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 Eureka Effect – Where Does Creativity and Inspiration Come From?

“Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.” ~ Bruce Garrabrandt

Can you remember being at the receiving end of an enlightening or illuminating idea that flashed into your mind like an incandescent light bulb? Perhaps you’ve had quite a few moments of erudition? I’ve had a few too; and who wouldn’t want to have more of those those elusive but cherished aha! moments?

creativity lightbulbsUnfortunately the moment doesn’t tend to hang around long, you have to use it or risk losing it. I have taken to keeping a pen and pad by my bed, in my office and buried in the murky depths of my handbag, ready and waiting for rapid note taking… You never know when such blessings will infiltrate your consciousness, so it’s wise to be prepared! There have been times after stirring from slumber, when I am still in that twilight zone between lucid dreaming and being fully awake, when my subconscious mind has been streaming ideas into my conscious mind. Sometimes it’s so fast I just jot down whatever is in my head so as not to forget anything later on. I can always ditch the stuff that I may not use in the future.

In a minor aha! moment I thought it would be interesting to investigate such ephemeral phenomena, and try to understand how we can better manifest these fleeting gifts from the universe.

Etymology and language is constantly evolving, but essentially the definition of the word inspiration hasn’t changed much from its Latin roots: inspirare, meaning divine guidance, or in a more literal sense, breathing in spirit.

Creativity-takes-courage-Henri-Matisse-inspirational-quoteIdeas are everything. Ideas fuel man’s progress and make life better for humanity, especially in the areas of the arts, literature, health, science and technology. However, our ideas don’t all have to be on the same level as E=mc2, we can achieve smaller-scale wins by solving our everyday challenges, or, in my case, figuring out how to multi-task having a career alongside motherhood and running a home… I’m still figuring that one out!

Ideas are the intangible, ethereal side of our being. We cannot force them, but perhaps we can increase their frequency by learning a bit more about how they come about. Of course, they are nothing but useless data if they are not followed up by meaningful action.

Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

And here’s the rub: although that moment of glorious enlightenment may appear to be a bolt from the blue, it’s most likely the result of many smaller steps over time, and at times, a seeming impasse as to how to proceed. We do what we think we should, we hit obstacles, we try again, hit the repeat button a few times, and then, if we have the right mindset, the answer we have been seeking miraculously presents itself to us. We could be standing at the bus stop or be out on a hike, we could be in the middle of reading a book, we could be cooking, we could be drifting off to sleep…and ding! A passing, but profoundly brilliant thought pops into our heads.

Giovanna Mingarelli from the World Economic Forum highlights her take on the Eureka Effect:

The word ‘Eureka’ was coined by Greek polymath, Archimedes, after he had an epiphany about how to measure the volume of an irregular object.

Barry Evans gives an enlightened TED talk about Archimedes and his all important principle:

There are various theories about how creative insight works, this is my perception garnered from my personal experiences: I concentrate on a problem, mull it over, write down my ideas, follow the ones I think will work best, tweak if necessary, and then later try to empty my mind of it completely. Sometimes I forget about it for a long time, and then an answer or solution usually comes to me. I know that may sound simplistic, but it’s worked for me in the past.  I just have to get out of my own way. And of course, some Eureka moments are more recondite than others, but the fact that any kind of inspiration is flowing is a positive result. I have also found that meditation has greatly helped me to relax and clear my mind, to have that space when I have no thoughts and no content in my mind. In the right conditions I can easily go into the alpha brainwave pattern, and this seems to support my intuition and the mental settings needed for insight to take place. I find other than my meditation, nature and music are wonderfully conducive.

Transcendence seems to be key, as stated in this talk by author and entrepreneur Bernardo Kastrup (if you can put up with the audience coughing):

Here’s my previous post about meditation.

An absolutely brilliant presentation about the process of creative insight and why you need grit:

Again, they both draw the conclusion that eventually one should stop looking and focussing. Jonah talks about those all-important alpha waves again…and about the obsessive revisions that Beethoven made to his music to attain the level of genius that he is loved and admired for. Perseverance is half the battle, which reminds me of a famous Calvin Coolidge quote…

When worthwhile ideas come, it’s up to us to stick with them, hone them and improve them, and ultimately, to have faith in them.

Fabulous article by Eckhart Tolle on creativity.

