage point. That means more young people are moving here than the average place — a net gain for the first time in years! The surplus here is about the size of a small town -something is working, just keep it working. 

The focus of this talk isn’t entrepreneurship, though, it’s the things attached to that. You don’t foster “entrepreneurship” and “innovation” through focusing on those things. You foster those through making sure interesting, talented young people want to live there.

Continue reading “Paul Graham on Making Pittsburgh the Next Silicon Valley”

Paul Graham on Making Pittsburgh the Next Silicon Valley

You’re Young: Work at a Startup or an Established Company?

I’ve been asked about this topic or it’s been brought up in conversation quite a bit recently.

If you’re a young person, should you take a job at an established company or at an early-stage startup?

“Established company” can really mean anything that isn’t terribly unknown like a startup — it can be a bank like PNC or an investment group like Goldman Sachs, it can be an established tech company like Google or Apple, or it can be an established, profitable SMB in your area. Pending a Great Recession, these companies probably aren’t going anywhere.

Continue reading “You’re Young: Work at a Startup or an Established Company?”

You’re Young: Work at a Startup or an Established Company?

I Join Rush to Reason in Colorado

I joined Rush to Reason on AM 560 KLZ in Colorado to discuss The End of School, the effect schooling has on entrepreneurship, and a little about how we try to address this with Praxis. The interview was a lot of fun and the hosts can testify firsthand to the observations I make in the book!

Pre-order your Kindle copy now for a 50% discount on full price.

Sign up above to be notified when the print copy goes live.

I Join Rush to Reason in Colorado

Copper Handcuffs

The idea of the Golden Handcuffs isn’t something new. It’s a pretty simple idea — when you get a really good job, it’s hard to quit because of the pay, benefits, office, or all the other things wrapped into the day-to-day that make it relatively better than other options. People like to use it in examples of miserable investment bankers or Wall Street analysts incapable of leaving their jobs — despite totally hating them — because the pay and benefits are so good. You also see this with employees of tech companies bent on starting their own startups. They look back fifteen years down the line and shake their heads for not quitting and trying something because now they are beholden to the company to pay their mortgage — despite being extremely successful by traditional standards.

These people aren’t always miserable out of a lack of self-knowledge — it’s not necessarily that they thought they would love the jobs and then, only after working them for some time, realized they actually hate waking up in the morning. They thought they’d be able to quit after a few years of saving up money and paying off student debt only to discover that quitting such a “good job” turns out to be really, really hard.

Continue reading “Copper Handcuffs”

Copper Handcuffs

On Security and Living Well

“A career won’t wake up one morning and tell you it doesn’t love you anymore.”

I’ve seen this sentence — or some version of it — posted across social media dozens of times over the past few years. The message is clear and simple: work hard at a career and don’t waste your time on fleeting things like relationships. Being career-oriented is better than being relationship oriented. It’s usually (although not always) posted by women — a kind of middle finger to the cultural biases against career-oriented women.

But there’s something really odd about this to me, and it doesn’t have anything to do with cultural biases about career women. It’s got something to do with security.

My initial reaction to sayings like this goes along the lines of, “wow, that’s a really sad way of looking at the world,” and then shifts into, “okay, but you can wake up in the morning and your boss can fire you, or the big sales deal fell through, or you failed raise more VC, or you could wake up incredibly ill.”

We like to focus on the idea of security because it gives us the impression that we control our lives. Work hard at a career and, even if you do lose your job, you can still chug on forward. But there’s something lost in this conception of life. It assumes a way-too-simplistic view of the world.

It assumes no black swans. No unpredictable factors in the career like those mentioned above. It assumes far too much self-knowledge (people are notoriously bad at knowing what they’ll want in the future) — what if you wake up one morning to discover you no longer love your career but can’t exit due to lifestyle inflation and golden handcuffs?

What if people also value something beyond the very most simplistic view of security? People don’t work arduous hours for little pay on the prospect of making a steady paycheck. Entrepreneurs work hard for years, slugging through drudgery because they work for something more valuable than the most simplistic idea of security (I’ve heard some interpretations of entrepreneurial work that say it is the most secure because more is in your control).

We face tradeoffs in the real world. Sometimes these tradeoffs are between things like simplistic security and living a more exciting, more valuable existence. You should strive every morning to get as much value out of what is in your control, try to minimize the downsides, and realize that you can’t discount black swans until you see one.

On Security and Living Well

Some Quick Thoughts on School and Envy

In his book Envy, Helmut Schoeck provides an anthropological and sociological analysis of the role of envy in human society — mostly about how envy is one of the primary drivers of discontent, chaos, and insecurity in society. Different cultural institutions arise as ways of reducing envy — everything from paranoia about witches (the accused-witches in primitive societies were often the weakest, sickest, or oldest — those with reason to envy — and were accused of witchcraft as a way to drive them out of the society and prevent their attempts at undermining the social order) to the incest taboo (to prevent envy in the family) to the rise in meritocracy (to reduce the power of political envy) — and promoting general stability in the society.

Continue reading “Some Quick Thoughts on School and Envy”

Some Quick Thoughts on School and Envy

I Join Tom Woods to Discuss The End of School

I had the pleasure of joining Tom Woods on his popular podcast on Tuesday to discuss my forthcoming compilation book, The End of School. We discuss deschooling, the role of entrepreneurship in education, the purpose of education, and how to actively take control of your education. Tom brings up questions based on the table of contents of the book, so this is a great little look at what’s included!

