Vitruvian Lines – Part 4: Socialisation and Communication

Image result for vitruvian man

Time to look, I think, rather more closely at the Leonardo drawing I’ve been using as my analogy for the two ‘populations’ of humanity: The Vitruvian Man.

Fitting comfortably within the circle, legs and hands spread, stands the neurotypical – the type of person who might commonly be referred to as ‘well rounded’ or even ‘normal’, in that he represents the larger portion of humankind.   He also fits within the square, incidentally.  He looks exuberant, relaxed and in control of all he surveys.

Now turn your attention to the ‘square filler’.  He has a more formal stance – feet together, arms stretching out at right angles to his body and not quite able to reach to the edge of the circle.  In some way he is restricted, held back from fully accessing all parts of the circle.  He represents, in this analogy, the autist, the highly sensitive person, the one labelled by the experts as disordered or dys-something-or-the-other.  Before we dismiss this individual as a more limited version of the circle filler, though, take a look at his left foot.  This person has a toe-hold in a realm quite inaccessible to his companion. If we think of the circle as our familiar world view, notice that there is space not bounded by it that lies to left and right below its surface.  Our square filler can reach into that space and access areas invisible and inaccessible to the neurotypical population.  It is one of those areas I’d like to examine today.

Read any formal definition of autistic perception and phrases like ‘difficulties with socialisation and communication’ will predominate.  Can I challenge that?  Can I venture where my Vitruvian’s big toe is pointing and replace the word ‘difficulties’ with ‘differences’?

Children, Blue, Play, Background, GreenI first began to understand that there were different methods of communicating and socialising when I worked in special education.  I was at the classroom window watching several children aged between 5 and 7, all with some degree of autistic perception and virtually no intelligible spoken language.  Despite that, they were each taking roles within an imaginative game.  It had a definite storyline.  Each of them knew what to do – when it was time for one person to bring the tricycle taxi to the playhouse door, who was going to ride in it, where they were going and so forth.  I tried to figure out what was happening.  Was it that they had learned to understand each other’s spoken language?  No – there was virtually no speech – just laughter, shrieks and sound effects.  There was also a great deal of looking.  As they watched one another, I realised, they were communicating.  I was watching a bunch of little kids communicating telepathically with each other.  That realisation changed my life.

Having keenly watched the development of my grandchildren, I firmly believe that all infants begin life with considerable and wide-ranging telepathic skills.  This telepathy works both ways.  They can pick up the thoughts of others (not necessarily verbal thoughts alone, but states of mind, concepts and emotions) and can transmit their own to people with whom they have established a telepathic link.  Thus not everyone knows why a baby is crying, but the mother or sibling often will.  I believe the process of this ‘linking’ is in some way related to quantum entanglement, so that time and space are not relevant.

This is by no means the only example of alternative methods of communication and socialisation.  Last year I read an article about an isolated tribe who communicated via dreaming.  If a decision needed to be made, the tribal elder or shaman would ask the community to explore the issue in their dream state.  The next morning a consensus would have been reached as a shared dream had allowed them to come to a conclusion.  The anthropologist studying this group reported that shared dreaming was considered by the tribe to be a normal, important aspect of social life.

Buddha Statue, Stone Statues, SpeakNeither of these forms of communicating would be considered likely or legitimate by our mainstream culture.  We live in a society where spoken and written language has been the primary means of communication for many centuries.  The language we use in the West depends heavily upon taxonomy – classification.  Thus a child learns that a Great Dane, a dingo and a Jack Russell are all dogs, but a fox isn’t.  It’s far from straightforward.

It is said that if spelling were as fluid now as it was in Shakespeare’s time, dyslexia would be almost non-existent.  We only have dyslexic people because we have a rigidly structured written language.  We only have dysfluent people because we have a precisely articulated spoken language.  Square fillers generally have challenges coping with social communication via word-based language.

Circle fillers think in words.  Others, though, think in patterns, gestalts, pictures and concepts that have no direct linguistic equivalent.  For these thinkers, word-based language is a problem because of its limitations.

Just about every member of our population has at some point complained about the inadequacy of words to express subtle or complex ideas or concepts: ‘I can’t find the words to express…’  ‘Mere words cannot convey…’.  To make up for this, the circle fillers have added in a range of subtle verbal, facial and bodily expressions to augment the words they use.

By contrast, the square fillers find aspects of this system challenging.  They have a quite different way of communicating naturally, which would seem to involve thinking and telepathically sending or receiving gestalts, concepts, images, patterns or even colours.  They may have adopted word-thought and word-speech as a second language, but it is not one they find easy to use.

