“Who am I? What am I doing here?” – Admiral James Stockdale
Those infamous words by Ross Perot’s running mate helped torpedo any chance he had of winning the 1992 presidential election. But for the purposes of this blog, my response to this question should give you a good idea as to where this blog may lead you in the future.
The short answer is I am Antonio Buehler and I am here to help free tens of millions of children from an education system that inhibits emotional and intellectual growth, that destroys confidence and ambition, and that exists to serve adults and not children.
The path I took here is complicated, and I will only give a brief version of my story here. In the future I may expound upon certain parts of my story, if/when appropriate.
My father was a high school dropout who served three tours in Vietnam as an infantry soldier. My mother came to America with only a fifth grade education. My father ended up raising me and my brother by himself in government housing in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. I grew up poor in an economically depressed town, in an “uneducated” family. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that I’d never amount to anything of significance; that I’d become a failure.
Instead of a failure, I became a statistical aberration. I beat the odds, became the first in my family to graduate from high school, and gained admission into the United States Military Academy (West Point) and later the Stanford Graduate School of Business. My degrees provided me with the rare opportunities to successfully turn around failing organizations, solve a military-wide supply crisis in a combat zone, and raise venture funding to run my own company. My pedigree and professional achievements afforded me wider opportunities to influence the lives of others through mentoring, volunteering, and non-profit leadership. On paper, given my starting point, I might be considered by some to be a success story. However, my measure of success is dependent on how many lives I can positively impact, not on flowery resume bullets. More specifically, it depends on how many millions of children I can help achieve their full potential.
My efforts to help children improve their lot in life started unsuspectingly with my brother, who is a year younger than me. Before I entered high school I served as an assistant coach on his biddy basketball and little league baseball teams. I enjoyed helping him and his teammates grow, but never thought that it would become my calling. I pushed my brother to work hard in academics and athletics so that he too could gain admission into West Point, his dream school, and he was accepted the year after I was. At West Point my most treasured experiences were those in which I was able to help my brother, my football teammates, and my assigned subordinates succeed. I saw leadership as the vehicle with which I could make an impact on this world.
Although I loved leading soldiers formally through the military, I was most passionate about using leadership to help children. After college, during my first military deployment, I led a clothing drive that distributed over 10,000 pounds of clothing to over 3,000 children in Kosovo. The experience was life-altering. I found myself serving children who were thrilled to get shoes and second hand clothes that didn’t fit well, so long as they weren’t full of holes. Because of a weak economy, intolerance and the aftermath of war, these children would likely never be able to transcend their lot in life. When I was young I saw myself as disadvantaged. As I began to compile academic, professional and civic achievements, I saw myself as a man of accomplishment who overcame all odds. My experience in Kosovo made me realize that I was more fortunate than I was accomplished – I was born and raised in the United States where anyone can succeed if they work hard enough.
In 2002, while coaching high school football in Germany, I learned that some of my athletes weren’t taking academics seriously. When I contacted one of the teachers to discuss how we could keep a student academically eligible, I was shocked to find that she was unconcerned about his fate. Similarly, in East Palo Alto in 2005, I was disappointed to see only apathy in the teachers of my mentee, an African-American student from a very poor family, as I struggled to find ways to keep him engaged in class. Experiences such as these left me frustrated by the state of public education and I became a proponent of education reform, particularly charter schools and vouchers programs.
As I delved deeper into education reform options, I found that homeschooling had the strongest outcomes. My research led me to conclude that the success of homeschooling was in large part a result of homeschool parents successfully adapting their style of instruction to the individual capabilities of their children. I knew from my experiences training soldiers, coaching high school football, and mentoring students that a one-size-fits-all strategy is not effective. The irresponsible soldier, the undisciplined linebacker, and the bored student could all be reached when I was willing to tailor my leadership approach to their needs. My research next led me to various learning style theories, including the Multiple Intelligences theory. I recognized that if parents could properly identify their children’s learning styles then they could tailor education to optimize the educational experience of each child in a way that cannot be replicated in the public or private school system.
Through my research I also realized that despite socioeconomic and demographic handicaps, my disproportionate strength in logical-mathematical intelligence* gave me certain unfair advantages in a public school system which catered to my learning style. Despite a lack of guidance in my formative years, I managed to succeed because standardized tests came easy to me and I was able to excel in courses that others struggled with. My peers struggled not because they were necessarily lazier or less intelligent, but because the public school education model did not cater to their individual learning styles. It is my mission to help the tens of millions of children who are being left behind by the current system simply because they don’t have the institutional advantages that I had.
I will help those children through Buehler Education, by empowering parents so that they can empower their children. Buehler Education’s focus in the near term is threefold:
- Help homeschool parents identify their children’s learning styles
- Match homeschool children with the most cost-efficient education products that cater to their learning styles
- Help those who wish to go to college gain admission into their dream schools
This is where I’ll end this first post. I will provide much more detail on how we are going to advance our efforts soon. Please come back often, to receive updates, advice, analysis and support.
* Logical-mathematical is just one of the 8.5 intelligences of MI theory. Fortunately for me, my weaknesses in other intelligences didn’t put me at a disadvantage in the public school system. I will discuss this theory further in future posts