A Trail of Breadcrumbs

Learn, Child, View, Thumb, High, LikeIt was over twenty years ago, and I’ve taught a lot of lessons since then.  None, though, quite as extraordinary as that one.

They were 5 to 7 year olds, only ten of them, all with speech and language difficulties and several with autistic spectrum perception.  We were doing a mental addition and subtraction activity and I was recording their answers on the board.

There was a wide ability range and a couple of the kids were exceptionally bright.  I was doing my best to stretch them, while keeping the less able group involved.

I had a hidden agenda, though.  There was one boy – a six-year-old – whom I was watching particularly carefully.  He was one of the highly intelligent ones.  He always focused on the task at hand, worked hard and was unfailingly polite and charming.  We’d been watching him for a few weeks, my teaching assistant and myself, ever since I’d confided to her that I felt I was losing my grip on this class.  To be honest – and I’m not a person given to paranoid delusions – I was beginning to suspect that this little child was intentionally sabotaging my lessons.

The activity started quite normally, but before long he started.

‘27 +13?’ I asked.

‘40,’ someone said.

I wrote 40 on the board.

‘No, it’s 41,’ he said.

I talked through the calculation, using my best patient teacher voice.

‘But you said 28.  28 and 13 is 41, isn’t it?’

Hmm.  This sort of thing happened all the time in my class these days.  Normally I’d have accepted that I’d made a mistake and wondered, yet again, why I was becoming so absent-minded.  Today, though, I was ready for him.  I pretended to be flustered.  There was no flicker of a triumphant smile from him.  Maybe he’d made a genuine mistake…

We carried on.  He did it several more times, selecting his moments with infinite care.  If I stood my ground, he backed down instantly with a polite, ‘Oh, sorry.’  If I hesitated or acted confused, though, he’d capitalise on it, wasting vast amounts of time in the process.

By the end of the session I was in no further doubt.  All the times a vital piece of equipment I was sure I’d laid out for a lesson had gone missing and was then found in the most ridiculous place – by him, naturally; all the lessons where he was endlessly under my feet and I was practically falling over him, yet he’d always have a perfectly valid explanation for being there; all the times when half the class ended up repeating some stupid little phrase over and over, while he sat, bent over his work and looking up in mild surprise at their behaviour;  all this and more was being orchestrated by a child of six with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum and severe speech difficulties.  It beggared belief.

Later that day I took him aside and asked him, point blank, why he was playing these mind games.

‘What’s mind games?’ he asked innocently, but the mask was slipping.  I could see a gleeful twinkle in those wide green eyes.

‘The little wind-ups you use in my lessons, like in maths this morning,’ I replied.

He gave a yelp of delight.  ‘So it’s YOU!’ he said.  ‘I thought it was you.’  And he smiled his concrete-melting smile.

He went on to explain that he’d been trying his ‘tricks’ on a number of key adults in his life for some time, waiting to find the one who figured out what he was doing.  I had, it seemed, passed the test.

So as his teacher I had two choices.  I could get angry, label him as a disruptive and manipulative pupil and apply sanctions.  Alternatively, I could be delighted that I’d come across such an audacious, brilliant and imaginative mind, give him the deepest respect and remember never to underestimate him.  I chose the latter.  Of course I did.  This was a once in a lifetime meeting.

From that day onward we became the best of friends.  Twenty years on, we still are.

That’s not to say he’s let me off the hook.  Far from it.

If he wants me to discover something, to move closer towards his level of comprehension, he will never simply tell me.  He uses the Socratic Method.  It’s the most effective form of education ever developed.  The student is given scenarios and placed in situations which require high-level problem-solving skills.

Hiking, Nature, Walking Trails, JeansI’m given a trail of breadcrumbs to follow, often a heady mix of physical and psychic, since he operates in both modes.  He ruthlessly ignores my questions or pleas for hints.   If some of the breadcrumbs have disappeared or been blown off course, I’m simply expected to work harder and faster to find the rest.  It’s exhausting and exhilarating – the kind of buzz people get from climbing mountains or running marathons, I suppose.  If I fail, he ups the stakes.  If I succeed he’s utterly delighted and we are able to communicate on a higher level than I’d ever have achieved alone.

