How Do We Prepare Our Children For Their Futures? By Meinir Davies
The rather long period of silence, between now and the last update, is a sign of deep thinking, reorientation and conversations that the team is engaged in right now.
We want whatever we write to you to be meaningful and helpful and in a time of being quite perplexed by new developments in the U.S. and around the world — and looking again and again at the question “What do the children need in order to prepare for their futures?” — it seemed more prudent to wait.
As you know, the sentence “Help children prepare for their future” plays an enormous role for us as a team of teachers. The question “What will their future look like?” is hugely complex and, with the current situation in the U.S. and around the globe being so tense and unpredictable, the work is even more challenging.
That is not necessarily a bad thing at all. It is, however, opening up new questions and new explorations for us that we find to be very worthwhile and we want to give it the time it deserves in our teacher meetings, parent meetings and every other opportunity we have to speak about this highly important topic.
Articles, such as the following from the “Future” page of the BBC website, add an outside perspective to our questions and confirm that what we “preach” as being the essential parts of education today are most definitely on the right track.
Let’s take a step back though.
What causes us to pause and be silent sometimes and adds to the challenge of trying to envision what the future might look like?
For me, one of the most stunning statements from any human being, whatever political party, but was actually uttered by Mick Mulvaney, Office of Management and Budget Director in the current government, was that there is an absolute justification for cutting money to after care programs that provide food for poor children. His rationale was that food was provided so that children would perform better at school and that there was no evidence that it did help them perform better at school. Therefore, they were not deserving of this food program.
Being hungry, for him, is obviously not enough of a reason to get food.
That just takes all of our breath away, I am sure. One is left more than speechless, one is left feeling perplexed and in deep consternation that a fellow human being could utter such words. That this is just not someone you might have bumped into in a supermarket or at a dinner party somewhere; this is a spokesperson for the current government. It is almost has something Medieval about it.
Now given that we have turned education into a “thing” where you get a reward if you are good at doing something (i.e. You get an A — that often being the result of having the resources to add a tutor or two to the process…but…if you are working hard, still are not yet good at something, you are punished with a C or a D or even an F). The latter particularly occurs if you are unlucky enough to end up in a socio-economic class that does not even afford you enough food.
To hear that statement made above made my stomach turn. When you think about it though logically, it is a direct consequence of the narrative that we have created around education that only those who are “good” deserve success easily. Everyone else should just try harder whatever their circumstances.
In this way, we are losing millions of gifted, talented, bright extraordinary children who don’t think in the conventional way even from the more privileged classes, but, we are losing just as many millions (if not more) children who have incredible capacities, because of people who think somewhere along the Mick Mulvaney belief trajectory. It is the ultimate expression of using grades and conventional tests that test nothing that has any relevance for the capacities and skills the children will need in the rest of the 21st century and beyond. Children who do not perform well, do not deserve to get food. What an abomination.
Statement such as this make one shiver when thinking that people like this are trying to make laws and budgets and trying to create a future that is devoid of a basic humanity.
If the article from the BBC above is anything to go by, then, as we have been saying for years, if machines can take over so much of the work that we have done in the past, to the degree that they can actually produce different or improved versions of themselves, it gives us an enormous opportunity to do things that really matter!
Rather than seeing artificial intelligence as a threat, even though Stephen Hawking sees it as such, perhaps we can see it as a chance.
There is one huge caveat.
We have to learn how to be, we have to learn to feel in a healthy way so that our thinking is not knotted and unclear and bound up in the quagmire of unaddressed, unattended to feelings.
Now more than ever, we have to attend to learning how to dialogue with our feelings.
Right now, we are on a path to becoming or are already so self-involved, so in need of instant gratification, so unable to deal with so called “stress” and “anxiety” and unable to be with our needs without looking outside ourselves for answers, that, if we have even more time on our hands — because even more machines are folding laundry, turning on our taps at the right water temperature, making our cars, driving our cars, ans so on — we will find it unbearable.
Already, we fill our “free time” with entertainment, phones, texts, photos, video games, etc…no need to repeat all of this…
What are we going to do with the time we have to ponder, to question, to be, if we haven’t learned how to do that somewhere? How are we going to learn to see ourselves in a healthy way and thus be able to see the needs of others in a healthy way, if we do not learn that somewhere?
And…what if the electricity goes off? What if the batteries run out?
