Transforming Education: The Case for Making it More Creative, More Engaging and Tailored to the Individual

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” ~ Albert Einstein

Now that the UK’s 56th general election has been so decisively concluded, and the ramifications of the results are already being endlessly debated, I got to thinking about one of the most important issues for me personally – education. Amidst the weeks of tedious campaigning it reminded me of the much used and successful Labour battle cry, when Tony Blair stormed to victory in 1997.

Education. Education. Education.

education quote - Victor HugoIt’s an important issue. It’s fundamental to most parents and voters. You want the best for your children. If governments got this right, I have a feeling the economy and many of society’s woes would take care of themselves down the road.

We only get one chance to provide a solid foundation for our youngsters. Their minds are like sponges until the age of eight, and their confidence is a fragile commodity well beyond that.

Does anyone have happy memories of their time at primary and secondary school? Do you remember feeling engaged with your subjects and teachers?

Sadly, mine are few and far between. I excelled at French and English, was hopeless at maths, (except Algebra), and loved drama, music and PE. I was bullied mercilessly at secondary school, and worse was to come at college, (but that will have to wait for another post).

Education-Quote-MLKGoing to secondary school and higher education is a time of change and great upheaval: emotionally, hormonally, socially and mentally. If children already have a healthy sense of who they are and what they are good at, I propose they are less likely to go off the rails at this stage. It’s not to say they won’t experience any discomfort, but I think they are better equipped to weather the teenage storm.

But it seems the curriculum, especially for primary schools, is rigid and confined, with too much focus on literacy and arithmetic. Lots of rote learning of tables and phonics. Don’t even get me started about how ill equipped phonics are when it comes to spelling. My daughter spells a word exactly how it sounds, full stop.

Now, being a writer, I’m all for these important subjects to be taught, but they should be taught well, and not just by one method. Our children are individuals and will relate to teaching in their unique way.

Socrates on wisdomWhere is the focus on creativity? Why are music and the arts fighting to be on the curriculum? I wrote a previous post about The Importance of a Musical Education – a subject very close to my heart. Why are there not enough trips and visitors to talk to and show the kids different skills and professions? I know cost is a factor, but what is the cost of not improving our education system?

Good luck if your child is a square peg and doesn’t fit into a round hole, which is what mainstream schooling tries to shape them into. Heaven forbid a child should be ‘troublesome’ or have ‘learning difficulties’. In my humble opinion the ‘one size fits all’ approach is so damaging to children’s self-esteem and creative process. Anything can be learned. Original and creative thought are infinitely more valuable.

Albert Einstein - Our Education System

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” ~ Albert Einstein.

We should not just be teaching them how to read and write, we should be teaching them skills for life. We should be helping them to discover their talents. Emotional intelligence is every bit as important as IQ.

We need more flexibility and imagination in our education system, not more targets.

When you were growing up did anyone truly inspire you to follow a path that lead to contentment and success? I was lucky to have a couple of really wonderful teachers who helped me in certain areas, but they are mostly confined to the system the government of the day imposes on them.

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” ~ Albert Einstein

Progress 8 

PRS OptionsMy 13 year old son William is currently studying at Princes Risborough School and is now choosing his Key Stage 4 options for GCSE. It has been an easy choice for him; he knows what he wants to do, what he enjoys and what he’s good at.

His three choices from the categories available are drama, history and business studies. I’m hoping he’ll do well in his June science exams and be chosen to study either triple or double science as part of his core subjects as well.

The school were very supportive during this process to both students and parents alike, recommending students follow the subjects they love and excel at, plus a technology subject, in consideration of the government’s Progress 8 performance measures.

education keyboardIt is predicted that students will change careers multiple times in their working lives, so to choose a subject for a lifetime is an almost impossible task. What really impressed me was that where students’ interests and government interests clash, they would always side with the student, having their best interests at heart within the set-up and capabilities of the school. Their motto is ‘Enjoy and Achieve’. A lot comes down to leadership. I’m thankful they have a great head teacher in Peter Rowe.

