Why am I here?

I am not here to conform. I am here to transform.

caterpillar-to-butterfly-2

I am not here to work. I am here to play.

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I am not here to survive. I am here to thrive.

Thriving

I am not here to grow up. I am here to express my eternal child.

happy-child

I am not here to pay the bills. I am here to live my passions.

singing

I am not here to hide in the shadows. I am here to shine like a lighthouse.

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I am not here to achieve. I am here to be who I am.

human-being

I am not here to recreate the past. I am here to co-create the future.

create future

I am not here to fix society. I am here to light fires of creativity.

creativity

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My daughter is not normal! (Part 2)

Originally published Feb 17, 2013:

View Part 1 here

[10 minutes later…]

Kathy: Yes, is everything OK?

David: Everything’s fine. Emily would like to show you something.

Emily: Mum, do you know how to spell parallelogram?

Kathy: Err… hmm, I’m not sure. I think there are two L’s next to each other in there somewhere…

Emily: I can spell it!

Kathy: You can?

Emily: Yes! P – A – R – A… L – L – E – L – O… G – R – A – M!

Kathy: Wow, that’s impressive! How did you teach her to do that in ten minutes?

Emily: Mum, can you spell parallelogram backwards?

Kathy: Backwards? Ooh, I’m not sure about that! M… A… errr… G…. no, R…

Emily: M-A-R-G…O-L-E-L-L…A-R-A-P!! [beaming smile]

Kathy: How did you do that so fast??!

Emily: E-S…U-A-C…E-B! Do you know what that was?

Kathy: No, I…

Emily: That was the word “because”, spelt backwards!

Kathy: I don’t understand. How are you doing this? David, this is unbelievable — Emily has struggled with spelling all her life!

Emily: Look Mum, this is how you spell quadrilateral [Emily picks up a marker pen and — with great enthusiasm — writes QUAD RILAT ERAL on the wipe board that sits on the table in front of her]

Kathy: I am completely lost for words. How are you getting the letters in the right order??

Emily: Oh it’s easy! David showed me how to do it…

David: Emily can spell and she can write. She simply requires a different teaching approach – one that matches her preferred learning style. You talked about the school following a new phonics programme.

Kathy: Yes…

DavidThat is the problem… not your daughter! Emily is a predominantly visual learner. So I have shared with her a simple visual technique for spelling. The phonics approach to literacy relies on “sounding out” words. This is a complete waste of time for someone like Emily. Everything being taught to her in school is — quite literally — going in one ear and out the other! You said you wanted me to help Emily to see sense. Believe me, she is already “seeing” sense! But her teachers are trying to make her hear sense. Since we’ve established that Emily can spell, I’ve suggested she forget about the dyslexia thing – she won’t be needing that label any more.

Kathy: But why don’t the school know about this?

David: Well, like you said, they’ve invested a lot of money in their government-approved phonics programme. It’s a one-size-fits-few situation… like a lot of the things going on in schools.

Kathy: But that is unacceptable! Why would the government push a project that doesn’t work for all students?

David: A very good question…

Kathy: All this extra work Emily has been doing in school and you mean to tell me that there was nothing wrong with her in the first place?

David: Absolutely nothing. Your daughter is extraordinary… aren’t you, Emily?

Emily: Errr… haha… yeah, I guess so!

My daughter is not normal! (Part 1)

Originally published Feb 10, 2013:

Kathy: Thank you for coming today, David. I’ve been tearing my hair out over what to do about Emily. You’re our last ray of hope! We hired a tutor to work with her last year… lovely woman, retired English teacher… but that only lasted a few weeks because Emily was so uncooperative. I’ve told her she has no idea how lucky she is to have parents who care about her education; and not all parents can afford private tuition either. But everything I say seems to fall on deaf ears. When I read your profile – the section about the kind of students you work with – it was such a relief… it was almost as if you were describing our Emily!

David: I hope I can be of some assistance.

Kathy: As I said in my email, Emily is 12 years old. But the school have told us she has a reading age of 6.28, one of the lowest scores in her year group.

David: 6.28, wow, that is so… precise.

