Educating in Nature

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.