You can still pre-order the Kindle version of the book at the link above for a 50% discount until April 21. If you are interested in a print edition, sign up at the HelloBar above!





I Join Tom Woods to Discuss The End of School

Mind Your Own Business: On OPB

There’s a popular phrase out there used to describe loans, investments, and living off the dole of other people: Other People’s Money (OPM). While this can be a really broad umbrella of different terms and meanings depending on the context, it’s usually used somewhat disparagingly to tell people building a business or building wealth to be careful — don’t use OPM if you don’t have to. OPM comes with strings attached — always. You take OPM in exchange for some form of control.

I had a conversation with a business partner recently who expressed his disdain at OPM. “Never take OPM unless you have to in order to meet your goals,” he told me. “I hate OPM. I prefer to keep as much to myself as possible. Once you take OPM, you’re answerable to the OP — Other People. You stop being your own boss.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody familiar with the phrase OPM — it’s a common bit of advice. Novice entrepreneurs and businesspeople think getting investment is a victory — but it just makes you answerable to more people. OPM can be a useful tool, but only when the purpose of getting it is clear and a significant ROI can be returned. The corollary phrase that’s mostly ignored deserves some attention — OPB — Other People’s Business.

To become wealthy in the United States today, you should mind your own business and avoid OPB. Being an employee of a company can feel safe — until the next major recession or losing a primary client — but it isn’t going to make you wealthy. Lots of young people go for a safe job right out of college as a way to build some wealth, get some experience, and pay off some student loans, with the desire to go and launch their own venture someday. While they’re busy building somebody else’s business, the clock ticks away at the opportunity for them to build their own. They get OPM in the form of a mortgage and get a house and then a car loan. They get so far down the rabbit hole of OPM and OPB that they can’t leave.

Similarly, the craze of day trading from home and making a lot of money while buying and selling shares of public companies — companies built by other people — rarely works (have you met an extremely wealthy day trader?) and those who do have the luxury of engaging in day trading have usually made their money elsewhere first. This involves competing against plenty of other highly competitive, intelligent people and competing against machines. Most people who try day trading end up blowing a ton of money on it. In the desire to make money with pieces of OPB, they lose their own money.

If you want to (honestly — not through crime or politics) become wealthy in the US today, you need to own equity in a company that you helped build. That’s the simple fact of the matter. Save some doctors and lawyers who are very good at building wealth while bringing in a fat paycheck, most of the wealthy (not necessarily high salary) made it through minding their own business and not meddling with OPB.

I meet plenty of young people who tell me that they want to be invested in multiple companies by a certain age. That’s a cool goal but few can tell my why they want to be invested in other companies. Some say so they can make it big — not realizing that most VCs and angel investors made it big before they got into the venture capital space and mostly do it as a form of helping to build businesses. These short-sighted young people view riding the coattails of another succeeding entrepreneur as a way to build wealth.

Beware OPM — you cede control over your life in exchange for other people’s money (this is true with debt, investment, or gifts) — but also beware OPB. These two forces play off of each other. The safety and allure of OPB brings one to lifestyle inflation and needing more OPM just to get by — without actually putting that OPM into a real investment! Mind your own business, not other people’s businesses, if you want to really create value and reap the benefits of it.

Mind Your Own Business: On OPB

Pre-Order The End of School for Kindle

My forthcoming book, The End of School: Reclaiming Education from the Classroom, is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle. The pre-order price is only $3.99 and will go up to $7.99 once the book is available.

It’s been sitting at #1 in Kindle for Education Aims & Objectives for the past day or so (as of this writing). Pre-order a copy!

If you prefer print, sign up at the bar above to be notified when the print pre-order is available.

Pre-Order The End of School for Kindle

The End of School is Coming

Design Attribution: Alexander Atienza
Design Attribution: Alexander Atienza

I’m pleased to announce that my book, The End of School: Reclaiming Education from the Classroom, is slated for release on May 1, 2016 (ironically coinciding with many college graduations). The book will include compilations of my writings on education as well as several new essays focused on the practical steps you can take to seize control of your education — whether you are in school or not. It will be available in Kindle ($7.99) or print ($14.99).

Sign up at the bar at the top of the page or here to be notified when the discounted pre-order sale starts.

From the publisher’s description:

School is a pervasive element in our lives — but one that goes mostly unquestioned. Most discussions get caught up in details of policy reform and leave the idea of school itself alone. The End of School changes that. Offering a radical, but even-handed, look at the purpose of education and the reality of school, Slayback develops a manifesto for how young people, parents, educators, and employers can move beyond school and take control of education.

Slayback — an entrepreneur and Ivy League dropout — talks about his own disenchantment with school. Despite being an excellent student and loving learning, he became convinced that school was not achieving its end of providing the best education possible. Other students, business partners, intellectuals, and parents convinced him along the way. The End of School is a look — both theoretical and practical — at how to fix that.

Slayback addresses the book to students, educators, parents, and employers of all stripes and ages. Whether you’re a high school or college student, a recent graduate, a parent of a young person, a teacher, or an entrepreneur, you’ll want to pick up The End of School.

Some of the topics explored include:

– The Purpose of Education
– The Purpose of School
– The Reality of School
– Different Types of Schooling
– The Effects of Schooling on Your Future
– How to Reverse the Negative Effects of Schooling
– How to Take Control of Your Education Outside of School
– How to Succeed Without a College Degree
– Entrepreneurship vs. School as the Ideal Education

And more!


The End of School is Coming