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?

 

 

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When Worlds Collide

People, Bus, Commuting, Public TransportA three hour coach ride passes so much better when you find yourself seated next to someone interesting to chat to.

My neighbour yesterday was, it emerged, travelling to London for a brief, bittersweet half day with her daughter.  It was the girl’s birthday.  She’d booked herself into a posh hotel in the West End.  They were to have champagne, then lunch somewhere luxurious.  The daughter would unwrap her presents then – ‘a comfort sack’ with such items as a thick duvet, pillow and covers, hand warmers, hot chocolate mix…  Tomorrow the young lady will take all her spoils and return to Greece, where she works for the UN, caring for the refugees.
“It’s so desperately cold there, Mum,” she’d told her mother. “Just so desperate”.

Lesvos, Island, Mytilini, GreeceI wondered how it felt for that young woman to move between those two quite different worlds – her opulent English lifestyle and the squalor and tragedy of the transit camps.  How must the smells, the sounds, the sickness and pain feel to someone who has grown up in such a different culture?  How, indeed, must it feel for the inhabitants of the camps, wrenched from their lives in such violence and terror?

 

“And you?” my neighbour enquired.  “Why are you going to London?”

“Oh,” I said, with a slight smile, “I’m probably going to enjoy a few hours in the British Museum.  And I might be meeting a friend.”

Well it was a long journey, so gradually my story came out too.  If we did meet, it would be no less shocking and difficult a transition for my friend than her daughter’s move to Greece had been.

Sport, Exhausting, To Clench TeethJust as the refugee camps would seem overwhelmingly disgusting and sickening to us – their sights, smells and emotional charge far beyond what we feel able to cope with – so our world is, for people like my friend.  For him, and so many other super-sensitive people who live with autistic spectrum perception in its many and amazing forms, our world – in all its raw, visceral physicality can be almost too much to cope with.  Their senses are easily overwhelmed by what, to us, would seem trivial.  Their anxiety never sleeps.  Their fears grapple constantly at their throats with sharp, threatening fingers.  Small wonder so many would prefer to remain in the insular, relatively safe surroundings of the worlds they have built for themselves.  Why – given the choice – would they venture out into the uncertainties of our unfamiliar and terrifying world?

The answer is the same as for the young lady working for the UN – compassion, humanity, generosity of spirit.  They want to help us.  They want to build bridges.  They want to reach into our world and show us their perspectives.  If they manage it, we will be so much richer for it, but if they don’t, we have no right to criticise them.  Every single day, they struggle to do what they can to reach into our world.  And there will be days they just can’t.

When I reached London, he was still at home, holed up in an agony of indecision.  If he managed a meeting, it would be the first for many years.  The least I could do was to make it as easy as possible for him.
‘No rush,’ I messaged.  ‘I’ll head for the museum. Text me later if you feel able to meet somewhere.’

An hour later I was a stranger wandering in the world of the Abyssinians: huge bas-reliefs of Kings and courtiers.  ‘Spirit helpers’ with the heads of eagles and small handbags held objects like oversized pine cones against the backs of the humans’ heads.  Why?  Pineal gland connection perhaps?  What was in the bags?  What favoured realm had these beings descended from, to help their human counterparts?

Then my phone pinged.

‘I’m going to come.  I’m in central London.  Shall I meet you at the British Museum or elsewhere?’

‘The museum’s crammed with people,’ I told him, when I’d had a moment.  ‘Let’s meet in one of the squares nearby.’

On my way out I paused to stare in awe once again at the Rosetta stone, that magical jigsaw piece that had given the modern world a way into the world of other races at other times.  For me, at that moment, the stone became a talisman, allowing my world and my friend’s to come together for a short while.

Seat, Iron, Metal, Bench, Seat BenchBloomsbury, like much of London, has many lovely, peaceful squares – small oases of calm and greenery amidst the hubbub of traffic and commerce.  I selected a calm, pleasant open space where I felt he’d be most comfortable, sat on a bench and waited.  I sat at one end and placed my bags beside me, knowing he’d need more body space than most would consider normal for lifelong friends.  I remained seated when he arrived.  No exclamation of delight, no bear hugs or grasping of hands.
“Alright?” he said simply.
“Yes,” I said quietly.  “And well done.”