CreativityI’m really getting into this mnemonic lark! Cognitive Random Ephemeral Attributes Transformed Into Valuable Expression

Wherever they come from, (perhaps it’s the infinite field of consciousness that all humans have access to), ideas will flow to you if the conditions are favourable. The Eureka Effect isn’t a domain just for the chosen few… Pay attention to the answers you seek, and then let it go. That song from Frozen sums it up perfectly! Take a walk, empty your mind and get ready for the influx…

“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.” ~ Dieter F. Uchtdorf

P.S. Any takers for the problems facing the Middle East at the moment??

The Rewards of Letting Your Inner Child out to Play…

“One of the virtues of being very young is that you don’t let the facts get in the way of your imagination.”  ~ Sam Levenson

Children-at-Play by Harry Brooker‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…’ I can hear John Lennon’s immortal crooning in my mind. Isn’t that what children are so good at? They dream. They dream frequently, and they dream about anything they want, and they dream big. Left unfettered from cruelty, their minds are not naturally wired for questioning their self worth. They don’t think of excuses, they just follow their innate sense of curiosity and joy, they let their minds wander, and upon finding something of interest they become completely absorbed in whatever they are doing.

I love to watch Ruby play; she has such a vivid imagination. When she gets into her own little world she dresses up and tears around the house using whatever toys and props (usually kitchen utensils) are needed to fashion her make believe scenarios. If I call her name while she is ensconced in her imaginings she is completely deaf to me. Her excitement at what I would consider a mundane activity never fails to brighten my heart.

I think being a parent probably makes it easier to connect with our bounteous childlike energy, as our children help us to see the world through their amazed eyes.

Ignite Your Childlike State of Wonder:

How many of us can say at some point while we were growing up we were told by a parent, a teacher, or a well-meaning adult, ‘Stop daydreaming!’ It is misguided to think that so called ‘daydreaming’ is a negative trait. Far from it. This is the tool of creation. Creativity is inherently abundant in youngsters, and the school system with its rigid curriculum is not conducive to nurturing this very important aspect of a child’s development.

Federico Fellini - ChildlikeBy the time we reach adulthood most of us, (to some degree), have usually had the light of our dreams diluted or even drained out of us completely. A constant barrage of negative messages from the world around us can eventually drown out our intuitive childlike selves, fostering self-doubt within us instead. The mental baggage is accrued over time, and then it becomes so much harder to follow our dreams, for fear of failure. To be truly ourselves means letting go of other people’s expectations for how we conduct our lives. It means sticking our heads above the parapet. It takes courage to hold our dreams out in front of us like a lantern, glowing with the perseverance and faith that we experienced in our childhood.

“Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence.”   ~ Norman Podhoretz

looking for adventure at Waddesdon ManorUnlike Peter Pan, we all grow up, (well, most of us!) but that doesn’t mean life has to be all serious. Although we have responsibilities, bills to pay and all the trimmings that go with adulthood to deal with; the inner child that dwells within each of us can make being an adult so much more fun. We have a responsibility to love, nurture and parent our own inner child. And when properly cared for, children are happy and they flourish. The benefits to us as individuals (and the people around us), of embracing our inner child are manifold: increased joy, laughter, spontaneity, love, emotional honesty, and chiefly, living in the present moment. We do not brood on the past or worry about the future when we are fully engaged in the now…

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”  ~ Heraclitus

Deepak Chopra quoteI’m not promoting the kind of ‘throw your toys out the pram’ mentality of narcissistic demands or temper tantrums, dependency, neediness, petulance and general egocentric behaviour.  Neither am I suggesting that we live in a world of fantasy. But if we can access that playful and innocent side of ourselves, we can harness this enthusiasm in multifarious ways. We can use that sense of wonder and awe and intense focus (without judgement) in whatever endeavour we like, or indeed, even just to elevate our everyday lives. It is all about achieving that balance between our heads and our hearts. Not living life solely in our conceptual minds, or always wearing our hearts on our sleeves with complete naïveté.

The original Jungian Child Archetype was the basis for many theories and development of the modern term ‘inner child’ including the work of Dr Eric Byrne in Transactional Analysis, and study of the ego states: Parent Child, Adult.

Getting in touch with our feelings can sometimes bring up unresolved trauma or an emotional blockage. However, we can begin to heal when we become conscious of the past wounds our inner child has suffered. Suppressed pain can hinder our functioning at full capacity as an Adult and Parent.

I love this talk by Eckhart Tolle on being yourself:

To coin Ruby’s favourite word, existence is ‘awesome’.  Now I’ve got John Lennon in my head again! ‘I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.’

Here’s my own mnemonic: Doing Really Exciting Activities Mindfully

Dream big!