Kathy: That’s her NFER level. We had Emily assessed by the school’s ed psych last November who confirmed that she’s dyslexic. And she’s on the school’s SEN register as MLD.

David: MLD?

Kathy: Moderate learning difficulties. Her writing level is 2B when she should be at least 4C according to the Fischer Family Trust data. I regularly look through her classwork and her spelling and organisation is atrocious! Michael and I have been up the school on several occasions to express our concerns. To be fair, they’ve always been very supportive. She’s been attending an additional lunchtime literacy class since September… but we’ve seen little, if any, improvement.

David: I see.

Kathy: All our attempts to help her at home have failed. Just to get Emily to sit down at the dining room table is a monumental struggle! The mere mention of the word literacy and her face turns to thunder. Michael has been very patient but I’m at the end of my tether. To be honest, I am worried sick about Emily’s future! How is she to cope in the real world without basic literacy skills? I feel like we’ve somehow failed her as parents. We’ve obviously gone wrong somewhere.

David: Don’t be so hard yourself, Kathy. You’ve done — and are doing — your best.

Kathy: Mrs Marsden, the school’s SEN coordinator, has been sending home additional worksheets and resources for us to support the work Emily is doing in the classroom. But we’ve got nowhere with them. Emily seems to resent us for wanting to help her. She’s a stubborn little madam at the best of times. Takes after me, I suppose. But we can’t seem to make her realise how short-sighted she is being. How can her reading and writing improve when she refuses to even try? We’re hoping you’ll be able to get through to her, to make her see sense at last.

David: My role is first and foremost to let Emily know that I accept her just as she is. What kind of worksheets and resources are we talking about?

Kathy: The school have invested a lot of money in a government-approved phonics programme. It’s called ‘systematic synthetic phonics’… or something like that. Mrs Marsden explained it all to us.

David: That sounds… complicated.

Kathy: It’s all part of the school’s drive to raise standards in literacy. I’ve got a letter about it somewhere in the kitchen drawer. I can dig it out for you…

David: No, no, that won’t be necessary. Thank you.

Kathy: OK. Well, here are copies of Emily’s Year 6 school report and the ed psych’s report.

David: That is very thoughtful of you but I won’t be needing those either.

Kathy: You won’t? [looking confused]

David: No. As I said, my priority is to let Emily know that I accept her just as she is. Today is about establishing a bond of trust between us.

Kathy: Oh… right……. but surely it’s important for you to know about her learning difficulties?

David: To be honest with you, I don’t believe in learning difficulties. Learning differences, yes. But not difficulties.

Kathy: Aren’t they the same thing?

David: Well, no, not in my eyes. ‘Difficulty’ implies there is a problem; a judgement has been made. ‘Difference’ is neutral; it carries no judgement.

Kathy: David, don’t get me wrong. I know Emily will never be a high flyer academically. She’s in the bottom sets for English, Maths and Science… and that doesn’t matter to me in the slightest. But she’s got to learn the basics! As her aunt was telling her the other night, it’s just not healthy for a girl of her age not to be reading. She gets teased a lot, by the more ‘popular’ girls in her tutor group. And when she talks about not fitting in at school… it just breaks my heart. I want her to lead a normal life like other kids. I want her to be happy.

David: Normal and happy do not always go hand in hand, Kathy. For some people they are mutually exclusive.

Kathy: What do you mean?

David: Take me, for example. I’m not normal. I never fitted in as a teacher — as an adult — within the school system. That’s why I’m here doing this. I left the teaching profession because I didn’t have the freedom to work with kids in the way that I knew worked best. I wasn’t happy because I couldn’t be myself. Senior management were more interested in the standard of my paperwork than they were in the quality of my interactions with children in the classroom. But I didn’t enter the teaching profession to fill in spreadsheets or to follow strict lesson plans; I wanted to work with people.

