Educating in Nature

Ch 3 Returning to Nature

What do we know about returning to Nature so far - to counter the corporate paradigm we might call it the nature paradigm? When children are born their appetite for learning is instinctive developed through a loving environment. When they go off to school this motivation gradually disappears leaving the schools as a place where a few conform enough to become part of the corporate ladder. Somehow we would like to recreate the learning environment of the home within our learning situation but that is impractical and in the end unnatural as at some stage we need to break away from the home - unless the parents opt for home education.

There are many facets to this nature paradigm but let us begin with the curriculum "what should they be learning when they get to school?" What is natural learning - a nature paradigm? Some might say that the school curriculum already offers ecology, and that a "green understanding" is on the increase. Whilst this is clearly true, is it enough? Understanding ecology at secondary school level is part of the curriculum - nowhere near enough, but what has this got to do with leaving home and going to primary school? And the answer here is to consider the impact of the corporate paradigm on all levels of education. This is an extremely difficult question to answer in terms of what we do at the moment as we are so immersed in our subject-based educational culture being language, maths, sciences and so on. What if education were not to begin with these? Sounds crazy, surely all our scientific breakthroughs are garnered initially on an understanding of these basic subjects? I leave that question open for the moment but let us realise that our primary schools slowly but surely use a curriculum which step-by-step teach a basic understanding of these subjects leading to a higher understanding in the secondary school, and then at university. From university a few have developed sufficient blinkers that allow them to destroy the environment and be dispassionate towards fellow men all in the name of corporate profit. When and how that process starts needs to be analysed.

How close are existing processes within education to what might be part of a natural development. One model of development that is generally accepted is that of Piaget. From wikipedia on Jean Piaget we get:-

"The four development stages are described in Piaget's theory as:

Sensorimotor stage: from birth to age 2.

Preoperational stage: from ages 2 to 7 (magical thinking predominates. Acquisition of motor skills). Egocentrism begins strongly and then weakens. Children cannot conserve or use logical thinking.

Concrete operational stage: from ages 7 to 12 (children begin to think logically but are very concrete in their thinking). Children can now conceive and think logically but only with practical aids. They are no longer egocentric.

Formal operational stage: from age 12 onwards (development of abstract reasoning). Children develop abstract thought and can easily conserve and think logically in their mind."

Whilst following such models can be restrictive, if such a model is appropriate then straying too far from it can lead to wayward development. Do we push the sciences too early? Consider maths. Number as a concept is a process of abstract reasoning. One apple is concrete but the number one is abstract. Do our educational practices fit Piaget's developmental stages? Would it be correct to describe our mathematical teaching as unnatural? I have always had a pet theory as to why corporations like maths graduates. Mathematical understanding has great beauty to it, it has a consistency all of its own. Mathematicians are able to relate to the integrity of maths without being sidetracked by conscience or the vagaries of daily life. Such an isolation from daily life makes it easy to dissociate the numbers of the profit motive from the consequential damage to the environment and the impoverishing of huge proportions of the population. Whether this pet theory has any substance is unimportant, what does matter is that there are corporate-types who are comfortable with the isolated profit lifestyle, and that cannot be natural.

I intend to consider cognitive development (including Piaget) in greater detail later through the magnifying glass of a Nature paradigm but at this stage I now want to consider how much of self-realisation is part of our Nature paradigm? On many levels this question is a tautology. Nature has created this self (however we define it), and therefore realisation of our nature and the relationship of self to nature has to be the keystone of education within a Nature paradigm. Bringing out the true nature of the student has to be the real objective of education.

Whilst accepting this we have not gone a long way in our analysis, after all within the corporate paradigm it could be argued that being CEO of a large multinational with huge profits is self-realisation. What would we consider self-realisation within the context of Nature? This requires a certain amount of speculation about Nature. Many notions of ecology consider that nature has some sort of balance that if destroyed causes all kinds of global problems. Typical of this ecological consideration would be climate change, where continuous misuse of natural resource together with industrial emissions have led to an imbalance in nature which is damaging the environment. Many schools are currently attempting to address this issue through ecological studies, and this is to be applauded.

But this notion of Nature does not go anywhere far enough primarily because most considerations of nature do not include humanity. Whether one considers the human mind as something which makes humanity different from other animals, if one postulates that nature is about life on earth then humanity is a part of that. Humanity is a part of the totality of life on earth, and education of humans needs to recognise this and seek to educate human beings as being part of the system that is Nature. I would contend that in the corporate paradigm education allows people to perceive themselves as beyond nature and that considerations of the environment or other natural factors are secondary compared with human interests - in the corporate paradigm profits.