As we move into the next section, I’ll go deeper into autistic thinking and communication.

 

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Vitruvian Lines: Part 1

 The Structure of Society and Autistic Perception

Architecture, Modern ArchitectureWithout wishing to get political, Western Society and its offshoots around the world are structured in a particular way, and have been so in one form or another since the writing of records began.  It involves having leaders, supported and advised by a cluster of experts, who dominate, control and care for the masses of ordinary people.  It doesn’t matter, for the purposes of this argument, whether that structure is a nation, a city, a company or a school.  It doesn’t matter whether the leaders are elected, self-imposed, benign or despotic.  It doesn’t matter whether they are loved, loathed or feared by their people.  All that matters is that this is the structure we, and all those around us, were born and socialised into – so much so, that we the people find it difficult to visualise our way out of this system.

Think of the number of times – even in modern history – when a hated dictatorship has been overthrown, only to be replaced by a very similar system, because that is the only way people can imagine society working.

So what has this to do with autistic perception?  Well, such societies, with their triangular power system, rely on the few controlling the many.  Clearly, that has inherent challenges.  To maintain the structure successfully, the leaders and their enforcers must keep the masses as ‘mass-like’ as possible.  Through the ages, free-thinking, independent and unusual individuals or those showing abilities which might challenge the status quo have been punished, ostracised or supressed.  We have extreme examples of this scapegoating in witch-burning, religious persecution, homophobia etc.

‘Divide and Rule’ is a highly successful strategy for preserving power.  It is in the interest of leaders and experts to keep people from deviating too much from the norm.  ‘Norms’ are far easier to control than a diverse range of individuals.  Thus we have an education system which attempts to produce clones with just enough skills to be useful to society but not enough to allow them to question it.  We have a medical system that attempts to produce in everyone enough health – mental and physical – not to be a burden and to medicate anyone who shows features that don’t fit the norm.

In the Victorian era, being left-handed was considered threateningly deviant by the authorities.  Such children had their left hands strapped down and were forced to conform to ‘normal’ behaviour – using the right hand – which often resulted in stammering, nervous tics or other responses to this barbarity as their natural tendencies were supressed.

Today a so-called ‘savant’ – an individual who can perform superhuman feats, like playing a concerto after hearing it once, drawing an accurate representation of a scene after one glimpse or one who can perform incredible mental calculations – is somewhat feared by the experts.  They can’t account for that person’s abilities, so they go to great pains to emphasise the ‘negative’ aspects of such people, such as a perceived lack of self-care, social or inter-personal skills.  Such people are not, by and large, welcome in a society which seeks to reward complicity and punish autonomy.

Similarly, people with psychic skills are often treated with disdain, branded charlatans and fraudsters or laughingly marginalised as weird or eccentric.  Although the police, corporations and government intelligence systems utilise the skills of such people, this is kept very quiet.  Publicly, they are ostracised.

Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour.jpg

So in our present society, ‘Square Fillers’ (see this post for an explanation of that term) are marginalised, put down and attempts are even made to ‘normalise’ them with drugs and psychiatric interventions.  Their non-typical way of interacting with others is often given as the justification for this.

Admittedly, as society’s reliance on computer technology increases and the natural ability of Square Fillers in this area becomes increasingly obvious, they are becoming rather more tolerated and even admired than was the case twenty years ago.  It’s something like the way in which the USA gradually began to appreciate and accept their black citizens as their skills at sport provided the nation with a kudos which couldn’t be reached by the white population alone.

I know I’ve laboured this point rather, but the attitude of the ‘experts’ rubs off not just on the typical members of society, but on those with autistic perception as well.  Like the little Victorian left-handers, they can easily see themselves as deviant and wrong, and embark on a tremendous, difficult and ultimately unwinnable battle to live up to society’s standards of normalcy in order to be accepted.

It is often, in my experience, this pressure to conform to patterns that don’t fit their natural way of being which cause the secondary problems that beset so many Square Fillers – anxiety, depression and other psychological difficulties.  These are NOT a symptom of autistic perception in themselves.

Orcadian Education – a better way?

What follows is little more than scattered traveller’s tales, gleaned from a very few days spent exploring the Orkney Islands.  I apologise to any Orcadians who should happen upon this post for the lack of detail and insight it contains, but would just like to throw in a few thoughts on a system which seems to me – from a very cursory glance – to be worthy of further consideration.

The first thing you notice, looking out from the hostel on one of the smaller and more northerly islands, is the idyllic view of land and sea, layered in horizontal swathes of colour, from emerald to deepest turquoise to heathery brown and finally ocean indigo, all set off by a clear, azure sky.  The second thing is a small herd of alpacas grazing a nearby field.

