Schools and sheeple syndrome

Although schools like to maintain an illusion of democracy, most are, in fact, autocratic dictatorships. There is no room for individuality in the school system. It is a hierarchy, and in a hierarchy everyone answers to the person above them. When a teacher refuses to conform to the agreed systems of operation, he causes problems for his line manager, which in turn causes problems for his line manager’s manager. This continues right up to the headteacher of the school, beyond to the local authority and ultimately to the government. Any attempts by a teacher to break the mould are therefore quashed as quickly as possible; the net around him tightens as tracking of his planning, teaching and marking by more senior figures is turned up a notch.

Similarly well-rehearsed procedures are in place to deal with children, who sit on the very bottom layer of the hierarchical pyramid, furthest away from the apex of control. A child who does not fit the system – who is not “normal” – must be fixed and forced to adapt. Any child daring to express his individuality is soon identified and beaten into submission, sometimes through the award of a “learning difficulty” label or, worse still, by being forced to take personality-suppressing drugs. Such punishments are in addition to an elaborate system of tests, reports and evaluations that constantly monitors the child’s behaviour. The widespread use of conformity bribes (disguised as “rewards”) – including stars, merits, stickers, certificates, sweets, chocolates, prizes and money – strips away any sense of personal responsibility on the part of the child and effectively places his self-worth into the hands of his adult superiors.

Operating behind an illusory curtain of democracy is very useful to headteachers and their leadership teams because it means they can force through almost any initiative they like – and then claim that everyone played a part in the decision. This is how it typically works:
(1) The headteacher (or other senior figure) makes a decision;
(2) The decision is presented to the teaching staff – usually during the five-minute morning briefing – as a “proposal” for them to discuss in their subject/year team meetings;
(3) Subject/year teams meet to discuss the proposal (decision)… until they agree with it.

It never ceases to amaze me how readily teachers play along with this game of pseudo-democracy. The problem is, they perceive themselves as having no choice in the matter. It is easier (not to mention safer) to keep quiet and to play the game than to get all worked up fighting against something that is going to be implemented with or without one’s consent.

Any individual brave enough to voice their discontent at the point at which the proposal is introduced is publicly shot down in flames and told in no uncertain terms that this is not the “appropriate” time or place to air concerns. This is then followed up with a discrete (or not-so-discrete) word from a senior figure, whose job is to discourage the dissenting individual from disturbing the peace in the future, and to remind them to raise concerns through the “agreed” channels of communication; i.e., through discussion at team meetings, or by requesting an appointment with the headteacher to discuss the decision in the privacy of his or her office.

Consequently, teachers learn to accept without question all orders from their dictators. Although they may complain behind closed doors, very few have the strength or inclination to stand up in public for what they know in their hearts to be true. Children learn that they must place their trust in the hands of “experts” if they are to succeed in life. Thus, the sheeple syndrome is perpetuated.

THE 3-PERIOD TIMETABLE

I learned my lessons about the insidious effects of sheeple syndrome during my second year in the teaching profession. The headteacher of the secondary school at which I was working at the time put forward a proposal to scrap the existing 5 x 50-minute-period timetable in favour of a 3 x 120-minute-period model. Morning break would be removed and the lunch period reduced from fifty to twenty minutes. The argument given to support this proposal was that increased time spent in the classroom would result in “more focused and engaged students” (I kid you not). While I could follow the logic of two-hour sessions for practical subjects such as Science, PE and Art, the proposal spelled inevitable disaster for subjects such as Maths and French, for which the best approach is “little and often”. It was hard enough keeping students engaged and on task for fifty minutes, let alone two hours! And I could find no justification whatsoever for depriving students of their morning break. This was an invaluable opportunity for students to blow off steam on the playground, not to mention a rare chance for staff (when not on unpaid corridor “duty”) to relax with colleagues over a cup of coffee in the staff room.

