Education can be defined and reflected upon through many layers or dimensions, some of which are more pure and practical, where others are constructed for the purposes of promoting particular discourses in society.
The most superficial dimension, the one we take for granted in our daily lives, is for instance the belief that all children need to go to school from the ages of six to sixteen, that they should read textbooks to learn about the world and that they should be taught by a teacher. In some cultures education happens when the child is integrated into the daily work of the adults and through a process of apprenticeship learn how to navigate and handle the reality they are a part of. There is no school, and yet – the child is educated.
As such, how we see education is very much dependent on the discourses that we have been brought up with and have come to take for granted.
Looking deeper into the layers of the word education, in a primordial sense, at least in the context of human experience, education is a process of learning from past generations to find the most effective ways to survive. As social animals, we do that through our societies and through our relationships with other human beings, but what if it is possible to look even further?
What does education mean in an existential context?
Why are we here and what are we here to learn?
Some would claim that we are here by the grace of divine intervention, to learn about what it means to be human or to go through a process of karmic evolving, eventually resulting in a form of ‘graduation’ that they call enlightenment. Others believe we are here due to the sins of our ancestors and that our purpose is to earn the forgiveness of God to be accepted back into his graces.
Education is thus on a an existential level, intrinsically intertwined with the question of why we are here and what the meaning of life is, as much as it is grounded in a practical reality question of how to survive in the most effective way.
It is an interesting conundrum because as soon as we ask the questions “Why are we here?” and “What are we here to learn?” we are implicitly implying that we exist in a predetermined existence with an intentional beginning, middle and ending, as were we nothing but the mere fictional characters in a story sprung from an author’s imagination.
But what if there is no such preordained purpose with our lives? Or what is there is, but it is steering us towards the path of destruction? Wouldn’t we want to reexamine that which we call education and to what purpose we engage ourselves within it?
Instead of looking for a preordained and finite answer through which we define ourselves as but the instruments of an abstract divine will, we can change the way we approach these questions. Instead of looking for an answer that is already decided upon, we can decide to answer these questions for ourselves.
In investigating the answers one would give to these questions, one can then also investigate the potential consequential outflows that follow. If you for example decide that we are here to have fun and experience as much as possible, then the point of education becomes a process of learning how to do just that. But what would the world look like if all we focused on were having fun? How long would we be able to sustain ourselves on the planet?
As such, the logical way to answer these questions for oneself would be to look for the most optimal and sustainable long-term approach. If we were to decide that we are here ‘to live’ for example, we would want to make sure that we could actually do that, by taking care of our habitat, because otherwise we would be antagonizing our very own purpose for existing, which would be rather pointless.
If we are interested in the process of creating an optimized, fertile and expansive life for ourselves on this planet where we thrive on an individual level as well as through the global ecosystems that sustain us, we ought to investigate the predetermined and implicit answers to the questions of why we are here and what we are here to learn because whatever the answers to these questions are, is what we are already living.
It could look something like this: “We are here to destroy life.” Or “We are here to consume all resources until there is nothing left.” Or “We are here to compete with each other with the goal of one of us being king over existence and become immortal and untouchable and have control over all life.” It is quite absurd when you look at it this way, but isn’t this what we are already living?
The question of what we are here to learn thus cannot be answered without also answering the question of why we are here and as such, educational process, even in the most surface layers of dimensions will always be connected to this question and the way we answer it, whether implicitly or with intent.
Education is therefore something that ought to be revised and questioned and evaluated on a continuous basis – and not as it is now, taken for granted and locked into static and archaic models, models that does not in any way support life to thrive.
In answering the question of why we are here, with awareness and responsibility, through making a decision based on common sense, the process of education can be clearly determined. In not answering the question of why we are, ghosts of the past will continue to haunt our existence and will possess our every move, as were we nothing but marionette dolls on imaginary strings held up by the figment of our own imagination.
We can make the decision – through directive deliberation and consideration – to decide that we are here, firstly and foremost to stop the destruction of the planet and our habit and to stop the unnecessary suffering of billions of life forms, and secondly, to create a co-existence on the planet that supports all individual life forms to thrive in the most optimal way for all to thrive.
This in fact, ought to be the most fundamental and commonsense form of education, because without it we will always be doing nothing but putting out fires only to reignite them, to do damage control and create makeshift solutions that doesn’t ever really get us anywhere.
We ought to have a common living principle of saying that: first we make sure that our habitat is optimal and that all life forms are supported to thrive and only when this is ensured can we begin to explore what other reasons we will decide to give ourselves for existing. Only then can we begin to explore what it really means to be alive. Isn’t that why we are here? To discover the real meaning of Life?
Education is a process that each new generation goes through, to learn about the ways of the world so as to effectively integrate into society. We educate our young so that we may not have to reinvent the wheel over and over with every new generation – and it is because of education that we have been able to progress from the horse carriage wheel to the motorized wheel and who knows, maybe someday soon we will implement the hovercraft in its place.
I will argue that education is the most important process for the continuous development of our societies, not only in terms of building on past experiences but also in terms of learning from mistakes made in the past.
Throughout the course of human history we have learned a great deal. We have categorized and sorted the resources of our planet so efficiently that we have turned the planet itself into gigantic organized industrialized machinery that enables us to produce massive amounts of food, fuel and other goods at record speed, all year round.
We used to look upon ourselves as the result of a continuous process of upward progression as we marveled at our own inventions. We still do to some extent, as new technologies are manufactured that seems to break the barriers between the magical and the laws of physics.
There is something else happening as well. We are starting to envision the karmic downfall of our rapid climb through evolution. As our intelligence has evolved, so has our ability to destruct. As our knowledge about the world has expanded, so has the cruelty of our methods of extracting resources from the earth. We are starting to realize that we might not be as smart as we thought, as our eagerness to progress also have brought with it the mass-extinction of entire animal species and seemingly never-ending wars. This too, is a result of education.
“Think of the things killing us as a nation: narcotic drugs, brainless competition, dishonesty, greed, recreational sex, the pornography of violence, gambling, alcohol, and — the worst pornography of all — lives devoted to buying things, accumulation as a philosophy. All of these are addictions of dependent personalities. That is what our brand of schooling must inevitably produce. A large fraction of our total economy has grown up around providing service and counseling to inadequate people, and inadequate people are the main product of government compulsion schools. – John Taylor Gatto
Every animal goes through a process of education, from the baby chicken that carefully listens after its mother’s chuckles indicating which plants are to be eaten and which are not, to the walrus that gently teaches its calf how to pull its weight out of the water or the Nile crocodile that carries its offspring in a small pouch inside the mouth to a water hole where it teaches them to hunt.
The difference between animal and human education is that animals educate their young ones to survive. Evolution is something that develops over time as the need to survive changes and forces a species to adapt. As such, it can be argued that animals aren’t as ambitious or forward thinking as human beings, which would obviously also explain why we are at the top of the food change with no natural enemies… except for ourselves.
I will argue, that with the state the world is in, we are not educating our young to survive. How can we claim to do that with one hand, while the other hand is busy destroying the planet?
If education is where common sense starts, where we learn how to take care of our environment, how to effectively integrate in society, we ought to STOP all education right now and ask ourselves what in the hell we’ve been doing in our school systems to create the situation we are in right now. Because it could not have happened without education. As such, something or someone must’ve educated us to treat the planet so poorly, or rather – something or someone have NOT educated us to actually REALLY care.
It is difficult to say how far back our miseducation goes. Maybe it all went wrong with the onset of industrialization, maybe it was public schooling that did the trick or the ancient Greeks or maybe it goes all the way back to the beginning of human civilization. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that what we are doing right now is not working.
We cannot have a constant continuous progression without also taking time to do maintenance on our ‘machinery’, take time to stabilize and nurture the resources we rely on; such is the law of physics of living on a planet dependent on its Eco-systems to thrive. Instead we live in an abstract place in our minds where time and space is suspended, and we arrogantly think that we can manifest our fantasies and desires into reality without considering the consequences we impose on reality because of it.
