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What is my goal?

So, I think that it’s time that I get real, and begin to truly express my opinion. For too long I have erred on the side of caution to not ruffle feathers or risk the chance of someone disagreeing. In a world that is becoming each day more polarising, conversations have to be the way forward. We need to state our views, receive pushback, not get defensive, and move conversations in the direction so that everybody can learn something in the process. Conversations today are all far too polemic. It’s your side or my side. So many (myself included) are too judgemental of those who, in reality, we have so much in common with! I think it is important to bare that in mind when we are engaging in conversations. Here goes…

I have taught in schools in England, New Zealand, and Australia. I talk with teachers from all of those countries and am also now in contact with teachers and head teachers here in Argentina. I listen to podcasts made by educators, talking to educators. I read articles on education. What I have learnt whilst teaching within the system, outside of the system, and what I am currently hearing from teachers, is that the so many of our education systems around the world are broken. The systems are about the grades that children can get. They aren’t about the children! They are about working the teachers into the ground so that they can put a number on a child. Every subject is about levels! What level are you teaching at? What level is the child at? Is your child at a low, medium or high proficiency level in each subject? The education system keeps talking about all of the core, important subjects, apart from the most important one… the child!

I stopped teaching in schools because I had had enough of the education systems within which I was teaching. Although there are different systems in each country, most systems are old, and failing children! School should not be about grades! School should be about preparing children for the big world out there! The world away from their parents. School should be about supporting children to grow into good members of society. About supporting children in making good decisions for themselves and those around them, today and in the future. About helping children develop the skills in understanding themselves, how and why they react in a certain way, and how they can connect positively with others. About developing a child as a whole person, with a range of talents. About finding what the child is passionate about, encouraging them, and supporting them in investigating it! About feeding the natural curiosity that is inherent within the child. About feeding the creativity and imagination that is exuding from every one of them!

I had an interesting conversation with a guy I met in a café the other day. He was from Vermont, United States. He is twenty three years old. I asked him what he did. He said he was a juggler. Buenos Aires is a hub for anything to do with circus. I told him about Food for Thought, and we started talking about nutrition and the education that we received from our parents in relation to food. From there we talked about his education. From a very young age, he was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I asked him how long he had been on the medication. He said he took his last pill two weeks ago.

There were times when he had tried to get off the medication cold turkey. Both times he failed. The withdrawal symptoms, tiredness and irritability, were too much for him. There was never a right time to get off the drugs because of the extreme side-effects. Over the last two years he has been slowly weaning himself off the medication. The last time that he took a pill, he felt sick, so he decided to end his run there. He had been on the medication for 13 years.

He told me of that in a school year he got kicked out of class more times than there were school days in the year. Why is it that the children who most need the support in their lives are either kicked out or medicated? The simple fact that the child feels restricted sitting at a desk inside a classroom, means there is a problem with the child. To me this means that the system has failed, not the child. You are a young boy who can’t sit still in class, so you are kicked out, AND medicated! I might add, that America is an extreme case for medicating children for ADHD, but it is an example of how another education system is failing children.

I asked him if the medication helped him at all. He said yes, it helped him get better grades. Here is what that tells me: they drugged him so that he could do better within a system that only celebrates a certain type of intelligence. ‘Moving is learning’. Here was a young boy who needed to move (what young boy doesn’t need to move? Girl’s too, but particularly boys). It is no coincidence that the huge majority of children on medication are boys. The reason that he is in Buenos Aires is because he is on tour with the Cirque du Soleil. I guarantee that anybody who saw him perform would say that he has a particular type of intelligence that was not catered for within the education system he grew up in.

There is also the flip side to this argument saying that he is now where he is because of the medication. I hear it, but I also reject it with a passion. This young man now has to learn how he really reacts to the world for the first time in his early twenties! If I had the option of a kid with medication or without, I would always choose the latter. Maybe medication could be an option for some kids, but only when absolutely every other possibility is exhausted! Even then, there are surely alternatives. Just don’t put kids on drugs.

