Wise Hat News
15th March 2003, #4
You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war
Here in Japan Spring is but a breathe away, though you wouldn't know it by looking out of my window. Snow is still littering the rice fields. The sky is grey, the sun is hidden and the bombs have yet to fall in earnest.
You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So Adrian Mitchell wrote in his poem To Whom it May Concern which was first read out in Trafalgar Square in 1964 at a rally protesting the Vietnam War. That was over 30 years ago. It was read again Saturday 13 October 2001 at the Anti-War demonstration in London. One could say that things don't change, that poetry will always be read in protest and that the bombers will always be doing their grizzly work. But things are changing. The protests that have been taking place around the World are astounding. The Vietnam war went on for years before effective opposition to it could be created. The opposition to the war on Iraq is already changing the World. And it's important to realise this. I would be very surprised if war was averted. In some ways those that control of the killing machines have too much to lose by agreeing to peace. To do so would be to admit that power really should rest with the people. Very few political leaders are ready to accept this.
But consciousness is changing. Today will see a further example with the Global Vigil For Peace. If you don't know about this and would like to then here is the link:
Here is a question. Here are several questions. .
Just how much democracy is there in the World? How often do people get to exercise real choice over issues that affect them? How often do we get presented with nonentities offering us nonchoices? As Henry Ford once promised us, we can have any colour we like - as long as it's black. Why do we accept this? Why are we so ready to believe leaders when they say "there is no alternative"? Why do we believe we even need leaders at all?
I see the resistance to the drive to war as the dawning of a new era. We can reshape the World if we choose to. Even if the bombs do fall we must keep building. We can forge new relationships and create new structures that isolate, contain and bypass false authority. We can set about examining hierarchies and eliminating those that do not serve us. My personal feeling is that very few political, social and economic hierarchies are really necessary. We can create new forms of democracy. We can move beyond the dictum offered by Marx - "History repeats itself - the first time as tragedy the second time as farce". We are learning. We are changing and we can change the World.
PS I wrote this around a week ago (March 10th). I'm glad to say the snow has gone...
Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.
Last issue I told a lie. I didn't know it was a lie at the time but events made it so. I said the next issue of this newsletter would be out early in December. I hadn't figured on hard drive failure. I hadn't figured on losing my entire website. I hadn't figured my backup was faulty. I hadn't checked it, so how would I know?
Even so I told I lie, my actions made it so. Or rather my lack of them. I could have put something out, I could have sent some message, instead I let despondency get the better of me. I listened to that voice, the inner voice that revels in put downs and contempt. I gave in to self ridicule. I gave up.
It's taken me a while to get back. I've been off inside the tangents of my mind and I've been out of sync with external reality. It will be interesting to see what happens if I can actually get in sync.
I feel being able to observe oneself without labeling the findings is a useful tool for returning to harmony. Similarly when one finds oneself succumbing to the voice playing around with it can curb the effects. Rerunning what it says but making it comical and silly can really lessen the impact. But it's also possible to extend this to interactions with others and this is important if free choice is valued.
Recently one of my classes entered the 'stormy' stage. I'm not sure exactly how my understanding of this is formed. I remember a workshop by Tim Murphey in Niigata which discussed the life cycle of groups. Then there's 'form, warm, storm, norm', mentioned to me by a friend, Alison Miyake. She picked this up while taking an MBA. And I guess, many teachers are aware of 'the honeymoon period', when students are on their best behaviour and not distressingly familiar? It never lasts...
Classes, groups, individuals are dynamic entities, so of course variation and change is inevitable. When tensions arise in a group this is a sign that the group is recreating itself. Conflict can be healthy, once we can step back and stop seeking to control it.
I feel the key is to let go of one's assumptions and expectations and drop the labels. The class I mentioned consists of five boys and three girls. Two boys and one girl joined an existing group. It took a while but suddenly the maelstrom was on me. It wasn't that anyone child was pushing me or defying me, more that my presence, and the presence of English became irrelevant to the interaction between the students. They would grab materials, especially balls and play amongst themselves.
With the labels of teacher and student in my mind this was rather frustrating. I had a job to do and I wasn't doing it. It took me a while to throw the labels out of my mind. By observing the situation and rerunning it at high speed through my mind it was possible to make it comic. Suddenly I found I had no position to defend and the stress drained away. This left me free to look at what I really wanted to achieve.
I found I wasn't after controlling the class. I found I wasn't after teaching English. What I found was that I am even more interested in how to create situations of genuine freedom.
Freedom is a recurring theme on the Save Summerhill egroup
As far as there is any consensus it seems agreed that freedom has to be lived to be effective. Children at free schools like Summerhill experience free choice on a daily basis. They have weekly meetings to determine the rules the community will live by. The scope for this doesn't really exist with a forty minute class, once a week. Previously I'd tried to get the children to create some 'class rules', but this was little more than an exercise in pleasing the teacher. It was really irrelevant to the processes the children were interested in and their own expectations.