As such, we have to look at what parts of our education of our young (that we’ve too learned from those who came before us) are causing us to be destructive rather than protective of our environment – and accordingly realign our education to prevent further damage and find solutions to the immanent matters at hand.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
There are so many educational theories, so many pedagogical and didactic philosophies and strategies for how to best educate children to become productive members of society. We want them to be educated as fast as possible, to a small a cost as possible and yet we very seldom ask ourselves WHY we are educating our children the way we do; we simply take the current models of education (or schooling rather) for granted as THE way, while in no way looking at the kind of society that it produces and how that society in turn functions as a part of the eco-system of the planet.
With the intellect and ambition we as human beings have, we ought to be the proud guardians of this planet, not its clumsy and ignorant destroyers.
We ought to honor the responsibility we have of actually being able to actively educate ourselves, not just to survive, but to progress and evolve beyond our instinctual programming.
Come on humanity; show us what you’ve got! Live up to your self-proclaimed ability to evolve beyond bestiality and rise to the occasion of proving yourself worthy as life.
Because we have been miseducated by the generations that came before us, we have a responsibility to firstly deschool ourselves and unlearn, that which makes us destructive as a species. But while we are busy doing that, we also have a responsibility to simultaneously re-educate ourselves and develop forms of education that will enable us to protect and nourish the planet and all life around us and in time, develop sustainable methods of evolution that works to the benefit of all life. That is real progress. That is real education.
Join me Monday where I will be on the panel on For The Love of Learning – Voices of the Alternative Education Movement together with Brandon Hay and Zak Slavback, hosted by Lainie Liberti. It will be one heck of a show where we will discuss life-long learning, digital learning in the 21. Century and how we as individuals can we make conscious choices to continue to grow, evolve and meet the needs of a changing world as a life long pursuit.
The show airs at 8 pm EST on Monday and for European night owls we go live at 1 am BST.
You cannot force someone to learn. You can threaten them, you can punish them, you can force them to sit still and listen (or pretend to listen), but you cannot force them to learn.
No one can be forced to learn.
Why is it then, that our entire schooling system and the strategies with which most parents raise their children are based on the very premise that children can be forced to learn?
How many of us have not experienced information being forced upon us through threats of punishment?
I am sure most of us remember times when we were children where our parents or other adults tried to force us to learn. We would make a mistake, either innocently or due to doing something we knew we shouldn’t do and they would scold us or even berate us and they would devise punishments to teach us about the consequences of our actions.
What did we learn?
We learned how to hide our mistakes, to pretend like they did not happen and we learned how to lie better to avoid that experience of being scolded, even to ourselves. We learned that when we make mistakes, our parents and other adults gets angry with us, that it is us who are wrong, that there is something wrong with us – not with the actions we took. Very seldom would parents or other adults take the time to actually support us to understand the course of actions that created the mistake in the first place and how to prevent them in the future.
Learning is something that happens on an internal level and no matter how much outside force is exerted, if the person is unwilling or unable to learn, they will not learn. They might be able to copy behaviors or become good at pretending that they’ve learned – but real learning can only happen if the person takes the information in and makes it a part of him or herself.
What does it mean to make information a part of ourselves?
When we make information a part of ourselves, we come to understand it on an intrinsic and internal level, where we integrate it as a part of who we are. We can only do that when we see a purpose with learning that information, when learning that information is relevant to us and the context we are in.
When information is being stuffed down our throats, often without reasonable explanation, how much do we actually learn?
How many of us remember even a fraction of what we learned in school or even in university? Do we not remember much more about the people, the relationships we formed than the knowledge we were supposed to integrate? Why is that?
“Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much or what is remembered is irrelevant.” – Russell Ackoff
We force children to mimic us, to copy behaviors and to parrot the teacher or parent and we call that learning, but what would if we were to apply a different strategy where learning is seen as a self-directed process happening internally within the child, within which the parent or teacher more than anything stands as a facilitator?
Instead of trying to force children to learn information that is important to us, or that we believe to be relevant while they are off learning things because it matters to them (like how to navigate social hierarchies or getting skilled at playing computer games), we can decide to take on a different role in the child’s learning process.
In a real learning environment adults are no longer superior entities whose role it is to enforce authority, but who instead work with and assist the child to navigate, assess, sort and reflect on information, to discover what is meaningful to them.
Real learning requires more than the passive corporation of the child, student or participant – it requires a self-directed will to learn where the information has meaning and purpose to the one who learns it.
If we cannot force a child to learn, we also cannot take responsibility (or credit) for a child’s learning process. What we can do instead is to provide the child with an optimum environment and space for learning where information is available, where there is time and resources to delve into subjects on a deeper and more substantial level. We can assist them to make meaning of what they see, read and hear and help them to contextualize what they see, read and hear to their own lives and the life we collectively share.
There is good news and there is bad news in all of this.
The bad news is that our school systems and most parenting strategies are based on the idea that learning is something that can be forced, that children can (and even should) be intimidated into learning. This means that real learning most often happens outside of school and outside the iron grip of parenting and it means that children (and everyone else) aren’t learning a fraction of what they could be learning.
The good news is that realizing that learning cannot be forced actually gives children a point of power that we seldom realize (or admit) that they have.
This also means that we cannot decide what a child learns and more importantly, we have to admit that we never could.
It also means that there are no leaders or followers in these Hunger Games that we call schooling – and the question we must ask ourselves is whether we even need schools or teachers for that matter, if education was always in the hands of the individual, to decide and direct themselves to either learn or not?
I regularly publish momentary reflections to my Facebook wall; reflections that emerge in moments of inspiration and often in passing while visiting a school or during late night philosophizing. I will start sharing them here so as to gather a body of reflections aimed at sparking discussion and inspiration when it comes to education.
Here are a few of my reflections from 2015:
We each have our own Superpower
“I am certain that all plants have their own unique ‘medicinal’ or ‘extraordinary’ qualities. For some plants this quality is located in the root, for others it is in the flower or in the seed. With some plants you can only extract this ‘extraordinary’ quality by cooking the plant, whereas others must be ingested raw. Some only work on animals, others only on other plants. Some work best when they remain in the ground. That is where they best express their unique quality. It is the same with human beings. We all have an ‘extraordinary’ unique quality, our own ‘superpower’ if you will, but this can only be discovered and ‘extracted’ in the right environment where it is nurtured and supported to grow and develop. This is why education must be individualized and suited to each person’s unique talents and skills. Some learn faster, others slow. Some prefer physical work, others are great with numbers. With a one-size-fits-all school system, we miss out on these ‘superpowers’ and we prevent the world from becoming what it can become; a place that is best for all. We call it ‘equality’ but it is not. It is the idea that everyone should be the same. But we are not. Real equality is to see and nurture each person’s individual expression as equally valuable.”
Working with Passion
“If you are able to make your passion your source of income, go for it. If there’s a possibility of turning it into a source of income in the future, go for it. If you can’t, do it whenever you have time. However – there is also something to be said about the fact that most of us do work that does not allow our full potential, our passion to come into fruition. So let’s also contribute, in whatever way we can, each at our best, to changing the system so that we may create a world where work and income is not tied together – where work is about sharing, contributing, expressing your passion and your potential. This is why I support a Living Income Guaranteed by Equal Life Foundation”
School as a ‘House of Horrors’
“Japan has suicide rates 60 % higher than other countries and among these numbers, many are students. When our school systems are so mentally and physically straining due to the pressure and brutality it consists of, that young people would rather kill themselves than continue on studying – isn’t it about time we ask ourselves what the purpose with schooling really is? Is it such a daunting idea to consider that maybe, just maybe there is another way to educate our young, to not send them through the same ‘house of horrors’ that we’ve been through during our schooling years? Isn’t it possible that maybe they will turn out different from us – more adept at handling a world in peril? Are we really so scared of admitting that what the school system has taught us wasn’t all that fantastic and didn’t turn us into all that we could be?”
When a Phoenix Rises from the Ashes
“There is nothing I enjoy more than working with someone who is struggling and perhaps feeling a lack of confidence and wanting to give up, who then rises like a phoenix from the ashes and pulls through, bursting through the walls of limitation that they’ve set up for themselves, out on the other side, laughing as they surprise themselves in realizing that they were capable of doing so much more than they thought they were capable of.”