The world is changing before our eyes, and the change is exponential. The world we know today will be completely different within only a few years. General knowledge (the majority of what is taught in schools) is obsolete! So, what does that mean? Anything that you learn at school that could be found with a simple google search, is a waste of time. We live in a world of computers, and as each day goes by, they are becoming more advanced. We have no idea what jobs are going to look like five, ten or fifteen years down the track. The old education system prepared children to one day go into the work force. How do you prepare children for jobs that don’t even exist yet? You don’t, you prepare them with life skills. The population is growing fast. There are only going to be more people on this planet, so the most important skill will be how to get on with people. First learn about how you work, physically, mentally and emotionally, and then learn how to connect with others.

I wonder if the medication that Noah (Cirque du Soleil guy) took, taught him to understand his feelings, actions, and reactions, or suppressed them. He is just beginning to truly know his real self after over a decade on drugs.

The old, “I went through the system and I turned out alright” just doesn’t cut it! The world is changing way too fast for us to still be teaching with the old system! It was fine when things changed at a snail’s pace. You could see what was coming and had time to manoeuvre or evolve. There is ‘BIG’ money in finding the latest gadget, craze, or fashion. There are huge corporations putting billions of dollars into the development of finding the next ‘thing’. This means that cultures, social structures, and forms of communication are changing at an alarming rate. The old education system wasn’t made for 2018 and beyond, it was designed 200 years ago.

School has to be focussed on children getting to know themselves! Navigating this crazy world with so much information bombarding us, is becoming increasingly more difficult! If children can’t learn to know themselves, they will become lost in this world of advertising, propaganda, and manipulation via that small electronic device that is very quickly becoming an extension of the body. Children used to have two hands free to climb trees and eyes that were constantly searching for the horizon. Now, one or two hands are occupied by the device, the neck and shoulders are hunched, and the eyes are seeing more screen than sun.

I’m not saying that children shouldn’t use devices. There are only going to be more devices around, so they should get used to them! What I am trying to say is that children should be aware of their habits and behaviours around technology. They should understand how media works and how it can be used via technology to manipulate. They should understand that there is a relationship between themselves and the technology, and it can have serious positive and negative side-effects. If children can learn about themselves and how they function and react, then they are better positioned to navigate this fast-growing technological world.  

Children are the most inspirational, creative, and imaginative humans on the planet. Why is it that schooling changes that? Why is it that instead of feeding those innate abilities, school restricts them! Why are mental health issues on the rise? I’m not saying that there aren’t great schools out there that do an amazing job within the restraints of an education system. There are loads of them! What I am saying is that schools working within that system are suffocating the huge melting pot of talent, creativity, imagination, resourcefulness, intelligence and leadership. What if we could only work on fuelling that fire instead of starving it of oxygen!   

We also need to trust the teachers. They are the professionals. Even though we have all been to school, it doesn’t mean we know how to be a teacher! Think about this. How often do you question the doctors about their decisions? I can imagine that it would be less than we question our teachers! Doctors and teachers are both specialists in their fields that dedicate their lives to their profession. There isn’t a teacher out there who doesn’t have the best interests of the children at heart. You can question them, but also give them freedom, and support them when they are making informed decisions for your child. Governments have to stop being so draconian in their insistence of following their rules! Rules usually made 200 years ago and by some politician, or economist, who has never set foot in a classroom!

So, what is my goal? I might add, I don’t have all of the answers. I believe that I know what is wrong with the education system and I can see a huge amount of problems in this world. From there, I am trying to work backwards to find the answers. For me, education is the solution to all the world’s problems. In a nutshell, education is: the prevention of problems and the promotion of purpose. Through education we can support the growth of individual humans as compassionate members of society, thus avoid many of the world’s big problems. Through education we can support the growth of confident and healthy members of society, whom therefore can find meaning and purpose in their lives. Just imagine if Donald Trump had been through an education system that promoted compassion. Wait a minute, he probably wouldn’t be president!

My goal is to aid the holistic development of children. With a style of education that is accessible to absolutely everybody, no matter their education level, or economic situation! Individual expression is at the core of holistic development. That is why the arts play an integral role within our education environment! Children will learn how to express themselves freely, and with confidence! Art is the key that unlocks a child’s true, inner self! Children will learn to be real functioning members of society who understand themselves and how to connect with those around them before they can start sitting tests and exams. Tests and exams can come, but when they are ready for them. Wait until they can confidently deal with the world around them before they have to start being responsible humans.

