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.


Better Answer Needed

Case O' Guns

“I know how to get hold of a gun,” crowed the 14-year-old at my side.
He looked at me quickly – part jubilant, part watchful, and waiting to see how I would react.

We live in England, where such things are strictly illegal, but I believed him.  There are always ways, if you have enough money and can find the right contacts.  This boy certainly knew where such contacts could be found.

“And why might you want to do that?” I asked, as levelly as I could.

He was the sweetest, gentlest, kindest of kids.  He still regularly came to visit me (his old primary school teacher) and usually chatted about our mutual interests.  Today, though, I was being shown a different side to him.

“If I had a gun – a really big gun – people would have to listen to me!   They’d have to take notice.  I’d be a big man.”

I watched him as he spoke.  He was half serious, half parodying himself, knowing as he said the words how stupid and clichéd they sounded.  Yet he badly wanted to believe them.  He wanted to believe there was some magical way to transform himself from a timid, socially anxious teenager into someone who would be held in awe by his classmates.

“And that’s the best solution you can come up with?” I asked.

He began to bluster then, to talk about an ever-increasing arsenal of weapons, of the penalties he’d exact on anyone who wouldn’t listen to him, of how revered he would be.

“They’d respect the gun,” I agreed, when he finally paused for breath, with a big soppy grin on his face.  “Do you think they’d have any respect for the guy holding it, though?”

The bravado continued.  “It wouldn’t matter.  They’d just have to do as I said.”

“It matters to you,” I persisted.  “You’re not looking to be surrounded by a bunch of dead bodies, you’re looking to feel empowered, to have a voice and to be looked up to by the others at school.  You’d like their respect and you’d like them to hear the thoughts and ideas that are burning away there in your head but never spoken because you’re scared the rest of them will laugh you down.  That’s what this is really about, isn’t it?  You want to feel brave.”

He thrust his hands into his pocket and lumbered off ahead.  I caught him up.

“We covered all this when you were in primary school,” I reminded him.  “The coward who wants power will bully weaker, smaller people or he’ll surround himself with a few mindless thugs to be his henchmen – or, I suppose, he’ll get a weapon to threaten others with.  None of those things will remove his fear, though.  He’ll still be terrified all the time.”

“SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER, THEN?” he yelled in my face.

What indeed?  What could I say?

I could offer him a whole bunch of truisms:  ‘There’s nothing to fear but fear itself’; ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’; ‘There is no fear until we make it up’ and so on and on…


adolescence (Photo credit: dongdawei)

He was fourteen, in the midst of that agonising transformation from child to man.  He was a chess player amongst a throng of football fans, a quiet, gently spoken kid in a rough school where the mouth, the fist and occasionally the knife ruled supreme.

I had no magical words of comfort, no panacea for the whole, sorry business.

“Just don’t try to take them on,” I told him finally.  “Try to keep your head down and stay out of their way whenever possible.  Stay in safer, central areas and hold tight to your knowledge that you are a great person with a brilliant mind and your time will come.  School seems endless now, but in a few short years you’ll be free of it.  University or the workplace will be far less threatening and you’ll find people who give you respect for who you are.  You’ll also find that the fear gradually fades as you get older.  That’s the best I can offer.”

Was it enough?  It’s a long way from the perfect answer.  I’m still searching for that.

The Eye of the Beholder

Portrait of girl with straight, blonde hair

Not the girl in our group – but similar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The speaker – a member of the kids’ philosophy group I run – was tall, slim and graceful.  Her perfect, even features were framed by long blonde hair.  She was 14 years old.

The group had been discussing the possibility that we create our own reality.  Excited ideas were bouncing around the circle:

“but that would mean…”

“so do you think that we …”

“so if I was, in some weird way, kind of – the creator…”



That was when she spoke:

“But if I had created my reality… surely I would have done a better job.”         She shook her head and gestured miserably towards her own face and body.  “I mean, I would have created something better than THIS.”

She wasn’t fishing for complements or trying to lighten the mood.  Her brow creased as she tried to make sense of the possibility.

The rest of us – children and adults alike – gasped in amazement.  How could she not see how lovely she was?

And yet how many of us do the same?  How many of us become intimately familiar with all our perceived faults and utterly blind to our perfection?

My response was to talk her through a quote from my book:Quote from LIFE: A PLAYER'S GUIDE by Jan Stone

It’s not big-headed to recognise our own beauty.  Until we can find and love the wonder in ourselves, we can’t see how it fits into the whole of creation.