Old friends.  Old friends.  Sat on a park bench like bookends.
Paul Simon’s song echoed in my mind from another of my distant worlds.

I’d written much of what I wanted to say on paper.  He finds the written word easier to handle than speech – less unpredictable.  So for the first few minutes he sat and read in silence.  Then we talked.  He kept his eyes fixed straight ahead; body language and facial expression are confusing for him, so it’s easier if he cuts them out.  Still there were deep discussions and moments of humour, with both of us laughing out loud.  There were connections and shared memories of times when we’d spent so many days and hours together.  It was wonderful.

And because I know he finds transitions difficult, I made the decision on when to leave.  Or perhaps the weather did, as the rain that had been threatening all afternoon eventually began to fall.

Neither of us said, “See you soon.”  Who knows?   And what does it matter?  Our worlds had come together for that short while without any explosions or disasters and we are closer for that experience.

Not very

Mural, Girl, Balloon, Heart, GraffitiI can’t remember when our last meeting was.  If you don’t know it’s going to be the last time, you don’t take particular note of it, I suppose.

I remember my last meeting with his mother.  It was in the hospice.  That meeting is easy to recall, because we were both all too aware that she’d have moved beyond her body within a few days.  We had a rather surreal conversation about this and that – mostly her plans for the funeral and what she wanted me to do to help care for her little boy.  I kept asking whether she was tired and would prefer me to leave and she kept saying, ‘No.  I don’t want you to go yet.’  But eventually she was tired and she did need to sleep and we hugged and cried a bit and said none of the things people usually say when they are parting: ‘See you soon’, ‘Keep in touch’, ‘Take care of yourself’.  It was an adieu moment, not an au revoir.

When I last saw her son – the little boy who had grown up to be a man and who had become just like one of my own children to me – he DID say, ‘See you soon.’  I distinctly remember that part, although I can’t quite remember where we were.  He was waving me off on a bus or a train or something.  He’d been anxious, awkward, twitchy – more so that I’d seen him before.  He’d kept wheeling around and looking suspiciously about him, as if he expected an assassin to come lurching out of the crowd.  He’d looked awful.  There was an unhealthy pallor to his skin and much of his hair had fallen out in untidy clumps.  Alopecia, he told me.  Stress, the doctor had told him.  It might grow back or it might not.

He didn’t see me soon, nor I him.  The months became years – probably six or seven.  I feel I should be able to remember.  Each time I suggested meeting, there was a flat ‘No.’  If I pestered for a reason, I’d get, ‘Can’t do it’ or ‘Too stressful.’

Last week, I suggested it again.  He’s been coming out, I feel, agonisingly slowly, of the deepest slough of despair, social anxiety and depression.  His texts and emails have been far more chatty and even shown flashes of the old sense of humour.  He accused me of being paranoid about something, adding, ‘And yes, I know that’s rich, coming from me.’

He didn’t say ‘No’.

True, he didn’t come anywhere close to saying ‘Yes’, but he was far more concerned that he wouldn’t be able to commit to a meeting until the day itself, and that as we live far apart, I might have a wasted journey to London.

I told him I love London – in small doses – and that I’d enjoy a day trip there in any case.  I told him I’d plan a trip to the British Museum, another old and much-loved friend.  I told him that if he felt able to join me, that would be great, but I’d have a great day in any case.

You don’t get sighs in texts, unless they’re intentionally written in those silly little arrow things (<sighs>) but I could feel his as he replied, ‘That’s up to you but I don’t want to get your hopes up.’
London, Lantern, Big Ben, RiverSo my coach ticket is booked.  Next Saturday I’ll begin the 3 hour trek to London.  I’ll be caught (as happened so often, when his mental state waxed and waned throughout his teens) somewhere between assuring myself that he’ll be there, in order to manifest the reality, and stoically preparing for a pleasant day wandering through the delights of the museum, just in case.