Harnessing Your Unique Potential
“There are so many people in this world that knows how to do something really well, either naturally or through practice; things that they can do for hours on end, that they enjoy perfecting simply because they enjoy the process of creating something and seeing it manifest, things that others rarely see or even know about. Often these things are looked down upon by others or by society at large; the farmer that has perfected his skills of making butter, a grandmother that knits, a young man that plays computer games as though he was conducting a symphony. What all of these people share is passion; the passion to create, to contribute, to share. If all of us got to contribute to this world with that we are most passionate about, if we supported one another in developing these passions and valued each other, imagine what an amazing world we could create; a world full of wonder, a world with perfectly crafted tools and ornaments, crafted from passion. That is a world I would like to live in. What is your passion? What passions have you considered to be ‘too small’, ‘too meaningless’ for others to value? What can you do to grow and develop it?”
It is not about ‘getting it right’
“The most supportive adults to a child are those who listen and embrace the child unconditionally. These are adults who facilitate a dynamic space for mutual learning rather than enforcing a static one. That is where learning can happen exponentially, because the focus is on learning itself, not on ‘getting it right’ or ‘NOT getting it wrong.’ The same can be said when it comes to self-change.”
The Imperative of Deschooling
“It is a travesty when we as parents mistake spite, ridicule and abuse for education. But is that not what the system has taught us in how we were raised ourselves? #Deschooling is an imperative process for all prospecting parents if we are serious about leaving a different world behind for our children than the one we came into. #guerrillateacher #UnschoolingTheSchoolSystem”
A Discussion about Education
“Today I talked to an older teacher who has decided to quit teaching all together. She is an amazing teacher but honestly admitted that she’s had enough. There are too many students in the classroom, too much bureaucracy – she can’t do the job she loves. At another school the new young teachers were nervous because they don’t know if they have a job next term. This is how it is every year. And the students? They have to get used to new teachers yet again, sometimes several times per term as well as being taught regularly by temps without teaching certificates. This is an unsustainable and unacceptable situation and I encourage more teachers to stand up and speak up – not just to ‘improve the situation’ but to start a discussion about what education and teaching is, and should be to be optimal and expansive for everyone involved. ”
“We teach kids to ‘say sorry’, we scold them so that they will feel bad about what they have done and identify themselves as ‘being bad’ in situations where they make mistakes or deliberately act out in self-interest or harm others. We do not teach them to understand cause and effect, to understand the sequence of events (inside and out) that lead up to the point of making the mistake or doing something deliberate that caused harm to another. What do they learn from this? Certainly not how to take responsibility for themselves or their actions.”
The Voice Within
“Inside of all of us there is a voice of sorts, not a strange or alien voice but a voice of truth, of depth, of sound. You could say it is the sound of our being. This voice is what comes through when we stand up for our integrity in moments where we risk ridicule or rejection. It is the voice that comes through when we dare to be fully honest with ourselves and admit the things about ourselves that we’d preferred to keep hidden. At first it may be like a whisper, barely audible. We’re not even sure if it is there or if it is even a part of us. As we strengthen it, for example through writing and through connecting with our bodies, it gains more substance, more depth and we start being able to at first hear it more and recognize that it is there. Ultimately the sound of our being that at first seemed detached from us, is the voice of our being. It is not something magical, religious or even spiritual. It is simply what was Here all along, as the potential of who we are and can become underneath the static noise of the mind. And when we speak with the voice of our being, others are able to hear as well. There is a fundamental recognition of substance in hearing another speak from the depths of their being – whether still muffled or slightly out of tune; it is undeniably Here.”
Learning from A Child
“It is interesting because it is as though we expect so much more from children than what we do from ourselves. We want them to be respectful, honest, open, corporative, generous and empathic, as though that is the standard of the principles upon which this world functions. But we all know that this is not so. And by teaching children that it is so, we are feeding them a lie. We are teaching them to live on a lie and in an illusion. It is no wonder that the world is in the state it is in when this is the example that we set forth, ambiguous at best and at worst, outright deceptive.”
The Pattern Breaker
“We have an expression in Danish that, translated to English means “Pattern Breaker”. Pattern-breakers are people who, for example come from Illiterate families and who against all odds have been able to break through the glass ceiling of their social class and go to college. Studies have shown that in most pattern-breakers lives there has been one or two significant adults who in their childhood believed in them and their potential – who supported them to break out of their predetermined life-path of social inequality. Imagine if every child had the support of such an adult. Imagine the potential that goes unnoticed and that is wasted because we do not see the potential that is within every child. Imagine how different the world would be if we would all break the patterns of our past and start living our true potential. #unschoolingtheschoolsystem #Guerillateacher”
A discourse of paranoia is slowly but surely creeping into the core of our education systems and if you are a parent who has a child in school, you will know that education today is not what it was, even 10 or 20 years ago.
One of the main culprits of the discourse of paranoia, is the increase of comparative testing of children’s’ cognitive development, especially when it comes to reading, writing and math.
This increase in standardized testing is spearheaded by a private global interest organization called the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) who runs a program called PISA (Program For International Student Assessment).
The OECD has with its PISA program become one of the most influential organizations when it comes to setting the agenda for the future of education, and they are rapidly working towards standardizing the world’s school systems into one streamlined model with a singular aim of optimizing profits.
So why is a private economic interest organization having such a significant influence on school systems all over the world?
In mere 20 years the OECD has become one of the world’s leading forces with regards to affecting education policies and currently, more than 70 countries solicits OECD to test its students through international comparative tests and accordingly give ‘expert advice’ based on the results of these test on how each country can optimize its education system.
It is for example based on results from the PISA tests that Finland’s education system was glorified and appraised and it is because of their high rankings in PISA that South Korea and Singapore currently are seen as having some of the best education systems in the world.
In previous articles I have discussed standardized testing from a critical perspective when it comes to the effect it has on children on a psychological level as well as on teachers, but also in regards to it being symptomatic of a development towards global competition and market capitalism.
In this post I will therefore rather present a critical perspective on the subtle way in which an economic organization has penetrated the very fabric of our education systems in ubiquitous ways that seems to go unnoticed by most – and this includes parents and teachers but also local governments.
There are two ways in which OECD with PISA is slowly but surely monopolizing educational policy:
The first is the seemingly innocuous ways in which our education systems are changing through the ways standardized testing are affecting schools and curricular all over the world on a rather ubiquitous level.
The other is how OECD with PISA is acting as a global overseer of quality in education with which it penetrates the education system to further a specific economic and ideological agenda. Countries are literally basing educational reforms on directions from OECD, in some countries with what some would call devastating effects. More on this later.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the first:
The fact of the matter is that standardized testing is not simply a ‘tool’ as the OECD presents it, which is used to optimize the quality of our education systems. It is in itself changing the way education is carried out, addressed and seen.
It is not a passive tool for measuring the quality of education at a school because it requires students active participation and at many schools the result of PISA and other tests are included as part of the students final grading. Teachers have to change their curricular to ‘teach to the test’ and local budgets are set based on competitive results between schools in the same area.
This is not simply adding an innocuous tool which only effect it is to optimize the equality of education – it is pervasive in nature and it is changing our education systems more rapidly than we realize.
This is seen no more than in how students experience having to take one standardized test after another. One of my 7th grade students for example experiences perpetual stress over having to do tests close to every week. She is a young bring woman with an immense drive and creative ambition. She wants to become a movie director and often sits at home writing long scripts. She is even working on a novel. One time she mentioned to me that they had been learning about the ancient Mesopotamia in a history class. To me that sounded like a fascinating subject and I asked her with excitement what she had learned. “I’m not really sure,” she said. “The teacher is moving so fast through the curriculum pushing us towards the test so it is difficult to keep up.”
This is coming from a bright and intelligent young woman who still has an immense curiosity and interest for learning. How much learning potential is not wasted when students are rushed through a curriculum only to get to a test at the end?
Another tragic example of the effects that standardized testing has on students can be seen on the American art teacher Mrs. Chang’s blog. She gave her 10 – 12th grade students the task to illustrate how they felt about taking tests. You can see the outcome of that project for yourself here.
In 1998, Noel Wilson, a scholar from the Flinders University of South Australia wrote a paper in the journal EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS titled Educational Standards and the Problem of Error on the devastating effects that standardized testing has on students that is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. A summarized and updated version was added by someone called Duane Swacker in the comment section of this article which I also recommend reading in relation to a critical perspective on PISA.
In it, Wilson criticizes the entire notion of standardized testing in schools and asks:
“So what does a test measure in our world? It measures what the person with the power to pay for the test says it measures. And the person who sets the test will name the test what the person who pays for the test wants the test to be named.
