Educating in Nature

Ch 8 On developing concentration and mentation

Do schools ever consider how students develop concentration? Isn't that important? I didn't learn concentration by a good method, it just happened. Let me consider how those conditions occurred so we can see how they might happen in our schools now. I went to a Catholic primary school where some teachers were strict. I cannot remember much about it except fairly regular testing and rote learning. In the grammar school that followed there were different levels of strictness between the teachers. I can remember a nasty English teacher but not for his teaching, and I can't remember being overly repressed - just way too immature. Somehow with all the testing I was able to concentrate on my revision and during the tests, and have now forgotten all the facts I had to learn - OK 40-50 years ago.

There is however no doubt that I had the ability to concentrate. I associate it particularly with the primary school where the discipline stopped me from being stupid so I focussed on the work. Beyond that feeling I cannot say where the concentration came from. Concentrating is a function of the mind, it is something that our minds do, and different people develop different levels of concentration so it is something that people can improve if they knew how. Perhaps the people most famed for powers of concentration are meditators so let's try to examine some of what they do to see what is relevant for improving concentration and mentation.

Meditation is used in the East as part of a religious process. Buddhist monks for example recognise that controlling the mind is important in order that they can reach Nirvana or Enlightenment, a state the Buddha reached Buddhists believe. Now according to their texts they use vipassana meditation to calm the mind, their image is that the usual daily mind is turbulent and that it can be made calm by meditation. Once calm the mind can then concentrate on spiritual matters. It is my understanding that other eastern religions ascribe the same role to meditation although they use it differently depending on their creeds. Now this process appears to have a useful application in education. If meditation can indeed calm the mind wouldn't that greatly help the learning process?

What happens when we concentrate? In education at the moment we concentrate mostly during revision and exams. We read the question, focus on it, and hope that we remember how to do the question. Is the process that haphazard? Suppose there is a state of mind that enables us to recall but if mind is not in that state we cannot recall. Rather than developing a concentrated mind what if the process was different? Enough of the obtuse questions. If our minds are clear we can remember, if our minds are not distracted and in inner turmoil spinning around then we can recall. This is what meditation can help us with, it can help us clear the mind. It can help us stop the mind spinning, running and jumping from one idea to another. This is the meaning of focusing, we have a clear mind that can stay still at one point and deal with that problem. If this is true, then why aren't students taught this already? Because most adults are not practised in meditation, and it is not easy for them to change, but it would be easier for children to be trained in meditation.

This process of meditation has many advantages. Consider the question of calmness - Tibetan meditation tries to achieve a state of calm abiding. Now how many of our children are calm? Some are able to squeeze themselves into exam mode, and focus their attention on the exams. But they are not calm. Far from it. Prior to the exams they are nervous but those that are successful are able to channel that nervous energy into better concentration and therefore gain exam success.

But I am not just interested in exam success but what about daily life? How many of our children are calm? How many of our children can face examining themselves through the eyes of meditation? How many of our adults? It frightens me when I see some of the children running around without any control. Especially as teenagers these children are completely lost. They resent authority trying to control them, and they appear to just lurch from one bad situation to another depending on the whims of their peers. This lack of order is hard to watch especially as they have such little respect for adults.

But what is in their minds? Can they close their eyes and see calmness or stillness? I suspect not. I suspect their minds are swirling around uncontrollably waiting to latch onto whatever attracts it next. With such minds morality is so important. Uncontrolled minds swim around waiting to latch onto whatever comes their way, and in some societies more than others all that attracts them is some form of temptation. How difficult it is for them to resist? But with a moral background there are clear boundaries that simply tells them no.

What happens in a classroom? These uncontrolled minds are open to any influence. Friends disrupt and the mind latches onto this joining in the disruption. Unless some control kicks in. The best control is morality, children acting out of a sense of right or wrong. In the modern world many children are not brought up with this internal control, and so do not control themselves. The teacher can often make an effort to control the situation but with many children their minds are so out of control they do not follow the teacher's instructions. It is clear that these students do not believe they have to engage with the teacher and accept her/his authority. There are many reasons for this authority not being accepted, for this lack of requirement to engage with the teacher, but without it these uncontrolled minds just cause havoc. So for some children their minds lack any form of control. They lack moral sense to control with and they do not accept the authority of the teacher or feel they don't have to engage with that authority. This combination of factors leads to poor behaviour and classroom disruption.

Now all of these issues need to be addressed - uncontrolled minds, lack of moral sense, lack of respect for authority, and lack of engagement with teacher. But instead of addressing these issues the perceived understanding of the problem is that teachers fail to motivate the students. To begin to motivate students there needs to be engagement, the student has to accept an interaction with the teacher; but many don't. For the teacher it is an untenable position, and there is no learning for the students. Personally I consider this perceived understanding politically expedient. It is easier to blame the teachers than deal with the far deeper issues of uncontrolled minds, lack of moral sense etc. To put the blame on the students implies blame attached to society in general and to parents, the voters, and politicians don't want to say this.

If we introduce some form of meditation, we begin to address the issue of uncontrolled minds. This is not an easy problem as anyone who meditates realises, but meditation always helps. Starting students on this approach early can only have positive benefits. But this lack of application of understanding of meditation exemplifies a much wider problem - an apparent lack of understanding of mind in the education system. What does our education system focus on? Exams, filling minds with content and then reproducing that content often by memory in an examination situation, what aspects of mind are really being addressed here? Or perhaps more importantly what aspects of mind are not being addressed? The important processes, such as intuition, creativity, critical thinking, etc. Introducing meditation can begin to help with process.

At my last school I had a comparatively disruptive class of 12-year-olds. Their main problem was one particular intelligent boy who had no intention of working, and spent his time distracting others, but they all began to behave badly. I introduced meditation. I introduced the notion of sitting quietly, calming down, and then focussing on why we were in the classroom - to learn maths. It helped for a while but it created too many problems with two difficult boys. There was one other time I thought it would be really good to meditate. In my class there were two devout Nigerian Christians. Whenever I had a test they always took the first minute to pray - losing test time. I wish I had thought more about it and decided to try silence for the whole class whilst I handed out papers, maybe guiding their minds on calmness prior to the test.

