One Smile - One Education?

One smile – one education?

Co-creating peace and balance

 

We are living in a unique time when each human being can create a great evolutionary shift in human consciousness. A new way of thinking and valuing has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting. Cultivating creative choices is a precondition of finding our way into balance, a globally interconnected web of life in which all life forms live together peacefully, cooperatively, and with mutual benefit. Establishing sustainable communities and societies where our cultural and other differences are acknowledged and other perspectives and ways of being respected and honoured; where we can find unity in diversity, a university.

How can we assist our children to become self-responsible and self-confident personalities who are able to meet life’s challenges, make conscious life-sustaining choices and enjoy the ride? I asked myself this question when I was pregnant with my first child. Aware of my own shortcomings I looked around me to find some answers. “Good education” was mentioned quite a few times when I searched for information. However, I soon realized that there wasn’t one unified opinion of what “good education” could look like. This led me to more questions. What is education for? Does education have to take at a school or in some kind of formal institution? And who is an educated person? These are also some core question Jane Gilbert from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research and many other educational researchers are exploring worldwide.

Coming from a family of teachers and from a country where homeschooling is illegal, I set out to find the “ideal school” for my oldest daughter, about 15 years ago. Her not going to school didn’t occur to me. It simply wasn’t an option in my mind-frame at the time. Being an investigative journalist, I decided to make this a “research project”. How can you define a “good school” or good education for that matter? This brought me to the underlying question of ‘what do I want for my children?’ I came to the conclusion that for me a school, or any learning place, should be an environment that nurtures the learning for wellbeing of all involved and fosters the awareness of the interconnectivity of all life on all levels. From observation and experience when working with school children I knew that the existing mainstream educational system often doesn’t meet these criteria. Not only that the children weren’t happy, teachers and parents seemed to be equally unsatisfied with the existing options. European teachers have one of the highest early retirement rates compared to other professions.

I decided that there surely must be other options to help me fulfil my goal with education. As a consequence, I studied Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf education, Maria Montessori and her help-me-to-do-it-myself approach, Helene Lange, Krishnamurti, as well as old classics like Rousseau and Seneca and many others – there seemed to be a lot of alternative thinkers and feelers! I became an avid student of alternative education models and travelled the world to explore different concepts and realizations of learning spaces. After visiting various Steiner and Montessori Schools I was drawn to get first-hand experiences  in some more “unconventional “ learning spaces such as Nizhoni School (http://www.nizhonischool.com) in Galisteo/New Mexico, Summerhill School in England (http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/), Brockwood Park, a Krishnamurti School in England (http://www.brockwood.org.uk/), Helene Lange School in Germany (http://helene-lange-schule.templ2.evision.net/?id=175), Kin School, an Anastasia Forest School in Russia (http://greenplanetparadise.com/504/anastasia-s-dream-forest-schools-of-the-future), and Damanhur School in Italy (http://www.damanhur.org/about-us/education/24-education-of-children-and-the-damanhur-school), just to name a few. I also became involved in the development of various alternative educational concepts e.g. IDEAL (Integrated Dolphin Education and Learning), a model originally inspired by Dr. Horace Dobbs, an internationally acclaimed dolphin researcher and medical scientist, who shared my passion for dolphins.

After two years of travelling, I came to the conclusion that:

a) There is no “one size fits all” educational system if well-being and happiness is seen as a central goal of education.

b) The realization of educational concepts and philosophies totally depend on the interpretation, capabilities and personalities of the people who put them into practice, meaning a school that aims at following a certain philosophy or concept doesn’t necessarily achieve to implement the ideal of that concept because sometimes “human issues” interfere with its realization.  I have seen many different versions of Steiner or Montessori schools, for instance, each interpreting their masterminds and mentors in their own individual way. A school is as good (or bad) as the people who work in it – no matter which philosophy it follows. 

c) Most educational systems focus on intellectual cognitive learning and neglect to provide an adequate emotional and spiritual framework.

d) Education and learning is not necessarily the same thing. The widespread opinion that learning only, mainly or preferably takes place in school or in educational institutions is an assumption that simply isn’t correct. Learning happens all the time (not only between 9 am and 3 pm). It is life as we live it, and not limited to the class room or any other room or form or structure. It is a fluid process, ever changing as life itself. Humans are the only species on the planet who divide their life (time) into sections: education, leisure time, work, play, etc. Learning is happening all the time, in every moment, where ever we are, whatever we do. Learning is life, life is learning.