So the mark [grade/test score] becomes part of the story about yourself and with sufficient repetitions becomes true: true because those who know, those in authority, say it is true; true because the society in which you live legitimates this authority; true because your cultural habitus makes it difficult for you to perceive, conceive and integrate those aspects of your experience that contradict the story; true because in acting out your story, which now includes the mark and its meaning, the social truth that created it is confirmed; true because if your mark is high you are consistently rewarded, so that your voice becomes a voice of authority in the power-knowledge discourses that reproduce the structure that helped to produce you; true because if your mark is low your voice becomes muted and confirms your lower position in the social hierarchy; true finally because that success or failure confirms that mark that implicitly predicted the now self-evident consequences. And so the circle is complete.”
Paraphrasing Wilson on the epistemological error of the notion of testing, Swacker writes:
“A quality cannot be quantified. Quantity is a sub-category of quality. It is illogical to judge/assess a whole category by only a part (sub-category) of the whole. The assessment is, by definition, lacking in the sense that “assessments are always of multidimensional qualities. To quantify them as one dimensional quantities (numbers or grades) is to perpetuate a fundamental logical error” (per Wilson). The teaching and learning process falls in the logical realm of aesthetics/qualities of human interactions. In attempting to quantify educational standards and standardized testing we are lacking much information about said interactions.
A major epistemological mistake is that we attach, with great importance, the “score” of the student, not only onto the student but also, by extension, the teacher, school and district. Any description of a testing event is only a description of an interaction, that of the student and the testing device at a given time and place.
The whole process harms many students as the social rewards for some are not available to others who “don’t make the grade (sic)” Should American public education have the function of sorting and separating students so that some may receive greater benefits than others, especially considering that the sorting and separating devices, educational standards and standardized testing, are so flawed not only in concept but in execution?”
It is indeed highly problematic that testing is seen as a benevolent tool to improve and optimize education, when it in fact appears to have an oppressing effect on students subjected to it.
The question is then whether this oppressing cookie-cutter effect of standardized testing is an innocuous but problematic side effect of a benevolent project regarding educational reforms or whether it is actually part of a much more sinister agenda to propagate a certain mindset in students graduating from schools around the world?
One of the most revered critiques of OCED and PISA is professor Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon.
”was designed to capitalize on the intense nationalistic concern for global competitiveness by inducing strong emotional responses from the unsuspecting public, gullible politicians, and sensation-seeking media. Virtually all PISA products, particularly its signature product—the league tables, are intended to show winners and losers, in not only educational policies and practices of the past, but more important, in capacity for global competition in the future.
While this approach has made PISA an extremely successful global enterprise, it has misled the world down a path of self-destruction, resulting in irrational policies and practices that are more likely to squander precious resources and opportunities than enhancing capacity for future prosperity.”
Zhao criticizes the PISA program for measuring the quality of education purely based on academic achievements, entirely leaving out and disregarding socioeconomic facts as well as the psychosocial well being of students. I have discussed this in a previous article where I mentioned how countries such as South Korea might score high on the PISA tests, but they also have some of the highest suicide rates amongst students – and the question is then whether that is an education system that is worth modeling?
In his closing statement of the article Zhao argues that:
“Until OECD-PISA became the only employer in the world with PISA scores as the only qualification, I would not suggest lawyers and doctors in the U.S., U.K., or any nation to replace your children’s activities in music, arts, sports, dancing, debates, and field trips with math tutoring. For the same reason, it is not time yet for schools in developed countries to close your swimming pools, burn your musical instruments, end museums visits, or fire your art teachers.”
In an 2014 article for the UK-based TES (Times Educational Supplement) newspaper titled “Is Pisa fundamentally flawed?” Educational reporter William Stewart outlined the scope of influence that the OECD has gotten over the past decade: ”Politicians worldwide, such as England’s education secretary Michael Gove, have based their case for sweeping, controversial reforms on the fact that their countries’ Pisa rankings have “plummeted”. Meanwhile, top-ranked success stories such as Finland have become international bywords for educational excellence, with other ambitious countries queuing up to see how they have managed it.”
Like Zhao, Stewart argues that measuring educational quality based on results from PISA is flawed. He argues that the tests are not based on common results but on different results from different students and that this creates highly fluctuating results from country to country and even within the same country, despite the OECD’s claim that PISA is one of the most accurately tools for measuring the quality of education. Stewart argues that it is absurd to expect that 50 countries with widely different cultures can be expected to fit into a one-size-fits-all measurement of educational quality and that the tests may therefore potentially be culturally biased.
So how has a private economic interest organization like OECD within the span of a decade managed to influence the course of national education policies on a global level?
In the past 20-30 years a discourse of global competition has become ubiquitously part of the conversation in media and in political sphere. Global competition for profit and resources (where knowledge is one of the most valuable assets a country can mine), is seen as a natural outflow of the processes of globalization and it is in that discourse that the OECD positions itself within and from which it gains its self-proclaimed relevance. PISA is presented as a tool that governments can (and must) use to optimize their educational policies to not fall back in the global competition.
The question is whether the OECD is doing that in fact or whether they, with PISA are adding gasoline to the fire to further their own agenda, specifically through generating panic and paranoia amongst member countries who feverishly fight tooth and nail to not be at the bottom of the ranks.
When Sweden, a country who otherwise prided itself of having one of the world’s best education systems, keep dropping in the PISA results year after year, it begs the question of whether PISA is doing more good than harm. Students are becoming increasingly more stressed and meanwhile politicians are acting as lapdogs for the OECD, following their every decree, to do whatever it takes to not fall back and risk being losers in this global game of thrones.
It seems as though the increased focus on global competition in our education systems has done nothing but decrease the actual quality of education, which is in itself an irony of massive proportions. It seems as though an undercurrent of paranoia based on an ethos of ‘survival of the fittest’ is governing our education systems and the question is: who stands to gain from a system that is set up to make students fail, despite getting an education?
I leave you with this analogy that may serve as a precautionary tale, to not let organizations like the OECD dictate the future of education based on paranoia.
In the classic 1954 book about survival and human nature, Lord of the flies, Jack (leader of the choir boys) convinces the other boys that there is a monster on the island and he soon spreads paranoia to gain power over the tribe. The boys vehemently start hunting the monster. Later, in a vision, another boy called Simon realizes that the monster is not real and that the boys have created the monster as a figment of their own imagination through the intoxication of fear. Jack and his followers kill Simon before they eventually burn down the entire island and destroy what little community was left.
Education is about learning how to navigate the world in the most effective way, to live together and to take care of the world and each other in the best way possible. Education is about learning from those who came before us, both from their experiences and examples, but also from their mistakes. Education is about developing and living one’s utmost potential so as to best contribute to a world that is best for all, and so for oneself. This is not the type of education that is promoted neither by the OECD, nor by our countries officials when they so desperately follow the OECD’s recommendations without questioning its political agenda.
If we are not interested in an education system designed by a private economic interest organization, whose goal it seems to be to increase paranoia to encourage competition – it is important that we come up with sound alternatives; alternatives such as the democratic (Sudbury) schools that are emerging all over the world, alternatives such as unschooling that questions the very notion of schooling and its capacity to true education our children. At the very least, we ought to question the starting-point with which we send our children to school: is it to teach them to compete and survive in a global version of Lord of the Flies or is it to become the best people they can possibly be, so that they may leave a world that is better than the one they came into?
John Taylor Gatto is one of the big points of inspiration for my work as a teacher and as an unschooling advocate. His Greatest history lesson completely changed the way that I saw the history of education.
I’ve written several blog-posts inspired by Gatto’s work. You can read one of them here.
Recently I asked John Taylor Gatto a question on his website. Here is his answer below.
I am a teacher working in a country where homeschooling is illegal. Moreover, it is a country where parents have a lot of faith in the education system, so much so that they often prefer not (or do not dare) getting involved.
I therefore work to introduce unschooling principles in my teaching––and I have seen tremendous changes both with my students and myself. I would like to share what I have found with other teachers, because I have realized that changing how one teacher teaches can make a tremendous impact on many children, exactly as you have shown yourself.
Changing the education system––and ultimately deconstructing it requires both systemic and political initiatives which require a big group of people who have seen the detriment of the current education system. I am not interested in disengaging with the system, but am instead committed to changing it from within. It is however a fine line––because one has to basically “be in the system but not of the system”––to be able to participate with it, while dismantling it at the same time.