Considering meditation brings into focus another important aspect of learning and understanding that is never addressed, and that is insight. What is insight? OK, that is extremely difficult to answer - my answers involve a religious understanding and that is not appropriate in secular education, and it is not my purpose here to promote an understanding of a particular religion. But there are certain attributes of an insightful process that have been touched on already, and are worth investigating to see how they can be brought into education. First and foremost to develop insight we need a clear mind to enable us to focus on the problem. The time at which students most need this insight and clarity is in an exam. Try to place yourself in the exam situation. Successful students have crammed filling their minds with subject content but when they start the exam they are nervous. This mental cocktail of turbulence can lead to all sorts of problems. I remember the exam I was the best prepared for in my life - my PGCE exam. I had started PGCE as a mature student having worked for three years since leaving university. I wanted to teach, and needed this year's qualification; it was an enjoyable year but mostly it was not useful. However I did get exposed to education theory, not always through the curriculum, and that was useful. I decided that I would gently revise for the exams towards the end of the second term, long before others were considering it. I found my table in the library and began revising - I had dissertations to do as well. But this gentle approach led me to being well-prepared. If I remember correctly there were three essays to answer from 20 questions, and I prepared 5 or 6 topic areas. When I saw the paper none of my questions were there, and panic swirled in my head and I couldn't start the exam. This was so powerful I remember it 30 years later, and the invigilator, a friend - I was a mature student, told me he had noticed my disarray and was worried. It took me 10 minutes to get control, and that was only through limited meditation that I had previously practiced. Once I had calmed my mind down, cleared my mind, I got into the questions, and completed the paper. It was getting my mind calm that enabled me to complete the paper. My mind had cleared.

Over the years I developed certain advice that I gave students prior to exams, much of it is standard, and is covered in study skills here. They were all designed to help the students get a clear mind when they were sitting exams. To begin with, spot questions where they can automatically get the answers - I called them "easy questions". Once they do these they are into the flow of the exam, the minds are calmed, and their minds are free to answer the rest properly. One piece of advice used to get their interest:- "If you get stuck on a question leave it and come back to it later. Even when you are doing homework if you get stuck and are tired leave it. Try again the next day, sometimes the answer will come to you." This advice sounds vague, and off the charts, but they listened - something similar must have happened to them. These are all about clearing the mind, through sleep or otherwise.

I want to mention this study skills worksheet on problem solving - "finding an insight". Now in maths this is a major problem. As a teacher you can teach technique but when it comes to the actual problems you cannot help - without doing it for them. They need to be able to start, and they can't because they need an insight on how to start. To get that insight they need a clear mind; the stages I described were:-

1. Immersion in the question.

2. List topic areas.

3. Write down question information.

4. Recognise the question?

5. No, find an insight.

6. Leave the question &

7. Come back to it later.

This is a practical process for finding an insight, it doesn't always work but if it works sometimes great. But many adults will baulk at this process as being obscure. There is no reason why fresh young minds cannot adapt to this process, there are plenty of reasons why adults will reject the process because of their miseducation.

Now this approach to insight goes against the grain of most of the way we consider education. The general approach is that a teacher is asked to present the contents of a subject and the student is then asked to fill their minds with this content initially to solve problems in a lesson but later on to recall these contents in tests and exams. In previous decades this might have been a necessary approach but in this day and age with easy computer access, it is not necessary to fill minds with contents and measure their success by their ability to recall. We can now focus on the insight process itself.

Insight is closely connected with the process of self-realisation, and self-realisation needs to be a process that is flagged in education; shouldn't education at least have some indicators that in adult life a person is moving towards self-realisation? Now self-realisation is a personal reflection, it is subjective - I feel self-realised to some extent; it is not objective. And one of the problems with education in schools is that it has attempted to present an objective education, subject content measured by objective exams. Yet there are calls from all sides including business as exemplified by the competences of p21 and Microsoft's competency wheel; the RSA has also developed a set of competences in their Opening Minds project. Whilst these competences are not purely subjective they cannot be measured using purely objective standards either.

However self-realisation is a purely subjective measure. Is the CEO of BP a success? By his standards he might be - retiring early with a lump sum of 1.5 million dollars and an annual pension of $900000. Others might consider him an abject failure because of the environmental damage caused in the Gulf of Mexico in the 2010 oil spill, the loss of animal life and the level of illness caused to the people in the region. Some might consider a starving artist a failure yet their creativity sustains them and gives them insight. For those believing they have self-realisation through social gains such as CEO and large money payouts there will be little insight whilst artists and writers are known for their insight.

To a certain extent students are encouraged to be creative in schools, and this can build insight, but it is limiting to perceive insight only in the creative. There are people in caring professions who demonstrate insight. A teacher needs to be insightful. How many teachers use an insightful approach when assessing students? Whilst this approach is never accepted by authorities it can be used fruitfully. Consider a situation where you suddenly develop an insight concerning one of the students, not earth-shattering - perhaps you begin to realise that a particular student is quietly whipping up the other kids but never gets in trouble as s/he plays them. Then you can observe the student, produce the information that the authorities want, and are then better able to deal with the problem. Experienced teachers regularly discuss such insights, and much can be gained. I am sure that if you discuss with people from other professions they know of ways they use insight, but because it is not rational insight is never officially valued.

The next part threatens aspects of the establishment, but is very significant in understanding why insight is not respected more. It concerns the use of reason - being rational. Now using reason is very important in its place, and the above example where the teacher used their insight backed up by observation to justify a particular course of action concerning ill-discipline. Insight, first then reason. I draw a parallel with mathematical development. Mathematics is built on axioms, fundamental assumptions that are usually not questioned. Now these axioms are the foundations of maths, and maths is then built with the bricks and mortar of reason and deduction. But without the axioms mathematical reasoning can go round in circles, logic and deduction do not have any inherent direction that leads to a conclusion. It is the axioms and how you use the logic and deduction that brings out conclusions.

Above and in the worksheet on finding an insight, the insight is how you start the problem. Students might be capable of doing the technique but if they cannot find the starting point to the problem they cannot use that technique. This, for me, was most interesting as a teacher, how to get across this aspect of problem-solving, and it was the most difficult to teach. This is the creative process in maths, this insight, yet few in maths discuss it in this way. In much the same way maths cannot be solved without axioms.