I’m busily following one such trail at the moment.  Here, as an example, is just one of the crumbs he’s thrown me:

Phone, Communication, ConnectionAutistic people are capable of communicating and socialising. They have a naturally different method of accomplishing this. 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 them properly. I suspect at some point this will be achieved and hopefully will allow autism to be harnessed to its full potential and remedy the blindness of so many.

Wish me luck  🙂

 

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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?

 

 

Always will.

Glass, Shattered, Window, DestructionTen years ago, I was just finishing the most terrifying, exhilarating, exhausting and arguably the most successful year of my life as an educator.

I’ve spoken about it before, but not for a while, and a few things have happened this week (like the message from D) to make me want to look back at it.

Briefly:  I worked in a primary school at a time when everything was controlled by THEM – the curriculum, the standards, the targets, the methods.  As educators we were under stupid amounts of pressure to conform and jump through all THEIR hoops.  The alternative was Special Measures.

Ours was a smallish school and – as sometimes happens – in that particular year, we were struggling with an above average number of, um, challenging pupils.  The reasons for the challenges weren’t hard to fathom – parents in prison, parents who had died or were seriously ill, parents with substance abuse issues, violent and abusive siblings and step-parents, family break-ups, history of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.  Those are just the bits I can remember.  There was also peer influence and imitation; children would pick up on the behaviour of others and copy it.

Run Riot, Anarchy, City, Urban, GraffitiEvery class in the 7-11 age group had a few hard-core rebels and several who copied their behaviour.  Teachers felt their standards slipping as they struggled to deal with daily disruption.  Some were refusing to teach certain children or to have X and Y in the same class.  Exclusion of these youngsters wasn’t an option.  It was frowned upon by THEM, and anyway, we wanted to help these kids.

As a senior management team, we pondered long and hard on how we could organise classes for the next academic year.  No combinations worked.

Until I had my crazy/wonderful idea.

I opted to teach a mixed-age class of just 16 pupils, containing every one of the challenging children and a few others who had their own issues and difficulties, despite not being disruptive.  My conditions were that the National Curriculum would not be followed, testing would be optional – and then only at the very end of the year, targets would be replaced by frequent ‘look how far you’ve come’ reviews, the education would be holistic, with a different programme of study for each individual based on their personal circumstances and emotional needs as well as the educational ones.

Luckily, I had a brave, supportive head teacher and some brilliant, visionary and courageous support staff.  I was also able to buy in help from a very talented play therapist/counsellor.  Annoyingly, the local authority insisted on adding in its Behaviour Support Team, who tried to get me to run the class along the lines of Pavlov’s dogs or Skinner’s rats.  Not helpful.

My curriculum was, very broadly:  Term 1 – learn to tolerate and begin to like yourself.   Term 2 – like and take some responsibility for yourself and begin to tolerate one or two others, so you can manage to work in a very small group.  Term 3 – take responsibility for your own behaviour and actions and begin to tolerate and work with larger groups and the whole class.

Girl, Boys, Children, DevelopmentEach of the 16 who stayed at the school (such families travel around a fair bit, so some moved away) went on to rejoin a normal mainstream class the next year.  All of them opted to take part in the end of year tests and did as well or better than expected.  In the final term they did a whole class project and cooperated as well as any group I’ve ever taught.

Obviously the hardest bit – so hard I still have to fight back tears as I remember – was to get these lovely young people to tolerate and, later, like themselves.  Once that was achieved, the rest flowed relatively easily.

As I mentioned earlier, several synchronicities have turned up recently, drawing me back to 2007.  Some will have to wait for another post, but I will mention D.

He was one of the oldest in that class – an intelligent, painfully sensitive, deeply troubled young lad who somehow transformed during the year from having always been the class weirdo to becoming an excellent and much admired role model for the younger boys in our group.

Last night – as he does from time to time – he messaged me.  Said he hoped I was doing OK.  We chatted briefly.  I told him what was happening in my life; he told me a little about his.  Then we signed off.

“Thanks for remembering me,” I said.

“Always will,” came the reply.

I’ll always remember him, too, and the rest of the class who taught me that once you can like yourself, there are no limits to what you can do.

 

 

 

 

The Cornflour Test

Hand, Hands, Smudging, Create, ChildrenIt used to be one of my favourite science lessons – cheap, easy and fun: give the kids a bowl, some cornflour (I think Americans call it cornstarch) and a jug of water.  Tell them to try mixing the cornflour and water slowly and they’d get a nice, smooth liquid. Tell them to hit the mixture with the spoon or try beating it vigorously and it would splatter them with goo and/or become a slimy solid.  ‘A non-Newtonian liquid’, I’d tell them; ‘a thixotropic substance’   from the Greek thixis, “the act of handling” and trope, “change”.