“Oh, they belong to the school children,” we were told.  “They learn to look after them and run the herd as a business.”

The school in question was the primary school.  It currently has seven pupils, but they are hoping to reach double figures in September.  Older children take the ferry to a secondary school each day – whatever the weather – on a larger island nearby.
“They do arrive a bit green some days and it’s a while before they can focus on the first lesson, but they never complain,” a parent told me.
Post sixteen, they weekly board on the island known as Mainland.
“They all have to sign an agreement,” she said, “Saying they’ll take full responsibility for their behaviour and attitude towards learning – and they stick to it.”

‘Taking responsibility’ seems to be the core ethic on the islands.  No one – young or old or in between – is mollycoddled and provided for.  Everyone does what they can to add to the quality of life.  We saw no litter, no graffiti or vandalism.  The ‘oldest home in Northern Europe’ – a magnificently preserved pair of buildings which predate the Egyptian pyramids – is protected only by a gated fence to keep the cattle out.  Not a DO NOT sign or so much as a crisp packet in sight.

I recently read a quote to the effect that you need a village to educate a child.  In this case, they have an island to do the job.  So yes, there are schools, and all the normal core curriculum subjects, but that’s just the start of it.   They learn not just about ‘The Vikings’, but their Vikings – the ones who farmed and fished their islands.  The history and culture of their home is shared with pride, so that every islander feels a deep and abiding connection with the land.  A local poultry farmer gives the children a few eggs to incubate and rear each year.  At lambing time each child is apprenticed to a farm worker and allowed to watch and sometimes help to deliver the babies.

The idea of informal apprenticeship pervades the place.  As soon as a child or young person is judged or declares themself ready to learn a new skill, an older islander will take it upon themselves to teach and supervise them.  Older ladies teach the skills of knitting and sewing to a new generation.  A lad is expected to pick up a skill set that will enable him to be a useful member of the community, whether it’s how to demolish a wall or how to service IT equipment.  Once these skills are mastered and the instructor judges the youngster to be capable, they are encouraged to do such tasks alone.  Each teenager develops his or her own abilities and is happy to give back to the community who gave them the skills in the first place.  The result:  young people are a valued part of the community, appreciated by everyone; the elderly are cared for by those who learned from them in the past and children look forward to becoming as skilled and useful as their older siblings.  No adolescent angst; no inter-generational tensions.

“Every new initiative on the island will only be given a grant if we can prove that it benefits every age group,” I was told by the development officer.  “So we have a youth council as well as an adult one, and they get to say how their share should be spent.  They were offered a youth worker, but they didn’t want that.  They said they’d prefer a dart board in the pub, so they could play while their parents were drinking!  Oh they all come to the pub.  Everyone knows their age, and when they’re old enough to drink, the adults are around to keep a watchful eye.”

The transition from kid to adult seems truly seamless there.

“Our son, at 17, wanted to start up a fishing business,” a mother explained.  “He told us he hadn’t a clue how to deal with all the paperwork, so I made an appointment for him with an accountant on Mainland.  He took himself off there and sat down with them and learned all they told him, then he came back and got on with it.  He’s never asked us for any help.  That’s how it should be.”

And it is, isn’t it?

 

 

Commercial Break

Wordpress, Blog, Blogger, BloggingMy blog empire is growing…

I have, for several years now, used this site – Looking at Life – to do exactly that.  I’ve told anecdotes from my own life, and those of others close to me; I’ve explored metaphysical themes in all manner of directions; I’ve ranted about education and its shortcomings in our society; I’ve shared the ups and downs of my creative endeavours, whether renovating the cottage or making models.

During those years, I’ve been fortunate enough to attract an ever-growing range of followers.  Thank you.  It’s great to have you along and I’ve enjoyed exploring your sites as much as reading your comments on mine.  Several of you I now count among my friends, despite not having met you in person.  I’m aware, though, that the range of subjects covered here won’t be to everyone’s taste.  For that reason, my blogging has split off in three directions.

Fractal, Spiral, Geometry, PerceptionLooking at Life: I will attempt (no promises, mind!) to keep this blog site for my explorations of all that LIFE involves – and by ‘life’ I mean every aspect of existence as a conscious being, whether physically present on Planet Earth, travelling through dreams or ‘alive’ in other realities.  I will also continue, from time to time, to muse upon the wonders of A-Thought (autistic thinking), remote viewing and other psychic abilities on this blog.  This will remain my ‘main’ site because this is where my heart and soul are based.