This can also be understood socially, reason only guides our actions. It is the fundamental values that matter and not the analysis. It is the basic morality that underpins our personal actions and that underpins our social relations that defines our civilisation. From this moral basis analytical approaches develop the way we relate to each other. And immediately I say this, one can begin to see aspects of breakdown. Our fundamental social reality is the rule of law. In essence there is an assumption that the law is the basic moral code by which our lives are governed and by which our social relations are monitored. So where is the breakdown? The law can be bought. Rather than attempting to justify actions based on the fundamental morality of the laws, our legal system has developed an adversarial approach in which analysis and argument, combined with legal trickery, are the bywords. The defence uses any approach to free the client, and prosecution uses any trick to prove guilt. Whilst their approaches might be couched in legal terms the reality is that neither side is actually attempting to determine whether the actions are moral in terms of the fundamental code. This adversarial behemoth has been further manipulated by money. The original legal code has paled into insignificance by the abilities of some lawyers to justify and circumvent, and these lawyers are for sale to the highest bidder leaving a system that is not based on moral code but based on who can afford the best lawyer. Instead of being the moral defenders of our society our lawyers are often perceived as being the most exploitative.

This is a clear example of where reason has taken over, and the fundamental moral axioms have almost disappeared. A similar fate has befallen insight. Rather than respecting the fundamental insight, our system only values that which can be analysed and deduced. Why is this a problem? Headless chickens, our society is full of headless chickens. Our society functions on agreement and consensus based around analysis and deduction. If it can be observed, and then analysis and deduction can be applied, we have agreement, but if we cannot observe it where do we go? This is most significant in the relationship between mind and education. What is mind? There is no recognised answer. If someone proposes a fundamental description of mind, then others lance it with their own minds. This sounds reasonable until you start to analyse why they are doing this. Understanding mind ought to be a fundamental objective of academia, but such an understanding is far from happening because of vested interest. Leading academicians put forward their own theories of mind, and then have a battle as to who is right. This battle is career-based as defending their own theory holds them to their job, their academic chair; without the theory they have no job. There is no genuine desire to come to an agreement about what is mind.

If there is no agreement about what is mind, then how can we educate? We have no target. Now this suits the prevailing interest, the corporate paradigm. If education is to educate minds, and we don't know what the mind is that we are educating for, then we can quite easily impose a different approach. Education is what business needs it to be, we don't educate for minds we educate for jobs. But this is now proving a problem as the minds they are getting lack the creativity that can provide inspiration and motivation in the workplace. For me they have had the humanity educated out of them by the exams and ego process that education has now become - steadily worsening from the 60s when such criticisms started to appear.

It is necessary for education to become self-realisation and a significant part of that is self-realising the capabilities of our minds. One significant approach to self-realisation is to develop insight, insight into what our own minds are about - as well as our bodies and energy. For many self-realisation becomes measured by what can be achieved in society, becoming the CEO, the doctor or teacher. Or sometimes it is measured by material, a nice house in the country, expensive clothes, a Roller, Beamer or Rolex. But this shallow consumerism does not produce happiness, and the identification of happiness with self-realisation is important. To achieve this identification is part of this self-realisation process in understanding mind, and we need to start to accept that learning about this happiness begins when young, and needs to be considered an objective at school. Meditation can begin to help with happiness, and developing insight into one's own mind provides a basis for this happiness and self-realisation. But most people reject the notion that this can be started at school for the simple reason that most people cannot start it for themselves so they believe children cannot start it.

And this brings us back to the purposes of schools, and where we have miseducation. In the early years at home children were learning happily, then off they go to school and they are unhappy. This is simple and indisputable, despite all the good efforts of the teachers once they are there; this is because they are starting a process which is not learning, which is not self-realising but grooming a few to business positions and the majority for a workforce that is not self-actualising. One significant aspect of this education is the development of the intellect - reasoning and deductive skills almost to the exclusion of any other mental faculties. It is not because we don't need such reasoning skills, it is because we give such skills too great a significance.

When we examine our current education model we can see that we provide training in necessary basic skills such as reading, writing, arithmetic and some computing skills, and the rest of the time we teach a subject-based content. This content fills our memories and provides limited practical use in daily life yet it does provide reasoning skills - analysis, deduction, logic, synthesis etc. These reasoning skills are important - no doubt, but they fail to provide us with our basic humanity. We miss out far more than what we actually learn. As mentioned above we miss out on insight, and as mentioned above it often appears that insight is rejected by intellect. Why do I make this rather abstruse statement? Consider the learning model I have intimated concerning insight. Through meditation or otherwise we gain insight into something, this insight is a seed of an understanding. Through our reasoning process we can develop a greater understanding of this insight through analysis and reasoning skills.

But and this is most important, we cannot develop this understanding without first having had the insight. Without analysis this insight has little use, but we do have some understanding. The real problem lies in the ability of some even the most educated to have these insights, and this problem lies in miseducation. Because our system focuses to such a great extent on the reasoning skills and because our system fills our minds with content, there is little done to clear the mind thus we are unable to and the clarity that will enable insight. I have met many academics and intellectuals who have expressed interest in insight and the importance of it. Such meetings do not usually end well. At the root of the problem lies the notion which I perceive is at the centre of Pirsig's Church of Reason, that is that academics worship at the Church of Reason. To paraphrase, in the beginning there was God and he gave man reason. Whilst it is important to understand that reason is an essential and important human mental faculty, it is not the only one - and I contend not the most essential.

Reason does not like insight because it is not subject to objective proof ie it cannot be reproduced by reason alone. Through reason alone you cannot experience insight, and so for those so invested in reason for their livelihood insight is perhaps perceived as some kind of chimera. I mentioned people I have met who sought understanding of insight. However they usually set the agenda, we want to understand insight by reason alone. When I describe insight as a process which is not subject to reason, there is an immediate conflict as they perceive that all is subject to reason. Their own reason then becomes threatened especially if their egos through career or otherwise are fostered by this adherence to reason. And the result is usually aggression even from the most mild-mannered of reasoning people. The very basis of their existence is threatened so this is not surprising.

Academia even has an approach that recognises that our minds, miseducated through the emphasis on reason, can gain an understanding of insight, and that approach is transcendence. Here I am suggesting that transcendence means going beyond the limitations of reason to experience insight and other basic human faculties not bound by reason. There are of course other interpretations of transcendence but here I only wish to note that academia has attempted to go beyond what is known as material or objective understanding - the realm of reason.