Whatever happens, though, I’m jubilant.  When I asked how likely he was to be there, he replied, ‘Not very.’  That’s a long way past ‘Not at all’.  There will be other chances, other days.  Just as his mother begged me, all those years ago, I’ve never given up on him, never thrown in the towel, and nor has he.  I’m proud of us both for that.

The Words of William

This year, William, my young aspie friend, turned 25.

It really isn’t my place to talk much about his life now; he’d prefer not to share personal information and I feel I must respect that wish.

Graffitti, Goal, Colorful, ColorHe lodges with relatives in a rather run-down area to the east side of London.  He holds down a job where his intrinsic aptitude and preference for routine and regulations serve him well.

He has created a cocoon of familiarity around himself and, within its confines, once again feels able to chat to me freely via texts and emails.  Regular readers of this blog may remember our remote viewing experiments, which still continue every weekend and are as wonderful and puzzling as ever.  See here if you’d like to read about it.

As you may have gathered, William has some unusual skills and what he terms ‘knowing’.  I suppose it’s an enhanced version of the intuition and occasional flashes of insight we all get from time to time.  He tells me that people with autistic perception ‘receive and process information differently’.

As I mentioned in my last post, William has told and sent me many of his thoughts through the years.  Whether it was a masterclass in moving objects through space using the mind or a detailed account of how ‘atom strings’ form the universe/s, I’ve always been impressed by his ideas and explanations.

E-book CoverI decided that, for his birthday, I would collect together all these conversations, random thoughts and articles, from childhood to the present, into a single file and  send them to him, so that he had a record of the development of his ideas.

I asked him whether he shows them to anyone apart from me.  He said he didn’t.  That seemed a waste.  So a further thought came to me.  What if I formatted them as an e-book?  He could then – if he chose – publish them and allow others to share his ideas and musings.

It took him six days to come to a decision.  I’ve learned to work with his way of dealing with the world.  I was texted a few times in the week and told ‘I’m still thinking’.  Pressing him for a decision or offering further information or suggestions would have slowed things still further and caused him additional stress.  He needed that time to work through all the repercussions of having his words OUT THERE.   Finally, late in the evening of the sixth day, the message came: ‘Publish it.’

So I have.

The Words of William are now available – for the cost of a cup of coffee – on Amazon Kindle.  The text is short – some 5500 words, and priced accordingly.

This shy but delightful young man spent many years struggling to find a voice for his thoughts.  I’d love him to discover that there are those who share his passion for all things metaphysical, multidimensional and magnificent in this cosmos of ours, so if your interests tend that way, please do consider taking a look and maybe downloading a copy or sharing the link with others who might enjoy it.

Amazon UK link

Amazon US link

Also available on Amazon worldwide.

Thank you ❤

 

Feeling the Music

These are my main headphones that have been wi...

Mother and son.  They got on the bus just after me.  He was somewhere between 18 and 25, I’d guess, wearing headphones and holding the tiniest MP3 player I’d ever seen.

She was anxious.

They’d been deep in conversation – negotiation, by the sound of it.
“Fine,” she was saying, “But don’t wave your arms about and no making faces.”
“Making faces!” he exclaimed, in the way sons talk to over-anxious mums the world over.  “As if I’d make faces!”

Having got his way, the young man sat at the front of the bus, while his mother perched a few seats back.

I love people-watching.  I enjoy trying to fill in the background to the gestures and snatches of conversation around me.  High-functioning autistic lad, I surmised.  Mother’s worried that if he doesn’t sit with her he’ll behave in ways that will make others stare – or worse.  She’s on a knife-edge between wanting to give him some independence and wanting to protect him from hurtful comments.  He just wants to lose himself in his music.

I watched him.  I couldn’t help it.  It felt good to see someone that happy – freely, openly, ecstatically happy and absorbed in his pleasure.  Yes, he swayed about, waved his hands from time to time, and the rapturous expressions that chased one another across his face could be classed as ‘making faces’.  He looked the way any of us might look if we were listening to music at home, alone and unobserved or at a festival, where it’s fine to dispense with inhibitions.