In the lead up to the whole staff meeting scheduled for the end of the week, I approached as many members of staff as possible to elicit their views on the proposal. All without exception were in agreement with me. Friday afternoon arrived. I stood up and articulated my concerns. Visibly outraged and struggling to maintain his composure, the headteacher simply responded with, “I disagree. There will be no further discussion on the matter”. I looked around the staff room for support from my colleagues. Not one single person came to my aid. I sat down. The headteacher moved on to the next item on the agenda. At the end of the meeting the headteacher took me to one side and “advised” me to hand in my notice. I submitted my resignation the following morning.

THE “F” WORD

What was the underlying reason behind the lack of support from my colleagues in the above story?

Allow me to pose a few other questions…

* Why do so many teachers end up teaching to the test?

* Why are teachers in schools up and down this country prepared to work together in collusive conspiracy with their students to paint a false picture of their school prior to OfSTED inspections? How can we account for such reprehensibly dishonest behaviour from otherwise honest people? Why do these “teachers” not stop to think about the messages they are unconsciously implanting in the minds of children?

* Why are teachers, school leaders and local authorities so preoccupied with keeping up appearances – particularly in relation to paperwork and the provision of evidence – rather than serving the needs of children?

The answer to all of these questions can be summed up in one word:

FEAR.

They are afraid.

They are afraid because they are contributing to a system and a societal paradigm for living that teaches and conditions them to be afraid.

The (unconscious) thought process of the sheepled mind goes something like this:
“I don’t agree with this… but I must conform. If I don’t conform I risk losing my job. I have bills to pay, a family to support. It is safer for me to remain quiet. Besides, I want an easy life…… I will do as I am told.”

For sheeple, the purpose of education (and life) is to get (and keep) a job. To pay the bills. Safety and security is their number one priority, not Truth. To question this ‘framework of fear’ (which was schooled into them as children) would be to question the whole basis upon which their lives revolve. The Truth is just too painful for them to acknowledge. Thus, denial is the preferred option.

An important question to consider…

Is the habit of denying one’s truth something we wish to cultivate in future generations?

By contrast, here is the underlying thought process of the non-conformist, or truth bearer:
“I don’t agree with this. This makes no sense. To conform would be to betray my truth. Betraying my truth is too painful…… I must speak my truth.”

The purpose of life from the perspective of the non-conformist is to be true to oneself. The problem here is that being true to oneself means breaking one of the three unwritten rules for survival inside the system: YOU MUST FIT IN. (The other two are ‘Failure is bad’ and ‘The experts know best’).

We can see very clearly, then, that there is no place for the truth bearer within the school system (or any of society’s systems, for that matter). He does not belong. His very presence is a major threat to the masks of ignorance behind which his colleagues unconsciously hide. Thus, if he is to avoid being hung up and quartered by the sheeple handlers (i.e., senior leadership figures) – themselves, unwitting victims of sheepledom – he must find a way to live and operate outside the system. His purpose then shifts to the conscious creation of alternatives.

Welcome to my world.

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Kids Create (September launch)

KIDS CREATE is an initiative designed to bring young people together at a local community level for the purpose of collaborating on ‘real life’ innovation projects of their own choosing. It is a vehicle through which they can channel their innate passions and imagination into creating real value in the world. Whether the intention is to launch an awareness campaign, create a positive news channel on YouTube, coordinate a litter picking exercise in the local park, organise a fund raising concert, film a documentary or provide blankets to the homeless, this is a place where young people’s voices are honoured and heard, and in which they are trusted and empowered to take action on their ideas.

Each project takes place within the framework of a safe and supportive Creative Learning Space (CLS), set up and held by specially trained adult facilitators. Characterised by its three defining values of Play, Trust and Collaboration, the CLS is more an “energetic” space than a physical location. As such, project 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 – coffee shops, community centres, parks, libraries and museums – and to interact with a wide range of individuals, businesses and organisations in their local and wider communities.