So why am I discussing these notions in a book on education for schools? If some academics cannot understand insight why am I proposing it within a school curriculum? Because insight is a natural process that people of all ages and abilities can attain to. For a farmer with a clear mind working in his field can have an insight into nature, and how to improve his crops. This insight might just come to him whilst working or resting, it is not a thought which he need to have reasoned out by sitting at a table. Some might argue that this was just reason expressing itself, his unconscious mind might have been reasoning this out and suddenly pushed this thought through. Is this a more plausible rational explanation? What does unconscious mind then mean? A word to describe faculties of mind we don't understand - rationally or not?

Rather than this dubious position it is perhaps easier to understand that the farmer was at rest and the insight came to him. Of course this does mean that insights are not the possession of academics only, they are attainable by all and this is why it is so important to consider this for education. If we can enable students to keep clear minds we can enable their insight ability.

But I want to take that further as I have described our system as miseducation in this context. I contend that in our very young we naturally have this insight process. Once children go to school more and more they are educated into ignoring this process because of the lack of importance it is given. Successful students are not those who demonstrate insight but those who show academic success in the subjects of the curriculum. In art, and occasionally in craft or literary writing, students use insight through creativity, and are praised if their work is excellent. But often if they lack the writing, painting or craft skills such insight is not rewarded, and is educated out of the student. When insight does not come with technical expertise it is hard to value but I contend that it is something worth valuing.

To explain the importance of this I want to discuss autonomous mastery. In his RSAnimate talk on motivation and elsewhere, Dan Pink spoke to business of money as a motivator for mechanical work but claimed that three motivations - autonomy, mastery and purpose - as being motivators in other areas.

He further backed up this claim with studies carried out by the Federal Reserve bank amongst others. His major example of justification of this claim concerning these three motivations was Wikipedia where experts contribute for free. But if you think about it there are many areas of mastery within business and elsewhere if you look.

What about the office manager? Many companies have these people, and they realise that these people are invaluable. The office manager knows the company inside out, in many ways part of the job description of an office manager is to "know the company inside out".. And this is because they have taken a job and made it personal - out of a sense of commitment or some sense of small "love" - and become invaluable. Human beings do this, it is their nature to be of worth, to master their situation, and good organisations encourage such mastery. Such people tend to feel valued and grow a sense of loyalty within this role which they personalise and make their own, the job becomes more than the pay cheque; it is their mastery.

One can think of other jobs. The person in supplies or archives who knows the facility far more than would appear on the surface. There is organisation that a computer can do, it can record where items have been placed. But the supplies person who has been there for years can remember how boxes were moved when the man came to fix the leak, maybe the lost item is there. Such intimate knowledge is not the purview of the computer, they don't have the skills to remember this. The human being in the position takes value from their job, and adds much more than any job description can define. In their mastery they add value and therefore profit to companies, their job becomes a purpose in their lives giving their life meaning. Good companies take advantage of such people, their commitment is integrated into the fabric of the company, and managers realise that such people are worth far more than their salary. In some ways business already utilises notions of autonomy, mastery and purpose.

So what are the attributes of these masteries? The people perceive some level of importance in their mastery but this measure is not financial. In the small companies the above-mentioned lynchpins feel they are important to their company within their domain, and often feel a personal loss if some suit cuts them for a company's financial advantage. Whilst this suit usually does not know what they are doing and is losing a small but important company asset, the individual is devastated having a purpose they have given themselves taken away. In all forms of mastery the people have been diligent and dedicated putting in much time and effort to develop their domain of importance. Often people perceive some importance in this, the King of the archives, the Queen of the office, and to a certain extent these perceptions are true - these people are important. But at the same time they are not often valued by the decision-makers who are willing to dismiss these people for political or financial reasons.

Now many of these attributes happen despite the company not because of them. The motivations develop personally rather than inspired by the company as the power-players in the company perceive these people as unimportant. For business tapping into this source of diligence and competence is a necessary human resource strategy but what of education? Education needs to see that our children also want to develop such mastery on the small level that they function at. Students want to achieve, and the fundamental measure of achievement in schools is taken away from the students as exams are only concerned with determining the elite. Somehow education needs to change the emphasis from these rare pieces of paper into some notion of mastery in the learning life of the individual student.

For me insight and mastery go hand-in-hand in a school context. I mentioned above the student who gained an insight but did not have the technical skills to turn that insight into excellence. Therefore the insight was not rewarded, and along with reaction to other education approaches this process of gaining insight is lost. But what if that insight were able to be recognised as mastery at that level? What if the teacher were looking for mastery at the level of ability of the particular student (as opposed to always having to seek the goalposts of the examination)? This is the basic tenet of mixed ability teaching, a tenet that gets lost when it is compromised by the need for exam success. What if the teacher noticed that a student were engaged with a particular project, and together they were able to develop that engagement by promoting student autonomy and using that autonomy to bring the student's work to a natural fruition. Now this fruition might not measure up well to Einstein but the skills developed through this process of autonomous mastery are easily transferrable into the place of work. And underpinning this mastery is the relationship to insight. Develop the insight in the child at whatever level, and they will begin to own where they are going - driven on by their own insight. Develop confidence in that insight and allow the student their own direction so that they can develop mastery at their own level.

And this highlights another important aspect of insight and that is confidence. Once we have belief in our own insights we have a confidence in them, they have a strength. What happens to most ideas delivered in teaching or elsewhere. People listen, they remain on the surface of the brains and tend to be lost. However some ideas hit home, they hit a light bulb of understanding, somehow the individual gains an insight into this idea, it becomes internalised an is part of that person for ever more. Such ideas that develop the response of an insight already have a strength because they are delivered by, and presumably accepted as expert. That strength together with the internalisation means that the idea is not lost. But what about personal insights? People cling to them, they have strength, they have confidence in these ideas because of the insight process. Most ideas delivered in class are lost, they have no relevance, they briefly attach to the surface of the brain, and are then lost. They become remembered as students are forced to write them down and recall them in an exam - only for the ideas to be lost again after the exam regurgitation process. But ideas gained through insight are never lost, they are part of the internalised individual that remain with them forever.