We – the rest of us – the neuro-typicals – have learned, from our mothers perhaps, that normally we should mask our feelings in public.  We stare straight ahead or bury our head in a book on public transport.  Showing our emotions is not acceptable.

What a dull, grey world we create.

I had enormous sympathy and respect for the boy’s mother.  I could imagine what a struggle her life was and how hard she was trying to help her child.  But regardless of that, I felt privileged to have shared that journey with him, remembering how it felt to be uninhibited and free to feel the music.

Not the Remotest

IMG_20150308_133229Neither of us, if you’ll pardon the pun, has the remotest idea how it works.

But it does.

Will has explained eloquently how the process of remote viewing is experienced from the viewer’s perspective:

When I say ‘see’ it’s more of a visualising of the feelings that I get, which I suspect is highly influenced by my logical mind trying to form a likely interpretation of the feelings, than say a vision or anything that compares with how I ordinarily see using my eyes.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m standing in a garden centre, sheltering from a heavy spring shower in one of the poly-tunnels.  Outside are flowerbeds, benches covered in pot plants and windbreaks supporting tubs of trees.  I text Will to tell him I’m ready to begin.  He texts back, “Start now” and I spend the next ten minutes looking carefully at everything around me, drinking in the sights, sounds, scents and textures of the place.

We’ve moved on from viewing a crystal held in my hand to viewing locations.  He has no clue as to where I am.  He’s sitting in a room across the country and simply knows that I have chosen a venue and will remain there for ten minutes.  He focuses on me and tries – with some sense way beyond the physical – to pick up impressions of the place I’m in.

Time’s up.  I take photos.  He, meanwhile, is drawing and annotating a sketch of what he ‘saw’.  I receive a message:

Hope you can make this picture out and my handwriting.  Also think water might be involved somewhere.

IMG_20150308_133214 (1)I look skywards and grin.  Plenty of wet stuff.  Then I look at his drawing.  He’s viewed it from several yards away from where I was standing.  The flowers are there.  He’s drawn one of the benches – presumably the one covered in concrete planting pots – and one of the tree support windbreaks, which he’s labelled ‘Structure, free-standing’.  The three ‘hills’ he’s drawn in the background are in the right position for the three poly tunnels.  They have green coverings – very hill-like.

IMG_20150308_133258“It’s good,” I tell him, and send some of the photos I’ve taken.

Every weekend there are new wonders – he drew a medieval barn I passed on the way to a site.  I’d paused long enough to consider using it, but discounted it as it was closed to the public and would be far better on a day when I could stand inside.  How, then, did he draw an interior view of it, with the roof trusses that couldn’t be seen from the outside?

Distant viewing, x-ray viewing and – as has now become apparent –  future viewing.

As I explained in last week’s post, he’d managed to pick up details of two of my crystals before I had focussed on them.  He pointed out, though, that he knew in those cases what he was trying to home in on.  With a location viewing, he had no idea where to hunt.  All he knew was that he was searching for wherever I would be on the Sunday at a set time.

One Saturday he did just that.  He made some notes of what he saw and waited for the Sunday session.  My son was visiting me.  It was he who suggested the location – and not until Sunday morning.

The day before it had even been chosen, then, Will had correctly identified the tower of a church and claimed there was something round on the ground nearby.  On the Sunday he did a second viewing and was confused when he got a different scene.  The solution was easy.  The church tower was directly behind me.  The tree and grass he saw on the Sunday were in front.  Still I was puzzled by the round object.  It had to be there somewhere.  Finally it was my son who solved that one.

IMG_20150329_191207“Will must have seen the labyrinth laid out in the church grounds,” he said.

I headed back to take a photo and sent it to Will.  It was a match.

I won’t pretend that every location viewing we’ve done has been perfect.  Sometimes he finds features I can’t identify.  Often he misses what I would imagine to be the main or obvious aspects of a site.  Always, though, there are matches and links – enough to assure us that some connection is being formed; some information is transferring between us.

On our latest viewing, for example, there seemed to be fewer matches than usual.  I’d chosen an ancient chapel and row of almshouses set in beautifully tended gardens.  He found one or two small details but nothing that positively identified the place.  As I thought we’d finished, a final text came through.