“Non vitae sed scholae discimus - We learn not for life but for the school” complained the Roman scholar Seneca about the narrow-mindedness of schools. Each educational system I explored consists of the following three cornerstones:

The three parts vary in size and importance, e.g. in some schools personal growth and self development is more emphasized than in others. In most mainstream educational systems, “cognitive learning” still represents the main chunk of the cake, even if the curriculum would allow for a different interpretation.

So what does “good education” look like? How can we cater for individual needs while honouring the “bigger whole”, supporting children in leading a sustainable, balanced, interconnected life? From my observation, there are some basic criteria that need to be in place in order to create learning spaces that allow for positive learning experiences, no matter what system or concept we want to adopt:

Diversity

Diversity is a fact of life – diversity in farming, diet, play/work, thinking, etc. Modern systems and education reward us for fitting in instead of encouraging us to discover who we are. Therefore, our children become confused as to whom they are. In all this              conformity the Self is thrown away for an image and a vague social or cultural promise. In             order to change this, we will have to let them develop and find their own measure, choice and self-perspective so that they can be their own self-teacher. Standardization kills creativity – there is not one-size-fits-all form of education/learning!

Introspection

The process of introspection means to look within, to focus on movement and observation and own life experiences: if you see an old-fashioned alarm clock, look and observe how the gears are moving and how they are working together.

Choice and self-direction

Once we truly feel that we do have choice, we begin to free ourselves from limitations and burden of beliefs. This is the beginning of self-teaching. Choice creates balance, and balance begins within our own minds.

Democracy of mind

When we democratise our thinking we will be able to function in life as free and balanced individuals. We will realize that we are self-responsible and able to make our own decisions to the benefit of all creation.

Interconnection and reciprocity

The universe is an intricate and complex system of different strands that are weaved together forming a colourful web of life. If you pull one strand it has an effect on the whole web. And yet, all strands are different, have their own colour and identity which makes up the beauty and specialness of the web.  We humans form ONE such strand as a species. In indigenous cultures this self-image is still alive, it is essential for survival. In our so called modern societies with their technological and other inventions we painted an image in our minds that shows us as independent, self-reliant beings that can control life and its components. We think we don’t need to listen to the Wind or the Sun or the Trees because we can just shut the door of our well insulated houses, switch on the heater and turn on the hot water tap. We think that we can control and plan birth by promoting caesarean – originally seen as valuable emergency intervention - as a safe and normal way of welcoming our children into this world. We need to re-mind us that these mind pictures, cultivated in modern societies, are an illusion. Parenting and educational systems in modern societies mainly focus on the development of the intellect, the mind. We train our young ones to be specialists rather than seeing the bigger picture, the interconnectedness of all life. We establish ranking and assessment systems that support the principles of dominance and competitiveness rather than nurturing community building skills, cooperation, team spirit and solidarity. However, the good news: we all come into this world with the abilities to connect, relate and communicate on levels way beyond verbal communication. When we allow for conscious birth, allow children to keep their different ways of perception from a very young age, and encourage them to develop empathic and other life sustaining skills, life on this planet will change fundamentally.

Nature integration

After all these years of exploring and learning and reading about different forms of education, my favourite teacher and ultimate source of learning is nature. I remember sitting on a birch tree for hours and hours when I was a child. Dreaming and receiving “messages” of wisdom, insights that I am still drawing from. Sitting with trees, on a rock near the beach, watching the sunset and listening to the gentle chatter of the waves still provides me with my best “learning experiences”. That’s where I go when I need fresh ideas for my writings, insights in relationships, parenting or any other areas of my life. Shamanic traditions in all cultures incorporate this way of “natural learning”, and we can be inspired by shamanic practices when creating learning spaces and experiences for children.

In my view, “good education” happens through real life experiences, preferably in natural not human created environments, rather than being limited to a school building and mainly offering theoretical knowledge. Experiences and information ideally relate to our present life situation on planet earth, to the NOW and to WHO I AM. Gaining more practical experiences and life skills on many levels (mental, spiritual, physical) and a holistic approach thus are the main ingredients of balancing education.##

If you want to get involved or read more about alternative learning options:

Holisticlearning.weebly.com

Ako-a-Rongo means peaceful listening, listening with all senses which is a prerequisite for all learning. Ako-a-Rongo is an initiative to network and bring people together who want to explore ways to re-form and re-store natural ways of learning, to find and live positive examples of self-growth and self-development, to find and live unity in diversity, so that we can share our gifts for the benefit of all life.

www.nzcer.org.nz

www.learningforwellbeing.org

Birgit Baader is a mother of two children, author and film maker, co-founder of Ako-A-Rongo, a multicultural holistic learning initiative (holisticlearning.weebly.com), involved in educational research programs and alternative learning projects in Europe and New Zealand. www.birgitbaader.com