At William’s school they also get to do an enrichment activity weekly (with interests as diverse as beekeeping and falconry on the list), and PE (non-examinable) as part of their post Year 8 curriculums, in addition to taking a Citizenship GCSE and their core subjects of Maths, English and Science.

By the time my kids leave school I want them to believe that there is no glass ceiling on what they can achieve in their lives.

nelson-mandela-education-quote

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case in this TED Talk for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity:

He makes the insightful comments that children get ‘educated’ out of creativity, and that we should educate their whole being. I couldn’t agree more. It’s vital to help children discover their talents. He states that education is currently mechanical, and how it could improve if it were more organic. He talks about the need to create the conditions where children can flourish.

Sir Ken continues with his vision for education in his 2010 talk, Bring on the Learning Revolution:

The rise in home schooling shows the dissatisfaction parents have with such a narrow and institutionalised system.

Article in The Guardian about Home schooling and the rights of both children and parents.

In another TED Talk, teenager Logan LaPlante gives his take on hackschooling:

He sums it up perfectly: education is oriented to making a living rather than making a life.

A great blog on Higher Density highlighting what schools generally don’t teach about creative thinking.

Education is a lifelong process.  I try to set the example for my kids by continued study, as well as putting myself in situations where I will be challenged physically, mentally and emotionally. I strongly believe that if I don’t push myself and get out of my comfort zone, I’ll never know what I’m truly capable of.

tell-me-and-i-forgot-learning-quoteI feel that my role as a mother is to love, care for and nurture my children, which encompasses helping them to discover themselves, respect them for who they are and not who I want them to be, to have conviction and confidence in their ideas and abilities, become self reliant, have a meaningful set of values, a healthy self-esteem and dreams and aspirations to aim for, all in a supportive family environment.

In short, providing the necessary ingredients for them to lead happy, successful and fulfilled lives, where they can have a chance at reaching their full potential.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if schools had the same mandate?

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein

The Game of Life – Exploring Consciousness, the Playing Field of the Human Condition

I know it sounds obvious, but by virtue of our humanity we are all playing the game of life, whether we think about it or not, in astonishing energetic interactions of cosmic proportions.

There’s a word in Sanskrit: SAT-CHIT-ANANDA

SAT:  the absolute being, the essence that is pure, timeless and never changes.

CHIT:  the true consciousness

ANANDA:  joyfulness and pure bliss.

Earth_Eastern_HemisphereSo, by Eastern philosophy there is nothing that is outside of us, for we are one with the universe. Everything is connected. We are the one energy that’s everywhere and aware of itself, in a state of bliss.

Perhaps somewhere along the way you asked yourself: Who am I? Why am I here? What does existence mean to me? These are the fundamental questions that most people want answers to.

Religion has tried to give us the answers. Some have postulated the doctrine that we must be ‘good’. Do not sin and the kingdom of heaven shall be yours.  These rules that have been set out for us are rather black and white, with no room for grey. The aim of the game of black and white is that white must win. The game of life is one of duality, and seeming opposites.

We all need to eat, sleep, love, work, play, take care of ourselves and our loved ones, so we all play the game… It’s up to us if we are a pawn, a bishop, a knight, a rook, a queen or a king!

Black and white, joy and sorrow, right and wrong, good and evil. However, every coin has two sides. You can’t know one without the other, as each gives context to the other. In order to play the game we create these separations of the mind. We decide our preferences as we go. Ideally we find balance and equilibrium somewhere in the middle.

Traditional religion has rather set us up to fail, because it’s impossible for white to always win. We’ve already established that you must play the game, but you can’t win it in the indoctrinated sense.  Sadly, some play too hard and decide to opt out before their game is up.  ,

We are straddling two worlds. Jesus told us, ‘You are in the world, but not of the world.’

circle of lifeThat is the conundrum of the human condition. The nature of our physicality means we have to separate things and events, and draw the boundaries for what’s me and what isn’t me. Doing this however, puts us between a rock and a hard place, because the polarity only exists in our minds.

Buying and selling, giving and receiving, hot and cold, living and dying are all one thing. Bees and flowers are not separate. They are an eco-system that can only survive with each other. You could argue they also need the soil, worms, microbes, water and sunshine.