My teaching methods and classroom management strategies were very different to my colleagues… but they worked. Students enjoyed coming to my lessons, so much so that I didn’t need to rely on the schools reward system, which required me to dish out merits and achievement stickers for good behaviour and work. Instead, I taught my students that the truest reward in life is the internal satisfaction of a job well done. I let them mark their own classwork and give themselves written feedback. I encouraged them to pat their own backs when they perceived themselves to have done well on a given task. I wanted to cultivate independence and self-reflection within my students because these are crucial skills in today’s world. But this — along with so many of my other “alternative” ideas — caused problems for my line managers because they couldn’t tick the boxes that needed to be ticked in order to justify their positions within the hierarchy. I was summoned to the headteacher’s office on more than one occasion due to the “lack of teacher ticks and comments” in my students’ class books, and ordered to comply with the school’s marking and assessment policy. There was simply no place for someone like me within such a tightly ordered system. And everyday I observed children — just like your daughter — suffering a similar fate. Children with even less room than me to express their individuality. It broke my heart.

So, you see, I don’t want to be normal, Kathy. To me, there is nothing natural about being normal. Extraordinary is natural. I aspire to be extraordinary. Your daughter may not be normal. But that does not have to be a bad thing.

Kathy: Thank you for sharing that, David. I’ve never thought about it like that…

David: Is it time for me to meet Emily?!

Kathy: Yes, of course. I told her to wait upstairs until we’d finished talking. I’ll go and call her now…

[To be continued…]

My greatest teachers

I was taught three key life lessons as a child in school. These were implicit messages implanted in my unconscious mind courtesy of the nature of the school environment that surrounded me:

  1. The experts knows best
  2. Failure is bad
  3. I must fit in

As a result of these three lessons – which became unconscious beliefs – I lived inside the box of rational conventionality for the best part of thirty years. I was a school maths teacher for seven of them. Prompted by the curiosity aroused within me by my students’ WHY-questions, I climbed out of that box in 2008 and discovered a world of infinite possibility waiting for me. Since then I have explored a wide variety of existing alternatives to the prevailing school system – including Bedales, Michael Hall Waldorf Steiner SchoolNatureKidsSummerhill, Big Picture Learning, Tokko Youth Space, Kin’s SchoolSudbury Valley School, home education and unschooling. However, it was the six months I spent volunteering as a member of staff at Tallgrass Sudbury School in Illinois that ensured I would never be returning to ‘the box’. My experiences at this radically alternative school (based on the same model as Sudbury Valley School) confirmed what I already knew in my heart but needed to see with my own eyes: Children can be trusted. When children are in a learning environment that grants them authentic freedom to be themselves, they do not betray that trust. They flourish. They shine. They return that trust.

Tallgrass1Tallgrass2 Tallgrass3 Tallgrass4 Tallgrass5  Tallgrass7  Tallgrass9

Children have been my greatest teachers. Thanks to them, I am no longer held back by the three implicit teachings shared above. Those three beliefs have been completely cleared from my unconscious and replaced with three deep, inner knowings:

  1. My inner guidance knows best
  2. Failure is feedback; I always succeed in achieving an outcome
  3. I am free to be myself

Consequently, I am now living a life of passion, excitement, creativity, meaning and purpose outside the box into which I was conditioned as a child. I am no longer ruled by my rational mind. I am tuned into a different experience of reality. The intuitive mind has become the standard-bearer of my experience; I have transitioned to an inside-out paradigm of life. My world is a world of trust, beauty, connection and love. Feelings are the language of this world. I am doing what I love, what makes my heart sing. I am a singer, an actor and a recording artist. I am a confidence coach, educational innovator and entrepreneur. I am free. Free to embrace and express my unfathomable uniqueness. Most importantly, I am happy. And my happiness is an authentic happiness that comes from within; it is not dependent on circumstances or the fulfilment of ego desires. I have children to thank for all of these gifts. They led me out of the darkness of my ignorance and into the light of my truth. Eduspire and Kids Create are my gifts back to them — and to their own children.

The Moonlight Prom

The Kids Create pilot project commenced in January 2013 when a group of five children in Newport Pagnell (UK), aged between 11 and 16, announced their desire to create a Prom for kids in their local home education community.