Through meditation or otherwise we have considered the development of insight. This insight process is at the moment miseducated out of us, as the reasoning mind of the adult policy-maker has difficulty embracing insight. If we can develop an education system that encourages these natural insights and develop them through a process of autonomous mastery, we have education which is much nearer self-realisation for all.

Ch9 On developing processes

So far I have mainly considered developing the process of insight but there are far more processes that it is important in education for all in self-realisation. But firstly I want to consider how such a system might begin to work. I have already intimated at the major stumbling block to the development of this process. Suppose a child has an insight and begins to develop something of meaning to the child. The teacher stops "pack up you books end of the lesson, in tomorrow's lesson we begin a new topic in our programme". Bang, that's it, That is the end of the insight. The student has just begun to develop some work, and then it is over - most of the value of that insight would be lost. In the current climate of teacher-bashing blame would immediately be attached to the teacher. Rubbish! The teacher has no choice. The system demands exam results, the Principal's job is to deliver so s/he demands lesson plans and a programme of study, and the teacher is forced to follow the plans - now if they don't in the US they are losing their jobs. The policy-makers are preventing the teachers from working with the students to develop their insights, and the same is true of developing other valuable processes - all of which are needed for today's society.

This of course is crazy, and demonstrates how little control of education educationalists have - teachers or otherwise. Real educationalists value education for all, and for them a process of insight would be of great value - far greater than what is lost by not returning to a programme leading to an exam. In education it is necessary to see that this exam system pervades every lesson preventing education. Suppose the above child repeatedly has insights and is unable to express those insights beyond the confines of that one lesson because of the programme of study. They will lose heart in frustration, and they will begin themselves not to value their insight. The fault lies in the programme of study that is defined by the exams. It is no good blaming the teacher or claiming that my child is year 8 so they should be free to express themselves. The restrictions of work in the programme of study for year 8 are defined by the exams, even if the exams are not sat until year 11. Suppose a teacher sees insight and digresses from the programme of study, what happens? In today's climate of repressing the teacher, someone complains and immediately the teacher is drawn over the coals. Maybe the principal agrees with the teacher that such process work is important but it is more than their job's worth to stray from the programme of study, because of the pressure they themselves are under. And who suffers? The student because they don't learn. And the teacher because they are not allowed to teach what matters.

But we must have exams! Really, why? Because of the corporations who want to measure the students' ability. When the student leaves the place of learning they must have a piece of paper that says they are successful, and it is this measure of success which is one of the main keys to understanding why our education system is failing. The teacher word for this is assessment, and we must try to understand how important this assessment is. Assessment is effectively a feedback to the student from the teacher as well as for the teacher to know the success of the student, and then there is the assessment of the examination. But intricately involved with assessment is power, does this feedback matter to the student? Does it matter to the student if the teacher is aware that the student is not being successful? Does the exam matter to the student? These are key questions to investigate when you are considering the education system in the UK at the moment, assessment and the power of this assessment.

When a child does some work in school and the teacher tells them it is wrong, does that matter to them? Let us consider how this process of assessment develops during the school years. Now in the early years I would think it matters. Let's bear in mind that before they go to school there is a loving bond between parents and child, and as a result learning occurs in the home. It would be hoped that this loving relationship would be extended to school where the teacher would then become part of this bond but sadly it does not. As I have said before, this is primarily because our education system is effectively trying to mould children into a workforce where the majority of people are not intended to be successful. From the loving environment of early childhood where learning occurs naturally, they are moved into a processing system that leads to success for a few and failure for most. The parents and teachers know this is happening, and this takes away from the quality of the bond. So from having a bond in which love is so important, they join a system in which the measure of this bond is success for the few and failure for most. Despite their best efforts the teacher becomes the symbol of this failure as it is their assessment that continually says to the student they are failing.

Now turn this around and consider education for all as being education for its own sake - self-realisation. The student takes their natural instinct for learning from the loving environment of the home into a similar loving environment in school, and education occurs because it is education for self-realisation. This is why the home education movement is so successful because the learning relationship continues through love. Now in truth there are many dedicated teachers who try to extend that loving arrangement into the primary schools but increasingly they have come under pressure by the increase in examinations. Rather than having a choice in helping the child learn for themselves they are forced to squeeze the child into a mould of testing that immediately tells the child they are not loved as this love is connected with failure in testing. As soon as you start measuring learning by whether they have achieved in tests the loving relationship that is needed for learning has gone. The problem is not that the child gets a score of 47 what matters is that the child is told that only a score of 80 or above matters.

At the same time the nature of what they are learning changes as they develop through school. At home children begin to learn because the parents want them to learn, the love between them develops the learning as the child begins to read and write. At this stage reading and writing helps the child learn about life so that is part of their instinctive environment. In the early stages at school they continue to learn about life but slowly this process of learning about life turns into learning about subjects in which they are expected to pass. As these subjects take greater and greater shape so the students begin to see that they are failures through not getting the numbers in these subjects. By secondary school this process has been completed. From the loving environment of the home the children have moved to the failing environment of the subject-based curriculum of the secondary school where only the few matter. When you look at it this way, is it any wonder our children are unhappy in school?

And is it any wonder why caring parents are so successful with home education. Even though these parents have not had the benefit of learning about education they are successful because they are able to extend the loving bond beyond the early years. In the end many of these parents turn this bond into the exam assessment measure, better exam results are achieved because they have been able to extend this bond. In a school there is usually greater expertise but because the system is not geared towards learning for self-realisation for all, the classroom soon is filled with children who know they are designated failures. The older they get the greater this realisation. The few who are more successful and who soon become recognised as the ones the system is measuring become more and more isolated, and recently they have started to be victimised. From outside this victimising appears so unreasonable but it is a human right to be educated and for that education to have meaning, for that majority there is little meaning and it is natural to turn that anger on those who through their ability are perceived as taking this right away from them.

I just want to mention here something called unschooling which I will go into later. This unschooling is a branch of home education in which the children decide on what they want to learn. To begin with this sounds crazy but is it? When we think of our learning - even if we were successful, it was not a matter of love. We were in the classroom waiting for break, waiting for lunch, waiting to go home, waiting to play. So why wouldn't we choose to play if we were self-directing? In early years expertise says playing is learning so why wouldn't children extend this play-learning as they grow older? It is this principle that I feel schools could use in autonomous mastery just discussed, and I suggest that successful unschooling also use this principle. As I said - later.

