Ask not in school: “What do you want to become?” but “What problem do you want to solve?”. Here are some ideas for education that help to do just that – and with full force!
When we admit that our global society needs to shift, or when we long for it, then education becomes a cornerstone towards the new. Education that trains people to be blind to the consequences of their actions is downright dangerous. Even worse, untold millions have no real clue what their actions lead to, and lack the curiosity to develop it. It worked within the old context and order of the world, however, that context has changed so much that we need to alter our course, and fast. The survival of our species is at stake; wars could be prevented, scarcity avoided, madness and maniacism (1) overcome. The system needs to step away from simple professional preparation to fulfil a job within a company. To do so, education needs to level up. Firstly education is about survival within the world. On the next level, education helps you to contribute to life and your social context. The final level helps both to flourish. Here’s how and why.
Earth is a spaceship and we are all crew.
The Danger of Only Contextual Education.
Capitalistic convictions believe that we need to compete to improve. But real improvement starts when we start working together from the notion that ‘together we are a society’. Working hard for your company and being a crew member of this Earth may or may not be the same thing, but you need to be able to decide for yourself. Education should train us to be able to make this distinction, as well as how to act upon it.
The old education system trained people to work within the bigger context of jobs, contracts and orders. People were mostly trained on only one level: how to work with methods and approaches, and an attitude that operated within your profession. They often are hardly aware of how they are part of a huge ecosystem, and if their role within it is that of assistance or hindrance. Many jobs are like cancer cells, helping cancer to grow.
‘Wir haben er nicht gewusst’ said many Germans after World War II, when asked about the death camps that killed millions. We more or less seem to say ‘we don’t want to know’, or perhaps, ‘I am but one. And I have my own life to lead as well. So I can’t make a difference, sorry.’ Should we teach people to speak and act like this? Or should we teach them to know that they do have options and the power to instigate change, hence creating a different attitude?
How Education Needs To Level Up.
So how do we raise education from level one to level two, and finally level three? Firstly, young people need to be taught to think more critically toward media, and also far more aware of the bigger ecosystems they are part of. They need to be taught to be more physical, to feel more alive, to be conscious and intuitive. It is our senses that must be awakened as fully as possible because when they are truly awake, they will be empowered and will go from ‘personal mode’ to ‘social mode’. And ‘social mode’ is what fosters connection and community.
Education needs to teach openness, awareness and understanding, and how these traits interact. Many of us feel hurt and pain when we see huge trees chopped down, animals die, people executed, suffering, disease and hunger. This pain is normal and healthy. We should not be taught to ignore or overcome it but instead to allow the hurt, so we can then act upon it. This where Buddhist compassion meets Western education; mixed with social activism, mixed with the global awareness of our connectedness. ‘We are all society, and the world, together’.
The New Educational Tree.
How should this new approach of education work? Well, any education system should educate on all three of these levels; separate and in relationship to each other. They should do so not only through traditional means of transferring knowledge but should also use the other five approaches to learning (I will discuss these in a moment) that encompass the whole human experience. We are human. We are part of a huge ecosystem. We should feel, experience, and learn to contribute to that system in order to help it thrive. Here is an approach, or learning journey, that will allow people to expand in their differences, enrich society with diversity, and help people to feel that they can do, and offer, more to the world.
Level 1. Physical aliveness and consciousness (Heart)
Being alive in your body and soul is essential for people who care; who want to contribute fully, and who can feel the pain when their society or organization is sick. To thrive in complexity and chaos, we need a developed intuition. This level of education should include dancing, sports, physical theatre, and also shamanic body training; to develop intuition and deeper senses. We need to be able to read undercurrents in groups and conversations and be able to respond adequately to them. We need inner balance and strength to use for greater good. We need to be in touch with love in order to make choices that help the world to flourish. We need to offer experiences that help students find their own answers about their place in the world, not the scripted ‘right answer’.
