An unfixable system

“Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th Century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects and schedules.” – Marshall McLuhan (…in 1967)

The prevailing state school education system was a creation of a simpler and bygone age. No amount of money or reform will ever ‘fix’ this system because it is not broken; it is obsolete. In short, our schools are preparing children for a world that no longer exists. Continuing to adhere to a one-size-fits-all system of schooling that strangles curiosity, stifles creativity and suppresses individual expression is beyond insane; it is tantamount to child abuse.

Reforming an education system designed for the industrial age might be compared to carrying out repair work on a videocassette recorder with the intention of playing a DVD in it. All reform aimed at improving the curriculum – to make it more ‘relevant and engaging’ – misses the point entirely. It is the curriculum itself that must go. It is time to abandon all of our old ideas about the meaning of the words ‘education’, ‘teaching’, ‘learning’ and ‘school’. The world has changed and is continuing to change. Children have changed and are continuing to change. Wholesale transformation is the answer. It is time to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. It is time to step outside of the box and to explore alternatives to the status quo. It is time to make new, more empowered choices. It is time to wake up and take action. The time is NOW.

Young people have been asking us to rethink education for decades. In fact, they have been begging us! But we have refused to hear their cries. As a result, children have been forced to take drugs that suppress their gifts and abilities; some have joined street gangs, desperate to bring a sense of belonging and meaning into their lives; many have sought solace in sex, alcohol and drugs; others have taken their frustration out on society in acts of violence that hit the news headlines. It is time to stop silencing and to start listening to the people in whose hands our hope for the future lies.

So let us open up our minds to new possibilities and opportunities by considering the following question:

“If a miracle were to happen… if the state school system as we know it – including the National Curriculum, compulsory subjects, tests, exams, grades, league tables, OfSTED inspections, group instruction, teachers as authority figures, timetabled classes, rewards, detentions, homework, ‘people labels’ such as ADD and dyslexia, school uniform and traditional egg-box-design school buildings – were to DISAPPEAR in a cloud of smoke, and we woke up tomorrow morning to find an entirely new model of education in its place… what would we want that model to look, sound and feel like?”

Important questions

Some important questions relating to the prevailing state school education system…

1. If school is a place for learning, why don’t children learn more in schools today? Why do we ‘force’ children to learn when we know that “human beings are curious by nature” — that learning is as natural to us as breathing?

2. If the social goal of schools is to teach children to get along with others, why are they set up to defeat this goal? Why do we segregate children by age? Who says they learn best when confined to rooms with other children of the same age? Do all 11 year olds learn in the same way, progress at the same rate, and share the same interests? Does this division occur naturally anywhere else? In the business world, do 27 year old executives work in separate offices to 28 year olds? Is anything more socially damaging than dividing childen in this way for up to fourteen years of their lives? Why do we segregate children by ability? How does this relate to life in the real world?

3. Why do schools facilitate competition and pecking order when the most important social attribute for a stable society is cooperation? Why do schools rely so heavily on external assesment and extrinsic motivators? How does the widespread use of bribes such as stars, merits, stickers, certificates, sweets, chocolates, prizes and money help to create independent and self-motivated learners?

4. Why does the entire school system continue to revolve around test and exam results when almost everybody knows that tests and exams exist for their own sake, measuring nothing more than a child’s ability to take tests and exams? Why are so many teachers prepared to betray themselves and their students by ‘teaching to the test’? Why do schools continue to perpetuate the myth that success in life is determined by success in school tests when there is no evidence to support such an assertion? Has anyone ever found a connection between a child’s standardised test score and their success as an adult? How can we account for the success of famous people such as Irving Berlin, Agatha Christie, Noel Coward, Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Soichiro Honda, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Mead, Beatrix Potter, Bertrand Russell, Maria Sharapova, Leo Tolstoy and Leonardo da Vinci, all of whom spent very little time in formal school settings (or never attended school at all)? In any case, how do we define and measure ‘success’? Do we measure it in terms of earnings? Happiness? Fulfilment? How do we measure the latter?

5. Why is the prevailing method for assessing children’s learning to isolate them at desks set out in rows and columns and insist they work in silence without access to resources such as other people, books and the Internet? Where does this apply in everyday life?

6. Why do schools focus on what is measurable when what really matters cannot be measured? Why have we allowed ourselves to become so obsessed with ‘data’ and the pursuit of quantitative targets? What have these got to do with the development of people? Prior attainment levels, target levels, teacher assessed levels, SAT scores, CAT scores, FFT data, reading and spelling scores, value added figures, ability group numbers, self-esteem levels… what are we doing to children’s sense of identity and purpose when we weigh their shoulders down with so many numbers?

7. Who decided that children learn best by following a timetable divided up into 35- or 60-minute intervals? How are children to see the value in anything when they are forced to endure continuous interruptions throughout the school day, marching from room to room, teacher to teacher, subject to subject? Does this approach to learning occur naturally anywhere else? How does this foster a sense of continuity and the inter-connectedness of life?

8. Why do we insist every child must study a fixed curriculum of subjects when we are living in the post-industrial age of information? Does every child really need to study Shakespeare, solve equations, apply Pythagoras Theorem and describe the process of photosynthesis in order to succeed in today’s world? Why don’t schools offer courses in subjects such as Understanding Self, Dreams & Aspirations, Financial Literacy and Effective Leadership?

9. Why do schools deny children personal responsibility (freedom of choice, freedom of action, freedom to bear consequences of one’s actions) when we know this is the one absolutely essential ingredient for encouraging moral behaviour?

10. Why are our schools devoid of democratic principles when we live in a supposedly democratic country? How can we expect children to grow up as responsible citizens or to have any interest in the political process when they spend all day every day at the bottom of an autoractic, hierarchical pyramid in which they have no say and where all power resides with those at its apex?