Once I can honour the divinity in myself, I can find and honour it in you.



The Curious Incident of Communication

Dynamic Earth - Ocean Currents

I’ve long suspected that time doesn’t flow the way we’ve been taught it does.  I believe that rather than moving along steadily from past through present to future, or following round in a huge karmic circle, it spirals, whirls and eddies through our lives, throwing all manner of interesting synchronicities, portents and realisations to us.

If we’re not looking out for them, these can be easily missed, but just a few are so strong that even the most myopic amongst us can’t fail to notice.

That’s how it was for me many decades ago, when I watched a grainy black and white documentary on the television.

I can’t remember the year, or how old I was, but still young enough that my mother was arguing with dad about whether it was suitable for me to watch something this harrowing – so sometime in the early 1960s, I would guess.


TV (Photo credit: Melissa Segal)

The BBC was very black and white in those days – no grey areas.  Documentaries spoke with an assertive, authoritative voice and we all believed every word.  The voice-over man with his ‘received English’ accent left no room for doubt or questioning.  In his cold, compassionless voice, he was explaining childhood autism.

It was a brutal, terrible programme.  Much footage of wild, staring children banging their heads against cot bars, howling and rocking or sitting mute and expressionless as adult carers tried vainly to elicit a response or interact with them in any meaningful way.

“Poor unfortunates…Locked away inside their own minds,” the dry voice intoned.  “Unable to engage in any normal activities… Don’t appear to feel pain… Will frequently tear at their own flesh… Show no reaction or affection even to their own parents…”

Yes, this was certainly one of my out-of-time moments.

I don’t think I’d even heard of autism up to that point in my life.  I’d certainly never come across anyone who was on the autistic spectrum.  Yet I knew – utterly and overwhelmingly – that this was something I needed to know about and to understand.

“I don’t believe they don’t feel!” I remember yelling.  “There must be some way to reach them.”
If I wasn’t crying, I was certainly close to tears.

My mother bustled me off to bed, with lame reassurances that ‘people like that’ were cared for in special places and that their carers were very kind to them, so I didn’t need to worry.

Those images and the chilling words left me horrified and frightened, yet still this strongest of intuitions was letting me know that what I had seen was extremely  significant to me and would become a key part of my life.  It was as if my future self had swirled back through time to ensure that this child-me was made aware of the importance of this subject and wouldn’t allow me to forget it.

English: 14-year-old girl with autism. Svenska...

The faces of those children, cowering, screaming and shaking wildly stayed with me.  They became dream companions; at once filling me with cold dread and coaxing me to move closer, to find them and understand; to help the rest of the world to do likewise, so that no one would believe the cold, damning words of that documentary.

Now, half a century later, I can look back (and forward) at my work and contact with children and young adults on the autistic spectrum.  So many have drifted into, out of and through my life.  Some of my experiences and encounters, along with what I have learned, are detailed in a previous post.

Always – ever since that moment in my childhood – I’ve clung to the hope that, no matter how difficult, ways can and will be found for people with autistic spectrum perception to share their experience with the rest of us.  My own encounters have allowed me to glimpse what is possible.

And now, thanks to the translation undertaken by author David Mitchell and his wife, we all have access to the words of 13-year-old Naoki Higashida, a Japanese boy who found a way to explain, from deep within the autistic spectrum, how it feels to be there and to attempt to interact with the neuro-typical population.

The Reason I Jump is a spellbinding book – eloquent and sensitive, with an honesty and simplicity that belies the young author’s deep insights into the differences and similarities between the two communities.

Nothing in the book surprises me.  Every word strikes true and helps me to recognise and recall aspects of the wonderful young ASP people I have known and worked with.  Certainly, as Naoki often comments, their lives can be stressful, difficult and almost impossible to comprehend, even for themselves.  Friends, carers and family struggle to understand and meet their needs and he acknowledges this with compassion and regret.  Despite all that, though, his is a message of hope.

Naoki’s book is currently no.3 in the Amazon UK bestseller list.  Time has spiralled round this week, to remind me of my first encounter with autistic spectrum perception and to show me how, in the most curious manner, I and countless others are learning to bridge the gap between the two populations.

"A child with autism (three years old) po...


Incredible Hulks

Everything has its shadow side. That much is obvious. After all, we are participating in a game based around polarities.

