UNESCO Obstacles for Education That Society Is Not Yet Aware Of

United Nations — UN Photo — flickr


This article is a paper presented at the UNESCO Center for Global Education, 2017 Education Solutions International Conference, in New York on April 28, 2017. The Conference theme was: SDG-4, Character and Leadership Education in the 2030 Development Agenda. SDG-4 is the abbreviation for Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Education) which is one of the 17 UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. On 1 January 2016, these goals officially came into force, as part of the larger 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that was adopted by world leaders in September 2015. Over the next fifteen years, with these new Goals that universally apply to all, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.

The paper was presented as part of a panel aimed at Reimaging SDG-4 on Domains of Education. The domain focus for the panel was the cognitive, affective and psycho-motor aspects of education, with particular attention to the 5 Ps of SDG-4: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. I was recommended for the panel by Chief Sachem Wompimeequin of the Massachusetts Mattakeeset tribe, who is leading an international effort to bring forward indigenous knowledge in support of the SDG-4 effort.

Goals of the paper

The basis for this paper was my last 15 years of research into the failure of communications in modern society — things like the polarization of society — liberal vs. conservative, the gridlock in democratic governments, and the drive for war over peace. While most people believe fixing education is just a matter of improving teaching conditions, curriculum “adjustments” and better teacher training, my research comes to very different conclusions. It suggests that there are many fundamental flaws in the foundation principles that underlie modern culture. This paper attempted to briefly uncover and describe a few of those flaws, thereby starting an international discussion on new approaches that will be needed to understand the flaws and remove them.


I want to thank Chief Wompimeequin for recommending me for this conference and for Executive Director Dr. Ada Okika for accepting me as a presenter.

The material I wanted to present included highlights from my last 15 years of research into the failure of communications in modern society. But no matter how I tried, I couldn’t even get started in a presentation of only 10 minutes. So, I will just briefly touch on some of the most critical topic areas that society is in denial about and some solutions my research suggests. If anyone is interested in more information, I’d be glad to provide it after the conference. It can also be found on the A3Society website. [1]

To begin with, only a short statement about my background was included in the program handout — that I am the founder of the A3 Society and the A3 Research Institute. To give you more background for the statements I will make, I’d like to add a few more points.

MIT Campus — Manuel Menal — flickr

In 1969, I graduated with a masters degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Aeronautics. I started my career as a rocket scientist and have always worked at the leading edge of high tech. So, now, each of you can say you’ve met a real MIT rocket scientist. I’ve also done a lot in education. The reason I’m here is that Chief Wompimeequin remembered the old saying, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.” He wondered what could be gained if there was a rocket scientist helping. Most recently, I was director of the physician training laboratory at the University of Florida, College of Medicine, and was co-founder of the first all-medical middle-high school in the U.S. This brought me directly into education.
While these credentials may be impressive, I am not presenting them to try to impress you. There is a sad but important story for SDG-4 related to this education.

On July 20, 1969, the U.S. landed a human on the moon with great publicity and fanfare. What most people don’t know is the primary purpose for the U.S. moon program was to give the U.S. any credible leadership position in space technology. Prior to this event, the leadership title overwhelmingly belonged to the Soviet Union space program.

Sputnik — Duane Romanell — flickr

The Soviet record at that time included all of the following FIRSTS: intercontinental ballistic missile 1957; satellite — Sputnik 1957; animal in space — the dog Laika, 1957; manmade object on the moon — Luna 2, 1959; photo of the far side of the moon, 1959; man in orbit — Yuri Gagarin 1961; Venus and Mars fly-bys 1961, 1962; woman in space — Valentina Tereshkova 1963; spacewalk — Alexey Leonov 1965; and an unmanned lunar soft landing 1966.

Salyut — Gwydion Williams — flickr

Even after the moon landing, they were FIRST with: remote lunar rover — Lunokhod 1 1970; 3 man space station Soyuz 11 1971. [2]

But, while the moon landing finally giving the U.S. a notable achievement, there was a huge social price to pay. As soon as the moon landing occurred, the U.S. government drastically reduced its space effort.

Rocket Graveyard — Martin Crockett — flickr

Over the next 4 years, over 100,000 aerospace engineers would lose their jobs. I was one of them. That started me on a 45 year career I can only call: high tech migrant worker.