I tried to do an advance viewing of this yesterday.  Here’s what I came up with.  Does any of this mean anything to you?

He’d attached a sheet with a few jottings.  In large print were the words:

Light?

Fire?

English: Candle Flames

How could he possibly have sensed, on the day before it happened, that when I entered the chapel I’d have a sudden impulse to light a candle for my mother (who passed over exactly two years ago) and place it in the bowl in front of the altar?  It was on the candle that my focus was centred as I sat alone in the chapel – not on the structure of the building.

I was about to say, ‘small wonder that this is what he picked up on’. But it isn’t a small wonder, is it?  It’s a huge wonder.

How does it all work?  Is this Einstein’s ‘spooky action at a distance’?  It certainly has a spooky element to it, but I’d love to understand more.

If you have any insights into how or why this happens, please comment.  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Breakdowns and subtle bodies



Русский: ЭзотерикаI'll begin by telling you that this is to be one of my 'alternative communication' posts.  Haven't done one for quite a while, so if you tuned in wanting another feel-good story about LIME Cottage, sorry but this is drawing on a very different aspect of my life.

For those who aren’t familiar with my form of alternative communication, I should point out that it is very, er, alternative.

I’ve come across many people who channel and many who speak to those beyond the veil.  I’ve done both, but what I do now is something else again.  I have telepathic conversations with a young man I’ve known since he was a little boy.  He taught me to send and receive telepathically when he was about 8.  He went on to teach me wonders that astounded me.

Sometimes.

At other times he was withdrawn, grumpy, monosyllabic and would insist that the revelations and connections to higher realms had never happened.  It always confused me.

In his late teens, after some very difficult life experiences, he shut down completely.  He barely left his home or spoke to anyone, he only corresponded with me via text – a word a week was normal (‘How are you doing?’/ ‘Fine’).  He cut himself off from family and had no friends.  He developed compulsions and became paranoid.  He refused to see a doctor or therapist and so on and on.  They were dark days.

And then, quite out of the blue, he began to correspond with me telepathically.  It certainly ‘felt’ like him.  I would sit at my computer, type questions or comments into a word-processing program and then hold my crystal dowsing pendulum over the keyboard, just as I’d done (and demonstrated to him many times) when I used to contact his mother in spirit.  The crystal moved and spelled out words, which I typed.

This was different, though.  For a start, he wasn’t dead.  I’d be receiving one word texts from the physical him in London and expansive, fascinating insights from the telepathic him.  Strangest of all, he (in the body) appeared to have no knowledge of the conversations he was having with me via my computer.

Fairly obviously, I doubted the validity of what was happening and more-or-less convinced myself that I was making the whole thing up.  That was when I contacted Cynthia and Bob in New York.  They, I knew, were the real deal.  Cynthia channelled The Council while Bob made detailed recordings.  Yes, they assured me, it was all happening, and I needed to write it all down – publish a book of our strange and wonderful friendship.

The communications have continued intermittently ever since.  It wasn’t until early this month that I commented that the different aspects of him seemed to be more separate than most people’s.

YES, he responded. OVERLOADED.   A BREAKDOWN IN MY TEENS.

I gasped.  ‘Is that what a breakdown is?  A separation of the subtle bodies?’

His response registered mild surprise that I hadn’t realised that.

Suddenly everything made sense – the way in which the magical, evolved indigo/Version 2.0 boy had vanished and been replaced by a terrified, hyper-alert young man working entirely from the limbic system – the ancient fight-or-flight mechanism at the very centre of the brain.
I recalled his angry replies when I asked how he was feeling: ‘I don’t HAVE feelings!’
He managed tasks that had a direct bearing on his own survival, but nothing else.
His life was encased in rituals and obsessions.
He was functioning without any connection to his soul.

Afbeelding van koendaliniekanalen en centra Ze...