So why am I reminiscing about my teaching days?  Because it’s just occurred to me (with a little help from my Guides) that our lives are – like the cornflour goo – thixotropic.  The way we handle them changes the way they work in exactly the manner described above.

 

20170222_150446As regular readers will know, last year I started up a very small cottage industry with one of my sons, making steampunk-style miniature figures, gadgets, dolls’ house rooms and jewellery.  He set up an online store.  I started a blog to link to it.  It all looked very promising and there has been plenty of interest.  Sales, though, have been almost non-existent.  The stock was piling up and we were getting disheartened.  20170119_085337So, encouraged by my other son and daughter, I’ve spent the last few weeks madly learning new tricks (difficult for an old dog) – attempting to master Instagram, creating a new business page on Facebook, approaching museums, shops, magazines… and generally running myself into a state of anxiety and frustration.

Yesterday I stopped.

I turned off the social media and tuned in to my Guides.  “What am I doing wrong?” I asked.  “I’m trying to create my own reality.  I can’t push any harder.  Whatever I do, it’s making me feel bad and it’s not having any appreciable results.”

I felt the smile they sent me.  Into my mind they placed the memory of that science lesson.

“I’ve been bashing the goo, haven’t I?” I exclaimed, as realisation flooded in.  “That’s why it has blocked up.  I need to slow down, to go with the flow, to drift lightly and follow all the synchronicities that come along.  As simple as that.”

‘As simple as that,’ my Guides agreed.

So maybe old dogs can learn new tricks after all.  I may never master the intricacies of Instagram, but in future I will apply the Cornflour Test to the way I move towards my intended goals.

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.

Didn’t know I had a petard, and here I am hoist with it

Grenade, Bomb, War, Weapon, DangerI had to look petard up: a small bomb apparently.  As for being hoist on/by/with it, we have Shakespeare to thank for that one.  All I knew was that it meant, roughly, to fall into one’s own trap, and that I’ve certainly done this week.

Embarrassed, but trying hard to be authentic, so…

Allow me to explain.

A few weeks ago I was asked to take on a pair of new students – young brothers who shared a genetic condition with their mother.  “Multi-systemic” I was told, so the effects of this syndrome involve skin, joints, brain and just about any part of the body you can think of.  The words ‘complex learning difficulties’ were also mentioned.

To be honest, I was almost at full stretch before these lads appeared on the scene.  Planning two lots of lessons in maths and English tailored to their particular mix of strengths (very high intelligence) and challenges, as well as homework each week would, I knew, take at least an entire day.  Then there was the teaching itself, which I could only just slot in amongst my other young pupils.  Everything logical in my mind was screaming, “No, don’t do it!  What about that work/life balance you wanted?  You are past retirement age, you know.  And this lady wants you to work on right through the summer holidays.  When will you get to see the family?”

But the kids were lovely.  Finding ways of working around their difficulties would be fascinating – previously uncharted territory, the type of challenge I thrive on.  They weren’t fitting into schools.  Their constant pain and exhaustion, as a result of the syndrome, was too much for them when combined with a normal school day.  The mother, though, was being threatened by the authorities for not providing sufficient education.

I said, ‘Yes’.

Of course I did.

Writing, Boy, Child, Student, KidFor a couple of weeks it went fine.  Yes, I did end up doing lesson prep all through the weekends but they seemed to be progressing well and I was enjoying working with them.  Then this week they appeared full of smiles but without homework.  A casual ‘lost it somewhere in my room’ from one and ‘I didn’t realise you wanted me to do that’ from the other.

Inwardly I was irritated.  The homework sheets had taken me ages to prepare.  The work I’d planned for this week followed on from what they were meant to have done.  Their mother had particularly requested homework.  It was meant to protect her from being taken to court… and blah, blah, blah.

Outwardly, I smiled, suggested mildly that maybe they could try to get it done for the following week and carried on.  The lessons went fine and I went to bed that night feeling very happy.

Oh I know at least one of my readers knows exactly what’s coming!

I woke up the next morning to a text from the children’s mother.  Both of them had told her I was ‘grumpy’ during their lessons.  She wondered what was wrong.