During the course of the next four months, this team of youngsters took responsibility for all aspects of the Prom’s planning and organisation. They chose the theme. They decided on the dress code. They worked out the budget. They phoned and visited potential venues – and negotiated to get the best deal. They agreed on the food arrangements. They organised sound and lighting equipment. They decided on the song list. They wrote and sent emails to parents. They went shopping for plates and cutlery, comparing prices at different supermarkets. They sourced fairy lights to match their chosen theme. They planned and rehearsed a 20-minute performance of acoustic songs. They prepared thank you speeches. They decorated the hall on the day, including a red carpet for the entrance and neon lighting for the Mocktail Bar.

The Moonlight Prom took place on 21 April 2013 and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone who attended. More importantly, the project team developed life skills and learned valuable lessons that will serve them as adults.

The Prom

Announcing KIDS CREATE

Kids Create is Eduspire‘s flagship initiative. Here is a preview of the About page from the forthcoming website:

An alternative vision of education

Kids Create is a unique and exciting initiative offering young people the opportunity to channel their energies into personally meaningful, co-creative endeavours of their own choosing. It is a place where children are LET out of the box of educational conventionality and freed to explore the world according to their own passions and interests. We Listen to, Empower and Trust children to be the natural-born learners, creators and innovators that they truly are. Here, they work collaboratively on real world projects with the goal of creating real value.

iStock-kids-teamwork-Medium

A project-based approach

Ideas for projects arise naturally and spontaneously as common interests, shared goals and local community needs surface through the interaction of individuals participating in the Kids Create community.

There are no limits to a child’s imagination and so there are no limits placed on the creative endeavours of Kids Create members. Whether the project is to organise a disco, publish a magazine, create a “positive” news channel on YouTube, coordinate a litter picking exercise in the local park, create a play to tour around schools, film a documentary, run a support group for teenagers, record a Christmas song for charity, or provide blankets to the homeless, each project team receives the full backing and support of a specially trained adult Facilitator.

We believe Kids Create has the potential to evolve into a nationwide online community such that hundreds of projects — all manner of sizes and durations — are running alongside one another at any given time, with children gravitating to those projects that are of personal interest to them. Inevitably, some projects will be more “successful” than others, while others may not get off the ground at all. This is all part of life’s learning. There is no such thing as “failure” because we always succeed in achieving an outcome. The journey itself is the real goal here and all evaluation is outcomes-based.

young people having fun outside

Introducing the “Creative Learning Space” (CLS)

Each project takes place within the framework of a safe, accepting and supportive Creative Learning Space, set up and held by a specially trained adult Facilitator. Characterised by its three defining values of Play, Autonomy and Collaboration, the CLS is more an “energetic” space than a physical location. As such, Kids Create teams are free to move wherever their projects take them. Depending on their chosen goals, they can be expected to operate in a variety of different contexts and environments — living rooms, coffee shops, community centres, parks, libraries and museums — and to interact with a variety of individuals, businesses and organisations in their local (and wider) communities.

The Facilitator works with and alongside the project team throughout the duration of the project as a co-learner and equal. Their primary function is to uphold the twelve Eduspire Pressuppositions and to convey to all members of the group – through the clarity and power of their own personal example – the message, “I trust you”. We believe there is no greater gift that any adult can offer a child.

Introducing the “education spectrum”

Every educational institution, movement, environment or approach exists somewhere on the spectrum between CONTROL and TRUST. I visualise this spectrum running from left to right, with ‘Absolute Control’ on the extreme left and ‘Absolute Trust’ on the extreme right. I should probably make it clear from the outset that this education spectrum bares no relation whatsoever to the political spectrum! The movement from left to right along the education spectrum is a metaphorical reflection of the shift from reliance on the rational mind (the “left brain”) to an honouring of the intuitive mind (the “right brain”).

For illustration purposes, let us consider the position of some specific examples. The Prussian education system of the early 19th Century (the original model of compulsory schooling, which was eventually adopted throughout Western Civilisation) exists on the extreme left of this spectrum. The prevailing UK and US school systems are a step to the right of this. Independent schools such as Bedales in Hampshire, England, and the “homeschoolers” (i.e. families choosing to adopt a formal, school-like structure within their own homes) are a step further to the right. A little further right (but still left of centre) we find the Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner-inspired) school movement. The Big Picture Learning schools (inspired by The Met in Providence, Rhode Island) lie roughly in the middle of the spectrum. Montessori schools are right of centre. Summerhill in Suffolk, England, is a step further to the right. Sudbury schools (inspired by Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts), are a step further still. “Unschoolers” are even closer to the extreme right.