Now the groundwork for the school problems has been set. Our institutions are geared towards failure. As students grow this failure becomes clearer, and so their engagement with the system gets less and less. At present there is increased pressure to improve exam results as if this is the solution. Let us examine this contention. Who is it aimed at? In terms of the corporate paradigm can the number of successes increase? Of course not, the number of exec jobs remains the same. So what is this pressure about? Improving the quality of those few who are successful. It does not deal with the issues that are causing the school problems, in fact it increases them. In the classroom my attention was always taken up with ill-discipline, I often complained about this. I spent more time on the bad students than the good ones, all teachers do. One might imagine that by placing pressure on teachers to focus on high achievers it will alter this dynamic. Far from it. With greater attention wanting to be placed on the higher achievers, those who cannot achieve will do more to disrupt to get attention. For children it is natural to want attention, to want love. If the pressure is on the teachers to give that attention to only a few, then attention-seeking activities will increase causing greater disruption. There is no solution in increasing pressure to improve exams, the need is to engage all students.

So this is what teachers have to deal with, a system that is designed to fail the majority of students, and these failing students are getting more and more demanding from a younger age. This has to happen. And there is no solution until the system starts to recognise education for all.

So within this system of failing you would think that you would give every help to the teacher to cope. Far from it. Instead of helping the teacher the system starts to blame the teacher for its own inadequacies. What can a teacher do about the fact that the paradigm only wants a few successes. Absolutely nothing.

Maybe the system would then try to empower the teacher to deal with this balancing act. We know only a few will be successful but maybe if we increase the powers of the teacher then that will help in controlling the failures, this is where assessment and power comes in. We could enable some control by increasing the power that teachers have by giving their assessment more meaning. Ultimately many students are working to fit into society. Despite the failure that is built into the education system, many students still maintain some engagement to try to get something from the school. They work to get some exam results even though they will not get the results that will give them success for business. And here is the rub. These students are not engaged with the teachers, they are engaged with exam success. Does the teachers' assessment matter? Only if it is of relevance to the exam.

Now this could be changed. Suppose we had a dynamic where the teacher's assessment did matter, what would happen? The student would be forced to engage with the teacher, at the moment it is only the inherent politeness of some of the students and any charisma the teacher can create that keeps any form of engagement with the teacher. But the system is designed for disengagement from the teacher, the teacher is fighting a losing battle and the only weapon is charisma. Ludicrous.

Let us consider the workplace. You have a boss, you do the job, you get paid. For the majority in a school, you have the teacher, you have no job because you are meant to fail, and you have no reward. And within the school you don't have to do what the teacher says because there is no reward, and the only punishment is to expel you from the place you don't want to be. What kind of people work in this situation? Fools. Their pay is low. They go to school knowing that the majority of students have no interest in doing what they say as the students are going to fail. And the strongest punishment is to expel the students from the place they don't want to be, where they are forced to go by law. This is madness, and teachers must be fools.

But it is almost the opposite, many teachers have a vocation, they actually want to educate. How they want to educate may not be certain but they want to educate. And this uncertainty is based around the whole uncertainty of mixed messages that are created around a system that is designed to fail the majority of students and not give them an education. After working a while this vocation soon turns to disillusionment, and instead of caring for the children their only value comes from the pay cheque and therefore from career. After this vocation has gone, most teachers seek the fastest track to the money and out of the classroom. This is why there are so many educator hangers-on. The teaching is designed to be unfulfilling. Their training is education so they must find work out of the classroom - hanging on.

The system needs to take this vocation and utilise it. The demands of the corporate paradigm are not going to change, they only need a few successes. But we can still gain something from schools if we can increase the engagement between student and teacher. And we do that by giving teacher assessment value. Where is the value now? In the tests and in the exams. Let's take that value out of the tests and exams and give it to the teachers. In the current climate of teacher-bashing that sound horrendous but let us examine it as a contention. What does the world of work need from the exams? The qualification. It is not the content, but the qualification. The world of work wants to employ someone who has been successful. That is all. There is no more to the exam process than the need to measure success. The basis of years of schooling comes down to a measure of success at the end, and most of the content of the learning is meaningless. Is it any wonder that so many failing students don't bother? The content doesn't matter, and they cannot get the qualification. What is there to do? Have some fun by disrupting.

Apart from a few basics which need to be carefully considered, the exam could be about anything as the world of work only wants the measure of success. This needs careful consideration. The majority of the content of our learning has no meaning for the world of work, and all that matters is that the world of work has a measure of success. Let us start with this reality and build a meaningful education system. If we accept this as the reality then we can stop these years from being wasted and do something useful for our children.

Let us begin with the measure of success. In terms of the teaching material the teacher knows the student best so if we can find a way of using that knowledge then something can be gained from the school. This is assessment, the teacher can assess the student. Everyday the teacher works with the student, helps them in knowing how good their work is, and can assess them. Throughout their time at school this formative assessment can build up until eventually there is a summative assessment at the end that can be taken to the world of work. At present that summative assessment is the exam, and the formative assessment is very limited as it is totally connected to the exam and even successful students believe in cramming more than in the teacher.

I have just contended that the actual exam contents has little meaning to the world of work but the world of work is beginning to make demands to show what they do value. Two examples are shown by the 21st century partnership at and the Microsoft education plan (at and competence wheel (download from microsoft page or from Matriellez Scribd). As educational objectives many of these competences teachers would be happy to incorporate in a good educational model, so what is the problem? Asessment. The world of work does not accept assessment by teachers, they require an objective assessment like exams.

So let us examine how the world of work conducts assessment so that education can follow their "good example". How does the business world assess this competence? By a reference. The reference is written by the previous employer, so let us consider the motives of this employer? Maybe they want to get rid of the employee but not actually sack him - a good reference. This is the downside, but usually what happens is that business trusts the referee. Why? Is it because the referee has had years if training in assessment and writing references? No, they have had no formal training in assessment, but they of course do have legitimate on-the-job training. Now consider the teacher. They have had formal training in assessment - their education degrees. And as they become more experienced they have more on-the-job training. So maybe the world of work spends more time on assessment. The exact opposite. Most employers are working for profit, and they spend little time assessing. The teacher's job is assessment. They deliver the curriculum and assess the student in terms of this curriculum, yet a reference from an employee is trusted and a teacher's assessment is not. How ludicrous.