After leaving rocket science, I found jobs in: nuclear power, advanced fusion power, automation, robots, and medical instruments: ultrasound, CAT scanners, heart pumps, blood analyzers, DNA sequencing, telemedicine, electronic medical records, advanced medical training using simulation; and many more technologies. Most of these involved very short employments — less than a year. Contracts came and went like the seasons as industry after industry moved to Asia. While I was continually at the “leading edge” of technology, I was also always at the edge of financial trouble. Why? Because technical people are treated on contracts the same as machinery. They are bought at the lowest price, driven to maximum performance, and then cast aside to be replaced by newer low-cost stock. A move from one location to another meant selling a house when many others were also for sale, and seeking a new house where the demand was high. It always brought a loss that wiped out what appeared to be high salaries.

Firewood — Alan Levine — flickr

I will never forget after years of very productive development work having to chop wood to heat my home because oil was too expensive for my budget. Many of the highly educated “high tech wizards” that created the vast technology of modern life, will need social security just to live in basic comfort in retirement.

What does this say about modern education if an education from even a top 1% world recognized institution, can not be relied on to produce security during employment or in old age?

The overall message of this presentation is to call on world education leaders to challenge education’s most fundamental assumptions. There is something seriously wrong with what we are doing.

To make meaningful progress on UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 — Education, I believe this forum must seriously reexamine the fundamental assumptions on which education is founded, to uncover and correct those assumptions that are false and misleading.

To give you some specific examples of what I’m driving at, I will present a brief list of some of the assumptions underlying education that I believe are misleading, and offer suggestions for solutions uncovered by my research.

The Stone Age Brain [3]

Stone age man — Kit — flickr

Brains of life forms do not evolve quickly. Scientists tell us that, on evolutionary time scales, human brains have not evolved much since the period we call the Stone Age. The implication of this observation is that all humans, from the Stone Age to the present, had, and essentially still have, Stone Age brains.

Broken Lawnmower — Jennifer-flickr

Modern people easily fool themselves by believing that we are mentally very advanced over “primitive” people just because we have cars, planes and telephones. This isn’t so. What we see happening in our world is simply the expression of Stone Age brains, and their inherited instincts, learning to use modern tools.

Car Repair — Duncan Creamer — flickr

Many natural human instincts were developed and optimized by evolution for surviving as sparsely populated hunter gatherers in the jungle, on the savanna or in the cold extremes of Arctic ice. These instincts are poorly adapted to our highly populated, highly complex, fast paced, technology controlled environment.

Bombing of Aleppo — flickr

This is especially clear concerning the weapons of self defense and aggression we have developed, which are infinitely more lethal than those we used in the Stone Age.

Stone Age brains with Space Age weaponry have created enormous global problems and tragedy.

Complexity [3]

The technology introduced by the industrial revolution has created a world that “Stone Age” brains did not evolve to understand or control. Understanding modern complexity is now beyond the capability of any human brain without very complex special tools.

Praire house — Flowercat — flickr

Consider human life only 200 years ago in the U.S. A child growing up on a prairie farm, just through daily experience, could touch and use most of the objects that would impact their life. Most had simple mechanical and chemical components. They could see all the parts and understand how they worked. Food came from the earth outside their door. They understood every step needed to prepare it to eat. They made their own clothes from resources they grew or harvested from animals. If they became sick, except for serious illnesses like the plague, their environment provided natural remedies they could understand. Our Stone Age human brains, which we still had in that world, could learn all they needed to sustain life.

Today, we can’t even come close to saying the same thing. To quickly get an intuitive feel for the magnitude of this problem, do a simple exercise. Wherever you are right now, point your finger at any item right in front of you. Ask yourself if you understand: what it is made of, how it works, how it was produced, how it was bought and transported to you, how do you use it? Think about all the factors you would need to consider if you had to replace it.

For example, say you just pointed to a chair. 200 years ago, you would go out in the woods, cut some small trees and tie them together with string. Those days are long gone. Today, the process would start with questions like, “What is the overall design?” There are dozens of options: traditional, Victorian, modern, Scandinavian etc. Assume you chose just a simple kitchen chair. What material do you want? The choices would include things like wood, metal, plastic, fabric, composites. Each category would have many options. Since each part of the chair might be different, a choice is needed for each part. If you choose wood, you would then ask what kind. There are dozens of alternatives. The wood has to be treated. This means: paint, stain, plastic coat, colors, textures, indoor, outdoor etc. Now consider the seat. The whole process starts again.