Last week I met with Linda Anne Anderson, owner of The Kitchen Croxley, an independent coffee and cake shop situated between Watford and Rickmansworth, with a view to opening the UK’s first KIDS CREATE community space in her shop. We’ve decided to get the ball rolling by inviting a group of eight children (ages 10-13) to the shop on Thursday 8 September, 4.30-6.30pm. This will be an opportunity for the attendees to begin sharing and discussing their ideas for creating a better world. What will they discuss? What will they choose to focus on? That’s up to them to decide……

KIDS CREATE was born in 2013 when a small group of home educated children in Newport Pagnell announced their desire to create a ‘Prom for Kids’. I offered to support the group in turning their vision into a reality. 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 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’ was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone who attended. However, it was the journey rather than the destination that truly mattered. The project team developed life skills and learned invaluable lessons that will serve them as adults.

I believe that KIDS CREATE has the potential to evolve into a nationwide enterprise such that thousands of projects are running in local communities up and down this country at any given time. With the help of Chris Ogle and the Link4Growth network, my goal is to see the idea rolled out to independent coffee shops all over the UK.

The biggest challenge to the evolution of this idea is identifying and training adults who are ready to hold space. This is a completely different approach to working with kids. It revolves around trust. Our ability to trust children is determined by the extent to which we trust ourselves. Most adults do not trust children because they were taught, as children, that they could not be trusted. They were schooled into viewing themselves as limited and the world around them as frightening. Breaking out of this framework of fear is not an easy task; it took me seven years of conscious inner healing work to undo the effects of my social conditioning.

The ability to hold space is more a state of being than a skill. To step into the role of KIDS CREATE Facilitator requires an internal paradigm shift to have taken place: out of the Box of Fear (in which the teacher-knows-best school system exists) and into the Garden of Trust, which is a child-led, innovation-oriented approach – free of adult agenda and unnecessary interference. My job is to convey to kids, through my example, the message, ‘I trust you’. For me, there is no greater gift that any adult can offer a child.

What we’re talking about here is a paradigm of education with the power to redefine learning, childhood, parenting and life itself. Propagating this idea is certainly not a job I can do on my own! So I’m looking to pull together a peaceful army of conscious adults who are ready and willing to support children in creating a better world for us all.

Children have the answers to all of the challenges we are facing on this planet. Our job as adults is to listen, empower, trust and follow their lead.

The Eduspire Paradigm (Aug 2016)

What I am sharing here is the culmination of almost 20 years of experience teaching, mentoring, coaching and holding space for young people in a variety of educational settings, along with extensive reading, researching, writing, travelling, networking, innovating, alone time in nature and much soul searching.

I am co-founder of ROOTS, an outdoor creative learning space in the Bedfordshire countryside (UK), which supports young people of all ages (5 through 18) in connecting with their natural selves through a variety of nature-based sensory awareness games and activities. I am also founder of KIDS CREATE, which holds space for young people as they collaborate on creation and innovation projects of their own choosing. I demonstrate my definition of education (see P4 below) as a professional singer, actor and recording artist.

Eduspire stands for education infused with spirit. It is a child-led and innovation-oriented approach to learning and education. Children are not ‘educated’ in this new paradigm; consciously awakened adults hold an energetic space in which children are ‘eduspired’ – i.e. inspired to go within and educate themselves. Eduspire sees children themselves as the key to the creation of the New Earth and our job (as adults) as being to Listen, Empower, Trust (LET them be) and follow their lead.

The Eduspire Paradigm operates within the wider context of a New Paradigm for Living and Being, which is characterised by self-sovereignty, self-sufficiency, connection with nature, ecological awareness, collaboration, community spirit, shared abundance and contribution through the pursuit of personal passion.

The following list of presuppositions are designed to provide a conceptual framework for this new paradigm of education.