Afbeelding van koendaliniekanalen en centra Zelfgemaakt, geen auteursrechten (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So now, he was telling me, I was receiving telepathic communications from his mental body.  A while back, when he’d been fixated on astral travel, the communications came from his astral/emotional body.  All his subtle bodies were continuing to develop just fine, but independently of each other and, he reassured me, they were gradually reconnecting as he was healing.  I guess that explains why he’s become able, in the last few months, to manage the occasional short phone conversation and to send me a birthday card.

Meanwhile, my discussions with his mental body continue to amaze and expand my own consciousness.  Sometime soon, I’ll share with you the ‘Idiot’s Guide to Subtle Bodies’ he prepared for me.

I feel jubilant that I can finally make sense (well, to myself, at any rate) of what has been happening, and that I’ve regained a connection to the wisdom and wonder that kept me spellbound when he was a boy.

Meeting Simeon

English: Eyebrow, detail of File:Konferencja W...

It goes without saying that isn’t his real name.  I always alter certain details of the kids I write about, to preserve their privacy, but Simeon suits him well enough.

About six weeks ago he came slouching into my life.  He stomped into the study and eyed me warily.  He’s 14 and has autistic spectrum perception.  His parents had pulled him out of a special school where bullying was rife and learning, it seems, wasn’t.  They’d asked me to give him some weekly tuition in English and maths.

He was anxious, bitter, embarrassed by his ‘memory problems’ (receptive language processing difficulties) and lack of mathematical skills, and had enough chips on his shoulder to keep any fast food outlet going for a month.
“Let’s get this over with then,” he sighed, grabbing a chair.  “Two hours, right?”

Then the tests began…  What was it going to take to freak me out?

Week One included the following conversation:

Chocolate Digestive

Me: “You’ve worked very hard. Do you want to stop for five minutes for a drink and a snack?”
Him: “Got any cocaine?”
Me: “Sorry, just biscuits.”
Him: “Uh. How about steroids?”
Me: “No, I think they’re chocolate digestives.”

By Week Two he’d had a rethink.

When asked to enliven a dull passage by adding extra detail, he  managed to insert copious amounts of blood and gore into every sentence.  The protagonists lost body parts with dizzying speed and in alarming quantities, and what was left of the ‘hero’ by the end provided a finale by going to the bathroom (sic) on what remained of his opponent’s corpse and heading off to get high.  (“Do you know what that means?” Simeon asked, solicitously.)

I complimented him on having successfully completed the task he was set.  I spoke in glowing terms of the build-up of tension as the battle outcome remained uncertain until the very end.  I admired his range of vocabulary, while pointing out a few punctuation mistakes.  I then suggested that the euphemism for urinating was rather lame and that he needed to draw further distinction between heroic and villainous behaviour. if he wished to master characterisation.  Simeon silently made a few changes to his final sentence.

Comic Books

At the start of Week Three he reached into his backpack.  “I’ve brought something along I thought would be helpful for our lessons,”  he announced with an inscrutable smile.
He placed a copy of The Walking Dead comic on the desk.

“I could read some of it to you,” he offered, “like a reading book, y’know?”

“Fine,” I said.  “Which page would you like to start on?”

The reading session went on for a little longer than either of us had expected, because although the chunks of speech were not extensive, it took Simeon quite a while to apologise each time there was a swear word.  (“I’m sorry I said the f- word there.  It’s not like I was swearing at you, y’know.  I only said it because it was there on the page….”  and so on and on.)  There were many swear words.

After a while, mainly to save his blushes, I suggested returning to the Anthony Horowitz novel we’d selected as his regular reading book.   This he did with some relief, and since by a fortunate chance the first murder occurred a page or two into the chapter, he became totally hooked and complained when I asked him to stop.

By this time I was becoming rather fond of Simeon.  He could have become quite ratty at my refusal to be scandalised or offended by his carefully constructed ploys, but he took my responses calmly and was actually working extremely hard at the tasks I set him.   True, his obsession with weapons, the army and any dystopian videos,  games or reading matter he could lay his hands on could be wearing at times, but it wasn’t the first time I’d seen a disempowered teenager take refuge amongst such fantasies, and I felt I understood his perspective.  (See also this post.)

English: A British army Challenger II main bat...