The real issue is that employers believe the teacher-bashing that is going on, and in general society does what it can to disempower the teacher. Take assessment out of the exam hall, and give it back to the teacher where it belongs. This is not likely to happen because of the business interest of the various exam boards who wield unacceptable power in terms of education policy. Far from just facilitating exams these companies influence education policy to such an extent they are damaging the education future of our children.

So if assessment is back where it belongs then the next stage is to examine what is to be assessed. This is where teachers and business can start to agree. There is a conflict between my position as an educator for all and businesses espousing competences, but this conflict lies not in the competences themselves. By comparison with the level of self-realisation that exists in schools, any competency model would be better. Self-realisation is an educational objective - it is not a business objective, far from it business requires a level of commitment to the profit motive which has many aspects that militate against self-realisation. When I discuss natural development in greater detail that conflict will become more and more apparent, but for the moment competences and self-realisation are not too far apart.

So an educational model that combines teacher assessment with competences has the potential for success. So the practical question is what competences and then how does the teacher convey their assessment? In fact the second question is easy, and depends on the first, if there is agreement as to what competences are to be assessed and the teacher knows that they are to assess in terms of these competences then how much closer is the world of work to education. An employer is recruiting, and they receive an application that actually contains information about the skills they actually want. How much more certain is their interview procedure!

Consider the interview now. I have limited experience in the world of work outside education but I have some. After university I used my maths degree and stats postgrad diploma to apply for a statistical analyst/programmer. The company's statistican interviewed me, and he noted a certain statistical understanding that was of value to him. Backing his instinct he employed me - it was a mistake as I was not suited to the job. I didn't know then but I was a teacher. But in my limited view his instinct was not wrong, I did have that statistical acumen he was looking for - I was just not prepared to sell myself for the profit motive and all that implied in an office. But imagine if he had received a profile that looked at more suitable attributes for the world of work:- maturity, employability, self-realisation, critical thinking, relationship with adults. I had none of these at the time, and my lack of suitability for employment would have been evident. Whilst I learned a lot on the job - it was very formative in my life choices. In fact I was lucky to be offered a job at the company. The work was interesting and they employed some very interesting people. I learnt this by comparison with the two computing jobs I had next as they put the nail in the coffin of any possibility of my working for profit alone. In fact that 18 months of negative experience was always in the background whenever some of the worse aspects of careerism and profiteering in teaching raised their heads. I never ever embraced these motivations but I did learn to sit in on my resentment as I had known so much worse.

Let us assume that an alliance of competences and self-realisation can be reached in discussion between educationalists and business so that a workable profile can be established. This has vast implications for the education system as a whole. Firstly the majority of the current curriculum has to disappear. Whilst I support autonomous mastery as an approach there are certain elements of our current curriculum that all students should know. An acronym for this is WARC, the new 3R's:-




Computer Skills

No matter how pervasive the computer becomes writing will always be necessary. Some might wonder at arithmetic. Now any realistic approach to education has got to recognise that the pervasive computer has changed the content of education. At the moment education is debating the use of Web 2.0 as a means of engaging the students in the irrelevant curriculum, this of course stops far short of what is needed in education. Let's start with arithmetic. The computer, as well as the calculator, can do arithmetic more accurately and quicker than a human being so why am I suggesting we continue with arithmetic. Some argue that arithmetic can be used for shopping, this is an advantage but few students develop the speed of calculation that enables mental arithmetic as a useful shopping check. A calculator could do such checking of desired. The real benefit of arithmetic is that it brings a familiarity with number. I can remember innumerable occasions where I have taught a new maths technique only to find that students say they don't understand because the answer is wrong. When I checked I discovered that the error was in the arithmetic. To improve this use of arithmetic I also recommend algebraic manipulation mainly substitution and rearrangement in formulae as they are skills which help with calculations in many areas.

Recognising the pervasiveness of computers also brings into question the behemoth that we have eschewed for other reasons - the examination. What does an examination test? Primarily the ability to revise and recall vast amounts of information, and then once the exam has been finished the recall of that information becomes irrelevant. If the information was actually useful information it could be recalled by computer later. This use of the computer clearly makes the current use of examinations as outmoded, even if it were sensible to have our education systems dominated by exams. Of course they are not sensible for other reasons mainly the ones I have already stated.

Before the use of computer as an information system the skill of memory and recall was more relevant - now it isn't. The skill that is needed is that the knowledge is there and knowing where to retrieve it. When you consider much of the content that we require in our education syllabuses, it is far more easily accessible by computer. And this is an excellent yardstick for our curriculum and the competences. What can humans do that computers cannot? This then begins to address all the competences that we need to live. Consider this diagram:-

To explain. The capabilities of the human fall into the three rectangles, two of which I have named as compassion and intelligence. The third rectangle represents skills a human uses but which a computer also has. For me as will be obvious the most important competences are concerned with compassion and intelligence but let me begin by discussing the rest of the diagram. The oval represents skills which both the computer and human have to different degrees. Let's begin with sensory awareness. Now when you consider our 5 physical senses, a computer can be fitted with their own sensory apparatus making their sensory mechanisms far more sensitive and accurate. A computer can tell you that the temperature of the water is hot but it cannot feel it is hot. It could however tell you when your coffee is ready to drink by measuring the temperature - if you had previously programmed in that you can drink coffee which is 40oC. Here is the key to understanding the limitations of the computer, and therefore understanding what a human can do. A computer can only do what it is programmed to do, for most of us drawing the distinction between what the programmer can make the computer do and what he can't is difficult. But it is essential to consider what these limitations are in order to determine what are valid human competences.

A computer has logic circuits so if programmed a computer can develop a logical problem through to solution. A computer can more easily solve an equation such as this quadratic:- x2 + 7x +13 = 0

but the computer cannot consider the practical situation and derive this equation from that situation. That is a human skill of insight and reasoning. A computer's logical circuits can reason far quicker than a human but there are certain areas of reasoning that they cannot develop. And of course insight is a skill beyond computers.