Do you have any perspectives on this and how to go about it, specifically when it comes to supporting fellow teachers, who might instinctively know that there is something wrong, but who are dumbed and numbed by the very same system they represent?
Sincerely, with much gratitude and a commitment to keep walking and sharing your words, as they become mine and may grow beyond me as they grew beyond you.
You speak wisdom: to change the system from within, you need to be in the system (not threatening the jobs or peace of mind of your co-workers who accept the system) but not of the system. It’s a fine line to walk, but I did just that for over 20 years, so let me share my method––there may be other ways, but this is what worked for me.
I began by analyzing what the school big shots, and my fellow teachers, FEARED about using the “unschooling principles” (as you call them), when as you and I know, they produce better results and happier, more interested, involved students, so everyone––teachers and school institutions, too––benefits by using them. Opposition doesn’t appear to make sense, and once I tried to look at it from my opponent’s point-of-view the answer was immediately clear.
What they feared was being made to look so bad they would be fired, disgraced, or humiliated in front of the kids. So I circumvented those fears by determining––in selecting productive products around which to build curriculum––how to avoid taking credit for my successes, to avoid doing the “star” turn of self-congratulation and to 1) give credit for notable accomplishments to others, usually, for political reasons, to school administrators, and 2) to invite other teachers, wholly or in part, to participate in our project learning.
For a period in the 1970s, New York parks were being overrun with an invasive plant species from overseas called Japanese knotweed, which the Parks Department could not control because it couldn’t afford to uproot it, and when uprooted what was to be done to the piles of useless, now dead vegetation, and how was the disturbed soil to be restored?
Our school district had a large Oriental population and a little research showed me that in Japan many recipes exist for using knotweed as a useful vegetable or base for sweet jelly, so our “problem ” was a by-product of our own ignorance; populations existed––even in our own neighborhood––for whom knotweed wasn’t a problem, but a food!
Our job was an engineering challenge: to establish willing recipients of the weed, then to uproot it and transport it to the eaters, which we did in Riverside Park along the Hudson River between 72nd Street and 79th Street in Manhattan, harvesting 300 30-gallon bags of the stuff over a one week period at a location a mere 10 minute walk from the school, doing a valuable service for the City and neighborhood while learning in a range of areas.
We recruited “wild man” Steve Brill, a wild foods expert, to teach us that in the same area a dozen more free, tasty, nutritious edibles grew in abundance (my favorite was wild scallions and gingko nuts, raising the socio-political question why knowledge of this free bounty wasn’t taught to everyone today, as it had been prior to WWI?
Answer: Commercial food merchants protested the unwanted competition through their political representatives, raising the further questions of what other areas had such unseen influence at work and how exactly did such pressure get organized and applied?
Then, our knotweed exercise inspired rhetorical work in public speaking––as student teams traveled to other schools in our district, to daycare centers, and senior facilities lecturing on the edible weeds among us.
Plus, they were writing manuals about preparing wild food with a few illustrated line drawings for distribution, learning to write press releases to cause commercial media to resonate their work in published form, creating references for applications, such as college scholarship applications––from one of these, even the New York Times mentioned our knotweed work, and printed one of our recipes.
Our biggest such project was to launch a weekend flea market in our schoolyard 30 years ago––one still open––that earns the school over 100,000 dollars a year from table fees, and provides the neighborhood with an inexpensive source of fresh vegetables from nearby farms, inexpensive basic clothing (socks, jeans, underwear, etc.), part-time work for students and chances to launch small businesses for school parents and their children.
If curious, it’s called “The I.S.44 Weekend Market” and it’s located between West 76th and West 77th streets on Columbus Avenue and was designed and established by my students as an academic project with the priceless political help of my wife, Janet MacAdam Gatto, who at the time was Treasurer of School District Three (Manhattan) Community school board, who worked tirelessly to turn back political opposition to this spectacular project which benefited the entire community and provided exciting raw text for English, math, science and social studies lessons.
On a once-barren concrete playground, it was transformed by hard work and astute imagination into a school bonanza––in which monies were made available to all teachers for private classroom projects, and for which we turned over all credit to school administrators and to the entire Parents Association.
I hope this helps answer your question on how to marry systemic and political initiatives while transforming institutional schooling with unschooling principles––aim to ADD VALUE to ALL: citizens, fellow teachers, bureaucrats, students and yourselves by re-orienting your own perspective profoundly––do that and you will discover that the many you help WILL NOT ALLOW mischief-makers to shut you down… OK?
Love and hugs,
John Taylor Gatto
P.S. Doing this transformed my own life. Check out Animus High School in Durango, Colorado, where the entire school in a Rocky Mountain setting is attended by brilliant project learners and internships for hundreds more ideas how to function this way. It is within anyone’s reach, takes no money, only courage, and results, as Anna B. implies, are substantial.”
Please support John and his wife Janet who are both currently suffering from the aftermath of having strokes by donating to them here.
Re-Educate yourself here:
The Ultimate History Lesson with John Taylor Gatto:
I am a teacher who writes about education and although this post is not about education, it does (as all things do) eventually come back to the question of education and in this case: parenting – and whether your choices as a parent, are indeed YOUR choices.
Debating your choices as a parent ought to be a source of empowerment, not disempowerment or disenfranchisement – and that is what I aim to show with this post.
Around this time a year the social media sphere fills up with posts for Mother’s Day. There is nothing strange about that, unless you consider the fact that it is a holiday that is (as most holidays are) created for purposes of profit, masked as a declaration of love and care of mothers.
A few weeks ago one of these posts caught my eye as I was going through the daily stream of information on my Facebook feed. Someone had posted an image with a text that said:
“Dear Strangers. My Choices as a Mother are not open for Debate. Love, Mothers Everywhere.”
As I was reading this statement, I started reflecting on what it means to make choices as a parent and why these choices are not exactly open for debate. I was planning on writing a post about how we, in our society tend to see ourselves as parents as the ‘owners’ of our children and how this approach to raising children is a fundamental cause of child abuse and neglect in this world. But as I continued to investigate the topic, a Pandora’s box of cognitive disinformation started unraveling before my eyes and I soon found myself digging into a ‘rabbit hole’ of global proportions.
Here is what I found:
After having read the statement, I decided to do a simple Google search to see if I could find any additional information. I wanted to see where the statement originated and who had originally written the statement. As I copy/pasted the statement into the search engine I was surprised to see how many hits came up. One of them in caught my eye, particularly because of its opening statement:
“This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Walmart. All opinions are 100% mine.”
At the end of the blog post another reference is made, this time directly to a specific brand sold by Walmart:
This made me curious and I started wondering whether it was all part of a clever marketing scheme?
I decided to investigate Parent’s Choice to see if I could find a link between the brand and the initial statement I had seen on Facebook. I did not find any direct links, but instead I found something else entirely, something much darker and sinister than I could have ever imagined.
Parent’s Choice formula is a line of products, exclusively sold at Walmarts, targeting working class families with cheap diapers and baby formula as part of their range. The company claims to offer safe baby formula that is up to standards with the FDA. On a segment on their website on why breast feeding is the superior choice, Parent’s Choice ironically claim that 85 % of all women who uses baby formula. They write:
“Bottom line: we believe you should breastfeed and consult with your physician on the right choice for you. After all, it’s a parent’s choice.”
The question is: is it really?
Parent’s Choice is manufactured by a company called Wyeth pharmaceuticals, a company that previously was known as American Home and that under that name in 1997 was involved with a huge scandal involving diet pills called fen-phen, in which they spent billions of dollars settling with patients who claimed that the pills had damaged their hearts. (See this article from Medicinenet for specific details about this case.) After the scandal, American home changed their name to Wyeth pharmaceuticals.
The plot thickens
According to this article from the critical radio show Ring of Fire, hosted amongst others by Robert Kennedy Jr., Wyeth pharmaceuticals has been charged several times for amongst other things, illegal marketing of their products which they allegedly paid over 490 million dollars to settle. According to the article, Wyeth has also been accused of taking advantages of gaps in the FDA’s regulations so as to aggressively market medicine that hasn’t been subject to sufficient testing.