Then, just as he was leaving on Week Three, he hit me with this:
“You know I dropped out of school?” he said.  “Well it was before I’d sat any of the exams, y’know?  All I’ve ever wanted is to join the army. But I don’t think they’ll take me without any exams.  So I think my life is just about over, really.”  He sighed so sadly.  “I think about that a lot.”

Oh.

That forced me to take a close look at my own prejudices – my feelings about the armed forces and military combat as well as my feelings about this socially isolated youngster with a considerable range of learning challenges.  The thought of Simeon being trained as a killing machine didn’t sit comfortably with me.  On the other hand nor did allowing a fourteen year old to believe his life was ‘just about over’, if I had any power to help him change his mind on that.

In the days and weeks that followed, I also thought about it a lot.  In a future post, I’ll let you know the conclusions I reached, and how my encounters with Simeon continued.

Twerking the message home

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus (Photo credit: rwoan)

I wasn’t particularly keen to write on this subject, but each time I try to put it aside, I get another little nudge telling me to get on with it.

So here we go:  the ‘Thank you Miley Cyrus‘ post.

Back in the day, my sex education lessons to classes full of anxiously giggling eleven-year-olds usually began with something like this:

Did you know that when a caterpillar develops a chrysalis and begins changing into a butterfly, every part of its body goes into a complete meltdown, and from the resulting goo an entirely new creature is formed?  Adolescence is a bit like that.   You start off as children and emerge as young adults, but the process in between can be pretty messy and radical.

Nothing I could say, though, would prepare the kids for the massive and traumatic changes that hormones would be wreaking on their bodies over the next few years, or the social and emotional fallout this would create.

The thing is, no one – not even the most sorted, mature and contented adult – can take self-esteem as a given.  Each of us is still racked, from time to time, with self-doubt, insecurities and a wavering self-image.  Yes?  And I’m pretty certain that everyone reading this can look back to their own adolescence and recall how exaggerated and extreme those doubts and horrors were, when sudden and dramatic changes were affecting their entire beings on a daily basis.  You’d wake up in the morning to find your voice, your skin, your smell, your height and weight, your emotions and mood and, of course, intimate parts of your body had suddenly transformed you into something quite new and unfamiliar.  How on earth were you supposed to go about developing self-esteem, when you didn’t know, from day to day, who you were?

Chrysalis to Butterfly (#1 of 5)

The caterpillar/butterfly is able to make these changes within the privacy of the chrysalis.  Our society doesn’t provide so much as a curtain for our developing young people to hide behind.  All these changes take place as they are going about their daily lives, interacting constantly on social media and – for an unfortunate few – in the full glare of publicity.

This is where Miley Cyrus comes in, of course.  How unimaginably ghastly for a talented and beautiful young girl to have to play out a fantasy life in front of millions on TV for years as she grows up and then to attempt to redraw herself as an adult in the same, unrelenting media glare.  It would seem that caring and helpful mentors have been sadly missing from her life, replaced instead by greedy and self-serving individuals encouraging her to boost their profits by – well – doing what she’s been doing.

I think we needed to see this hideously exaggerated adolescent transition played out on our screens, in order to recognise how much help and support the rest of our young people need.

A week or two back, the British media were reporting a story that many young people are being blackmailed into sending pornographic images of themselves to paedophiles.  They are, apparently, approached via social media by someone pretending to be an ideal potential friend of the required sex and age.  They are then asked by the new ‘friend’ to send compromising photos or videos of themselves.  

This they willingly do.

After that, of course, they are trapped.  The blackmailer threatens to send the pictures to their family and friends unless they provide more.  The suffering this causes to the kids in that already fragile, insecure and confused adolescent state can easily be imagined.

The point I want to pick up on is that so many of our young people will readily send such images of themselves to total strangers – because, I suppose, their lack of familiarity with their new, sexually aware selves, together with the blatant soft porn images surrounding them in the media, trick them into believing that only this will make them sufficiently attractive and desirable to a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.