THE EDUSPIRE PRESUPPOSITIONS
P1: Every child is a unique, divine spark of unlimited creative potential.
P2: The simplicity and wonder of childhood is real life.
P3: Learning is as natural as breathing; it is a by-product of living.
P4: Education is the pursuit of passion.
P5: The purpose of life is to be your natural, authentic self.
P6: Every child has an inner guidance system.
P7: We are all equals, co-learners and co-teachers, regardless of age.
P8: Nature is our greatest teacher. The purpose of technology is to enhance human experience, not define it.
P9: Failure is feedback; we always succeed in achieving an outcome.
P10: The only constant in life is change.
P11: Play, Trust and Collaboration are the defining values of a Creative Learning Space.
P12: Education is a collective responsibility of the whole community.

Clean your window first

Your perception of the world is determined by the window through which you view it. Wanting to change the world is all very well and good. But you have to start by cleaning the window first.

Eight years ago my window was covered in dirt and grime. Now it is clean. Now I see clearly.

Now I no longer want to change the world. I am creating a new world instead…

window cleaner

Smacking children

PARENT: When is it appropriate to smack a child?

DAVID: Never.

PARENT: But there are times when my son oversteps the boundaries. For example, I can not and will not stand by and let him swear at me, his father. He needs to understand the importance of respect for his elders.

DAVID: There is no conceivable circumstance in which hitting a child is justifiable behaviour. The “adult as authority figure” approach to parenting belongs to the old paradigm of education and childrearing. The need for control over and unquestioning obedience of children is based in fear, not love.
Physiological age is irrelevant; the child is a human being. Human beings are equals. Children are equals. Children are to be treated as co-learners and co-teachers; afforded the same respect as any adult. To teach a child respect for others, you teach the child to respect himself.

PARENT: How do I do that?

DAVID: By treating yourself with respect. A parent who hits their child is lacking self-respect. A parent who hits their child is not in tune with the unconditional love that is who they truly are. A parent who hits their child has inner work to do.

PARENT: What kind of inner work?

DAVID: Smacking a child is a clear sign of an adult who does not understand their emotions and is acting out their own childhood pain. There is unconscious, dysfunctional conditioning to be brought into the light of their conscious awareness. This childhood conditioning needs to be looked at, questioned and released.

PARENT: But you don’t understand how angry he makes me sometimes.

DAVID: Nobody makes you angry. You make yourself angry by virtue of your perception of a situation and your choice of response. Projecting anger towards a child in response to their behaviour is saying, “I have no control over my internal state of being”. Physically acting out that anger by hitting the child is saying, “The outside world is responsible for my internal state of being”. This is simply not true. Such behaviour disempowers both parent and child and serves only to strengthen the wall of resentment between them.
Love is the answer. Love is always the answer. In order to respond to a child with love, you must first become your own source of love. It is the only way.

PARENT: I don’t understand why my child is so rude to me.

DAVID: Perhaps he is giving you an opportunity to look in the mirror…..

Innovation education in practice

Here is the YouTube link to last night’s L4G.tv Education Channel interview with the inspirational Jon Thorne. This man is able to express in practical terms what I have attempted to outline conceptually in previous shows.

Jon offers us a fascinating account of the genesis of MyInnovationSpace.com, which provides opportunities for young adult innovators. His perspective on the difference between “fixing others” and “defending space” is also essential listening for any adults out there wanting to contribute to an innovation-oriented approach to learning and education. Inspiring stuff!

The deputy headteacher

In 2008 I was working at a middle school in a pastoral consultancy and life skills coaching role. The school was located in what might be described as a socio-economically deprived area and had recently been placed under special measures by OfSTED. The staff morale was flatter than a pancake and the staff turnover shockingly high. I remember one freckle-faced lad telling me that he’d had five form teachers in as many months. “We keep getting different supply teachers,” he said. “They come. They don’t like the place. They leave. So why should we listen to anything you have to say? You’ll only end up leaving us after a few weeks – just like all the others.”

