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.
In the fourth part of his often-referenced four-piece series of articles titled “How Does PISA Put the World at Risk“ Zhao argues that the PISA program
”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:
PROPAGANDA | FULL ENGLISH VERSION (2012)
The Century of the Self
The Power Principle
Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century
The Story of Your Enslavement
Inequality for all documentary:
The Four Horsemen:
On Advertisement and the end of the world:
Third World America – Chris Hedges
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:
“Thanks to Walmart brand Parent’s Choice ™ for sponsoring today’s discussion. Parent’s Choice Formulas are clinically proven to be as well tolerated as the national brands. They are an affordable brand of formula, and they offer a savings calculator on their site that shows how their prices compare to name-brand formula. “
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 most advanced 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.
Teachers all across the world are struggling to engage their students.
Standardized tests and archaic curricular that must be rushed through in a matter of months, are filling up the classrooms.
At the same time, we see a development in our society towards an increased integration of technology into our children’s lives. While struggling to stay awake at school, most kids will gladly spend an entire night in front of the computer, playing games, surfing the web or chatting to friends on Skype.
The question that many parents and teachers ask in concern, is whether the investment in technology is compromising our children’s education. They will say that it is hard enough to motivate them as it is, without some screen distracting them and pulling them away from what matters. While that may be true, I am here to share a different perspective.
A couple of years ago, I made it my mission to teach in a way that was relevant to the students. I started experimenting with various topics and methods with the aim of unlocking the students interest of learning rather than sitting across from them, one zombie regurgitating information to another – just because that is the ‘normal’ way to do things.
I discovered that every single person in this world wants to do something that matters; something that is real and that has a real impact in the world. No one wants to spend years on end in artificial facilities doing simulations of real life while being told that their perspectives don’t matter – and this is exactly what schools do.
I also discovered that what students care about, is the real world around them, that which they hear about in the media or read about in the news. Above all, something that almost all my students had in common was a passion for modern technology, the Internet and computer games in particular.
I decided to embark on an adventure with my students, an adventure into ‘their’ world, the world of computer games.
I have never myself played a lot of computer games. It is simply not something that I’ve found particularly interesting. I do however have a passion for modern technology and all the opportunities that the Internet opens up. So I make it a point to stay up to date with the latest technological developments, gadgets, social media sites and various apps coming on the market. So on one hand, I embarked on a journey into the world of gaming simply because it was something I respected that my students were passionate about. On the other hand, it was made easier by the fact that I was already open to the current developments of modern technology.
I know that many adults are cautious towards the current developments and that many parents worry that their children are gaming too much and that they do not spend enough time outside playing or spend time with their physical friends (rather than the ones they meet in cyberspace). I also understand that there are some pitfalls and dangers about the Internet, such as kids having access to pornography, issues with privacy and cyber bullying.
However, it is also my perspective that the current development of modern technology is unstoppable and that if you as a parent prohibit your child from having access to a computer or the internet, they will simply find another way to get on – because being online has become an integrated part of what it means to be a child today.
Because the development of technology and digital media is like rushing river of rapid development, the best way to approach it is through embracing it by going downstream with the flow, rather than trying to fight it or slow it down, which is virtually impossible. It is something that like a force of nature has its own momentum.
Our Gaming Project
The students and I started the project with the younger students (ages 6-9) working on creating board games inspired by their favorite computer games. I laid out the foundation of the way we would be working with creating the games by saying that my goal was for this game to be so fun and challenging that they would want to play it with their friends. I shared with them how I had created board games as a child that weren’t a lot of fun because they weren’t very challenging.
So the first few lessons we spent creating a plan of how we were going to design the game. We talked about various ways that board games can be structured and how they don’t have to go from ‘start’ to ‘finish’ but can be circular, like labyrinths or have a completely new structure entirely.
I started asking the students about the computer games they play and I could see how genuinely pleased they were with being able to talk about their passion in a ‘school setting’. Most of the younger students have Minecraft as their favorite game so they would tell me all about it and what they liked about it and what elements from Minecraft they thought would be cool to incorporate in our board game.
