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.

 

 

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The Game gets serious when children die – but it is still a game

Not what I was intending to do today, but that Facebook picture of the Philpotts and a noose appeared yet again on my Facebook page and I can’t resist putting the case into the context of my own truth and beliefs about life.

Photo

For readers outside the UK who may not be aware of the story,  this couple and an accomplice have been found guilty of the manslaughter of their six children after burning down the family home in an attempt, as I understand it,  to frame Mr P’s former mistress and to make enough money to get a larger home.  They were unable to rescue the children from the fire they’d started.

The picture shown above sums up the reaction of, apparently, many people in the UK.

Obviously I feel saddened by the story and very sorry for the suffering of those children, along with all who knew and loved them.  However I want to move away from blame and anger, and to view Mr and Mrs Philpott as souls and – this is controversial, I know – as mirrors for us all.

 

Soul Contracts
It’s part of my truth that everyone is a soul; one which has chosen to spend some time being human in order to make new choices and expand Consciousness/the Universe.
If these ideas seem very strange to you, I suggest either taking a look at my book Life: A Player’s Guide or at the writings of Neale Donald Walsch or Jane Roberts.

Before squashing ourselves into human form we decide, as souls, what aspect of experience we wish to have in this lifetime.  We discuss this with other souls and form what could be termed ‘contracts’ or agreements with them.  For example if I chose to experience victimhood, I would agree with another soul that he/she would abuse me in some way.  The easiest way to imagine this is to think of actors sharing out the parts in a play.  Remember, the soul is in search of experience – ideas like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ don’t enter into it any more than they would in a cast of actors.  We are, in a very real sense, simply playing parts.

That being the case, I’m quite happy to believe that the Philpotts and their children made such contracts.  At soul level, the children agreed to sacrifice their lives in order for their parents and others to experience the repercussions of the choices that were made.  Having returned to Spirit, their souls can decide what they would like to experience next.

Mr and Mrs Philpott now face prison sentences of life and 17 years respectively.  Their earthly experience continues and few would expect it to be happy on the whole.

 

Mirroring
Whilst agreeing that the vast majority of people would never dream of making the choices these two made, I believe that every now and then individuals incarnate to show the rest of us just how spectacularly wrong life can go, if we head down particular paths and make certain choices.

Tor des Schmerzes, memorial for victims of Naz...

Tor des Schmerzes, memorial for victims of Nazi eugenics in Karlsruhe main cemetery

Just as Hitler provided the world with evidence of the way eugenics and racism could lead, so, in his smaller way, Mr Philpott has shown where greed, vindictiveness and the thoughtless pursuit of financial gain could take us.

Interestingly, I’ve also received several of those quirky reminders Facebook specialises in, over the last few days, pointing out that money should never be seen as a goal in itself or as a replacement for happiness.

Perhaps part of the Philpotts’ soul purpose was to make that message abundantly clear to us?

Compliance, defiance and everything between and beyond that

English: Compliance spectrum

English: Compliance spectrum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about the autistic spectrum which generated a fair bit of attention and discussion.  One interesting conversation leading from it concerned whether a diagnosis of this or other ‘disorders’ had more to do with the inability or unwillingness of health and education professionals to move out of their comfort zone and find ways of tolerating and accommodating alternative ways of thinking, interpreting and viewing the world.

Before educators everywhere jump down my throat, let me explain that I’ve been there and done that.  I’m not for a moment suggesting that it’s feasible – still less desirable – to combine all the different ways of being and learning into one mainstream classroom, along with a sizeable group of utterly neurotypical students and fulfil the requirements of a rigorous, top-down, dictatorial education system in which the young people (and staff) are assessed, tested, compared and expected to comply.

“I see that compliance is everything – and he’s only 5!” the mother of a child in kindergarten commented.

I dare to question who that compliance serves: the child, the educators or the policy makers.

Let me tell you the story of Marley:

By the time he entered my class as a 10-year-old, Marley already had quite a reputation around the school.  That’s putting it mildly; he was notorious!

He and I already knew each other quite well, since I’d often found him skulking in corridors as a younger student (“Been slung out for messing about, Miss”) and invited him to join my own class.  When he did this, despite being younger than my own pupils, he’d invariably watch their activity with interest for a few minutes, pluck up courage to proffer a few suggestions and frequently end up taking the lead in moving them to a point beyond their original capabilities.  In fact, my most academically able group would invariably invite him to join them when he entered the room, since they quickly realised what an asset he was.