There is, of course, ample room for debate about where each school or approach lies on this imaginary spectrum. For example, do Waldorf schools exist left or right of centre? In this particular case, I would argue that Rudolf Steiner himself – and the revolutionary ideas that he shared – were right of centre. However, the obsessive attachment, amongst proponents, to his original writings and specific choice of words (similar to the way in which some people interpret every word of the Bible as literal truth) and consequent failure to allow those ideas to evolve over time (an issue over which I am certain Steiner is turning in his grave) places the Waldorf school movement firmly on the left hand side of the education spectrum, in my opinion. Having visited several Waldorf schools around the UK, I was shocked at the authoritarian nature of teachers (“You can paint using whatever colours you like but I decide the subject of your painting and we all paint on the same subject”) and their uncompromising attitudes toward allowing technology in the classroom (what do they think students are doing as soon as they leave the school grounds?).

However, the exact positioning of any of the aforementioned schools or approaches is largely irrelevant. This spectrum is a metaphor. I propose it as a potentially useful tool for aiding understanding of the ideas that I present. As an individual operating on the extreme right of this metaphorical spectrum, it is nigh impossible for me to reach out to anyone ‘left of centre’ without the help of such metaphors or tools. Why? Because I live in a different paradigm of life to them! My brain is – quite literally – tuned into a different experience of reality. My reality is characterised by – indeed, created by – an honouring of my intuitive mind as the standard-bearer of experience.

When I quit my job as a maths teacher in 2011, packed my bags and boarded a flight to Chicago, I had absolutely no idea what lay in store for me. I knew nothing about Chicago and had no contacts in the city. Friends and acquaintances living in the Paradigm of Control thought I had lost the plot because there was no rational explanation for my behaviour. But, you see, I am no longer ruled by the rational mind. I went to Chicago for no other reason than it felt like the right thing to do. As a result of my self-trust and the unforeseen fruits of my actions (I ended up recording an American Songbook album with one of the United States’ most respected jazz pianists), I am now training in musical theatre in London, pursuing my dream of starring in a West End musical. People locked into the Paradigm of Control cannot understand why a 35-year old maths teacher with no previous formal training in singing, acting or dancing would be pursuing such a dream. But I’m simply following wherever my passion and excitement leads – which is the essence of life in the Paradigm of Trust. Similarly, when I talk about my perspectives on learning and education with teachers working in schools, or parents who are sending their kids to school, they look at me as if I were an alien from another planet. “What?! Children don’t need teachers? What are you talking about? What is wrong with you?” We are viewing the universe and our place within if from diametrically opposed perspectives.

is universe friendly

It is so important to emphasise that there is no “right” or “wrong” in any of this. I agree with Einstein in the above quote. If your answer to his question is No, then you will lean in favour of a more control-based approach to life and education. If your answer is Yes, then you will lean toward a more trust-based approach to life and education. Your exact position on the aforementioned education spectrum is solely determined by the extent to which you trust yourself.

For the first thirty years of my life, my answer to Einstein’s question was No. I was schooled into believing that the universe was a frightening place and that “the experts know best”. Consequently, I was living in an outside-in model of reality. When I climbed out of my socially conditioned box of rational conventionality, my answer shifted to an unequivocal and resounding Yes. I now trust myself completely. I no longer seek answers in my outer world — from teachers, doctors, scientists, or any so-called “experts” — because I have come to realise that my inner guidance knows best. I have shifted to an inside-out model of reality.

My approach to life and education is neither right nor wrong; it is simply my perspective, informed by my life experience. Everyone is “right” from their own perspective. So there is no “right” way of doing education. We are all unique individuals. Therefore, we have the right to follow our own, unique educational path. If you want to go to school, go to school. But don’t tell me that I have to go to school, or that I should be sending my kids to school. That is the biggest problem with the school system. Its monopoly over education must come to an end. And it is my mission in life to ensure that this happens – for the sake of future generations. I introduce the education spectrum in the hope that it may aid those wishing to support me in this endeavour.