Many of the students had lots of ideas that incorporated digital elements, where I had to show them how it unfortunately wasn’t transferrable to a physical board game. Instead we had to ‘translate’ the elements of the computer games into the board game in a way that could work effectively.
One group for example decided to create a game where, during the game it switches from day to night and at night the monsters come out, just like in Minecraft. We then had to figure out a way to incorporate the day-to-night element into our game and together came up with the idea of using an hour-glass that, when it runs out, the game switches from day to night.
Another student decided that in his game there should be four different ‘worlds’ or ‘games’, each based on its own computer game, so there was a ‘Minecraft world’ and an ‘Spiderman world’ and to go into each world you’d have to go through a portal.
Throughout the process of creating the games, the students would speak and write, for example to create cards to use in the game or through writing instructions for the game. These elements are all included in what is my actual task as a teacher, to teach them a language. We could have done the exact same project focusing on math elements or art – or even all of these in a multi-disciplinary project. The point is that throughout this project there has been absolutely no resistance or boredom coming up within the students.
I call it ‘sneaky learning’ when I am able to incorporate elements like grammar that otherwise would be perceived as ‘tedious’ and ‘boring’ and the students don’t even notice that they are learning grammar. They are doing it because it is an important part of the game. Like one student said: “If you don’t have instructions, you can’t understand how to play the game”. So obviously we had to create instructions, but it wasn’t a deliberate ‘language learning lesson’ and therefore working with the language came natural and with ease – because it had a purpose, because it was a tool to be used to support something that the student was passionate about, proud of and invested in.
Through this project, the students have created the most amazing and inventive board games. They have come up with ideas that I would have never thought of. Throughout it all, I have stood as a sounding board to assist them to manifest their vision and to make suggestions and share perspectives that may support them to consider details they hadn’t thought of before.
The result of doing this project is that students go home and write more cards by themselves without being prompted to by me as ‘homework’. One first grader (7 year old) even continued to work on the game while he was sick at home. Another student considerately went to the store and bought an hourglass with her pocket money – again, without being prompted to do so by me.
It is my perspective that all learning is supposed to be like this, no matter how old you are or what subject you are busy learning. This doesn’t mean that learning will always be thrilling or fun. When you are passionate about something, it sometimes requires some hard work or that you do some tedious task, but the difference is that the students have not resisted this aspect of learning in this project, because what mattered was their creation process and their vision of a final result. The more I have stepped back and humbled myself as an adult, the more the students have stepped forth and shown me their potential, their strength, their passion.
Based on the example from this project, taking the students passion as its natural point of departure ought to be a focal point of all education. Because we have all been educated in the same wretched school system, we have come to take it for granted. We have come to accept (because that’s what we’ve been taught) that learning is not fun, that it is forced upon us and something we must learn to force upon ourselves. Learning in schools happens through intimidation, competition and force and the question is how much is actually grasped at a foundational level within the students. I mean, how many of us remember anything we learned in school? What many will say is that they remember specific teachers who were passionate or fun or they will remember specific projects where they got to work independently or choose their own topics.
With the day and age that we live in, it just happens to be so that modern technology, digital media and the Internet is one of the biggest interests of kids today. It would be a shame to not embrace that momentum and let the stream take us on a journey together with the kids, a journey where we can be there with them and stand as support along the way. Because one thing is certain; modern technology is not going anywhere anytime soon. But our kids are going places, that’s for sure. The question is whether we are going to be stubborn and stay behind in fear of the unknown or whether we are going to go on this journey with them and see where the river of modern technology takes us. Because if we don’t, we are holding them back. We are dismissing and diminishing something that matters to them. We are trying to force them to learn in unnatural ways through intimidation and then we miss the opportunities where real learning could have taken place.
There is not a single human being on this planet who is not aware of how much easier it is to learn when it is something you have decided for yourself, when learning is something you want to do. You do not only learn more easily, but you also remember it better. When learning is self-directed and passionate, it integrates into you and becomes part of who you are as a real time expansion of your being. It is something that never leaves you. This is what learning is supposed to be like.