Gentle Revolution in Education

Text & Video of TEDx Talk Arnhem Oktober 2016.

(Prewritten text for the talk, here’s the actual Video of the TEDx talk)

When astronauts look down on earth from space,

many, it has been found, really take in their home while staring down at the planet. They begin to realize how precious this blue marble is, drifting around in a whole lot of nothingness. They see no borders, political or corporate interests. They realize it’s one living system. And it’s in danger, because of us humans. Upon returning home many start to make a difference. This realization of preciousness of our home is called the “Overview effect”, coined by Frank White, in his book called ‘the Overview Effect’.

Astronaut Edgar Mitchell started IONS, a foundation connecting science, art and spirituality. Our own Wubbo Ockels worked on many initiatives in sustainability right up his deathbed. He’s the reason for our theme this year. We are all crew members of planet Earth.

I wish we could all get up in space to get that feeling.

So how to get the overview effect across on earth?

How can we get us all to all start caring for the whole, way better than we do know? It is possible right here on Earth!

I feel part of a mass movement around the world waking up to the overview effect. Paul Hawken called this the Blessed Unrest. Charles Eisenstein names it everyone working for “the better world our hearts know is possible”. It’s “being the change.” It’s all those create festivals to feel, grow organic gardens, protest pollution, social entrepreneurs, conscious artists, minimalists, green scientists, animal rights activists, protestors etc.

This I call the Gentle Revolution. A bottom up movement spanning the globe. And the beautiful thing is: we recognize those who are in as family, spirit warriors, contributors who seek to be of service for a better whole.

Isn’t it a pity it’s so often in spite of school, rather than thanks to school? Let’s start with three shocks I experienced in education, where my overview got blocked and yet my revolution started.

The first happened soon after I began primary school at 5 years old.

About two weeks in I made a drawing for my nice teacher woman. I made here the classic children’s drawing, house, stick people, clouds and sun. I bring it to her desk and hand my gift up to her. She accepted with a smile and looked at the drawing. “You draw clouds with a blue pencil.” she said. What!? Outside the clouds were very white and I had tried to draw them as such on a white peace of paper. Why was her way the right way? I decided then and there something like: Well lady, if it’s between what you tell me, and how I experience it, my experience will win, any time.”

Regardless of what she meant with blue pencil. She disowned my own experience and research. She told me there was one right answer. Mmm. Life and art do have millions of valid answers.

The second moment happened when I was ten.

I was called in front of the blackboard to answer a simple question. Something like “Floris, where’s Groningen?” I blocked out. Huge red head. Did he mean the city or province, wanted me to point it on a map, or just tell him? Miserably I saw my classmates looking bored and annoyed at me. My disappointed teacher rolled his eyes.

I thought: “Why am I blocked like this? When I play outside I’m like all other kids. Yet here they all just see a loser. Why? I should remember this for later. And I did.

I think this insight was connected to the overview effect. It is like I knew I was part of a bigger pattern. I found I was a kid, like many around the world, who don’t respond well on pressure. I rather play and discover.

The third shock happened to my parents

This happened when I totally failed my Cito test; the test kids do at the end of primary school. I scored so low, the teachers and therefor my parent feared I wouldn’t even make the lowest form of secondary education. What puzzled me, that I, wasn’t taken into account. Nobody talked to me about what was happening. They believed the results. Yet I was already reading deep into the adult library, mainly history and science fiction, and good science fiction by the way, helps look at the bigger picture.

Around 2004 I became involved in alternative education.

I then realized this was the later of, “I must remember this for later” That’s when I looked back and wondered, what did I learn from these shocks?

At 5 I found the system pressures you to comply to its ‘one right answer’ paradigm.

At 10 I found the pressure to perform may damage more than that it stimulates, especially me.

At 12 I found measuring is blind to what’s really going on and dismisses essential talents.

Is education organized to boost learning, or to measure progress?

During my education I did hundreds of measurable tasks. I hated them. All for good grades I never got. Years of such exercises actually train disconnection. That’s great if you want to train bank managers selling bad mortgages to their clients. But it’s not helping to keep or bring the overview effect alive that early in life.

During a talk I once said: Measurability is a war crime.

I thought it was a bit over the top. Afterward a woman comes to me and says: “I totally agree. Are you aware how many children commit suicide, drop out, swallow pills, feel depressed or inadequate because of the pressure needed to perform?”