Ok, so Marley was highly intelligent.  His cognitive abilities stretched way beyond my own, or, I suspect, those of the rest of the school’s staff.  He had a fairly abrasive habit of making this known vociferously if a teacher ever made a mistake.  It takes an educator with the hide of a rhinoceros combined with the humility of a Zen monk to accept a small boy sighing loudly and yelling, “No, you’ve got that completely WRONG!” in the middle of a lesson.  It does little to sustain that fragile control the educator has fought so hard to develop in order to handle the class successfully.  And that’s just at primary school…

Marley was never, during the years I worked with him, diagnosed with a disorder, although  ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) was often mentioned darkly within the staff room and in conversation with visiting educational psychologists.  Nevertheless, he could be highly disruptive and only complied with his teachers’ requests when he felt it was in his interest to do so.

When he joined my class full-time, I worked with him by negotiation.  I would briefly explain the objectives of the activity I had planned for the group and give him the option of following this, or moving into one of the extension projects I had prepared for him.  He usually made sensible choices, enjoying mastering new skills and proficiencies but absenting himself from much of the National Curriculum’s less challenging or enthralling content.  Given the choice, I’d have done the same.

He produced creative writing of a level beyond that of any primary school child I ever encountered, pouring over a thesaurus to extend his vocabulary (I recall a prolonged debate on whether ‘egress’ was a stylistically suitable synonym for ‘door’  in a passage he’d written!) and striving to master use of the semi-colon and paragraphing.  He grasped mathematical, scientific and technological understanding at a phenomenal rate and in standardised reading comprehension tests he was off the scale.

He also made dreadful mistakes, behaving callously and with no thought of the implications of his actions.  The pain and distress he caused on these occasions was immeasurable and our school’s wonderful pastoral care team and I spent many hours raking over his actions with him and encouraging mental ‘re-winding’ to enable him to see how things could have played out differently, had he made more careful and considered choices.  These young people require advice and stewardship as much as any other.

My favourite Marley story, though, comes from when he transferred to secondary school.

An example of an item from a cognitive abiliti...

An example of an item from a cognitive abilities test used in educational psychology. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new entrants were required, during their first week, to sit a series of CAT tests – multiple choice papers designed to measure cognitive ability.  The new children – still nervous and disoriented at this switch to a far larger school, where they were now the ‘little ones’ – were ushered into the school hall, sat at separated tables in long lines and told to complete the many pages before them within the allotted time.

Marley sat down at his table, picked up the paper and glanced through page one.  He considered for a moment, then began to flick through the rest of the paper.  Without a word, he put down his pen, picked up the test script and began to shred it neatly, until a small pile of torn fragments of paper was left on the table.  He then, quietly, rose from his seat and left the room.

It is to the credit of that secondary school that they persevered with Marley and eventually found ways to engage him in some of the work they offered.  Many other such non-conformers are permanently excluded from our school system.  It simply wasn’t built for them.

Teachers and educators are already severely over-burdened.  The extra work involved in providing something approaching a curriculum more suited to Marley’s needs was ridiculously time-consuming.  I suffered from a fair degree of burnout that year.

In any class, a teacher will encounter several children who learn differently – whether it be with autistic spectrum perception, with the butterfly mind of so-called ADD or ADHD, with cognitive abilities which fall to either side of the norm or with such fascinating abilities as telepathy or other psychic skills – and he or she will still be expected to churn out the desired percentage of ‘average’ students, so that the bell curve of achievement remains as predicted by the experts.

Indigo Child

Indigo Child (Photo credit: wasabicube)

Given the multi-dimensional understanding that is becoming increasingly evident in so many of our Version 2.0 young people, (see Life: A Player’s Guide for details)  I believe we owe it to them to provide the emotional and educational stewardship that will enable them to share their gifts, while taking what they need from the bank of skills and knowledge we have amassed thus far.

If that means a radical rethink of the whole education system; if it means far more flexibility on the part of those in authority; if it means the young people may not strive to become exactly like us (also see this post) or complete standardised tests, as Marley would have commented, with a casual shrug, “Oh well-.”

 

 

Rules of Engagement – in Education and Beyond

Some mystery person has been looking through many of my old posts this last week.  It’s encouraged me to revisit some of my older jottings.  

Rather short of time this week, so I’ve decided the article below is probably worth a second look.  Sadly, I no longer work at GLOW, but this should serve as a fitting tribute to the amazing young people I knew there.

 

Back when I was a schoolteacher in Essex, I’d greet my new cluster of 10-year-olds on the first day of the school year with their first task – to write our class rules.

Rules for Students Fall 2009-2

It was a depressing and arduous process.  I’d start by writing up my own contribution: Have Fun.  The children would look sideways at each other with that, ‘yeah, right!’ expression and proceed to make their own suggestions, gleaned from six years of experience within the education system.