 

 

20161111_162239Steampunk – Shrunk!:   https://steampunk-shrunk.com/ This is my latest venture.  Please head over there if you’d like to follow the back-stories of the tiny, dolls’ house sized characters I’m fabricating for the shop my son is running online.  Each figure will have his or her own post and a link to their pages at the shop.  There will also be articles about the process of making the models and anything else related to that aspect of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Book, Exposition, Composition, PolandOpen the box:   http://opentheboxweb.wordpress.com   This is my education blog.  I’ve given it very little attention recently, having put all my educational energy into planning lessons for my own pupils, but once full health is restored and energy levels repleted, I’ll carry on adding free resources to that site.

 

I look forward to virtually meeting you at one or more of my blog sites in the future.

Democracy, wossat then?

I’ve been working with a 12-year-old student – we’ll call her Sian – on philosophy.  We’d been following a storyline for several weeks.  Her job was to consider the issues thrown up by the situations in the story and look at possible solutions from different perspectives.

Legoland, Building Blocks, Legos, LegoHere’s the story so far:  She had woken one morning as the only inhabitant of a remote desert island, with a crown, a pen and a blank scroll headed Rules of The Island.  She had no recollection of how she got there but discovered ample food supplies, fresh water and materials to make a shelter.

Over the weeks, Sian had worked diligently to compose her set of rules to live by, to decide that – in the absence of all others – she was sovereign of all she surveyed and to develop a style of living which would ensure her own survival but protect the species and ecosystem of the island.

A couple of weeks ago, so the story continued, a group of migrants arrived on the island and asked to stay.  Sian considered all the implications of this and agreed to accept them.  She showed the new arrivals where to find food and water and suggested where they could construct shelters.

On June 23rd (Referendum Day in the UK, and yes, I did plan it that way!) she had a new philosophical dilemma to face.  Now that she was no longer alone on the island, how were decisions to be made?  Would she keep her crown and insist the newcomers obeyed her rules or should there be an alternative form of government?  What were the options?

I presented her with a whistle-stop tour of all forms of leadership from dictatorship and monarchy, through various forms of oligarchy to democracy, carefully avoiding passing on any bias of my own.  We also took a passing look at anarchy.

Lego, Head, Brick, People, Figure, FaceSian sifted through the options with commendable thoroughness.
“Don’t want that one – it’s like Hitler!”
“No, you’ve got to have some rules or it would be horrible.”
“I like democracy best.  That’s what we’ll have!”

“OK,” I said.  “There are two forms of democracy.  There’s representative democracy, where people vote for individuals to represent their interests and make decisions on their behalf, like we do at general elections, or there’s direct democracy where every single person has a vote on each decision, like in today’s referendum.  Which do you prefer?”

Sian thought again.  She considered politicians and what she’d heard about them – how they looked after themselves first and broke promises.
“I think direct democracy is the fairest,” she finally decided.
“Fine,” I said.  “So each person on the island has an equal vote in all matters.  You’re happy that would work?”
“Yes,” she said firmly. “Wait – NO!  What if there was one of them who had really bad ideas?”
“Well, they’d only have one vote,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but they might be – you know – good at persuading other people to do what they wanted.  It might be someone who said everyone had to prove themselves by swimming with the sharks or something.  That would be an awful idea.  It would be really dangerous.  And some people would just go along with what they said.”
Lego, Head, Face, Activity, Block, Brick“Ah,” I smiled.  (I so love lessons like this, and the way – left with time to consider – children will think things through.) “So what would you do if that happened?”
“Kill him,” she returned, calmly.
“Would that be democratic?” I wondered.
“Oh no, it wouldn’t, would it?  So no, I wouldn’t kill him, but… Oh it’s difficult!”

Yes, Sian.  It is.

Lego, Head, People, Figure, Face, ScaredThe following morning I, and just about everyone else in Britain, was reeling from the shock of the vote to leave Europe.  We knew it would be close, but we didn’t expect the Brexit lot to win.  Not even they expected it.

At 8am, as I walked into the main station of a nearby city, a TV camera and microphone were thrust into my face.  What did I think about the result?

I was taken off-guard.  I had many thoughts, but all I could manage to splutter was, “Horrifying – just horrifying.  But it was a democratic vote, so I suppose we’ll just have to deal with what happens now.”

Like my young student, I’d felt the full force of democracy’s dark side.  People are easy to manipulate.  Let them believe they’ll be better off and have more opportunities and they’ll vote to swim with the sharks every time.

A week in politics is a long time, though.  The politicians are so busy stabbing each other in the back that it’s hard to imagine who will be left to lead.  A House of Cards scenario playing out, complete with a Francis Urquhart character?  You might very well think that.  I couldn’t possibly comment.

I decided to put my fears and fury aside and to meditate.