Another article from the non-profit research group The Population Research Institute describes how Wyeth in another case, were accused of paying doctors with frequent flyer miles to prescribe their products and settled a case paying more than 100.000 dollars.
In 2009 Wyeth merged with Pfizer and in 2012, the infant nutrition division of Pfizer were bought by Nestlé and renamed as Wyeth Nutrition. Based on yearly revenues, Nestlé is the world’s largest food manufacturer and one of the biggest manufacturers of infant nutrition products. As a subsidiary of Nestlé, Wyeth nutrition manufactures baby formula in Canlubang Lagun in the Philippines, although Parent’s Choice is according to their website manufactured in “FDA approved facilities” in the U.S.
Nestlé’s Aggressive Marketing of Synthetic Formula
According to this article on manufactured depopulation from Aware Zone, Nestlé began promoting synthetic formula as early as in the 1880’s. The company’s intent of saving babies who otherwise would be deprived of breast milk seemed sympathetic, but slowly but surely an entire business empire was built on the propaganda apparatus of marketing synthetic formula to women who were otherwise perfectly capable of feeding their babies from breast milk. Massive marketing campaigns were launched, primarily in third world countries convincing women that synthetic formula was a superior alternative to breast milk.
In the 1970’s, a global boycott was issued by several grassroots organizations against Nestlé for an aggressively targeting developing countries to purchase synthetic (primarily cow milk or soy based) baby formula.
According to this article from the website Multinational Monitors, and the papers to which it refers, companies such as Wyeth (a subsidiary of Nestlé) continues to aggressively and falsely market synthetic baby formula and specifically names the following case from the Philippines as an exemplary cautionary tale:
“This was never better demonstrated than in the Philippines, which enacted legislation to control the marketing of certain infant food products in 1986. Soon after the Philippine law was implemented, Nestle and Wyeth-Suaco, the Philippine subsidiary of AHP’s Wyeth, approached members of the Philippine government with a request to exempt their low- birth-weight formulas from the provisions of the law. This product would not be commercially available, but would be donated for those babies who often could not thrive on breastmilk alone, the companies asserted. They brought neonatologists along with them to back up the scientific basis of their request.
Shortly thereafter, the real reason for the companies’ intense lobbying was discovered. Wyeth-Suaco’s marketing director had sent letters to all retailers of Wyeth products announcing the availability of a new special low-birth-weight formula. The letter explained to retailers that the new formula would only be available as a free service to hospital nurseries and that it would boost their sales of standard infant formula because “mothers will surely buy S-26 Standard right after a short stay on LBW, hence, more S-26 sales!”
According to this documentary titled Formula for disaster created by UNICEF Companies and Nestlé in particular continues to aggressively market synthetic formula in the Philippines to this day.
What is most notable is that Nestlé have started targeting industrial countries such as the UK and the U.S and specifically its impoverished citizen groups with its marketing campaigns, suggesting that they are continuing to create new markets by imposing a false demand for synthetic formula through aggressive advertisements.
This is despite the fact that numerous studies (see for example this study from American Society of Microbiology referenced by science daily and this study done by Alison Stuebe that was published in Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2009) have shown that there are direct linkages between consumption of synthetic formula and certain diseases, behavioral issues and allergies and that breast milk is the better choice for most women in general.
So how does Nestlé (and thereby Parent’s Choice) do it?
In 2014 the grassroots organization International Baby Food Action Network published a report in 2014 titled Breaking the Rules, Stretching the Rules that clearly shows how companies such as Nestlé and its subsidiary Wyeth continues to break the code and aggressively target synthetic formula.
On their packaging (see an example here) Nestlé specifically brand their products as ’protecting’ babies, as giving them ’optimal nutrition’ while simultaneously disclosing the fact that breast milk is the preferred option in accordance with the World’s Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
The following is a summary of the report published by the UK chapter of IBFAN
Competition for market share has increased. The profitability and the huge size of the market (USD 41 billion) have promoted a rush of acquisitions, with two global leaders, Nestlé and Danone, in fierce competition. Smaller companies also think they can get away with violating the Code with impunity. Dutch Friesland, Swiss Liptis and German HiPP all promote products without shame.
Social Media are now widely used as a marketing tool. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google+, and free ‘apps’ downloaded by millions, are now effective communication channels to reach mothers with products and ‘advice’ offering endless opportunities for direct interaction with unsuspecting consumers. Bloggers are roped in to endorse products.
Hospitals are still the most effective entry point for companies. New mothers trust health professionals and tend to stick with brands used in hospitals. Company representatives, (‘medical reps’) are trained to persuade doctors to prescribe or recommend their products, by fair or foul means. In 2013, Danone’s Dumex was exposed for bribing 116 doctors and nurses in 85 medical institutions in just one Chinese city alone.
Targeting China. Dozens of companies – large and small – are battling to corner the hugely lucrative Chinese formula market. 20 million babies are born each year and the market is projected to reach an annual turnover of USD 25 billion by 2017. In a sudden crackdown in 2013, six companies were fined USD 108 million for price fixing. Five of them are in this report: Mead-Johnson, Abbott, Danone’s Dumex, Friesland and Fonterra.
Fortified toddler milks, also called ‘Growing-up Milks’ (GUMs) are used by many companies to cross-promote infant formulas and follow-up milks. GUMs have no nutritional advantage over traditional food but aggressive marketing has made them the best-performing market segment. Sales of GUMs rose by almost 17% in 2012, while follow-up formula sales grew by 12%. Asia is the largest market for these products that, although they are unnecessary, now account for one-third of the global milk formula market by value.
Sponsorship on the increase. Companies regularly target doctors, nurses, midwives and nutritionists with free air tickets to conferences in luxury venues, gifts, (such as expensive laptops), lucky draws and the like. The Report shows photo evidence from unexpected corners like UAE, Turkey and Iraq.
Sponsorship of professional associations also up. Companies continue to cuddle up to professional associations in developing countries as well as the West. As an example, at the 20th Congress of the International Union of Nutritional Science, in Spain, 2013, Abbott, Nestlé, Danone, Wyeth, Hero, Mead Johnson and Friesland all paid sponsorship fees ranging from EUR 40,000 to 75,000.
“Closer than ever to breastmilk”. The marketing of formula invariably carries positive messages about breastfeeding, immediately followed by suggestions that the product is ‘almost’ as good. The current trend is to say that the particular formula is “inspired by breastmilk” or “closely mirrors breastmilk”. Wyeth, now owned by Nestle, launched a new product line called Illuma, a “human affinity formula”. Nestlé claims it will ensure that Wyeth meets the FTSE4Good criteria, but those criteria do not meet the minimum set out in the Code and resolutions.
Idealising the product with health and nutrition claims – continues to be a favourite strategy. None of the claims, like “the mostadvanced system of nutrients” or ingredients that protect babies from infection, improve eyesight and intelligence, stand up to scrutiny and all suggest that breastmilk and family foods are somehow lacking.
What are the consequences of the increased consumption of synthetic formula?
Synthetic formula is mostly made from cow’s milk or soy, both of which are ingredients that have been linked to allergies, chronic disease and GMO’s. According to this article by the New York times, Parent’s Choice organic formula for example contains maltodextrin, a synthetic sweetener, which has no nutritional value for anyone, let alone a small child. It is added as a form of carbohydrate, but its primary function is to make the formula taste good. It is no wonder that child obesity is skyrocketing and who knows what other consequences an entire generation (according to Parent’s Choice 85 % of all women) literally raised on synthetic formula has caused.
In conclusion, Walmart markets its synthetic baby formula, manufactured by Wyeth nutrition in the Philippines for Nestlé as ”Parent’s Choice”, as a product that is affordable for low-income households. So after having targeted the poorest third world countries, Nestlé is now going after the most impoverished in the developed countries, the people who are most vulnerable due to lack of education and social security.
Are your choices as a parent YOUR own?
It should be obvious by now that your choices as a mother are not your own. And therefore, your choices should be up for debate. The fact that a company creates a brand called “Parent’s Choice” in an economy where mothers have to leave their newborns to go work at places like Walmart for close to nothing and therefore are unable to breastfeed them, makes the irony complete.
If you happen to be someone who are using or who have used synthetic formula to feed your child, I am not saying this to offend you and I most certainly understand that not all mothers have the option to breastfeed.
