Wise Hat News
20th July 2005, #12
War is the spectacular and bloody projection of our everyday living.
The World Tribunal On Iraq recently drew to a close. I wonder if it can be the last. It was the 21st meeting held in the last two years. It has documented in gutting detail the ongoing tragedy that is Iraq. This is a tragedy for humanity, for the whole world. As Juror Arundhati Roy said:
The assault on Iraq is an assault on all of us: on our dignity, our intelligence, and our future.
But if we are under assault what can we do? This time around I intend to examine this question. I wonder to what extent you will agree with my findings.
PS The words above and the words below were written some time before the terrible events that took place in London, a city I lived in for several years. The global media coverage of the bombings in London lies in stark contrast to reports of Iraq. I'd like bombing in all forms to be considered as crimes against humanity. I think the degree to which authority is adhered to unquestioningly contributes to suffering and violence. We all need to be careful about what and who we believe in and obey.
Education through the World has failed. It has produced mounting destruction and misery.
Tragedy. What a feeble and convenient word I used. How easy to wash and wring our hands, sigh and do nothing. Somehow the word tragedy is so vast it is hollow, empty and lifeless. We cannot respond, we do not need to respond because the issue confronting us is too big and difficult. It is beyond our control and being beyond our control we have an excuse and are excused.
Even Mrs Macbeth was more self-aware than this.
How often do we even look at our hands, never mind try and scrub the blood from them? How many of us can even see the blood, never mind taste it, never mind smell it. Am I being melodramatic again? Never mind, the blood is there.
Until we really look at what we do and do not do as individuals can we really make any progress towards eradicating war and injustice? Unless we look deeply and openly at ourselves how can we expect to make the world a better place. How can we expect our actions to bring the results we so often say we desire?
We need to be careful. By looking I do not mean judging. What's that old cry about no-one being innocent? This is just another excuse and has too often been used to justify killing. So, when I say look, I mean careful observation, without excuse, justification or vindication.
Through the conscious act of looking we can begin to see the assault. We begin to see the process of the assault and our own part within that process. Once we expose the process we transform it. Let me do my best to give you an example by looking in detail at some teaching experiences I have had recently.
To create a new society each one of us has to be a true teacher, which means that we will have to be both master and pupil; we have to educate ourselves.
Recently I attended a workshop conducted by Professor Christoph Jaffke focusing on foreign language teaching in Waldorf Schools. I was very impressed and was fortunate enough to be able to attend a second workshop and observe an actual lesson in a Japanese elementary school.
The first Waldorf School was founded by Rudloph Steiner in 1919 in Stuttgart. Children attending the school were required to learn not one but two foreign languages from the first year. Steiner believed that it was essential that children learn foreign languages to escape the confines of their native tongue. Foreign languages were key to escape the narrowing tendencies of Nationalism and essential in widening the horizon of the mind and spirit.
Steiner also believed that learning should be natural. He determined that foreign languages should be learned through focusing on rhyme and rhythm and experiencing these physically. For this reason reading and writing were to be delayed until the fourth year at which point the children would have a rich vocabulary, strong linguistic grounding and intuitive understanding of the target languages. Interestingly, he remained pragmatic about what those languages should be.
During the workshop Professor Jaffke led us through a formidable array of songs, chants and musical games. Some of the material had strong echoes from my childhood - Steiner also believed in the importance of using authentic material. Much of the material was unknown to me and though gripping at the time I found it to be fleeting in my memory. The next day, for example, I found it difficult to recall anything in its entirety. Moreover, I noticed that many of the chants involved the concept of left and right and I noticed that I was often muddling these up. I was overloaded. Having said this, I noticed that in a video clip of first grade children performing the same songs they seemed to have no problem. One reason was undoubtedly because they had done the songs multiple times. Rather than having one lesson a week, the children had been receiving four or five short lessons. Frequent exposure to the target language is much more natural.
The children in the video were sharp. They gave spirited performances and their English sounded quite natural. However, the video didn't show everything. The details I noticed in the real classroom were different.
The following of authority is the denial of intelligence.
The lesson began and ended exactly on time. It took place after the children's usual school day. As the echo of the school bell died away so the lesson came to being. Somehow all the children were sitting upright, ready and attentive, apart from one boy. I noticed that professor Jaffke used the duration of the school bell to make little adjustments. One of them was to straighten the chair of the boy so that it became parallel with all the others. He did this while the boy was sitting in the chair. I kept my eye on the boy.