Toys, Blocks, Brick, Plastic, LegoI was shown – so clearly I could call it a vision – a huge pile of Lego bricks on the ground.  They were in a dark place, jumbled and chaotic.  As I watched, three narrow beams of light shone down on them, illuminating parts of the pile.  I realised I was being shown the purpose of Lego.  It’s for building.  The more complete the destruction, the greater the opportunity to build something new – something better.  Our British nations have been controlled by fear and blame for so long.  Our political system stood on these twin pillars.  Perhaps they needed to fall.  Perhaps the ugly underbelly of xenophobia and self-interest needed to be revealed so that it could finally be dealt with.  I choose to believe that something finer will, eventually, emerge.  That’s where I’ll put my energy.

 

 

Communication – another way?

Face, Soul, Head, Smoke, Light, SadI’m aware that I’ve gained a few new followers recently – thank you so much and welcome to my ramblings and wonderings – so I thought it might be a good time to briefly explain the William connection before launching into another post about him and autistic spectrum perception.

William is a young man in his mid twenties, whom I met almost 20 years ago.  He began as a pupil in a class I was teaching – a class for kids with speech and language difficulties.  A set of circumstances which might be considered very strange, if you didn’t believe in pre-planned soul contracts, caused our paths to cross and re-cross in many ways, so that even now we are the best of friends.  Despite the fact that he is only able to communicate with me through text and email at present, I still have longer and deeper communications with him than with anyone else I know.

School, Teacher, The PupilSo yes, to begin with I believed my role was to teach William to communicate.  He had oral dyspraxia, which meant he had a very limited range of speech sounds.  Additionally he was on the autistic spectrum, which meant that social communication – reading body language, facial expressions, tone of voice etc. was challenging for him.  He made excellent progress, no denying that.  However at the same time, he and a couple of his classmates began teaching me other ways of communicating – ways I’d never dreamed of.

Alan could ‘beam’ states of mind into my head.  I didn’t have to be facing him, or even thinking about him, to find that I was aware that he was feeling angry, frustrated, impatient or in need of help.  Martin’s speciality was sending words to me.  I could ‘hear’ what he was saying, although no words had been spoken aloud, sometimes from across the building.  Once I spotted him and made eye contact, he’d give the briefest of nods, meaning, “Good, you got it.”

William was on another level entirely.  “I think,” he told me, rather deferentially, one morning when he was about eight, “I should tell you that I’m telepathic.”
He waited, a slight smile playing around his lips, for the full impact to sink in.
“You mean you can read my mind?” I asked, suddenly feeling horribly exposed.
He nodded, allowing the smile to break loose.

Of course the children used this form of communication amongst themselves all the time.  I’d often wondered how a bunch of kids with only the most rudimentary verbal language abilities were able to engage in imaginative games, with each of them understanding their role perfectly.  Once William twigged that I was sometimes able to pick up snippets of their telepathic communication, he took it upon himself to tutor me in these skills, although never overtly.

It’s subtle, this hidden communication – infinitely so.  By comparison, spoken language is crass and imperfect.  Our labels and descriptions, no matter how extensive our vocabulary, are often open to misinterpretation or simply inadequate to convey our true intent.

Having spent a lifetime closely observing children of all ages, and in particular watching my own three and my two grandchildren develop language, I firmly believe that all humans begin life with the subtle, non-verbal language.
“Oh, she understands so much of what we say,” parents will tell you as they cradle an infant in their arms.
Maybe. I suspect the tiny person is understanding far more of what the parent thinks. I also believe she is using this telepathic (for want of a better word) skill to communicate her needs to the mother. Most would not put this at more than a ‘close bond’ between mother and child.  What, though, if it’s something far greater?

Learning, Telephone, To Call, AlarmOnce they had learned to speak clearly and to follow the conventions of conversation, my little students more-or-less ceased using their telepathy.  Our society places great value on effective spoken and written language.  The children – Will included – worked diligently to improve these.  I was busily congratulating myself on our success and only dimly aware of what we had lost in the process.

As I’ve said, though, this was a soul contract, and although the children  went their different ways and I moved back into mainstream teaching, William and I still had far more to teach one another.

We stayed in touch.  Sometimes we’d have long, rambling, fascinating conversations that would last for hours, and I’d be amazed at how brilliantly he’d picked up the ability to speak.  At other times, though, he’d withdraw for days, weeks or even months at a time.  Conventional language caused too much stress and the best I could hope for was a single word text to let me know he was still alive or a ‘beamed’ impression of his state of mind.  Not great, usually.

Now it’s come full circle.  Yesterday, William sent me a draft article for inclusion in his second book.  It’s a stunner.