Food is medicine. Having worked here in Argentina for 5 years, I can see the consequences of a bad education around food. This is an extreme case, but it allows us to understand its effects. If your government creates a food chart based on their economic interests, you know you’re in trouble. It’s also been 22 years since Argentina allowed the use of genetically modified crops and the use of the poisonous pesticides. I believe that we are now seeing the results of this bad decision. It is unbelievable the amount of respiratory problems in children here in Argentina. 60% of the arable land in Argentina is covered in soy crops. 300 million litres of Glyphosate (the pesticide that the genetically modified soy plant resists) is sprayed on Argentinian soil every year. Glyphosate is made by Monsanto, the corporation that made ‘agent orange’ that was sprayed on the farmers in the Vietnam war. 20% of Argentinians die from cancer. In towns that are exposed to Glyphosate it is as high as 50%.

As I say, Argentina is an extreme case. I grew up in New Zealand, and I believe that I was quite well educated in terms of food and diet. I would also go a step further and say that if food and health decisions are incorporated into a child’s way of life, then health can become something that is subconsciously lived. If children are taught about food and natural remedies, and how they can be all the medicine that one might need in life, then the need for hospitals and many drugs will be heavily reduced! Prevention is the only cure!

I would say that New Zealand is amazing at promoting physical education. Exercise ‘must’ be incorporated into the subconscious of children. It can come it many forms; dance, yoga, sport, walking, etc. ‘Moving is learning’. I do have a few questions around the role of competition, that is heavily related particularly to sport. A ‘large focus’ on competition can be detrimental to everybody involved. I’m not saying eliminate it, because I also believe that it can be a great catalyst for learning. What I am saying is that a culture based on competition can be dangerous in terms group cohesion. It can lead to isolation and stress, instead of connection.

Children learn when they feel respected. Children feel respected when they feel included. Creating an environment where children can ‘connect’ easily and ‘confidently’ with others will dramatically change any learning environment. The biggest barriers to learning come from children not feeling comfortable within the learning environment. I have spent the last five years experimenting in the best ways to educate children. The environment of an underserved community in Argentina has been perfect for this as all reactions are greatly amplified because of the extreme environment. Every child that comes into our classroom brings an array of difficulties created by this specific environment. Example: A large number of the children in Food for Thought receive little to no attention at home. They all come demanding one on one attention, which makes teaching a class of 25 kids, a little difficult.

We have recently received 7 new children in the project. The instant divisions in the group were blatantly obvious. We changed our day to day classes to focus solely on team building games. The positive results were instantly obvious. Three young girls who the week before were at each other’s throats, began to engage and even play with each other. The situation turned from hostility and stress, to an environment of playfulness and potential learning. About 2 years ago when we divided the kids into 3 groups to gain points and privileges, the collaboration and connection within each group was great, but the competition in between the groups turned evil. The interest in winning points overrode the children’s interest in supporting other children from different groups. Within that context, competition and lack of respect for others created a hostile environment.   

So, there it is. I have laid it all out. School has to change, and very soon! I am seeing the results of a terrible public education system here in Argentina. I went to a school not far from Food for Thought the other day. The head teacher told us of how the school had to do their own fundraising to pay for maintenance of the school. I could see that they were doing an amazing job with the time and resources available to them, but they are fighting an uphill battle! The kids aren’t turning up to school, and the families aren’t even bothering sending them. There are many factors why this is happening, but in my view the biggest factor is many generations of bad education!

A girl of eleven years old had been sneaking into the cloak room and Food for Thought and stealing money from the bags of staff and volunteers. Her brother and sister new about it, as they helped her spend some of it, but it was too much money for three kids to spend at the tuck shop at school. We have the feeling that there is someone in the family getting them to do their dirty work! To me, education is the answer. It has to be. An education that supports the holistic development, (physical, mental and emotional) of kids from a young age! Not through tests and exams but through fun and engaging activities that force the kids to move, think, and feel. Until next time.