For a good part of the lesson the boy rested his head on his desk. He passed away several chants in this manner. He reminded me of some high school boys I taught who would sleep that way. He did, however raise a hand several times when a guessing game was being played. Many of the children wanted to be in charge of the English bag which contained a large and small London double-decker bus and a large and small London taxi. To be in charge they needed to guess which one the child in charge of the bag was holding. To be able to guess they needed to be chosen by Professor Jaffke. He did not chose the boy who rested, though I have no idea whether that had any bearing on the matter. It was quite clear though, where the control rested. Somehow the straining of children raising their hands reminds me of military salutes. Each time there was a chance the hands shot up again. I realised I was witnessing a stream of miniature competitions, the prize of which was to be able to use English to touch a toy and be able to make the others guess. Or as I realise now, the prize was a momentary taste of authority, albeit under that of the teacher. A miniature example of what Michael Albert terms the coordinator class (with working class below and the capitalist class above).
If this suggests to you that watching the class left me feeling uncomfortable then you would be right. The children did appear to be learning and considering the time of day after a full schedule of lessons most were very well engaged. But still I wonder, is this really the right kind of education?
To accept authority is to submit to domination, to subjugate oneself to an individual, to a group, to an ideology, whether religious or political; and this subjugation of oneself to authority is denial , not only of intelligence but also of individual freedom.
The site now has its summer look, but little else to report at present. perhaps next time?
|Now Is The Best Time To Be..||A Think Tank Article about happiness.|
|Single Letter Sentences||A reading game|
|Ocean Escape||Download the original version of Snow Escape.|
To follow authority has many advantages if one thinks in terms of personal motivation and gain; but education based on individual advancement and profit can only build a social structure which is competitive, antagonistic and ruthless. This is the kind of society in which we have been brought up, and our animosity and confusion are obvious.
I know that on more than one occasion I've written that compulsory education is an oxymoron. It certainly is possible to put children in a room and have a teacher teach a subject and have the children learn something, but to call this education is to liken battery farm chickens to swallows and swifts.
I think that until there is choice education will be warped. This is because any experience of learning is more than the subject it is the whole situation. Children can learn while being controlled but what they also learn is that teachers have the right to control. Children learn to submit to authority and to accept authority. But unless children freely enter the classroom by what legitimate right do teachers exercise control? It is essentially unjust and while there is no justice there can be no peace.
But how can children be given free choice, how will they know what choices to make? How can they make choices when they lack experience? How dare we take the risk, isn't that shirking our duties and responsibilities as adults? Yet, How many problems of the world are grounded in accepting false authority? I think each older generation curses the younger by training them to be obedient. I cannot see how we could be worse off if we all began really examining authority and questioning its legitimacy.
Until adults learn to give children respect and trust we are doomed to repeat the sorry mess we call civilization ad infinitum from one generation to another, unless we mess it up completely with a total collapse. Do we want the future to be so brutal?
The truth is that most children are quite capable of making choices, often more so than grown ups. The ability is something that can be practised and exercised. Children usually know what they want to do, they know what they are interested in far more than adults who all to often have had all passion for life squashed out of them.
The problem is that we adults like to judge and label. We want to prescribe what children should do. This is the empty cup model of education. Children should be filled with our own concoctions . Usually, it is a stagnant, putrid brew.
This whole view of education is misanthropic. It also has entirely the wrong focus. Rather than controlling what is put in the cup of learning we should be helping children to create wonder, beautiful, magnificent vessels. Vessels not merely for consumption but also for journeying through life. We should allow children to experiment and fill their cups as they like. Then perhaps they can also learn to see the relationship between what is put in the cup and the quality of the cup itself.
I believe that every time we allow children to exercise choice we take a step towards democracy and every time we control them arbitrarily we take a step backwards. This realisation is something that has been growing on me and truth be told is making my life increasingly problematic. I have a job at a kindergarten where I am supposed to teach English to children whether they want me to or not. The very basis of my employment is undemocratic and is a daily practise in injustice. My daily puzzle, my ongoing koan is to find a way to transform the situation. I'll keep you posted, but I'd like you to consider the relationship between free choice, democracy and justice.
We have created many authoritarian and competitive structures in the world and consequently the world is horribly violent. We can resist the assault that Arundhati Roy mentioned by refusing to be a part of it. We can do this by learning to question authority, to resist it where appropriate and to resist using it. We can do this as daily practise. Each time we act on this notion we create a pinprick for democracy. Enough pinpricks and we can slay the leviathan.
Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult.
You can subscribe and unsubscribe from this Wise Hat News by visiting here
To subscribe directly by email send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'subscribe''
To unsubscribe directly by email send an email to email@example.com with the subject line 'unsubscribe'
Comments, questions, submissions and suggestions are welcome. Please contact Chris
To regard education as a means of livelihood is to exploit the children for one's own advantage. In an enlightened society , teachers will have no concern for their own welfare, and the community will provide for their needs.
(Quotes this issue from Education & the Significance of Life by Krishnamurti )