My responsibilities included advising the leadership team on whole school behaviour management issues, coordinating PSHCE provision (Physical, Social, Health & Citizenship Education), setting up a Student Council, and providing one-to-one coaching to children identified as having social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Every child in the school knew who I was because I was also responsible for leading whole school assemblies – a role that I shared with the deputy headteacher, John.

John was decidedly “old school” in his approach to teaching and dealing with students, continually barking orders at them and taking every opportunity to criticise and belittle. To say that I was disliked by John would be the understatement of the century; the man positively despised me. I overheard him complaining about me to a colleague one day. “All this pandering to the emotional needs of pupils has got to stop,” he said. “Children must learn to do as they’re bloody well told! It’s as simple as that.” (For the record, he never addressed any of his concerns to my face.) Unfortunately, John also happened to be the individual responsible for signing my time sheet at the end of each week. In other words, my pay cheque was dependent on his signature – a situation that ultimately proved to be my downfall.

My approach to delivering an assembly was the antithesis of John’s approach. While he insisted students sit in complete silence as he talked AT them, I engaged my audience with interactive demonstrations, asked questions to get them thinking and invited them to discuss possible answers with the students around them. He consistently focused on highlighting poor behaviour; I consistently looked for the best in the students and appealed to their inherent goodness. He talked about school rules and policies; I shared the latest developments in neuroscience and quantum physics. He reinforced messages of conformity and compliance; I emphasised the importance of following your heart, pursuing your passions and living your dreams. He was closed and guarded about his private life; I was open and honest about mine, sharing personal stories and anecdotes to highlight my messages. The students found John’s assemblies boring and pointless; I regularly received a round of applause at the end of mine, finding myself surrounded at lunchtime by kids eager to talk more about the ideas and concepts that I had shared.

One day, I led an assembly on the theme of bullying. During my presentation I announced my decision to replace “Anti-Bullying Week” with a far more empowering “Pro-Peace Week”. I explained how quantum physics has shown us that energy flows where attention goes. Thus, why spend a whole week energising something that we did NOT wish to include in our experience? Instead, the students were encouraged to look for and acknowledge examples of kindness. My assembly was extremely well received by the students, as evidenced by their standing ovation at the end. Yes, children know and respond to Truth when they hear it. Adults, not so much. To date, this remains my most cherished memory as a public speaker. It was the greatest assembly I had ever led. As it happened, it would it also be my last.

The following morning I was called into the headteacher’s office. The pot of money for my post had apparently “run dry” overnight; the school would no longer be requiring my services. My internal BS meter hit the extreme right position (TOTAL BS) during this conversation. It was very clear that the headteacher’s arm had been twisted. As I drove slowly down the school drive for the final time, there were children tapping on the windows of my car – tears streaming down their cheeks – as they begged me not to leave them. Hand on heart, that was the single most heartbreaking moment of my entire life.

I didn’t want to leave. I knew I was making a difference to those kids. I had connected with them in a way that perhaps no adult had ever connected before. They had taken my messages into their hearts. So many of these kids came from troubled and unstable home backgrounds; they viewed me as a source of love, hope and inspiration in their lives. Although the decision was completely out of my hands, I did appear to be abandoning them “just like all the others”. The deputy headteacher may have gained an extra spring in his step as a result of my departure, but the students certainly didn’t gain anything. Then again, the school system was never set up for the benefit of children, was it? Everything – from compartmentalised buildings to segregation by age to fifty-minute teaching periods – is set up for the convenience of the teacher, not the learner.