Google “wooden chair.” I did. I got 61,500,000 results! How does our educational system train an adolescent approaching adulthood how to buy a chair, and manage so many alternatives, with any expectation that the student truly understands the process in depth and can memorize it? This same question applies to every item in our homes and every object in our world that we have to interact with.

Typical modern operating room — Nappi

But, our environment is not only defined by things. Humans also have interactions. Consider just the example of healthcare and the medical education of a doctor. Medical text books now cover over 15,000 specific diseases. To treat these diseases, the U.S. FDA “approved” pharmacopeia covers over 55,000 drugs! No student of medicine has enough time to even read about each of these diseases and drugs, never mind study how each disease can be confused with many others and how each drug interacts with every other drug. Note, this example does not even touch the complexity of surgery!

Typical THICK text books — Kirstie Warner — flickr

How does this relate to education? Just consider all the complex topics we expect our children to learn with high skill: reading, writing, math, biology, physics, chemistry, history, etc. and the level of detail we are presenting in every one of them.

The point is, even if most aspects of life could be explained, there is no possible way to transfer such a huge amount of information into a human brain, never mind expecting the brain to remember it all. Yet what methods does modern education still use? Sage on the stage? Teaching facts? MEMORIZING? How are any of these approaches different from what was used 200 years ago to teach only a minuscule fraction of today’s knowledge?

My conclusion when researching the examples I presented is that our current approach to educations is not only failing to achieve its goals, but is also inflicting major tragedies on the human race. I know this is an extreme accusation.

But consider just the medical example. While doctors are granted MD credentials, which claim to confirm competence, medical treatment error, alone, has now become the third largest cause of death in the U.S. — more than 250,000 people, PER YEAR! The conventional approach to education we are using, across all subjects, is not capable of dealing with modern complexity.

A3 [4]

The term A3 in my biography is an identifier I developed for brain types to describe forms of consciousness in life forms. A0 consciousness, for example, applies to plants and simple animals without organized brains; A1 applies to all animals with organized brains up through primates. A2 describes the consciousness of most humans. 20,000 years ago, however, there was an abrupt jump in organizational ability in human society. Almost over night, what we call “civilization” appeared: agriculture, cities, academic institutions, medicine etc. A3 describes the consciousness that enabled humanity’s jump to civilization. Unfortunately, what also appeared at the same time were armies, navies, and the technologies of war.

An important observation of my research, however, was that over the history of civilization, only a very small number of humans had A3 consciousness. For humanity to escape its current dilemma, A3 thinking must be found in our world, and brought forward to help. This “creativity” might at first appear welcome and always encouraged. But history tells another story. It shows how A2 leaders and A2 societies frequently react negatively to creativity. Names like: Socrates, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas More, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Darwin, and yes, even Albert Einstein — who’s books were burned by the Nazi’s — are examples of not only resistance to innovation, but persecution and even execution. The needed changes, even if found, will be a challenge to bring forward.

Flaws in Language [5]

Recent theories of how humans learn language suggest that language is not first learned as a logical process but as an association of sound patterns with emotions. The theories also suggest that when logic and reasoning are forming in the brain, the brain develops the logic in separate stages after memorizing the emotional connection and in different places in the brain.

These theories provide new insights into how education can be applied to reduce disagreements and violence.

Tom Malabuyo — flickr

The first stage of language learning is emotional learning. Some words, called “trigger words”, are linked with strong emotions, because they are learned in relation to traumatic or extreme events. Some examples of strong trigger words are: love, justice, freedom, slavery, torture, discrimination, NO! etc.

The second stage is a behavior I call “Single Sentence Logic”. This is the ability to memorize small groups of time related words expressed as single sentences. The average human is very good at this. It is the basis for poetry, the lyrics of songs, the principle of Rap music, and the sound–bites used by media and politicians.

The third stage is the logical ability to compare the simple logical connection in a single sentence, with similar connections in many other single sentences and draw higher level conclusions using complex logical principles.

The point of identifying each of these three stages of language development is that, when a human acts and thinks in response to hearing words, the process of understanding also flows through these same stages in the same order. Because the stages act so differently, both emotions and logical reasoning can see-saw from one extreme to another for the same sentence as it moves from one level to another. This creates frustration in the listener.