We are creating a generation of people that is completely reliant on there being electricity or some form of foreign energy outside of each one of us. Then what?
The children “know” on a very visceral deeply unconscious level what it is that they will not need to be able to do…or at least what looks right now as what they will not have to be able to do.
With some groups of parents, we have looked at the question: What still matters in the 21st century? What do we feel we should help the children learn? What are the children telling us with their behavior and with their gifts and challenges that are ever changing? What has changed even since we started this school?
We continue to work on this theme in the team.
Right now, we are spending part of the day with the 4–8th grade students working on themes that will hopefully inspire them:
> to be deeply awed,
> to feel astonished,
> to understand how much we can learn from other animals and their social structures,
> how they relate to the world and each other,
> what forces are at work in our brains, in our psyche, in our attempts at being healthy
What about tiny and sustainably run houses? They do not burden our world.
We’re exploring geometry in nature…the way natural forces create gorgeous forms that we, humans then can imitate and use to create and decorate structures, while recognizing patterns and naming them mathematically…this is what some of us call “The Divine Forces are work”… “God at work”... “the spirit at work”….or just plain “some unfathomable force at work”…
We have spoken about how it is completely understandable how the idea of a “God” or “Divine Creator” can come about when you discover the incredible regularities, lawfulness, patterns, and so on in our world and in the universe.
One student has decided to ask the question: How have the different religions that have come about through the idea of there being a “Divine Creator” or “God” or “god” affected the way we treat each other.
A statement by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in a conversation with the German journalist Franz Alt, he says:
“The knowledge and the practice of religion have been helpful, but today they’re no longer enough. This is true of all faiths. They’ve been-and still are-frequently intolerant. Wars have been waged in the name of religion.
In the 21st century we need a new ethic that transcends religion. Far more crucial than organized faith is our elementary human spirituality: a predisposition toward love, kindness and affection that we all have within us, whatever our beliefs. In my view, people can do without religion, but they can’t do without inner values, without ethics.”
This has become part of his ponderings.
This work has led to really moving and exciting conversations.
One particular example is:
One of the four aspects the children were asked to address in their work was: How does the work you have been doing help make the world a better place?
A fourth grade student reminded us of something very important.
He said: “But the world just is and it is not just the world anyway, it is the universe. We don’t have to make either of them a better place. They already are what they are.” Someone had been paying attention to our conversations! And…he did not want us to be shoddy in our wording. That made us happy as you can imagine.
And so we changed the wording to:
“How does what I have been studying contribute to allowing the world and the universe to retain their perfection. The way the world and the universe are..albeit that we know the universe is expanding…or we think we know that the universe is expanding…whichever the case may be…is a given…is…”
The way we are in the world and in space affects things greatly. Therefore how can we together become so attentive to the effects of our doing so that we can “be” in a healthy and balanced state in the world and universe?
Often we have talked about “cross-pollination of themes” or, in other words, how there is not one theme that is separate from all the other themes. We can looked at how “subjects” are an artificial construct that allows us to study aspects of the whole with more ease but that we have to be fully aware — in a more heightened way than ever — that we are always studying the whole when we are studying an aspect of the whole.
The joy of being able to compliment each other’s work and how if we are not all good at everything — and that this does not have to be a problem — has also been a theme. The one who can think more analytically or theoretically together with someone who can “see” the whole picture in his/her mind, the one who can sketch but not draw…the one who can put it into words on paper with the one who can speak in front of a lot of people…together we can create, discover, express. Compliment and complement.
Of course we want the children to learn to work on their own and there are lots of opportunities for that. Making them aware of how conversation with someone else can inspire and bring ideas to the fore that were present but not articulated yet, is, however, hugely important for our 21st century world.
When the Instragram and SnapChat Generation become parents…when the “Let’s Google It” Generation is in front of a question that cannot be Googled…a question such as, “Who am I in the midst of all of this uncertainty, this seeming ‘not needed-ness?’ Who am I when I feel there is nothing palpable and interesting for me to do? What other than taking pills or buying more stuff or watching one more movie can I do to feel myself, to be happy, to feel content?”
There are so many thrilling questions to work on and as soon as we have dug even deeper, looked even more closely, asked new questions, spoken more with you, we will write more and share more.
It is fascinating. These times are fascinating.
I am going to leave it at that for now, feeling very grateful that I am part of something that allows us to explore such questions and such research around what your children truly need for their lives and their futures.