Suicides we can measure, but how many children suffer in school? Too often we think it’s the inadequacy of the child, rather than the system. It seems to me we treat children, playful beings, similar to sales people that need to get their targets.

If you want to measure, measure this: How many children just learn to give the right answer? How many make no connection how it relates to them personally or to the world as a whole? And how damaging is that to their well being? I believe that feeling involved and intrinsically motivated is what gives meaning and direction.

The consequence of measurability & pressure is tragic.

Too many young adults feel depressed for lack of purpose, get burn outs and basically don’t know how to shape their lives outside being compliant in a job. The behave like those children whose spirit got dowsed in school. No wonder even those that want to make a difference to often say to me: “I don’t know how.”

So how to improve things?

Socrates said “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

School originally meant taking time for yourself. Education comes from Educare, meaning developing yourself inside out. How the hell then, did we end up with this focus on filling up with knowledge outside in, in obligated time?

Perhaps what isn’t valued in school are the most essential aspects. Where is the support for things like Creativity, collaboration skills, ethics, entrepreneurship, willingness to challenge the system if necessary, love and compassion?

Mind me, this is not about the teachers, it’s the paradigm that hurts.

Here I must hurray the amazing teachers, who work to do just that. Those that do bring heart and soul to their students. Sometimes in spite of, or against a whole lot of result driven pressure.

I heard of teachers that have kids with great street wisdom and can’t value it in school! Many are idealists, may have the overview effect. And what do we do? We push it out for results. What a waste of talent over some spelling mistakes. Why not build on that idealism? Talking of which.

Sir Ken Robinson’s made a famous case for creativity in education.

For me “Creativity is not about being original, but about sensing how to improve what’s going on.” It’s not about being original, though your contribution may very well end up being so. I’d like to add the following to his call: Why don’t we ask our children “What would you like to bring into the world to make it better? What global issue do YOU want to help solve?” And then help them make that happen en put it in the world. Teaching is being of service, not pressing for given outcomes!

Einstein said “Play is the highest form of research.”

Maximum learning happens during play. Play integrates mind, body and soul. It’s how nature invented learning. So integral it’s almost impossible to measure what exactly has been learned. Professor Johan Huizinga exclaimed in Homo Ludens: “Without play-spirit, civilization is impossible.” It’s no surprise to me, that Finland, currently one of the best educational countries in the world is heading the way more play way.

So how to experience this? How to get the overview effect alive in education and in our work? I talk about it, so let’s bring it in: experience.

Make pairs. (audience making pairs)

Look serious in each others eyes. This is real work.

And relax. Feel that? That’s the so called professional mask. It means controlled disconnection. We’re trained to act like this. To me it hurts!

Now look honest & open. What happens happens. :)

(Audience now looks open and honest. During the real talk, there was even hugging. Yes!)

Yes, there’s a human right in front of you. Isn’t that way much more touching, scary perhaps, yet so much more human? Thank you.

This is the big point I want to make. The overview effect does not happen due to more knowledge, more pressure, better results in school or being professional. It happens truly when you connect. It happens when astronauts really take in the their home. It happens when you truly take in the human in front of you. Start feeling again. You can’t measure it. You experience it.

In fact don’t we feel it after many Ted talks, this hope of a beautiful bigger whole unfolding? This sense I’m part of something bigger!

And how would it feel to be part of that? Let’s go:

(singing Queen) We will, we will…. (Audience: “rock you”)..no, that’s not what we’re gonna do.

Who here sings in a choir? Can you stand up please? Thank you. Can one of you in a minute begin with a tone. Then can the others take this tone and make it stronger. To all others, start adding. Just sing and seek to make it work! Find where it melts to harmony.

Let me explain. This is about creating and supporting the song of the world together.

Now listen to what wants to be born. Listen to what’s needed and feel free to add, express your gift to the this whole. Help the beauty of the whole to grow. Don’t try to be original or push it. Be of service with what comes up from within (around here, rather than here) Support what works. Copy cat freely. Connect with neighbors. When you feel something is missing, start adding it. Add a second voice. Don’t expect a beautiful symphony, just grow the music by listening and dare to add what you feel it needs or is happening. Follow the shift.

(During the real talk, it worked! I heard there were even tears among some members of the audience.)

So that’s my one take away, my overview effect: “How do you help the whole to flourish?” We only win, when everybody wins. What’s your contribution to make that happen? We all have an inner compass, that can add to the world song, and we can learn to work from it. Act from it as humans. Thank You

(PS: For those interested in why Play is so important. Here is my answer.)