11. Why do we allow children to be afraid and ashamed of ‘failure’ when we know that mistakes and failure offer the richest opportunities for learning? Why are we so keen to remove all risk from children’s lives? If a child climbs a tree, falls out and breaks his arm, doesn’t he learn something from the experience?

12. Why do we restrict opportunities for children to talk when talking is so ripe with opportunities for learning?

13. Why have we allowed schools to install CCTV cameras in their corridors? Are children not entitled to any privacy or time alone without adult surveillance?

14. Why do barbed wire fences surround so many schools? What is the message being sent to the community? How does this encourage children to become responsible members of the community when they are denied access to and contact with other people and resources within it?

15. Why do we treat children as lesser beings than adults and deny them basic human rights? Why, for example, do children have to ask for permission to go to the toilet?

16. Why do children have to wear school uniform? Why are so many teachers prepared to waste inordinate amounts of time confronting their students on this issue? What has a child’s appearance got to do with his ability to learn?

17. Why are teachers so willing to whinge and complain behind closed doors and yet so reluctant to stand up in public for what they believe in? Are these really the best people to be putting in front of our children as their primary source of inspiration? Is the habit of denying one’s truth something we wish to cultivate in future generations?

18. Why are teachers, school leaders and local authorities so preoccupied with ‘keeping up appearances’, rather than serving the needs of children?

19. Why do we silence and drug children who are perceptive and brave enough to point out the problems with the present school system? Why don’t we listen to these children and encourage further questions? Why are we so afraid to trust children? Given the state of the world around us, what makes us so sure that we know what is best for them? Why do we blame children for destroying so-called ‘traditional’ values and ways of life when we known that they learn by imitating our own behaviours?

20. Why do we label children’s differences? Is there such a thing as a ‘normal’ child? Aren’t we all unique and special?

21. Why do we call it ‘cheating’ when a child refers to another child’s work in class or communicates with another child during a test, when in the real world we call this ‘co-operation’?

22. Why do we keep children confined to classrooms and sat behind desks for the majority of the school day? Who decided this was the best way to learn anything?

23. Why do teachers set homework? Is it really worth all the time and energy they spend chasing up missing, lost or incomplete work? Do children learn anything from homework – other than to resent their teachers? Are children not entitled to some free time in the evenings? What about play – is that not an important part of childhood? Would parents tolerate being assigned homework by the boss after a hard day at work?

24. Why do OfSTED inspection teams give schools prior warning of their visits? Why not arrive without any warning whatsoever and take each school as they find it on the day? Why do the new OfSTED inspection procedures rely so heavily on the standard of a school’s paperwork – particularly its assessment data records – rather than what goes on in its classrooms?

25. Why are so many teachers and school personnel prepared to waste inordinate amounts of time, energy and resources in preparation for OfSTED visits, working together in collusive conspiracy to paint a picture of a school that could never be repeated on a daily basis? Why do they allow themselves to engage in such reprehensibly dishonest (not to mention insane) behaviour? Do they ever stop to think, as adult ‘role models’, about the lessons their students are learning?

26. Why do school management teams insist on wasting so much of their teachers’ time and energy – not to mention paper – on writing, printing, re-printing and collating student reports for parents? Why do parents attach so much importance to these reports? What do the words ‘good’, ‘satisfactory’ and ‘excellent’ mean anyway? According to what criteria does a teacher judge a child’s behaviour, participation in class discussion, willingness to ask for help, or ability to work with other children as ‘good’ rather than ‘satisfactory’? What is the difference between these two words? What does it mean to be working ‘in line with average expectations’? What does an ‘average’ child look like? While children interpret these words and phrases as evaluations of their person – forcing them to make limiting decisions about themselves and about their futures – does anybody actually know what any of these words or phrases mean?

27. Why do senior managers and OfSTED inspectors always insist that teachers write their learning objectives on the board? Who decided that it was important for the teacher to disclose the learning objectives in writing? Why do so many teachers buy into this nonsense? If the teacher writes at the top of the board, “Adding and Subtracting Fractions”, aren’t the learning objectives self-evident? In any case, do children really care about learning objectives? Why mention them at all? When a child is unaware that learning is taking place, does this imply that the child is not learning? What is wrong with creating a sense of wonder and curiosity amongst students by allowing the learning objectives to emerge naturally as they progress through a task?

Introducing eduspire

“Education may be defined as the process of awakening to and honouring one’s authentic self, from whom one’s passions and purpose emanate. – David

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle the development of eduspire — “education infused with spirit”. The word eduspire encapsulates a new paradigm of education on this planet; a child-led, trust-based and creation-oriented framework for viewing education and life. Eduspire is my dream for future generations of children. It is a seed planted in the fertile field of pure potentiality. In co-creative partnership with children, teenagers and like-minded adults, my intention is to nurture this seed so that it germinates and grows into a strong, healthy plant.

I believe that the eduspire plant, rooted in Truth, will continue to grow into a mighty tree that contributes to an ever-expanding co-creative garden of educational possibility. I see a day arriving when all children are free to play in this life-affirming garden, learning and growing in a natural and organic manner as they awaken to, embrace and honour their innermost beings.

mighty-giant-tree-2635-706

Although we have been socially conditioned to believe otherwise, there is no one system of education appropriate for every child. Each child is a unique, divine spark of unlimited creative potential and, accordingly, should be free to follow his own, unique educational path. Thus, eduspired initiatives and learning environments can be expected to exist in a myriad of different forms and contexts, depending on the collective intentions and purposes of the individual communities within which they manifest.

Eduspire is not only a framework for thinking, but also a vehicle through which children can be liberated, honoured and heard. It is time to listen to the people in whose hands our hope for the future lies. If we follow their lead we will not lose our way…..