When a person hears the words of a sentence, the words are first processed individually. Emotional words are processed quickly in the brain, like an autonomic response, before any match to logic is made. The result is, a person’s emotional state, and the human “fight or flight” response, is driven by trigger words long before the logic of the sentence is even addressed.

As a whole sentence is heard, Single Sentence Logic attempts to determine whether all the words have ever been heard and memorized before as a group in the relation they are currently being heard. If they have, the emotional state created by the words is strengthened. If they haven’t, the brain will issue the emotions of confusion and anger.

These two stages alone explain the success of political speech and media sound-bites to drive crowds, and the prevalence of emotional behavior in society.
Southern Arkansas University — flickr

For example, if a political candidate wants to create a positive view of education, they will use sentences like, “we all know how critical great teachers are to being role models for successful students.” For most people, the trigger words of this sentence will bring up positive emotional memories for one or two teachers that really inspired them. The positive energy will fill the crowd. On the other hand, if a candidate is trying to cut school funding, they will use sentences like, “we all know how teacher’s unions protect bad teachers, who harm students, drive up costs, and bleed tax payers of their hard earned money.” For most people, especially during difficult financial times, this sentence will bring up strong negative emotions because it focuses on low teacher performance, taxes and tough financial problems. The emotional feelings from these trigger words are so strong, and the words are usually spoken so quickly, people don’t usually get to analyze the issue logically at all before another sentence starts. This process also occurs at near autonomic speed.

To understand a complex issue like the role of teachers in education, many sentences have to be considered simultaneously. Most human brains have a very limited ability to do this. It is a time consuming process, that may take hours or weeks, and occurs long after the first two stages have completed their processing. It may also require writing out sentences in proximity, such as in an outline or table, to allow visualization to help with reasoning.

Mostly empty congress

A key discovery related to my research effort was the understanding that the inherent limitations in how humans learn and process language, which I just summarized, were a primary cause of polarization in society — liberal vs. conservative; the gridlock in democratic government; and the drive for war over peace. Therefore, the A3 models that explain these behaviors suggest that peace can be taught. However, they also suggest that education focused directly at promoting peace is not the best approach. Instead, people first need to know how to better use language. It is an education that teaches the identification of trigger words and the delay of judgment. It is an education that builds strong trigger words and Single Sentence Logic around a sustainable world in which people feel secure from harm, starvation and social isolation.

The Loss of Common Truth [6]

In ancient times, each nation had its own religion, and accepted the idea that other nations would also have their own religion. This clear diversity was interrupted by the appearance of monotheism, and the practice of early Hebrews to take their religion with them as they were integrated into other societies. When technology allowed easy travel, and population density rose, secular governments were challenged to keep peace with conflicting beliefs. Not having the wisdom to resolve the issue, a tragic myth was established: “freedom of religion”.

While this policy sounds good on the surface, it hides a very serious flaw. The policy is in complete denial of the problem caused by any religion that prescribes violence against others. If religious doctrines are not addressed in fine detail, and doctrines of violence banned, then violence is inevitable. The “myth” is caused by generalizing the issue.

Fast forward to modern society where the flawed “freedom of religion” principle has been expanded to every form of belief. People are now told they are “free to believe anything they want”. This might have been manageable in the sparse population and primitive society of colonial America in 1776. But it is totally unworkable in a complex modern world.

Consider the previous example of medicine. What would happen if any person could call themselves a doctor and practice medicine any way they wanted; or any chemical company could produce any material they wanted and sell it as a drug? Or what if every electric power factory chose its own voltage, or cars could be made any size and roads had no laws about driving. Modern society would collapse.

For human society to work, in a world of complex technology, people need to be taught, and accept, that there are many issues that require very uniform and precise beliefs, i.e. Common Truths, rather than unlimited personal belief.

Predatory Bacterial Business Models [7]

Media and politics keep telling us modern democracies are “free markets”. This is totally misleading and another generalization. Anyone in business, in any country, knows that almost every element of the business process is controlled by society, either through cultural expectations or government regulation. This includes things like: hours worked, pay levels, where business is allowed, which businesses can be where, how transactions must be accounted for, what money can be used, how workers dress, transportation access, taxes, safety laws, etc.