So how does humanity fit in to the system that is Nature? What is her/his role in that system? How do we educate for that role? These are all deeply philosophical questions and are difficult to address without some form of postulation. I begin by seeing education as being concerned with the whole being. Whatever the whole being is it is something we are born with, nature gave it to us so if we know what the whole being is then educating that whole being has to be part of nature. So what is this whole being? I intend to address 3 aspects of humanity - mind, energy and body, and integrate the the three in the whole being within the context of Nature (as I develop consideration of nature and mind that will become clearer).

Let us begin first by addressing the question of the body. In recent times in the West we have begun to see deterioration in the condition of the human body. Whilst science has made huge advances in medicine the human body has become subject to more and more diseases that many associate with lifestyle. Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes have greatly increased, and although treatment has helped with cures the real educational concern has to be consideration of the source of the increase. Obesity has begun to be recognised as almost epidemic even amongst the children. I contend that healthy living could have a great impact on these diseases and obesity. What has changed that could have led to this? The food we eat, and the stress in our lives.

Let us begin with food. The quality of our food intake has vastly declined over the last century. Children particularly are attracted by low quality foods with high sugar content to entice them. In addition corporations started to put chemical additives in our foods to help preserve them. High refined sugar content and chemicals have been pointed to as being significant in our increasing health issues. In our Nature paradigm, would either be considered "natural"? Of course not. So good education practice would make it clear that our foods should not contain either. Many teachers would say there is nothing new here, but that the children just don't listen. Whilst I agree there has to be greater emphasis on the need to move away from such unnatural foods.

The half-hearted approach (not from the active teachers) can be sourced in the corporate paradigm. Who produces the food that has the declining quality? The corporations commonly known as Big Food. Within a corporate paradigm for education, how would it be possible to change education so that the quality of food is recognised as the serious health problem it is when to educate about such goes against the prevailing educational paradigm. The word token is often thrown up as a criticism in education. Here is a clear example of a token attitude in education. Many teachers pay lipservice to the issue of food. Canteens are required to serve healthy options and blame the students (or the parents) for choosing unhealthy foods. Vehement teachers who understand more the relationship between food and ill-health are continually frustrated by this tokenism, but they cannot fight the paradigm, such vehemence often leads to discipline warnings and other career-threatening actions. The corporations do not directly step in to insist that Big Food is not criticised but the paradigm directs the hidden curriculum which is very powerful in its application. This approach characterises many aspects of good thinking which is frowned upon by the establishment in education.

Education needs to embrace the issue of good food. I contend that good health is a consequence of eating good food, and that in good education this functionality should be the byword. But we need to consider further what is good food, and the natural paradigm gives us the answer - food from nature. Food from the ground that has not been treated by chemicals, processed with preservatives, or cooked with unhealthy additives such as MSG. One could even go further with education concerning food by recognising that healthy eating of particular foods can improve specific health conditions. An education course based on Paul Pitchford's "Healing though whole foods" has a place in any good curriculum.

Whilst good eating functionally produces good health we have to consider another aspect of a healthy body, and that is exercise. Exercise has become perverted in our institutions and has become far too oriented to sports success. Whilst healthy sports competition can add to enjoyment in school, and help control misdirected disruptiveness, this has to be secondary. Exercise is a requirement for all children - and all adults, exercise and not achievement is for all. Somehow the machismo has to be taken out of sport but this type of competitiveness is so integral to the prevailing paradigm. Ideally teachers would take a lead in this education for the body through healthy eating and good exercise, but unfortunately many of our teachers suffer from the inadequacies of our system and don't see the value in such. Of course stress pays a big part in this as will be seen later.

Before we consider the realm of the mind, the main focus of education in both paradigms, let me talk about energy. Now energy is not a factor in western understanding of the whole being. In the East such energy is accepted by the populus under terms such as Chi or Prana, but in the West energy is scientifically often considered as non-existent. If it is brought into the West it is brought in through machismo in the martial arts. But I contend for the whole being we need to address the issue of developing Chi through exercises such as Chi Gung, through appropriate teaching of control of the breath - prana. These should be part of the curriculum that is now called physical education but needs to be recognised within a wider area of health within the curriculum; this will be addressed later.

In considering the development of a nature paradigm I have identified it educationally as authentic - a return to nature. Using Piaget as an indicator I have noted that our curriculum might not be applied at appropriate cognitive stages, and this is to be investigated later. To consider self-realisation there are three aspects of being we need to consider - body, energy and mind, and how integrating mind body and energy in nature is a requirement of natural law and education.