Even the fact that a demand for synthetic formula has been created through mothers having to work while having nursing children is a product of this very system, and it doesn’t have to be this way.
I am also pretty sure that most of us have some Nestlé product in our cupboards; they do after all manufacture over 8000 global brands of food, beverages, medicine and cosmetic products.
I am not saying that the solution is to boycott these companies, because the entire idea of empowerment through ‘consumer democracy’ is (unfortunately) yet another example of sophisticated cognitive disinformation where we as slaves of the system are led to believe that we can free ourselves from the shackles of enslavement using the very same shackles to apparently ‘free ourselves’. Because despite the fact that Nestlé was boycotted massively in the 70’s and 80’s they continue to be one of the biggest and most profitable countries in the world, even going as far as privatizing water supply in several parts of the world.
The solution is as always education and here I am talking about real education, which is self-education, exactly as I have demonstrated here through my investigations in this post, which is something that anyone can do, through which one can empower oneself in getting to know and understand a subject in depth as well as disclose any veils of disinformation that may be presented as facts.
The point is that if we do not debate the choices we make (especially as parents) we are left vulnerable and isolated and unable to learn from one another, let alone our own mistakes and this is then what we’ll pass onto our children, thereby perpetuating the kind of disempowerment that we as consumers are exposed to by blindly trusting what companies tell us.
It is thus presumptuous to assume that we as parents instinctively know what is best for our children, especially in a world that is militaristically held in an iron grip by a marketing and propaganda apparatus of enormous proportions forcing its way into the most intimate spaces of our lives.
We must be able to admit that most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have no idea what we are doing or what is best for us in this world. We are all products of the same system where only a handful knows what is actually going on and at every turn there are carefully orchestrated forms of predictive programming ‘guiding’ us to see and interact with the world and each other in a specific way, as we exist only to fulfill an agenda that is to the absolute detriment of all life on the planet, including our own.
It is imperative that we each start educating ourselves and start seeing through the veils of cognitive disinformation, because that is where real empowerment becomes possible. Then you can for example as a mother make a real educated decision about what is best for your baby and yourself.
But it is not about demanding a better system for women. It is not about demanding more information about what ingredients go into the food we feed our children. It is about creating a new foundation for ourselves on this planet, a foundation that is based on equality, on sustainability, on common sense and on absolute transparency.
If we are not willing to debate our choices as parents, we will remain enslaved to accept a system that does nothing but make us sick – and not only that, we will ensure that our children remain enslaved too and thus ultimately that nothing will change on the planet.
So dear mothers, let’s debate your choices. Do not be afraid of admitting that you do not know everything. Learn to see through the veil that is offered to you on a golden platter by the consumerist system. Learn to understand your own psychological trigger points – so that when you make decisions, you do so based on your own common sense and self-honesty and not within an illusion sold to you by a giant corporation, that you have a choice – when the fact is that you don’t. If you want what is best for your child, your choices should always be up for debate.
Changing the world happens through children growing up and seeing the world differently than we do today and thereby start acting differently. They cannot do that if we do not stand as living examples of change, if we do not encourage them to think critically and question their choices. And how can we do that if we are not even willing to question our own?
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams
A couple of weeks ago I walked into a teacher’s lounge where a teacher in his thirties was giving advice to one of the teaching apprentices, a young guy around the age of twenty.
They were talking about a sports class that the young teacher would be giving to a group of 4th graders later that day. The older teacher promptly said to him:
“You’ve got to put them in their place, you’ve got to show them that you are in control. They are like animals, they will do anything to disrupt the class, and you know how kids are, you can’t let that happen. You HAVE TO show them that you are in control – you are the teacher.”
The younger teacher mumbled in agreement and I wondered whether he did in fact agree or whether he was merely accommodating the older teacher’s point of view to not get in trouble.
Now – several dimensions can be addressed and discussed in terms of analyzing the driving forces behind the older teacher’s words, but I will here focus on one in particular:
He was clearly coming from a starting-point of suppressed fear, as though he saw the children as savages who had to be contained to not break out into mutiny.
I imagine that it is similar to the psychological states of the colonizing forces who invaded Africa or India or North America, who believed that their fear was validated by the uncivilized nature of the natives, while in fact the fear came from a deep suppressed understanding that what was being done in the process of colonization was unacceptable on a very existential level – and therefore retaliation was to be expected.
It is tragic to consider how a teacher can be seen as someone reenacting the process of colonization casting the students as barbaric savages and himself as the militant, religious and political force of invastion, but is that not exactly what is being done to our children in schools, through a process of civilizing the wild and unruly nature that is a child?
A couple of days after the incident with the teacher I was visiting a preschool that I teach at. When I came, all the kids were outside and some of them had gathered around the ashes of a bonfire. They were giggling as they painted themselves on their faces and bodies with the leftover coal from the fire. I laughed with them as they explored different characters that they could play out with their painted faces, necks and hands.
At some point, a preschool teacher had seen what they were doing and abruptly marched down with a strict expression on her face. She lifted her right index finger and said to them:
“What on earth are you doing? You KNOW that you are not supposed to do that, will you stop this IMMEDIATELY!”
I could tell by her expression that she wasn’t actually angry or enraged or even indignant. As she marched down to scold them, she assumed the role of the ‘strict teacher’ and is otherwise a woman I know to be lighthearted and warm. So she assumed what she believed to be the ‘appropriate’ response to the children doing something they are not supposed to do, but that I don’t even know if they knew they weren’t supposed to do, or that she within herself disagreed with.
They had not harmed anyone, or themselves. They had not damaged property or deliberately misbehaved. At worst, it would require the teacher to take some time to wash the coal off their faces.. They were simply exploring their own expressions, their senses and their surroundings. This was something that could have been utilized as a stepping-stone for learning about the chemical compounds of coal or a discussion about acting and taking on various masks to change one’s expression. It could have been used to talk about how we utilize resources from nature to create paint. Instead it became a lesson of shame and regret.
After she walked away the kids looked devastated and confused. They had this expression of ‘knowing’ that they had done something wrong, but only because she had told them they had done something wrong – while inside themselves they knew on a deeper level that they were merely exploring and expressing in innocence.
When children are being scolded for expressing themselves, they learn that self-expression is wrong. They start associating self-expressing with fear of being scolded, with shame and regret. They stop expressing themselves. They stop exploring. When these children become adults they may develop social anxieties or fear of speaking in public. They may develop depression or eating disorders or have low self-esteem because the belief that there is something wrong with the core of their being, lingers like a perpetual dark cloud.
It is a shame that teachers believe that they must assume a role of being strict authoritarians to be able to educate children and it is an even bigger shame that they by doing so, teachers become nothing but lackeys for a system that has no interest in supporting the development of creative, whole, expressive human beings.
What must be understood is that we cannot as adults inspire children to grow and develop into their utmost potential, if we are not inspired ourselves. We cannot expect them to be open and honest if we ourselves carry a shadow of secrecy within our own lives. If we want transparency and trust and respect, we have to give it, but even more so, we have to live it.
It is conceited to believe that simply because we are adults and have more experience being in this world, we will automatically stand as examples of what it means to be an effective human being in this world.
Being an effective teacher or a parent for that matter requires constant self-reflection and self-evaluation and we must dare to expose our own weaknesses and mistakes so that we may be able to learn from them, work through them and take responsibility for them, so as to truly stand as examples for our children and the students we teach.
This is not an easy task. It requires courage to admit that we are not perfect; that we do not have it all figured out, that there are sides to us that are counterproductive and small-minded. But until we start facing and dealing with those aspects of ourselves, we cannot expect children to be anything more than the examples we show them.
It is interesting because it is as though we expect so much more from children than what we do from ourselves. We want them to be respectful, honest, open, corporative, generous and empathic, as though that is the standard of the principles upon which this world functions. But we all know that this is not so. And by teaching children that it is so, we are feeding them a lie. We are teaching them to live on a lie and in an illusion. It is no wonder that the world is in the state it is in when this is the example that we set forth, ambiguous at best and at worst, outright deceptive.
As a teacher working with towards implementing progressive solutions in the education system, I am particularly interested in dismantling the traditional student/teacher dynamics. I refuse to stand as a proxy for the colonizing powers of adulthood and instead celebrate the wild nature of each child.