He begins by explaining how it is for people on the autistic spectrum to attempt to learn social communication.  Ruefully, he says:

Having to learn such skills is generally very difficult and time consuming. An analogy may be learning a second language which for the vast majority, autistic or not, is again very difficult and time consuming. And even then, few who learn a second language can match the fluency and competency of a native speaker whose language skills developed naturally as part of growing up.

He bemoans the fact that, despite this, the non-autistic population expect perfection from those challenged in this way.

Later, he begins to consider the reason computer-based language is easier for ASP people to manage:

Man, Notebook, Continents, Binary, CodeMany autistic people demonstrate a good level of competency with computers – likely to be linked to their operation depending on clearly defined protocols and mathematics, things which are very different to how social communication and interaction works.  Most communication between people which occurs via computers is in a written format, offering a greater similarity with the clearly defined operating protocols of a computer, since written communication often takes a more formal and literal interpretation of language than face to face communication.  This also removes the need to attempt to understand body language and tone of voice – things often problematic for those with autism.

Only in the final paragraph does he allow his thoughts to wander into that other type of communication – the early ‘telepathy’ and our more recent forays into ‘remote viewing’.  William isn’t certain that either of these terms fully encompass or describe what is actually taking place.

[ASP people] have a naturally different method of accomplishing [communication].  What exactly that method is I don’t believe is fully understood at present by either autistics or non-autistics.  I don’t believe the correct words have been attributed to autistic matters to describe or explain it properly.  I suspect at some point this will be achieved and hopefully will allow for autism to be harnessed to it’s full potential and remedy the blindness of so many.

I hope so, William.

 

We are still compiling The Words of William Volume Two.  Volume One is available via Amazon as a paperback in the UK, Europe and North America and as a Kindle edition worldwide.

 

 

Positive steps

darkmarked: ”Down with this sort of thing!” ”Careful now!” Father Ted This feels much better!

I’ve been moaning on about the state of things in education for weeks now and doing my own Father Ted-type protest.  (You’d have to have seen the sitcom to know what I’m talking about, but some will know and love it as I do…)

That kind of negativity didn’t sit well with me, though.  It got even worse when the TES published a short article I’d written some weeks ago and still more people started wringing their hands and demanding to know what could be done to stem the flow of cramming-junk-education-into-small-kids-for-political-purposes.  That, of course, is the important question.

So now I’ve stopped protesting and done something positive instead.

Taking my WordPressing skills to their limits, I’ve create a new blog to provide free – and freeing – resources to stressed teachers, disillusioned and worried parents and, of course, home educators.

I only started it last night and already have my first follower!

If you’re interested in ‘this sort of thing’, do head over and take a look.  It’s very small and modest so far, but I’m hoping to grow something lovely, as well as keeping the metafizzing going over on this site, of course!

Here’s the link.

 

 

Down with Education: Bring Back Educetion

No, it isn’t a typo.  There’s a subtle but world-changing difference, you see, in the vowel.

Education comes from the Latin educare – to bring up or train.

Educetion (which I’ve just invented, of course) is derived from the Latin educere – to lead out, to draw from.

See the difference?  In the first, we have malleable individuals who can be trained in whatever way those in authority prefer.  In the second we have innately wise people who, with a sufficiently nurturing environment, can develop and hone their own skills, perhaps in entirely new ways.

Let me give an example of educetion from my own childhood.

Long, long ago, I sat in in a grammar school classroom ready for the first art class of the year with Mr Sutcliffe.  Our group was studying art as a ‘relaxation subject’, timetabled in as a break from the many hours working towards academic A-levels.

Bob Dylan, Musician, Joan Baez, Singer, 1960S, ComposerMy classmates and I had, for the past couple of months, been vicariously enjoying the Summer of Love, via our transistor radios and magazines.  The times, as Dylan had foretold a few years before, were a-changin’.  We were sixth formers now.  We felt ourselves to be groovy and trendy and hip – yet Mr Sutcliffe was about to do something so shocking, so daring, so different, that we would walk out of that room as changed people.

No paints.  No pencils or pastels even.  Just Mr S at the front of the class, holding up a magazine advert for washing powder.

“Persil Washes Whiter!” he boomed.
We stared in confused silence.
“Than WHAT?” he demanded.
He seemed to require a response. We glanced at one another.
“Than – other brands, sir?” one boy suggested, nervously.
“Does it say that?” Sutcliffe snapped back. “Is there proof?”
“No,” we mumbled.
“No,” he agreed, his voice returning to its usual friendly, comfortable tone.
“No.” He sighed sadly. “And yet – just because of things like THIS,” (shaking the magazine page accusingly) “millions of people spend their money on this product rather than another.”