Why did it take young Ms Cyrus’ public gyrations and disrobing to alert us to the warped message being fed to her generation?  Surely it’s vital for all of us who live with, work with or otherwise care for young people, to help them to recognise and respect the fragile and incredible beauty of their bodies, and to lovingly guide them through the hazards and fears of puberty so that they can emerge from the process as adults with a relatively secure self-image and the confidence to  seek out and attract partners who will recognise and admire their intrinsic uniqueness and value.

We should not be leaving them prey to those who would destroy and devour them greedily before they can emerge from the chrysalis transformation.

In Praise of the New Educators

"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

Over the year – exactly now – that I’ve been blogging, I’ve written several posts about the New Energy (or Version 2.0, as they are called in LIFE: A Player’s Guide) children and young people now populating our planet in ever-increasing numbers.  I’ve decided it’s time to celebrate the adults who are finding new ways of working with them, since recognising that the old teacher/pupil model needs a radical rethink.

At the weekend, I was sent an email by my friend  Astrid Witt, who is a visionary teacher in a secondary school in Germany.  She also – somehow – finds time to host free, cutting-edge interviews (in perfect English!) for educators and parents on her site What The Experts Know.  I’ve listened to many amazing and inspiring world class speakers there, including Astrid herself.

With her permission, I’m reproducing a story she told in her email:

Yesterday I was teaching a maths class to ninth graders introducing a new concept and after rephrasing my first explanation a second time it became somewhat  clear that the majority of the class didn’t get it. The noise level went up and I clearly felt that it was not only their frustration level rising but I too was getting exasperated with them for not getting it. Stress was building up…on both sides!

What happened then was the result of a level of cooperation and  mutual trust I had dedicated myself to build with that class for the past 15 months… A boy raised his hand and asked me to step down from the blackboard and pass on the chalk to a student in the class who claimed to have understood me.

Now, before I started changing my paradigm of what education should accomplish, this would have ruffled my feathers big time. After all, the traditional part of my teacher training had taught me to be the authority that knew it all and knew it better and that demonstrating this authority was vital to keeping order in the class. Instead I simply felt grateful that I could pass on the baton and share the responsibility.

The student, lets call him John, grinned with delight from ear to ear, the class immediately hushed to silence. Within another 5 minutes he explained the concept from a much more “primitive” perspective … and was rewarded by many “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” from the rest of the class. Suddenly they understood … They felt happy, and as a result I felt happy .. much happier than if I had insisted on being the authority not to be questioned… and them not understanding what I had explained “so clearly” 🙂

As Astrid went on to point out, it takes a massive amount of courage and humility for educators – be they parents or teachers – to step away from being the powerful authority figure and to accept that there are other ways of working with their students.

Online Educa Berlin 2007 - Opening Plenary, No...

I was deeply inspired by her message, but by another of those synchronicities (yes, they’re still coming thick and fast!) another friend sent me this Ted Talk, the very same day.  Even if you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, It’s certainly worth hearing Sugata Mitra‘s stunning explanation of the traditional education system at the beginning of the talk.  Definitely food for thought…

I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting we should hand education over to computers.  There is a crucial role for adults in guiding and educating even the most evolved and conscious ‘Version 2.0’ children.  However I truly believe it is changing from the old ‘top down’ model towards a partnership in which everyone has a stake – something to teach and something to learn.

I’ve yet to find a suitable title for my role in working with the children at GLOW (Glastonbury Learning OtherWise – the educational resource for home educated young people I co-run).  Facilitator?  Mentor?  Catalyst?  We certainly don’t see ourselves as teachers.  GLOW’s ethos (and name) comes from Plutarch‘s declaration that:

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled; it is a fire to be kindled.”

We simply light the imagination of our awesome young people and sit back to enjoy the glow!

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to escape the education system and move into other ways of working with the young.  However I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who work to change and expand the system from within.  For that reason, I’ll finish with another reflection from Astrid Witt:

Instead of creating those moments of tense silence and subdued emotions (or stubborn defiance in children) that happen when someone (mis-)uses their power, you could be gifted with a deeper mutual understanding and discover a new level of communication that helps both sides! And it has a wonderful side effect of truly empowering those who need to learn to take responsibility for themselves.