No swearin’.    No spittin’.    Don’t hit no one.    Don’t rock on yer chairs…….

Patiently and gently I’d encourage them to transform their list of negatives to positives – aspirations rather than prohibitions.  They’d look bemused, try hard to please me, but be far more comfortable with their familiar set of regulations – they were much easier to break.

I should add that all the teachers who had encountered these groups of children before me had made similar attempts to foster positivity.   Perhaps we made limited progress eventually.

 

At GLOW, there is a shifting population, so the rules are ready and waiting.  New arrivals either agree to our code of conduct or decide this place isn’t right for them and leave.  We have only four rules, but they are binding and non-negotiable.

The first I brought with me: Have fun.

The other three were lifted from Conversations With God:   Be Honest.    Be Responsible.    Be Aware.

They work.  Conflicts are rare within the group, despite widely differing backgrounds and ages (currently 7-14).

When one child approached me this week to tell me he was becoming frustrated that a smaller child was repeatedly breathing right in his face, I took the younger one aside and reminded him of the rule of Awareness.

“Being aware means watching how your behaviour is affecting others in the room.  If the other person is clearly enjoying this game – laughing and joining in – by all means carry on.  If he’s looking annoyed, unhappy or asking you to stop, then you must decide whether it’s a good game for both of you.”

He looked surprised, thought for a moment, then nodded and stopped.

We’ve talked a lot about bullying.  Many home-educated children have experienced this in the past at school or within their neighbourhoods.  We’ve reached an agreement that’s it’s an unfortunate affliction affecting those who feel powerless or fearful, and therefore choose to boost their own self-esteem by attempting to lower that of another person.  Once the children are able to recognise the neediness of the bully, they can move beyond fear and towards some level of understanding (while taking steps to keep themselves safe, obviously).  However they are in agreement that bullying in any form is not ok.

Activities are provided but participation is optional.  If someone prefers to sit out, that’s fine, as long as they remain responsible and aware and don’t stop others from having fun.

Sometimes there is an element of striving to excel at a task – making paper aeroplanes, for example.  Each child works to improve upon his or her prototype.  We then come together and decide on the best features of each.  ‘Put-downs’ and bragging are absent.  The children have reached a consensus that ‘I win’ necessitates ‘You lose’, and that doesn’t feel too good.

When an activity is finished, everyone takes joint responsibility for helping to clear up and tidy the room.

All sounds quite utopian, doesn’t it?  It certainly feels that way.

 

Last night, though, I found myself wondering whether GLOW’s rules are preparing these children for life in the outside world.  Let’s take, um, politics, for example…

I’m a resolutely apolitical person.  I have no particular allegiance to any party or dogma.  I think life is far more complex than that.

I do however feel deeply saddened by the adversarial system of politics that currently holds sway in my country (the UK) and many others.

Let us, if we can, suspend judgement for a while and accept that those who have chosen to become politicians have done so with at least some intention to provide fairness, protection for the weakest, controls over the most powerful and a ‘decent’ society for all, in whatever way they feel that should be done.  Is it not a shame, then, that their only recourse, once they have entered the political arena, is to score points off others and shout them down?

The House of Commons at Westminster: This engr...

If a spokesperson for the blue party suggests solving a problem by doing A, B or C, the corresponding member of the red party is duty bound to berate this idea, to roundly insult the ‘honourable member’ in as snide and unpleasant a way as possible and to give a range of reasons why A, B or C is completely ridiculous.  This happens regardless of the merits or demerits of the original idea and often in spite of that individual’s personal feelings about it.

Should a member of one party publicly agree with something suggested by their opponents, a bevy of spin doctors will hastily point out that their representative didn’t actually mean to appear to sanction what must, of course, be a bad idea, given its origins.

Have you ever thought how much time and money this unpleasant and pointless haggling and bickering wastes?

I understand that groups called All Party Select Committees manage to sit round a table, put political allegiances aside and debate the actual pros and cons of particular matters.  How pleasant it would be (and – still better – how unappealing to our media moguls) if all politics could be conducted in such a way that consensus, not the outmoded whip system, became the norm.  Individual politicians from different walks of life and with varying points of view could look dispassionately at a range of options, debate them quietly and respectfully and vote for the ones they felt would best serve the country.

The braying, squawking and old-school playground behaviour could cease and we’d have a political system fit for purpose in the twenty-first century and worthy of the young people who are discovering a better way of being.

The GLOW kids could even suggest a suitable set of rules for such a political system…