Alpha Tauri — flickr

Once we acknowledge this, a very sinister observation becomes obvious. The world economy is “controlled” by governments, and they don’t know what they are doing because the process is too complex for Stone Age brains using techniques developed by ancient Rome. The most tragic business principle of all is the encouragement of businesses to grow without restraint and destroy others in the process. This tragedy can be so simply demonstrated by watching bacteria or mold in a Petri dish. Now that human civilization has filled the Petri dish we call Mother Earth, if this model is not replaced, the world population will meet the same fateful end as bacteria in a Petri dish. We are already starting to see those limitations unfold.


Based on my research, here are some specific suggestions for actions to implement the observations made in this presentation to achieve the SDG-4 goals:

  1. The principles of freedom of religion and freedom of individual thought, along with both Democracy and Capitalism, need to be thoroughly reviewed both in terms of meaning, and how they are taught. Each has positive elements. But they also have hidden, lethal side effects that society can not continue to ignore. I used the word “lethal” because the effects are sufficient to severely hurt civilization. The role of education is clear in this. Educators must sort this all out and help people understand and correct these long-standing flaws.
  2. To understand the major flaws in education, we must boldly reexamine education’s fundamental assumptions.
  3. In our current culture, no human is able to even briefly memorize or remember even a small fraction of the knowledge they will need to survive and do well. To provide an education to society that addresses this new obstacle, the entire approach to education must be redesigned.
  4. The industrial revolution permanently changed the world’s workforce because it introduced computers and automation into every part of society. A system model which describes our continually advancing automated society must be built that explains how all the critical components of life work together and how society can be built to achieve continuous full employment for all.
  5. A new social model for how people are expected to interact as a true “civilization” must be envisioned that intertwines work with everyday life while achieving a high quality of life for ALL people. The apprenticeship model of the pasts should be reinvestigated.
  6. The world needs to give up trying to find ONE optimum educational approach. Many different approaches are needed: as many as there will be different cultures.
  7. The goal of this UN education forum should not be focused on patching up a failed industrial curriculum, but instead, understanding the diversity of education needed for a future society. To do this, we must first seek to understand the diversity of stable communities in sustainable units around the world. System models will be needed for this.
  8. Once adult life diversity is envisioned, then individualized education for each human should be developed to support the transition of children to adulthood, and to sustain adults in community throughout the aging process. System models will be needed for this.
  9. The burden of technical and social complexity must be greatly reduced through extensive simplification of products and laws. Education, itself, must also be simplified, and not allowed to chase complexity.
  10. To understand future diversity, SDG-4 should lead the way by bringing representatives of ALL of the SDGs together to explore and develop one or more Global System Models.
  11. Languages must be revised and regularized into logical, easy to use vocabularies.
  12. Languages must be taught along with social customs that acknowledge a wide diversity of cultures.
  13. The causes of aggressiveness leading to violence should be understood and treated as medical illnesses in order to enable the teaching of peace. Pronouncements of a “War Plague” would not be unreasonable.
  14. The world needs to give up its bacterial predatory business model which is driving all countries and people into predatory violent competition. A “cellular” cooperative model is one alternative. But change is needed. Education is needed to explain this to people and teach them how to implement a new model.

The need to address environmental sustainability was formally recognized at the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment in 1972. Education was already understood at that time as the key to solving this problem. That means U.N. efforts related to education and addressing sustainability have already been going on for 45 years. Because the role of complexity has not been acknowledged, and is still increasing, the problems keep growing, rather than being solved. Humanity’s entire approach to dealing with complexity and problem solving needs to change. To achieve U.N. Strategic Goal — 4, WE need to lead the way to first understand the wide range of equitable, sustainable, and diverse life styles which make up our world, and then teach what WE’VE learned in the process.

1. Most of the discussions presented are based on material available at A3Society.org 
2. Soviet Space Program https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_space_program 
3. Complexity and the Stone Age Brain http://bit.ly/A3society-Collapse3
4. A3 and 3-brain theory http://www.a3society.org/ThreeBrainSummary 
5. The Flaws of Language http://bit.ly/A3society-Collapse5 
6. The Loss of Common Truth http://www.a3society.org/MultipleReligionsProblem-T 
7. New Concepts for Business http://www.a3society.org/Business

Disclaimer: This paper presents the opinions of Bruce Nappi and does not reflect any position of the UN, except for references to official UN publications.