What was the crux of John’s issue with me? What exactly did I do to earn his disdain? Ultimately, I was guilty of consistently speaking and embodying Truth. And he couldn’t handle it. My presence itself was his biggest issue. John wasn’t a “bad” man. As I reflect back on the situation now, I am able to view him with compassion. Putting myself in his shoes, it is clear that I threatened everything he stood for, everything he had been conditioned to believe about children and education. He had no frame of reference for anything I was saying or doing. In a way, he had no choice but to despise me. What was the alternative? Admit that I was right and that he was wrong? He’d been in the system for decades, served his time at the chalk-face, earned his stripes and progressed through the ranks to reach his well-deserved position of seniority. Who the hell did this young upstart think he was, waltzing through the corridors of the school, high-five-ing students and dismissing decades of hard-earned institutional wisdom in favour of his own newfangled claptrap?

John wasn’t “wrong”; he simply wasn’t ready or able to entertain a new perspective because he lived in a fixed and immutable map of reality. Nobody can be judged for not being ready for the Truth. And if they are not ready, what do they do? They shoot the messenger instead. Each of us is at a different position on our own evolutionary life path. Today, I send John forgiveness. And I ask for his forgiveness too.

Cultivating creativity & innovation in young people

During this second Link4Growth.tv Education Channel show, Chris Ogle and I talk about how to how cultivate creativity and innovation in young people.

Discussion topics include…

* Children as natural-born creators and innovators

* The importance of immersing kids in nature

* The ROOTS Project (nature awareness programme)

* A real life example of the new paradigm of education in action

* Coffee shops as potential spaces in which to facilitate creativity and innovation by kids

* The creation of a community-based infrastructure for learning and education requires a shift in consciousness that takes place within the mind of the individual (it cannot be “taught” or programmed from the outside)

The future of education: live video interview

Live video interview with Chris Ogle on the L4G.tv Education Channel, during which we explored the future of education and the importance of empowering children to create and innovate.

The future of education and transformation of schools

Make no mistake, the education revolution is already happening. However, it is, first and foremost, an inner revolution. It is taking place within the hearts and minds of individuals. And the people riding the crest of the wave of this inner revolution are children. It is time to LET them out of the box (Listen, Empower, Trust) and to follow their lead.

The Information Age is over. We are in the Innovation Age now. Improving the quality of delivery in schools is not the answer. It is time to stop delivering and to start listening.

How do we teach creativity and innovation to children? We don’t. Innovative entrepreneurship is not something that can be taught; it is an active endeavour.

Let’s provide opportunities for children to be the natural-born creators and innovators that they truly are. Let’s empower children to forge their own educational pathways. Let’s empower them to teach themselves. Let’s empower them to teach us. Let’s provide platforms upon which they can stand and have their voices heard.

Let’s stop building new schools and start utilising the infrastructure of learning spaces already available in the community — libraries, coffee shops, church halls, parks, farms, office spaces, museums, art galleries and community centres. Let’s move from a one-to-many school system to a multitude of many-to-many anti-systems. Let’s set up a variety of Creative Learning Spaces in which children can take over as masters of their own destinies.

Can existing school sites and buildings be transformed to meet the learning needs of the Innovation Age? Absolutely. It is the top-down hierarchical organisation and attachment to “standards” within these institutions that must go. It is time for schools to cease all ties with central government, to abandon all standardised curricula and testing and to horizonatalise their hierarchical structures.

School buildings can become home bases of learning and resource centres for the whole community. Classrooms can be transformed into interactive spaces in which people of all ages come to connect, collaborate and create. Children and adults can come and go as they please, working together on real world projects of their own choosing and making impactful contributions to their local communities.

In order to support this new paradigm of education, a new breed of educator is emerging. These individuals role model the pursuit of passion and living from the heart. They are facilitators of learning, working with and alongside children as collaborators, co-learners, co-teachers and co-creators. They are not afraid of change, they live in the moment and embrace the unknown.

I am one such educator. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need support in transitioning from “teacher” to “enabler”. My own de-schooling and de-institutionalisation process took several years to complete; I understand the challenges involved.

The education revolution is a child-led movement that requires, above all else, TRUST. Our trust is the greatest gift we can offer our children. As the English novelist and journalist George Eliot observed:

Those who trust us, educate us.”

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