Educating in Nature
Ch15 Understanding Conditioning
The conditioning I am describing is best understood from the Buddhist usage, in that usage it is close to the Toltec use of the word agreement. With agreement there is the illusion of choice, as children and young people we agree with what adults and society want, but with the use of the word conditioning we question that agreement and ask whether there is a choice. That is why I prefer the word conditioning because with the conditions as described in paticcasamuppada there is limited choice for the young because of developmental awareness and only choice for the aware adult. However I note that with the Buddhist usage of the word there is not the political usage of conditioning as indoctrination, whether indoctrination is included in Buddhist conditioning is a question to ask but it is not a requirement of that conditioning. Throughout our school lives there is conditioning that can be considered good and bad but what is important for the vision is that this conditioning does not restrict and person who wants to choose to follow their path as an adult. This is the vision at the core of Matriellez Education - what might be termed the Matriellez Vision.
Let us consider the agreements of the curriculum. Some are requirements for daily life such as the 3R’s. Other agreements can clearly be seen as benefitting the corporate paradigm such as the way economics is taught. A basic tenet of school-agreed economics is that of supply and demand, yet whilst this might be true of economics in a farmer’s market or in a small business it is not true of corporations where market mechanisms are used to control prices. Given that schools fit into the corporate paradigm this agreement is unlikely to change.
In society science is beginning to be questioned through fake news and conspiracy theories, and I am unsure how agreements in education are now being made with regards to this questioning. However within science there has always been scepticism, a potentially healthy examination of science by scientists. Whilst there is increasing overlap this scepticism is not concerned with fake news and conspiracy, it is scientists looking at science with deep healthy enquiry. When I was taught science, there was an unwritten assumption that if science was developed sufficiently it would be able to explain everything. As a spiritual person I completely reject this assumption; science can explain the rational, but in a spiritual world science can only observe the spiritual and rational explanation cannot apply to all. Accepting this is a natural development of the mature following their paths.
So where does this leave the agreements of science in education? As a statistician I learnt the limitations of scientific method but through statistics was able to quantify those limitations. Quite clearly others did not quantify those limitations, and science was misused. Even though scepticism addressed this type of misuse to some extent, the door was opened to fake news and conspiracy mainly because the corporate interests of fossil fuels were served by casting doubt on climate change. This leads to a broader question concerning science as typified by Andrew Wakefield. His “science” on vaccines was dismissed formally by the British scientific community yet in the US he stands on a platform as a “doctor”, and he is joined on that platform by other members of the scientific community. This lacks integrity on the part of all participants, and further enables attacks on science.
And that broader question is that of finance and investment in science. No scientific experiment can be conducted without finance, and within our universities research is dominated by the need for grants. These broader issues affecting science are not usually addressed within the agreements of school education, although they are immediately met by scientists entering higher education. Does this absence of questioning in school agreements make science more vulnerable to the financial forces behind fake news and conspiracy?
How much is the history curriculum massaged to hide the true history of governments? When we examine geography, do we look at political forces behind geographical alliances? When geography looks at resources, does it examine resource implications?
When literature is chosen, do we examine the creative works of revolutionary authors? Artists themselves often become revolutionary, is this questioned?
I am not saying it is the place of schools to ask all these questions, but questions can be asked of many of the agreements made in schools. Many of the agreements or conditioning that we have in schools can be questioned, but is it the place of schools to ask those questions? When a person begins to follow their paths, they do question; this is natural. Part of the awakening process is that as they awaken people recognise that conditioning has fashioned an ego that needs to be released before people can follow their paths. But how much of a hindrance is all this questioning to those who want to follow their paths?
This is the basic question of the Matriellez Vision. Do we accept this hindrance or do we seek to enable those who want to follow their paths by considering the agreements of the curriculum? As a person awakens conditioning is rejected. Many spiritual teachers say question everything. Does this hinder spiritual progress having to question everything?
And there are people who are beginning on their paths who still cling to the ideas of their past – to agreements made in school for example. In the end on the path they will reject all clinging, but how disadvantageous is the clinging they do adhere to? Does it restrict them from following their paths?
So the questions of this vision are do we alter agreements? Is it necessary to alter agreements when following the path questions? Do we add to the curriculum by encouraging questioning within schools so that people following their paths already have the “spirit of enquiry”? For those following the path does it matter what is taught in schools?
I have reached a stage where there is perhaps no purpose to this book – no Matriellez Vision for schools. The essential premise of this vision is that those who wish to follow their paths should be enabled by what is taught in schools, yet all those following their paths reject conditioning and live in a state of deep enquiry as part of following their paths. So does it matter what agreements are taught? Or do we look to develop enquiry in students?
Before examining these questions, I want to look at my own awakening that began soon after uni. Awakenings are varied and non-denominational as can be seen from the Batgap interviews so broad conclusions cannot be drawn from one experience, but as my awakening started at 23 education was significant. Firstly, my awakening was powerful and led me to question so much. With regards to education (I was a maths and stats graduate) the content was fairly meaningless – it gained some meaning when I used maths teaching as my vehicle for compassion and educational change. Whilst seeing the content as meaningless awakening made me question so much of the way society was. I was deeply questioning after awakening but when I look back after a lifetime of enquiry the level of questioning was shallow – it had to be as there were so many layers of conditioning to uncover.