Whilst a computer cannot speak - create words, programmers are developing software that will recognise words and presumably eventually they will develop software that will enable computers to speak words from writing or reading. But they cannot create thoughts as humans can and turn them into words. As a communication device it is faster and has greater capabilities of distance through the internet. As an information system it has far greater capabilities than humans but if we keep our minds clear it is amazing the power of recall humans have.

As for technical design a computer, through CAD software, can produce designs, but the creative spark has to come from humans. I will also mention "super-sense", you might call it a non-tactile sense. Some call it sixth sense, or even hyper-sensitivity. At present we rely on our own five senses but what would happen to our sensory mechanisms if we started to rely on computers for some of our sensory awareness. The boundaries of our sensory capabilities would change, and what is now the stuff of movies might well become reality. Being open to such a change is an appropriate awareness for self-realisation.

Now we can address what is contained in the intelligence rectangle. These qualities of intuition, insight, creativity, wisdom, aesthetic appreciation and even genius would be attributes that could classify as education competences that business would want. I have already mentioned some sources of business competences, later I will look into an approach that could lead to agreement.

But the final rectangle of compassion business might well say does not have a place in education, this I completely refute. It is in this area of compassion (love, caring, morality, emotions, sleep, dream, meditation, ...) that business does not see a role for education. I consider that harshness irresponsible. If the education model is to be self-realisation then compassion must be included, although I would never see business agreement on this.

There are however two compassionate areas that business would support, and that would be nurture (part of love) and morality. One aspect of business that is needed is a stable society. Whilst criminality is seen by many as part of the business arena, it is a controlled and stable criminality. Violence within the office is not appropriate but seeding violence within the countries that provide raw materials is a repeated tactic. Social morality within the metropolitan business community is a requirement as business people want to live peacefully and they want an education for their children so that the children can also gain the benefits of wealth. In general business requires peace in their society as without a certain level of peace there will be no market for their products - and hence no profits. There is of course a cut-off to this morality, business would want controlled the level of moral outrage at the hunger and crimes in the third world that are consequences of their policy. Of course they have that level of control at the moment - mostly. They want moral people but not people with too many morals. As an educationalist for self-realisation is a pre-requisite, it is not possible for ourselves to develop fully whilst our practice are immoral - there is a level of conflict here with business. At present this level of morality is assuaged by such people becoming doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers etc., and then business ensures that these jobs never have sufficient finance to affect their practice and profits.

The role of nurture in schools is confused at present. I remember feeling torn about my own attitude to nurture. In our schools maintaining discipline is the most urgent objective; there is no point in attempting to teach anything whilst disruption is happening, students cannot concentrate, and without concentration there is no learning. I can remember a number of occasions where I was in the middle of explaining to individuals how to approach solving the problem and my explanation was cut short by disruption. In the end I began to teach the whole class more and more because it was the most effective way of maintaining control. Most disruptive students are happy to disrupt away from the gaze of the teacher but they don't always like disrupting the teacher themselves - it is much easier to appoint culpability.

In many of our schools students come from difficult backgrounds, and sadly their only solace is in the schools. The school provides some form of stability. Such students find it pacifying to be told to go to this lesson, sit there, and do some work before at the end of the day they return to a difficult home environment. This function of a school cannot be ignored, but under the current paradigm not only is it ignored it causes conflict. Sadly such students are often disruptive or at best require more attention - more than their fair share. And more often than not the level of output of these students is low, by our current system they are failures. But because they are more demanding such students take away your time from some of the students who are achieving. And many of the students who are achieving are unwilling to be demanding and often get ignored. What does a teacher do? Now in my case I always tried to favour the academic achiever to the detriment of the need for nurture, but even with a positive emphasis to the achiever I was never able to give them the time needed and my only compromise was to offer them the opportunity to see me after school. Many did. But there was never enough time, and in truth much of this after school time was taken up with pointless meetings. No, I'm not going to discuss these meetings, aagghh!

Now with an approach that is self-realisation for all attempting to improve process there is more of an opportunity to educate these disruptive students. Firstly these students have an absentee problem due to these home difficulties. These students are not healthy as any finance in the home is going to be directed to the drug abuse rather than to medicine or healthy food. If the syllabus is content-based as it is now these students miss lessons. In maths this is a particular problem as it is a linear subject - you build on previous learning. But if the student is absent, and returns at the 4th lesson you have to attempt to teach weaker students the content of the missed 3 lessons. Impossible. If however you are teaching a process based on their last lesson, then the disruption is minimised. Therefore these students with difficult backgrounds can come to school, and not only have some comfort in the structured day, but also benefit from some positive learning experience. I can often remember teaching such students who returning to school have a bit more motivation. I was getting towards the end of the topic and wanted to teach the class, and I would watch as this student's heart would lose the minimal motivation as everything went over their head. If the class was with me, is it right to stop and teach this student individually? No, I would make the effort to see them afterwards, but it didn't always help. Projects based on learning from where the student is at removes this problem.

And it alleviates another strange anomaly of our education system, why do we assume that students of the same age are at the same level of development in all subjects? I am a maths teacher so I obviously have some ability at maths. Did I have the same ability in learning French? No. Yet I was in the same class. There are two ways round this problem, neither of which work under the current system. Firstly you have a mixed ability class, this requiring a teacher to provide lesson plans for every student for every lesson. Impossible unless you give the teacher at least two lessons of preparation time for every lesson. The second alternative is to stream for every subject whilst maintaining the same age structure. Having done timetables I can assure you that this is impossible with the level of staffing in schools at the moment, and if were to happen there would be a clear waste of resources, mind you teachers would like it as it would give them appropriate preparation time. With a content-based programme of study ie a programme of study leading up to exams, it is not practical to deal with a mixed ability approach.

Class delivery requires a class of students who are at similar levels with similar objectives. It requires a positive motivation from all students and a commitment to what is being taught. In our schools now we have none of these. Removing exams because they impose so many restrictions begins to create the opportunity for learning competences, and learning these competences begins to offer the possibility of self-realisation. And such a possibility could engage all students. With the system respecting the teacher and respecting their assessment there are alternatives to the exam structure that are educationally far more sound, equally more acceptable to business, and engage the student in lessons. Hopefully this would lead to some efforts towards self-realisation, it certainly would not be detrimental as the current system clearly is.