What is learning and education?

Eduspire is about re-imagining education from the ground up. However, I like to keep things simple. So here are my definitions of education, learning and the purpose of education:

Education: the pursuit of passion.

Learning: living.

Purpose of education (and life): to be yourself.

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Interview with David

Questioner: David, why not use your passion for education to bring about positive changes to the school system? Why have you chosen to walk away from a system that needs people like you now more than ever?

David: I’m no longer focusing my attention on the system. I’m content to let it be. I accept it just as it is.

Q: Problems cannot be solved by ignoring them.

D: As Einstein observed, problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. Energy flows where attention goes. It makes no sense to energise an approach to education that in no way matches who I am or how I choose to live. I have shifted my perspective entirely, to the point where I no longer see problems, only opportunities. My attention has shifted to the exploration and creation of alternatives. I’m excited by the unprecedented entrepreneurial opportunity that the education revolution presents; it is an opportunity to create and energise something different.

Q: No one would deny that the school system has its flaws. But that is not a reason to give up on it altogether. It can be changed, reformed, improved. There are too many lives invested in the system for it to be overthrown and abandoned. Why not fix what we already have rather than create something different? Surely, we owe it to the children filling school classrooms up and down the country.

D: I’m not here to fix problems. I am here to be and express the fullness of who I am. I’m a creator, an innovator, an entrepreneur. I’m role modelling a different approach to life and education. And I’m excited about sharing this approach with young people. I believe this is their revolution. I’m passionate about empowering them to forge new educational paths outside the entrenched system. This is my calling. This is my choice. This is my contribution to humanity. This is my gift to future generations of children.

innovation-illustration

The pseudo-education revolution

There is a pseudo-education revolution taking place. It is being driven by advances in technology and I consider it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m referring to digital tools such as Khan Academy, Edmodo, Nolan Bushnell’s BrainRush, Joel Klein’s Amplify and the Rocketship network in California. These are all examples of a revolution in content delivery, not in learning or education. They are redefining what it means to go to school, not what it means to learn. I liken this approach to installing free Wi-Fi on the Titanic. It’s certainly revolutionary, but it’s not transforming our notions of education or learning. The ship is still sinking.

Kids and technology

It is easy to be seduced by the idea that technology can save us from the educational crisis we are facing. We are in a position to teach a phenomenal amount to a child in a short space of time – but to what end? Although technology can personalise (or customise) learning in a way that it is impossible for a teacher to do, that learning is still defined according to a prescribed curriculum. Customised learning still presupposes delivery of an educational package to a consumer. It’s the same old assumption about filling kids’ minds with information (see my previous post, Unconscious assumptions and The Box, for more on this). And the results are still being judged according to student performance in standardised tests. Yes, it’s a million times more efficient than the teacher delivering the content. Yes, kids are able to learn foundational content much quicker. Yes, the computer is much better at monitoring and evaluating a child’s progress. But this approach to learning leaves no room for children to ask questions or to use their imagination to think about the world in their own unique ways. In a world characterised by accelerating technological and social transformation, we are preparing children for futures that we cannot even begin to imagine.

Having students interact with technology devices might be more efficient when it comes to delivering educational packages, but when it comes to lighting fires of creativity within children’s souls it is wholly ineffective. There is also the real danger of raising a generation of constantly “wired” kids who are incapable of switching off or relaxing. Thus, technology itself must not be viewed as a silver bullet. The cult of efficiency in schools precludes creativity, and the technology-driven pseudo-education revolution is only exacerbating this problem. You can be efficient with machines, but not with people. Continued “dehumanisation by data” is not the answer. Human beings are not numbers on spreadsheets. We need to shift from our obsession with efficiency to a focus on effectiveness. Success with people is about the effectiveness of relationships. And only a focus on relationships can allow us to light those fires of creativity.

Eduspire Presupposition #11:
The purpose of technology is to enhance human experience. It is in nature that we find our answers to life’s questions.

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