Nature - Education as we Grow

Although this concept might be difficult to describe in practice - ie defining it's relationship with the curriculum, it is a concept that educationalists should in principle want to fit in with. Our education system needs to suit the levels of ability and understanding of the particular ages of the students ie teach to them at the level they are growing at. Do we actually consider this?

In terms of age how is our curriculum defined? From a practicing teacher's point of view it might be phrased as "in maths this is what a good year 9 might do" or it might be described as "in maths this student has attained National Curriculum target level 6". As the national curriculum targets were in general setup in line with existing practices describing level 6 as approximating to year 9 is reasonable. Evaluation of curriculum content is not in general considered by the practising teacher but is tacitly accepted as received understanding from previous generations, text books and exam content. This of course is in general reasonable, every teacher cannot re-invent the wheel.

Has much research has been done using the terms, Nature or Natural development? Much has been done on cognitive development.

concerned with acquisition of knowledge: relating to the process of acquiring knowledge by the use of reasoning, intuition, or perception [Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2005.]

This is Encarta's definition of cognitive, and I intend to consider cognitive development as the process of acquiring (developing) knowledge by the use of reasoning, intuition or perception at an appropriate age. This might be simplified as saying that it would not be appropriate for a year 7 maths student to try to prove that ?2 is irrational, and it would be equally inappropriate to ask year 11 students to learn the 9 x table - perhaps not so as a number of them don't know them.

In earlier times subject teachers chose to teach various concepts at a particular age, and over the years this choice became refined as experienced teachers wrote text books incorporating these years of refinement. Educational research has recently provided a general understanding of appropriate cognitive development, and I would like to refer to one such expert, Piaget.

"In his work Piaget identified the child's four stages of mental growth. In the sensorimotor stage, occurring from birth to age 2, the child is concerned with gaining motor control and learning about physical objects. In the preoperational stage, from ages 2 to 7, the child is preoccupied with verbal skills. At this point the child can name objects and reason intuitively. In the concrete operational stage, from ages 7 to 12, the child begins to deal with abstract concepts such as numbers and relationships. Finally, in the formal operational stage, ages 12 to 15, the child begins to reason logically and systematically." [Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2005.]

1. Sensorimotor stage

2. Preoperational stage

3. Concrete operational stage

4. Formal operational stage

It is my understanding that these stages are generally accepted. I have sometimes wondered whether in primary education maths is introduced early in terms of this Piagetian model.

For the purposes of this article I wish to accept that Piaget's model would in general be considered a Natural model. Given that our society has certain requirements of educational knowledge or understanding for example in technology, earlier introduction of some maths concepts might be necessary but it is not my purpose here to question this. As I am here trying to consider the appropriate age for understanding, Piaget's model could be accepted as a Natural model, and such an acceptance would not be contentious (although some might want to question whether it is necessary to introduce naturalness at all).

If such stages are considered appropriate for knowledge through education, it would also be reasonable to consider such stages as appropriate for parenting as well.

So what about decision-making? In terms of Piaget's model where does decision-making come in? Somewhere within the formal operational stage, where "the child begins to reason logically and systematically". This does not infer any moral reflection in terms of being logical or systematic, it states that the child begins to reason. I would suggest that a child would need a moral perspective and systematic reasoning skills in order to make a considered decision According to Piaget such systematic reasoning skills are unlikely to occur before 12 - certainly not as a general rule, and if you consider the moral dimension of the decision not until a while after that.

Using this established educational model I would contend it inappropriate for students to be making decisions before 12, and only guided decisions for quite a while after that. Who then makes the decisions up until the age of 12? Quite naturally the parents and, in loco parentis, teachers. I would say it was natural for parents to make the decisions at that stage and for a while longer, and my phrase "it was natural for parents" is backed up substantially by Piaget's model.

? For me the implications of unnatural early decision-making are themselves substantive. It is beginning to be accepted even in less institutionally-educated societies that children under 12 do not have to accept "because the adult says so" as justification for the child to do something. Because I am the teacher is sufficient reason. Many have determined that the lack of corporal punishment has led to a breakdown in discipline, but before the 1950's how many students questioned an adult when they were under 12?

Where did this problem start? That is a moot question in that it is already an established pattern. Many of the educational innovations of the 60s and 70s grew out of an intellectual rejection of what might be described as a Victorian approach. Such rejection included a rejection of hard-line discipline as a modus operandi of teaching, introduced discovery learning, and encouraged the development of an enquiring mind. Over the last 30-40 years these attributes, that were then desired, have led to a number of educational disasters.

? Discovery learning and the enquiring mind have led to this inappropriate decision-making, and the ill-discipline that follows from inappropriate questioning of adult authorities. Questioning parents starts the problem as discipline breaks down at home. From there students go to school, and begin to question the teacher. The teacher does not have the time to justify her/his actions with all the children at once, and yet these children expect time to be taken over such questioning. A discipline problem has developed, one that did not previously occur because students did as they were told by parents and teachers. As adults we might believe in questioning but we have the reflective skills to know when it appropriate or not to insist on questions being answered.