To do that, I must first do it for myself. I must become my own teacher, because it is only that which I have developed in myself as a clear and authentic expression that I will be able to share with others. As the saying goes: children do not do what we say, they do what we do whether we like it or not. If we want them to do differently, we have to start with ourselves.
“After school, kids are devouring new information, concepts, and skills every day, and, like it or not, they’re doing it controller in hand, plastered to the TV. The fact is, when kids play videogames they can experience a much more powerful form of learning than when they’re in the classroom. Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts. It’s about connecting and manipulating them. Doubt it? Just ask anyone who’s beaten Legend of Zelda or solved Morrowind.”
– James Paul Gee, Professor of literary studies, Arizona State University
I don’t play computer games. I find them to be too loud and too intense. So I don’t play. As a child I did play some games from start to finish but it was never something that I got hooked on. I played Candy Crush for about three months until I got tired of it. Then I deleted it from my phone.
This does however not mean that I cannot understand or appreciate why others play computer games. In fact, I have spent a good amount of the past couple of months exploring the world of game development and gaming in general. I have watched some amazing films documenting the resilience and genius creativity of game developers such as the documentary Indie Game: The Movie and two TED talks, one titled Gaming to Re-Engage Boys in Learning and another that inspired me greatly with game developer Jane McGonigal titled Gaming can make a better world. I have furthermore talked at length with my students about their favorite games and it taught me a lot about gaming. For example: Minecraft is the number one game among my younger students and one of my first grade students recently explained to me why it is so popular.
He said: “Anna, do you know why Minecraft is so fantastic!?”
“No” I replied.
“Because everything is square!” He said.
So there you have it, the mystery of why kids love Minecraft: solved.
The way I see it, because computer games happens to be the number one interest of my students, I have an obligation to honor and explore that interest with them – to latch onto their journey through life and through that assist and support them in any way possible to grow and expand, even if that growth and expansion takes them far beyond my comfort zone or realm of knowledge.
So I am not writing this to advocate why gaming belongs in the education system. There has been written thousands of reports and papers and articles about that, including the previous post I wrote on the matter.
In this post I will focus on the point of how we as teachers and parents can promote an educational environment of self-directed learning, where we as adults stands as catalysts and facilitators rather than as someone who is blocking learning opportunities because they do not fit into our preconceived ideas about education. I will do that through sharing an example from my work with gaming in class.
Ever since I started working as a teacher, I have tried to find ways to engage my older students (ages 11-15) to no avail. I have come to realize that they in many cases have been in the school system for so long that the school system in many respects have managed to ‘lobotomize’ them to the point where they will either go with the motions of daily school life in a zombified state or they will assume a position of reluctance and defiant apathy towards anything that is presented to them by the school system. They are not there because they want to be but because they have to be. Learning is not something they do to expand their horizons but because it is expected of them.
It has been a challenge to find a way to make learning authentic for them, as I to them am seen as yet another adult who does not understand what they are going through or what their life is like, but who nonetheless tell them what they need to know and when and why they need to know it.
When I embarked on the journey of using gaming in my work as a teacher, I had no idea just how far I would be able to reach the students through opening myself up to their interests. I had no idea that they had so many resources, so much passion and lust for learning – and that is in itself a disturbing fact.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the initial lesson plan was developed my one of my colleagues and I found his idea to use gaming to be so inspirational that I immediately took it, ran with it and developed it further.
In the previous post I described the projects I did with the younger students where we worked on developing board games inspired by computer games. With the older students however (ages 11 – 15) we embarked on a journey where the students created their own fantasy computer games. They got the task of coming up with an idea to a computer game where they were to write out a script describing the game environment, the characters and the background story.
We had a lot of fun talking about computer games, game music and game development and the students would share with me what games they played and what they liked about them. We talked about how their parents did not like them playing as much and they would share how much they learn from playing the games. What was interesting was that even though we did not actually play any games in class (we did look at trailers from games), and even though the students primarily had to write – they were more engaged than ever.
We also started playing with the idea of having their games produced as real computer games. We talked about how long that would take as several of the students asked if we could do it for real. I explained to them that it most likely takes several years (with the proper training) to create a computer game.
Then I had an idea: what if we got a hold of a game developer who could review the students’ games?
I searched online and within a matter of days I found a game developer who was more than happy to participate, having been a gamer himself and understanding the value of gaming in education. We set up a date where he was going to come to speak to the students and I told them that I was going to share their games with him and that we was going to come and review them. Knowing that a real game developer would look at their work completely changed their production process.
What they created was amazing.
All the students were engaged in their games and a fifth grade student who normally does not do any homework (in any class) would send me his scripts and not only that; he would edit them two or three times and send me the updated versions without in any way being prompted to do so by me.
Another student, a seventh grader who suffers from a learning disability and because of that normally only write a few sentences, wrote an entire page. At the end of one of our lessons he said: “by the way, I did some drawings at home.”
With an inconspicuous look on his face, he pulled four drawings up from his backpack and handed them to me. What he had done floored me.
He had drawn four drawings that must have taken him hours to draw, one depicting the character from the game, one the environment, one of the logo for the game and a portrait of the character.
He had done exactly what the other students had done in writing, only through drawing. And I had no idea that he could draw.
We had our meeting with the game developer once all the students’ games were finished. It was a huge success. He talked about his work, how games are created, how many hours of script goes into each game, how he became a developer. He showed us games he had developed and gave us the ‘behind the scenes’ tour into the world of coding and programming, much of which was presented in a highly advanced technical language that I could barely understand. The students nodded as they sat and listened in complete focused silence for nearly two hours.
Afterwards, the fifth grade student who normally does not do homework, have continued on to developing his own game, using a professional coding platform.
The seventh grader’s (the one with the learning difficulty who normally does not have many successful experiences at school) grandparents created a WordPress profile for the sole purpose of leaving a comment to his game on our blog where all the games are published telling him how proud they are of him. His mother had sent an email to their entire family sharing his game.
Another seventh grader created such an amazing story, with such rich detail and reflection on the inner lives of the characters that I suggested to him to keep developing it and maybe make it into a story. I eventually told his parents who had no idea how good a writer he was and who are now trying to convince him to write a book.
All the amazing results that came from this project can be contributed to the fact that I worked with something the students were interested in, something that is a big part of their daily life and that normally is not given any value or supported by adults.
I provided a structure and an idea in which the students could unfold and explore their creativity but all the work was their own. When they had an idea, I ran with it. When they wanted to change something in the lesson plan. I ran with it.
I have been amazed and astounded to see aspects of the students emerge that I had no idea existed and it has made me keenly aware of how much we as teachers and parents are missing out on by not engaging with children on a real and authentic level, to actually get to know them and understand them and what their life is like, without fear or moral judgments about what they ‘should’ be doing or becoming.
One aspect of this project that I am particularly satisfied with is how the project had a direct correlation with the real world. This is something that I have long advocated and this project underlines that perfectly.
When a real game developer became involved in the project, the students took the project seriously, because they were being taken seriously as having real and valuable perspectives to share with the world. They got to see a man who had chosen a career path doing something that their parents would judge as being a waste of time. It made a real impact on them.
This is something that could be easily copied to other subjects or themes or projects where, if a class or student is working with food as a topic for example, a chef can be invited to cook with them or taste their recipes. Or if a class is working with democracy as a topic, they can work with changing things in their local environment or school that they are not satisfied with. They can experiment with various democratic methods such as writing petitions or letters to the newspaper or even direct social intervention and investigate which methods are most effective for change.
Not only does it establish a direct and very real connection between schools (as life-preparation facilities) and ‘real’ life, it also provides the students with a entrepreneurial aspect that is remarkably absent from most schools.
If we are serious about making this world into a better place, we ought to be equally serious about the interests of our children, to listen to what they have to say, to support them to grow and develop their utmost potential, which may just be incrementally different from what we would have imagined or preferred.
I have stopped seeing myself as a teacher who’s job it is to transfer knowledge and information into the minds of my students. Instead I see myself as a sparring partner, as someone who has experience in various fields and who can assist them to develop and materialize their visions and goals into substantial and valuable content.
It is a position of honor and great privilege and it is a responsibility that requires the utmost amount of humbleness and courage because it requires us as adults to take a step back and admit that we do not know everything there is to know about the world. We have to be willing to let the children educate us and so transform us so that we may be fortunate enough to stand next to them as they direct their own learning and explore their potential in life.