I was very immature, particularly so given my middle-class conformist-educational upbringing. Anyone’s experience of life at 23 is limited but mine was particularly so – so much so that my ignorance of daily life meant that my awakening had little to contribute. Learning about life became a priority to such an extent that when describing it in the Treatise I called it second childhood.
I never engaged with education except for the last 3 months before my finals – I was fortunate living in a hall of residence where there was communal pressure to study. I remember this pressure as for the first time I really studied – 3 sessions of 3 hours for 7 days a week. After uni workplace discipline contributed greatly to my awakening. I developed some interest in studying the maths and stats but I had none in my work. For my first job lasting a year some of my academic interest carried over, but there was no profit in that and they pushed me towards things of little interest which made some money. I did however have an interesting social life with them as they were in the West End, but I was deluded by my middle-class conformity that career mattered and they told me I had no future. I moved on to a company that had absolutely no interest, and became more and more disillusioned and alcoholic leading to a breakdown that started my awakening. Awakening brought with it compassion that started with child care and then became education; I had interest.
Education deeply mattered to me when I was working – now I consider myself a writer and meditator, yet my own education experience significantly contributed to my breakdown and awakening. Interest was not sparked by content, and on awakening that content was mostly rejected as meaningless. Having taught for 30 years I recognise that some content is needed for daily life and other content is part of the corporate paradigm that dominates education. The pressure of exams contributed to my breakdown, and as discussed throughout there is limited educational value to testing with the suggested replacement of the quality portfolio.
This brings me to consideration of the 4 themes of corporate paradigm, quality portfolio, natural development and autonomous mastery as related to the Matriellez Vision for enabling awakening and following the path:-
In the last chapter I introduced this as a protective vision, now look at it further. Basically #NatureCompassionDecency and the corporate paradigm cannot co-exist, there is almost a choice to be mad between the two as to how education moves forward. Within education educationalists spend their lives trying to change education for the better but cannot because they meet this paradigm. Careerists completely compromise with the paradigm, and most educationalists are compromised by the paradigm pushing for changes and accepting token improvements whilst they keep jobs. Primary education has necessary content for daily life but the paradigm promotes testing which is significant in their control. Secondary education is dominated by the exams, and senior careerists ensure that those exams provide the paradigm with what it wants. A quality portfolio would return that control to the classroom, the last place the paradigm would want such control.
In terms of the path what does educational content matter? From my own experience there are layers and layers of conditioning to uncover but it would be ignorant to say that it all came from education and education’s content. Conditioning is both natural and societal. Natural conditioning arises from the need to develop ego in order to survive to adulthood; societal conditioning arises from what society broadly agrees to, and this agreement is a mixture of upbringing – both parental and educational - and conforming that society requires. Significant throughout is the corporate paradigm that directs education whilst seeking the conformity towards their profit-making inherent in the workplace. Whilst education’s content contributes to this conditioning, it is debatable how much changing it would affect the overall conditioning. But having said that awakening meets with layers and layers of conditioning to uncover, so if education did not provide layers the path would be easier. If the curriculum was primarily geared towards #NatureCompassionDecency there would not be conditioning layers from education. If there was a quality portfolio coming out of the classroom, there would not be the testing that is so manipulated by the paradigm.
But more importantly in terms of the path are the two themes of natural development and autonomous mastery. With both of these educationalists can encourage learning that could directly contribute to the enabling of following the path. The attributes of #NatureCompassionDecency are attributes of the path. The path follows from natural development. If we include adult stages of natural development then the maturing process recognises the development of conditioned egos for survival, lets them go, and so the path is then followed. Natural development prior to that maturing would be a balance of the survival need for conditioned egos in young children, and a minimising of those egos for teenagers. At present such a balance is not addressed quite simply because education and society does not recognise how much they are both subject to conditioning.
Awareness of conditioning is significant for the development of society in general, and education in particular. Such awareness must begin with adults. There are signs on both the right and left of society that conditioning is a significant problem, but understanding of that conditioning is very limited. If adults become aware of their conditioning and its nature, perhaps educationalists can begin to address the balance need in secondary schools and above to minimise conditioned egos and help young people mature and follow their paths.
But perhaps the most important understanding for people wanting to follow their paths is autonomous mastery. Following your path is very much an individual approach. For such awakened people there is #NatureCompassionDecency - these attributes come from nature, but the journey to that understanding is based very much on the work an individual does. With the conformity to exams and the regurgitation process that enables exam passes, little more than memory-testing is rewarded by an exam pass. Autonomous mastery brings with it all the skills of deep learning, reflection and enquiry that are needed to follow the path. Such skills arise out of meditation which for many is a prerequisite of the path. Nowadays there is a greater willingness for education to accept meditation, and autonomous mastery would be enhanced by meditation practice.
There must be a clear warning here. Autonomous mastery as a teaching approach has to be beneficial for society in the long run as well as individually for those who will eventually follow their path, but it is open to exploitation by ego. Therefore autonomous mastery needs to go hand-in-hand with natural development, where awareness of conditioning and conditioned egos contributes to education towards that development. But the skills of deep learning, deep reflection and deep enquiry have got to be beneficial for all concerned.