Physics calls the ‘one thing’ the Unified Field. Humanity could be compared to billions of water droplets from the same ocean. Individual: yet made from the same ingredients and from the same source.

Dividing things is helpful from the point of view that it enables us to go about our daily lives, stay safe, and make choices. The downside is that we risk becoming too separated and feel either alienated or in opposition from others. Social conventions magnify these perceived separations.

“Our entire biological system, the brain and the earth itself, work on the same frequencies.” ~ Nicola Tesla

Oneness-ReflectionIf someone asked you, how big is the sun? What would you say? ‘Well, it’s a massive burning ball of gas in the sky,’ or you might even go as far as to say, ‘it’s the extent of its light.’  Yet again, you could say, ‘Its beams of light are still travelling millions and millions of light years away.’

In reality there are no separate events. When did you begin? Was it with your conception, or your birth? Or did you come into being when your parents met, or perhaps when their parents met and all your ancestors going back to the dawn of time…? Maybe our souls have never not existed? We have our ideas about reality that are convenient for us, but in reality everything is one thing.

Lovely poem by Simon Welsh – The Zero Point Field:

You cannot know what it’s like to feel good without having felt bad and vice versa.  We can do things so we feel good more often than we don’t (and who wouldn’t want to if they are a conscious being), but to deny that bad exists and to resist it sets us up for frustration and anxiety. This is when we have to be aware of what kind of game we are playing and not play so hard. It’s a choice how hard we play, but our awareness self regulates us if we know where to direct it. Watch with awareness how you divide your world into ‘this’ and ‘that’.

To resist reality only causes more suffering.  I’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt on that one! To accept the full spectrum of what life immerses us in gives us the choice of how to react. If we are in sync with spiritual laws we will always feel that oneness that we pretend isn’t there. Have you ever had that complete and perfect feeling that you belong, that sense of connection with everything? However you are feeling right now is what oneness feels like. You can never-not be oneness. The whole spectrum of human emotion is how it feels.

To get past our minds which are conditioned to compartmentalise information is to get past resistance. Whoever wrote the script for Star Trek was a genius. “Resistance is futile.” Resisting life causes fear, anxiety, depression and alienation. Acceptance of ‘what is’ in the present moment is key.

mj-quote-swan-reflectionAttachments cause us suffering. But to be a human being means that we have attachments, (unless you are hermit). We all have attachments to people, to places, to things, to ideas. Life would be dull and boring without these attachments (I honestly don’t think we could live effectively without them), but the double-bind is that we must learn to relinquish them as and when the time comes. Whatever you love will change over time. That’s the root of our human condition. The question isn’t whether you are going to suffer, but how you deal with it.  There are times when we should all relax and play a softer version of our game.

From Harry Palmer’s book, Private Lessons:

“Adversarial games bring out the worst in human beings. Among successful adversarial traits are brutality, ruthlessness, deception, intolerance and exploitation. The resulting balance that adversaries create is more a wasteland of despair than fertile ground for life.

Inwardly the adversarial model is battle between desire and resistance, right and wrong, being a winner or a loser. The inner balance in an adversarial mind is stressful and unstable.

There must be a better way, and there is: Cooperation.

Let me offer you an ancient way of looking at opponents that does not lead to conflict. Think of opponents as depending upon each other. Instead of conflict, they complete each other. No up without down, no light without dark, no happiness without suffering… Everything has its season. When the competitive state of mind is honoured with trust and patience, it softens and comes to recognise the greater cycle of give and take.”

The brilliant author, journalist, researcher and lecturer Lynne McTaggart talks about the universe in an exceptional presentation that bridges science and spirituality at the LESA 2013 summit:

If we are not aware of the kind of game we are playing we react to situations by putting our stuff automatically either into the white pile or the black pile. When we are in the ‘witness mode’ we can observe how we create our personal game and adjust our strategy and the way we play accordingly.

Whilst we may have had to yield outwardly to worldly circumstance, we do not have to weaken inwardly.

“A Human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to enhance all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

You don’t need understanding to master the game of life. The only ingredient you need is awareness, which is our innate Self. May we all gain awareness of who we are behind the mask of mind.