I was mortified.  The lessons had (I thought) been lovely – lots of laughter and progress.  Was I just a delusional old bat?  Had I ended up like those elderly lady teachers I remembered from my own school days – miserable and past it?  Was it time to stop and give up – to sit in a rocking chair knitting all day?

I flashed a quick message back, saying I had been disappointed that they’d not bothered with the homework, but wasn’t aware of being grumpy about it; that I’d tried hard to keep the work lively and enjoyable and so forth.

Then I sat and thought.

Why was I choosing to be so upset by this?  Why had this incident shown up in my life?  What did it have to teach me?

The reply came almost at once, in a further message from the children’s mum.  She hadn’t wanted to upset me.  She just felt she had to be authentic and tell me their reaction.  It wasn’t my words or actions they had reacted to, it was my feelings.  They were, she added, extremely sensitive and picked up on the energy people projected.

Heart, Love, Idea, Light BulbAh.

Got it.

That heart-based telepathy thing.

So I thanked her – and the universe – for providing me with that reminder.  I told her about my last blog post, on exactly this subject, and promised to attempt to be more open and authentic in future.

See what I mean about being hoist with my own petard?  This communicating-from-the-heart business is not easy.  I’m glad to have these two young teachers.  Like all good teachers, they’ve appeared just as the student is ready 🙂

 

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?

Guidance…

Well that was unexpected.

A request from a potential new Facebook friend.  The name’s distantly familiar.  So is the face, when I take a look at his profile, and those dim bells clanging at the very back of my mind are telling me he’s somehow connected to the school I worked at, before everything changed.  His profile says he’s from my old town.  Slightly bemused and curious, I press the Accept button.

An hour later, the young man messages me.  He’d been a student teacher at the school for a few weeks, it emerges, while I was working there.  We’d chatted several times in the staff room.  I feel slightly less embarrassed now that my recall was somewhat dim.  In the intervening years, he’s moved around the country, married, had children and is now back there and doing my old job – teaching Year 6 at the same Essex school.  Somewhat synchronous…

He tells me about life there these days.  Sounds ghastly – endless new initiatives imposed by clueless, reactionary politicians, ‘special measures’ imposed on the staff, ‘academy status’ whatever that is – more and more control from above, obviously – and packs of disaffected kids prowling the building and contemplating escape.  I suddenly feel very safe and cosseted by my present easy lifestyle.  Also mildly guilty for getting out when I did.

Then he totally amazes me.
“I read your book,” he says.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Really?  I can’t imagine anyone in Essex reading my book.  He tells me it inspired him and that he now has a totally new attitude towards education and is considering getting out of the crumbling system and educating in other ways.  He’s been on a Forest Schools course.  He’s thinking about working for a local wildlife trust and using that as a base for educating.

Good grief!  What did I write in that book?  It’s been a long while since I read it, so I take it off the shelf and have another look.

It most certainly isn’t about education, or how to educate.  It does have a rather teacherly style, though.  Re-reading it makes me wince slightly.  Did I really explain a multi-dimensional universe by instructing the reader on how to make a paper model?  It reads like the script of a 1980s episode of Blue Peter, for those who know what that is.  And yet it kind of works…

English: 42, The Answer to the Ultimate Questi...

What I was trying to do, when I put it together, was to write a book about the meaning and purpose of Life, the Universe and Everything which avoided all the wafty new-age psychobabble, mystical ramblings and cliches, (How DO you insert an acute accent on WordPress??) that were so prevalent when it was published in 2012.

The video game analogy is hopelessly overworked; the style (in an attempt to draw in a ‘youth’ audience) veers much closer to patronising than I’d now wish, yet it still has a sort of raw charm and honesty, I suppose, and a few ideas and insights which I haven’t seen expressed anywhere else.  Not a complete waste of time, then.

So how the young man discovered it and chose to read it, I’ll probably never know, but I’m all about encouraging everyone, myself included, to move out of the comfort zone and into newer and greater experience.  That appears to be – so early indications are suggesting – what 2016 is all about.

And what is the message for me?  There definitely is one; it says so in the book:

These synchronicities act like a sort of mental sticking plaster and are strong enough to hold the two of you together; to keep you talking and interacting until you both get the information or experience that you need…

Is this episode telling me to stop faffing about and to get on with writing the next book… and making it better?

Probably.