“In my mind’s eye, the world no longer exists as it once did. No multitudes of cars streaming along the highways to work in the morning, no mail man bringing letters by hand, no queues in the supermarkets. In fact supermarkets no longer exist, no drugstores, no malls. No, we had to start again, but not quite from the beginning....
This is the world in 2093. A world in which the meaning of why we do things comes first; a world where being together is more important than being right; a world where we can all decide how things should happen by co-creating them.
All that is left now of the human race, six tribes of several hundred thousand people, live interspersed among the remaining land masses (the Spark, Star, Sunset, Stream, Season and Snow tribes). Their lives peaceful and generous as they evolve into a new way of living together, once again in harmony with their universe, never again abusing the energy fields and nature itself that supports them. They ultimately don’t need to, since they discovered new ways of doing things with their highly evolved gifts. Finally they accepted to be conscious of their impact on the world around them. Ultimately, life made them choose.”
This comes from the introduction to Reviathan, the “conscious fiction” series I wrote for teens. It invites them to think about what progress means to them, and where they see their place in the society we’re building. It’s based on a philosophy of education that chooses to place our children and their ability to make empowered and empathic choices at the forefront. I believe that sometimes even when life forces us to choose, if we make choices from a place of love, of cohesion, and then, these choices can be towards evolution, for the benefit of all. Choices that lift rather than lower humanity.
We’re here to look at solutions, a ‘cure’ and yet, I don’t have the answers, but I do have an idea, a seedling. Perhaps you do?
I don’t think there’s just one model, just as no two children are the same. And just like all human beings and the ecosystem that we evolve within, there is complexity involved, especially in finding the right balance of ‘what to place in front of our children’ so to speak. And yet, I do believe that there is a natural order hidden somewhere behind that. One that acts as a two way process between us and our environment. An action - consequence interaction that we could all observe and listen into. As inside, so outside.
We are moving away from silos, towards a holistic, more inclusive and integrated view of all spheres of life. Education is no different. The walls of segregation are coming down. Our new beliefs are starting to reflect in so many cross-discipline approaches that are emerging now. Action - consequence, where potentially the consequences flow in many different directions. How do we teach children to navigate these times? The uncertainty? The complexity?... With emotional intelligence.
Over and above what Daniel Goleman and many studies say is good for our careers, it is also good for our own well-being and our environment.
So humour me for a moment. Let’s start with the idea that if our ultimate wish is for our children to be happy, balanced, responsible, contributing and caring members of society, then we must start with the end in mind. We must work backwards to redesign an approach that puts these core human characteristics at the centre of what we learn and therefore who we are more likely to choose to be.
My brother-in-law is in agro-forestry. When we were discussing the method he uses, he told me. "I put some basic rules in place and then I just listen to nature. It shows me when I need to support it to adapt something. It’s like giving empathy to a child." Wise words, and yet how often do our learning systems make time for empathic listening to our children and the flexibility to adapt to their needs rather than expecting that they will change to fit what we dictate is right. How does this teach them to listen to and observe themselves, to trust their intuition so they become great at making choices, learning exactly from their experience of the action - consequence sequence.
Contrary to what we might expect in empowering our children in this way, this doesn’t make them believe they are always right but rather that they need to exercise a certain amount of humility in their choices, it teaches them to remember “beginner’s mind”, that their context has evolved and the action they took last week may have very different consequences if applied again today.
Nature is not designed for segregation, it’s not duality, this or that. It’s an orchestra of interdependency between so many living organisms that we don’t even know how many there are. It is complex and yet fundamentally so simple if we observe and accept its natural laws. I always say that when we are willing to accept all of our own parts, quirks, that our beliefs are just that, thoughts, then we can accept and even celebrate the massive diversity that is the source of our humanity. Yes, our education system needs to start by celebrating and shining a light on that diversity and that requires cultivating an open, empathic view of the world. I believe we were born to celebrate life, let’s not crush this instinct in our children. I was fortunate enough to have passionate and caring teachers through-out my school years and I hope that way of being is what I share with my own children and those around me. It takes a village to raise a child and we are all part of that village. Our ways of being speak volumes.
But if we must formalise a system, then I ask that we take a long, hard look at how to reinvent our learning as a balanced ecosystem where the place of each child is both important and interdependent, where one person’s well-being reinforces that or another, just like any good permaculture system. Once we have this systemic view in mind, only then can we design the organisation and approaches that are fit for purpose. But then, perhaps our children will do just that with their new "beginner’s mind" view of the world.
By approaches I mean like mindfulness which can help us discover the importance of a very under-utilised method of functioning : our “sensing mode”, where we feel our way forwards inside of living only in a mental state of “thinking mode”. Sometimes the right answers are not logical…
We are not just walking brains so no education system that neglects to also place the body and soul at the centre of it’s mandate is doomed to bias from the outset.
We must challenge each element’s place within the learning system that we propose to our children to ensure that its purpose is to enrich the child and society collectively.
I’m not an expert in permaculture but from what I have learnt this far, fundamentally the fact of looking systemically at what will bring the most value by working in harmony with nature’s natural intelligence and huge generosity is inspiring. As in their motto, “demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate”. Perhaps if each of us place vital importance on cultivating and facilitating self-awareness, empathy and respect for diversity then wouldn’t it be interesting to discover what life returns to our children and our societies as a whole? So let's start with the end in mind, let's start with our intention. Thank you