We sat, mesmerised, while Mr Sutcliffe went on to demonstrate, clearly and convincingly, how we – the unsuspecting public – were constantly duped by advertisers, politicians, the media and anyone else with a vested interest in manipulating our minds.  He showed us how colour, design and typefaces created a desired attitude.  He showed us how empty words and clever phrases would place ideas in our minds.  He entreated us to stop and think and avoid being led blindly into behaving as They wanted us to.

“You are wise, intelligent young people,” he said, his voice almost cracking with emotion.  “You have the wit and the ability to make your own choices, to decide whether or not you believe what you are being told.  Be critical.  Be wary.  Be sceptical.  No one has the right – or the ability – to tell YOU what to think!”

Mr Sutcliffe had put his job on the line – even back in those liberal, relatively unmonitored times.  He had not given us an art lesson.  He’d given us educetion.  He’d shown us that we were not empty vessels to be filled with facts and instructions, but autonomous people with the ability to make our own choices.  Such behaviour was unheard of in those days.  We were being trained to be obedient little consumers; that was how capitalism worked.  We were being trained to believe those in authority; that was how politics worked.

Today, of course, things are very different.  Advertising is (somewhat) regulated.  Conspiracy theories and debunking explode from the internet in every direction.  Students in schools are taught critical thinking skills and encouraged to form their own opinions… aren’t they?

Call me sceptical and cynical and so forth if you like, but I was taught by Mr Sutcliffe.  I’ve learned to smell a rat.

Exam, College Students, Library, ReadingThe tide is turning.  Times are a-changin’ again.  Our leaders – fearful that their authority, and even their purpose, are being eroded – are fighting back.  They are being very clever about it, too.

The British education system is being overwhelmed by Junk Learning.  It is imposed by the government.  It isn’t in the National Curriculum – that would be too obvious.  It’s in the tests they are imposing on our children.  If schools want to survive, they need good test scores.  To get good test scores, the teachers must teach what will be tested.  It’s no accident that there has been a sudden leap in the amount of difficult, obscure and downright pointless material primary school children – as young as six – are required to learn and regurgitate on cue.

A recent study found – unsurprisingly – that a group of university academics, even when they were allowed to confer, were unable to complete the tests being given to 10 and 11-year-olds this year.  Needless to say, the stress caused to teachers, parents and children is utterly unacceptable.  Thousands of English parents are planning to ‘strike’ and keep their 6 and 7-year-olds out of school next Tuesday to show their displeasure at the test system.

Man, Suit, Leave, Marker, Text, FontSo why is it there?  Well, I venture to suggest, there are a finite number of hours in the school day.  The more of those hours that are devoted to the rote learning of pointless grammar and complex arithmetic, the less are available for educetion.  Children who are not given the chance to develop their innate talents and creativity, not encouraged to consider alternative viewpoints, not allowed to have any choice in what they study or how they study it will grow up believing themselves to be successes or failures, based on their ability (at the age of eleven) to identify a prepositional phrase or a modal verb or to multiply a fraction by another fraction.

How much easier will it be to manipulate such citizens, broken by a harsh, unreasonable and destructive system, than those who have been empowered to think and reason for themselves?

Education, education, education (repetition for emphasis)

What follows is based on the English (not British – this aspect of leadership is devolved to member countries) education system.  It would be interesting to hear how my experience compares with that of people in other countries, though.

A friend has recently transferred her nine year old son from the private to the state education system.  Her comments surprised me.
“I’m amazed,” she said, “how much this state school involves parents. I’ve been sent a pack of information about what they will be teaching my son this year and how I will be expected to support him in this. In the private sector, you just pay your money and they get on with it. You have no idea what they’re doing.”

Having spent all my working life in the state sector, this difference had never occurred to me.  It might go some way to explain how a succession of government ministers and their staff (almost all privately educated) know an embarrassingly minute amount about how children learn, what they need to learn and generally, as a headteacher friend remarked, ‘where the children and childhood are in all of this’.

So why am I off on another rant?  Well although I washed my hands of the system some seven years ago, I’ve been tutoring individual boys and girls ever since.  I basically teach what their parents ask me to.  If they are home-educated, I work on open-ended projects that interest the child, along with skills they will need in everyday life.  If they are in school, I help them to catch up with or understand whatever parts of the curriculum they are struggling with.