It helps to think of it like a set of balance scales. Some of our experiences just wobble slightly either side of centre, but the huge ones have an equal and opposite reaction.

Today I’m thinking again about those special young people I talk about so much – the ones who are labelled indigo and crystal on one side of the scales; mentally ill and disordered on the other. I call them the Version 2.0 kids. You’d need to read Life: A Player’s Guide to understand why.

These people are NEVER in balance. They swing from one polarity to the other. Those of us privileged and challenged to be close to them witness the astounding wisdom, insight and light they are bringing to the world. We also witness the fury, frustration and terrifying outbursts of aggression and violence. They are two sides of the same coin.

At the time of writing, the world has just witnessed a particularly extreme example of the latter. Most of us may try, and fail, to comprehend what was going through the mind of young Adam, as he gunned down little children and their teachers. I’d hazard a guess that most of our Version 2.0 young people can understand.

At the weekend I ‘happened’ (no such thing as coincidence) to meet two people who had young adult sons on the autistic spectrum. Both described how their boys spend most of their lives holed up indoors, needing support and supervision and prey to massive swings from being brilliant, eloquent and enlightening to being abusive, angry and out of control. There are countless other families sharing this experience in silent desperation and praying that their kid doesn’t become the next mass killer.

As I’ve explained in other posts, these young people are stress-testing LIFE. They (and, of course, those of us who are close to them) are seeing how life plays out if there are no limits to the levels of enlightenment and ‘endarkenment’ that can be reached. Each of them is an incredible hulk, shutting themselves away for our protection until they can find a way to move beyond polarity and into unity.

Are you beta testing this game?

The gauntlet had been thrown down.

I stared incredulously at the message that had appeared in my inbox.

“Every person is born with a different level of psychic ability.  Though for some it may be too low to notice, for others it is an amazing ability with limitless potential.  With every generation a higher percentage of the human race is born with the higher levels.  It is possible to increase someone’s level through psychic activities, including using crystals, dowsing rods and other similar items.  Expanding someone’s knowledge of psychic phenomena and related issues also assists in raising their level.  Somebody with an extremely high level could achieve anything.”

It wasn’t – trust me – the kind of email most teachers would receive from a teenage ex-pupil, especially one who had left school aged 16 a year or two earlier with a cluster of mediocre GCSEs and a fairly comprehensive range of ‘special needs’ labels.  His words had not been copied from an article or book he’d read.  This young man didn’t need to read books – he simply ‘knew’.

One sentence stood out for me from all the rest: With every generation a higher percentage of the human race is born with the higher levels.  He was right.  I’d seen it myself.  When I started teaching, back in the mid seventies, there would occasionally be one child in a class who stood out.  Often socially isolated, with a quirky mixture of brilliance and learning difficulties, they held a barely-concealed contempt for the irrelevant and outmoded education system they were forced into.  Frequently, like my young correspondent, they were highly telepathic and empathic.  Most had super-sensitivity – loud noises were painful, rather than distracting; tastes and smells were often overpowering; only certain fabrics could be tolerated next to the skin and so forth.  By the time I left mainstream teaching, five years ago, every class appeared to have at least a couple of these ‘special’ young people.

Recently I told another of these special kids my theory of life being like a computer game, and that there is an upgraded version now being released.

“I get it,” he said, instantly.  “And the people like me, we’re kind of beta-testing this new version.”

Once I’d looked up beta-testing, I saw that he was exactly right.  Many of them are finding it quite a struggle.  There is a whole raft of new aspects to Version 2.0.  But those who hang on in there will be able to guide the rest of us.  Once they’ve got it sorted, we’ll maybe all be able to play the Game of Life as conscious players, creating it as we go along.  The least we can do in the meantime is to support and encourage these special and highly evolved young people.

What’s the point of life?

Turned on the TV when I got downstairs this morning.  There was this beautiful young woman being interviewed about why she self harms.  She spoke about how she hates herself – how she’d love to like herself…  They went on to say that a report by Young Minds has found that huge numbers of young people are self harming.

I’ve worked with so many kids who have no self-esteem, who harm themselves (in that way and others) and who think they’re rubbish.  This book I’ve written is really aimed at them.  It starts with the question ‘What’s the point?’ and goes on to honour that question and answer it.

Anyone who knows a young adult who feels that way, please tell them about Life: A Player’s Guide.  It just might help.