On our streets the police are not given the powers to cope with these ignorant children, in fact the opposite. Young children behave irresponsibly or even criminally, and yet the law protects these children. They are given rights inappropriate for their age, and adults are forced to act in inappropriate ways because of these misguided liberal rights. The same applies in the classroom where students are given inappropriate rights that prevent education from happening. With rights go responsibilities, and yet these children are too young to understand how to use the rights properly. If they cannot be held accountable for misuse of such rights, if the law will not allow them to be held responsible, then the rights should not be afforded in the first place.

This process of rights and responsibilities is an extension of the questioning approach, and substantively comes from understanding the fundamental axioms upon which decisions can be made by appropriate questioning. This is because young people lack the moral imperative that forms this necessary basis.

And this comes from the same chicken and egg moral backlash of the 70s. They rejected the strict Victorian moral code so their children lacked a moral foundation as did their grandchildren. The first generation not having such a foundation themselves were comfortable with younger generations not having one and questioning so-called authorities - police teachers and parents. Unfortunately it has gone so far now that it threatens to destroy a society whose fabric it has already undermined. Whilst sympathetic myself at the time to a 60s generation who questioned a failing society, they have now played into the hands of the hijackers; not only have the money men developed control of education but they also control elsewhere. The questioning that undermined society has led to an immoral backlash, where the only ambition is the accumulation of money.

I support wholeheartedly family values, a rebirth of a moral society and stricter discipline. Sadly the people who call for these things do not and they represent a class whose survival depends on decimated families, families held together by consumerism rather than duty and love, an immoral society whose hedonism increases profits, and a lawlessness that leads to escapism whose financial reins they hold.

I would contend that family values is a natural approach. Animal groupings have their own structures, and for humanity that is living in a society with a strong family structure. Where in Nature do we see questioning of parents? I am not asking that we use the same sorts of discipline as in the animal kingdom, but I am suggesting that there is a necessary authority and discipline structure that parents need to implement and that society needs to reinforce. This structure is not based around questioning that can only undermine unless it has an appropriate foundation.

And that foundation is morality. Where do children learn their morality but from their parents? And what is the basis of this morality? Is it deductive reasoning that eventually reduces their moral code to a set of precepts at the age of 5, 10 or even 15? Absolutely not, their moral code is learned by imitation, and this is a natural responsibility that some parents have chosen not to accept. This is understandable in some ways. In many ways society has taken away appropriate decision-making from parents, and insisted that it is the responsibility of the law and other social agencies. This has been done because of the failure of certain parents to fulfil their duties, or because of an overbearing arrogance of certain people in these agencies who dabble in the lives of individuals because they think they know better. But primarily it has been done as part of a general centralisation and disempowerment enabling the centre to have greater control - part of the hijack.

At a certain age children reject the morality of parents. In my own case as a child of the 60s it began as a sixth former, was consolidated more at university, but I would say that I only began to determine my own moral code in my early to mid 20s. It was certainly not at the stage of Piaget's formal operations. Yet in contemporary schooling and with modern liberal parenting children are expected to make moral decisions at an earlier and earlier age. As the natural parental responsibility is taken away from them, parents feel powerless to contribute to the education process leaving the decisions to students and teachers. Once this power has been appropriated then the motivation that is part of the natural bond between students and parents is lost, and discipline worsens in the schools.

This liberal misunderstanding concerning the decision-making is, using the terms of this approach, unnatural, and somehow the western liberal establishment needs to re-affirm its natural footing before society's fabric is completely dismantled.

Sadly I don't see this happening. These liberal intellectuals provide the moral leadership and the social climate of our state institutions. Underpinning society is the moral bankruptcy of the money men whose approach to morality is:-

If it has a green back I have a right to appropriate it using any means possible except personal thuggery although if I am not caught I can use thugs.

Our morally bankrupt financiers tolerate liberal intellectualism working in education, for example, so long as they don't get too radical and prevent the hijack. Unfortunately these liberal intellectuals get bogged down in careerism and profiteering, and become ineffective as they vie for the limited power finance allows them. Sadly this limited power seems to attract them away sufficiently from being serious educationalists. As the hijackers are satisfied with the current direction in education and as the educational leaders have been suitably appeased, sadly I do not see changes.

What is really sad is that these people do have power but not the token power offered by finance, but serious social power. Rightly or wrongly these people control society's moral imperative. If they were to take an appropriate moral position then many would follow isolating the criminal underworld that more and more influence people's everyday lives. A desire for money and power has replaced morality as a goal for the liberal intelligentsia, and this brings society nearer the criminal position where money and power can be gained by any means, legal or otherwise.

In parenting and in the social role rejected by contemporary intellectuals, the moral imperative has been lost and our society has moved away from its Natural development. In our education for self-realisation we can consider two things from this piece:-

Education needs to re-introduce the moral imperative - Virtue

A notion of Natural Path can guide our curriculum.