Duncan (10 years old) is already stressing out about the SATs tests he will be made to sit next May, before transferring to secondary school.  He’d asked me to tailor this year’s lessons to help him get through the tests.

students-377789_1280My heart sank.  I taught Year 6 (age 10-11) for many years.  Loved the kids; hated having to spend so much time teaching to these tests, rather than allowing the wonderful, vibrant, enthusiastic young people in my care to make discoveries, to explore different viewpoints and to find their passion.  Still, I owed it to young Duncan to help him cope as best I could, so I decided to update myself on the way SATs work these days.

The mental maths test has gone.  At first I was pleased for Duncan – rapid mental calculation is not one of his strengths.  Then I thought on.  Surely being able to work out how much two or three items will cost in a shop or whether the ‘special offers’ on display will save or cost us money is a useful life skill…  so teaching and even testing it makes some sense.  No, there are now three long written papers.

There used to be one paper that tested mathematical skills, while a second (calculator permitted) checked the ability to use those skills in more inventive or open-ended ways.  The calculator is now banned.  Well obviously.  Although almost every member of the population carries a mobile phone which includes a calculator, our children are being trained not to use it.  Oh dear.

I turned to the English tests.  These are being changed for the coming year.  All I could find were some sample questions showing the type of thing they will now be asked.  Here’s one for your consideration:  (aimed, remember, at children of 10 and 11 years old)

Tick one box in each row to show whether the word before is used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition.

Sentence                                                                       subordinating conjunction    preposition


 

We left the cinema before the end of the film.

The train ticket is cheaper before 9:00 in the morning.

I brush my teeth before I have breakfast.

 

I’m in my sixties; I’ve been a teacher all my working life; I’ve held posts as Head of English, English Co-ordinator, school librarian and so forth… and I have NEVER needed to identify a subordinating conjunction, far less compare it to a preposition.  I’ve yet to find anyone who has.

In case you’re clinging to the hope that my country’s government still has some semblance of a grasp of what education is about, and has just made that one rather glaring mistake… sorry to disappoint you, but here are some more extracts from the same document:

Fill in the gaps in the sentence below, using the past progressive form of the verbs in the boxes.

Rewrite the sentence below so that it begins with the adverbial. Use only the same words, and remember to punctuate your answer correctly.

Which option correctly introduces the subordinate clause in the sentence below?

Which option completes the sentence below so that it uses the subjunctive mood?

I could go on.

blackboard-156494_1280I spent much of my time as a teacher, trying to help children cope with the very complex spelling patterns in a language with so many roots, dissuading them from using text speak in their written work and explaining that ‘we was‘ or ‘could of‘ were not standard English.  This was in one of those rare areas of the country where almost all the children had English as a first language.

I can imagine the increased levels of stress that parents, children and teachers will suffer to jump through this latest set of ridiculous hoops.  What I can’t imagine is what goes on in the minds of the people who set such an inappropriate, boring and irrelevant curriculum.

Depressed now.  Need some light relief.  Please don’t watch this video if you are offended by bad language or simply don’t get the English sense of humour; otherwise go ahead and laugh or cry, depending on your mood.

Video of Fascinating Aida’s Ofsted song

A Little More than a Like?

‘It’s Lucy’s birthday’ Facebook tells me.  It asks whether I’d like to send her a greeting.

Lucy was in one of my primary school classes long ago – the first of many classes of 10-11 year olds I taught.

An interesting age group, that.  Somewhere between child and adolescent.  Somewhere between being the big ones at little kids’ school and the little ones at big kids’ school.  Somewhere between being revolted and fascinated by the opposite sex.  Somewhere between trying to look cool and disaffected, and having an absolute thirst for knowledge.  Quite a challenge, all in all, but it was still my favourite age group, and Lucy’s class was – by and large – one of my favourite classes.

So I clicked the ‘Write on Lucy’s timeline’ button and discovered that she is now 24.  I sent a little message, wishing her a great birthday, and thought no more of it.  Later in the day, though, I found she’d replied.

“Thank you,” she said, “but it will never be the same as when you wrote it up on the whiteboard.”

Happy Birthday

For a moment I was puzzled.  Then I remembered.  Yes, I DID do that!  I used to keep a note of the birthdays of every child in my class.  Then, when their big day arrived, I’d go in before school and cover the classroom whiteboard with a large, multicoloured message, decorated with flowers, balloons or whatever I felt would appeal to that child.  The rest of the class would see it as they came in and all – even the ones who didn’t know that child particularly well – would wish them a happy birthday.  A lot like what Facebook now does, I suppose.

I was amazed that Lucy had remembered that simple act over a decade later, especially when I’d completely forgotten.

Life’s like that, though, isn’t it?  We do the simplest of things and sometimes – just sometimes – they can have an effect that will last and last.

Happy Birthday, Lucy!