One of the reasons it can be easier to 'teach' very young children is that they have no preconceived notions of what a teacher does. It's much easier for younger children to accept the idea of playing in English and interacting through English. Once children have experienced elementary school they quickly accumulate a lot of mental baggage. They are more aware of being in a classroom with an adult who is a teacher. Moreover, they are more adept at communicating in their native language and often are more likely to perceive communicating in a foreign language as less an exciting game or challenge and more a chore. Accordingly the children in my stormy class found it much more fun to play with each other. And the more space I gave them, the more they ignored me. It seemed that if I wasn't acting as a teacher I had no influence at all.
Since I believe that the structure of a situation shapes the possible outcomes I decided that if I wasn't satisfied with what was happening I needed to change the structure. My aim was to show the children what they were creating and to realise that they were responsible. One reason for doing this was because I still felt a sense of duty to the parents who were paying for an English teacher when my role had become more of a babysitter. Part of me didn't want the children to think I was just a 'weak' teacher who couldn't control them. But primarily I wanted the children to confirm that they realised they had choice and that they were taking it.
Can freedom be exercised in a vacuum?
The immediate try was to ask the children to assess how much English they were using in each 'lesson'. This wasn't a test and we accepted their assessment without comment.
The change in structure was to use two rooms for one class. One room I labelled as 'English Preferred Japanese OK'. The other room I labelled as 'English Only'. This was a mistake. I've made it before. It's simply too tough for most children to maintain - Japanese slips out, so the rule is impractical. Really it's the intention and determination to use English that is important, rather than the odd word of Japanese. But the main reason it was a mistake was because it was my rule and just created a win-lose situation. One boy immediately saw this and deliberately began using Japanese in the English Only room. I ended up physically removing him from the room which he thought was great fun.
Defining different physical spaces for different activities is a good idea but assuming the use of force is rejected nothing will work without agreement. John Holt describes in How Children Fail how he had a symbol he would put on the blackboard when he wanted the children to keep their noise level down. This was accepted for a while but one day the children decided to test this out and one after another began talking loudly. He was struggling to write down the names of the transgressors until he realised what the children were doing at which point he stopped and tore up his list. He simply told his students that he realised they had the power to wreck any system but that he needed some system for ensuring quiet. After this they didn't test the limits again.
It is one thing to give children the space to make their own choices. It is another to get them to realise that they have that space and that the choices they are making are their own. So far the only way I have found to do this is to give children questionnaires. Hopefully by answering the questions they gain time for reflection. After going through a questionnaire the group I mentioned became much calmer But we are very much in the middle of the process and I feel there must be some other action that can be taken. The children accepted the questionnaires and did them, equally they could have chosen to ignore them. I feel the idea of multiple intelligences comes into play. The message I would like the children to get is that they are free to choose what they do and that means being responsible to the choices they make. A questionnaire probably appeals to linguistic and intrapersonal intelligences. But what about the others?
I guess I'm rambling. I'd like to close this section out by tying back into the introduction. In the same way that schools require compliance in order to operate, so too do Nation States. We can choose to stop complying. Some people are doing this economically:
It doesn't take so many people to create change. Imagination helps, and a little perseverance.
Every kind of peaceful cooperation among men is primarily based on mutual trust and only secondarily on institutions such as courts of justice and police.
Recently I received an email from 'the WWOOF team' - here are some extracts from the letter:
WWOOF is a shining example of everything that war is not!
WWOOF Japan is a membership allowing people to go to visit and stay on farms and other places in Japan at no financial cost in return for helping the people at the place they decide to go to with the work they do. The first WWOOF organization originated in England in the 1970s, and since then has spread to more than 40 countries throughout the world. The word 'WWOOF' was originally an acronym for 'Weekend Workers on Organic Farms' and then as circumstances changed with people wanting to visit farms at times other than weekends came to mean 'Willing Workers On Organic Farms'. These days not only farms, but other places, businesses and families are becoming Host Establishments, thereby giving WWOOFers access to a greater diversity of experience.
You can find information about WWOOF Japan both in English and Japanese by visiting their site
He who joyfully marches to music rank and file, has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action. It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
There are some more game ideas, some more articles and a song. There's also a couple of worksheets. Here's an alphabetical list with links a brief description.
|The A-Zen of Teaching||An article first published in Snakes and Ladders|
|Bombs Away||A whiteboard game: save the city from the rain of bombs|
|Christmas Puzzle||An out of season worksheet.|
|Do You Like Cake?||A matching game with suspect graphics?!|
|Flags and Nations||A very simple worksheet for download|
|The Murdering Bush||A variant of the traditional Song|
Rather than just ideas I've started to include some material for downloading. Please let me know what kind of material would be useful and maybe I can put it up!
Thank you to the thirty-odd people who attended the team teaching workshop held at the JALT National Conference towards the end of November. Both Alison Miyake, my co-presenter, and myself had a warm and wonderful time. At the time I said I would be putting up notes and handouts from this presentation online. It hasn't happened. I lost the relevant data from my computer. I do have a hard copy but I'm not going to say when I will get round to restoring it. I'm sorry. And on that rather flat note I'll slip away...
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Comments, questions, submissions and suggestions are welcome. Please contact Chris
The important thing is not to stop questioning.
(Quotes this issue by Albert Einstein)