Level 2. Instrumental and professional capability and contribution (Hands)
On top of all the normal professional teachings, we also need new skills. Information will almost be freely available, so knowing how to find information is more important than knowing all the facts. New professional skills should include being able to adapt to changes in an increasingly complex world. To deal with this, we propose tools like Deep Democracy and Hackathons (1). From personal tools, to professional ones; to collaboration skills and ongoing innovation, to critical thinking possibilities. We need to provide tools that challenge frozen or damaging structures in work fields and create ways to radically innovate a job or profession, in order to meet new needs and demands.
This aspect also needs to include practical awareness of the professional context. Many artists learn to paint, but somehow dealing with galleries and art dealers is often forgotten. Lawyers, doctors and many others should also know how to set up a practice, and how daily affairs can be managed most effectively and humanely. All professions need to be aware and educated about mannerisms, culture, and the context in which they are executed.
Level 3. Holistic oversight, deep system insight, and global understanding (Head)
This is about having a holistic overview coupled with systems thinking. It’s about having a scientific understanding of the whole system that we are a part of, that is, Earth (including its natural processes, society, history, ecosphere, etc), and about spiritual essences that give meaning to the human experience; those that touch upon deeper values and principles that permeate everything. Schools or countries may have different visions about these values and principles, but this is where religions and native tribal understandings meet, and thus contribute to and conflate with each other. Kids need to understand what their professional work contributes to and how it fits into the bigger system.
The Five Essential Approaches to Learning in a Complex World.
There is something big at stake. The state of our planet needs people who are more aware of their role in the bigger picture. We need people better at listening to their deeper selves and more willing to walk their individual path; whilst contributing to this world in doing so. We need to be able to answer questions like: “How do I act responsibly within a complexity?” and “How do I thrive amongst chaos?”. Many traditions from around the world offer essential approaches that are cornerstones to what education should encompass, in order to help people grow, and strengthen, individually and collectively.
To grow on each of these levels, and to be able to see how they interact, we need to engage these five aspects. New Shift Education should be designed to have these five elements within each of its levels.
Play: Nature’s Way of Educating Animals in a Fully Integrated and Immersed Way.
Playing is nature’s own fast, integral, biological, and sound system of learning. The ability for humans to play should not, in any way, be hampered by educational systems. Playing is serious as hell; on a deeper level, it offers more progress than any other form of learning. The only problem – for ‘control driven’ systems that is – is that you can’t measure progress because too many things are being learned at the same time, and on many levels. Isn’t that the kind of learning you really want? Play unleashes the mind and body and helps it to make sense of things far better than information can. It helps us to smell, feel, cope, endure, express, move, and more, in order to become healthy, free, and adaptive in so many ways.
Wisdom: The Capability to Reason From the Essence of What Life is Truly About.
Most schools stop with knowledge and a reasonable amount of insight. We think each of the three levels above need to go from obtaining knowledge to getting insight and experience, and then seeking wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to connect important questions with inner sensitivity, former experiences, a multifold of perspectives and options and then choose a win/win/win proposition for yourself, the clients or people in need, and ultimately, the whole world.
We should teach people to be critically aware of how their society operates and what role they play or are expected to play. We should teach them that they do have a choice, as much as the whole of society has a choice. It’s all one huge dance and we are all invited. We need to teach our children to dance with the world as it is, not to dance to the tunes of those that have interests only in what children become, instead of who they really are. The health of our whole planet may depend on it.
Art: Become Fully Human in Your Expression and What is Essential.
Art is the deepest possible expression of our connection, our nature, and our state of being. It is the key to our imagination and the field of potentiality. It helps every one of us to get a clearer understanding of what we essentially contribute, how our personal gifts work, and how they influence others. Art, like play, helps to develop both sides of the brain better and faster. Art helps us to be more nuanced and more observant. Art helps to develop the small motor skills and the grander gestures. Art helps us to understand how different we all are, and the value in that. Art can even help to develop engineering skills and the patience needed for hard work. And perhaps most of all, art helps us to develop our imagination, so that we can dream and fantasize. If we dare to dream beyond our personal horizon, it becomes easier to be in touch with the whole world, so we can clearly see what is happening and how that relates to our personal life. Thus art is not only art but also conscious manipulation, or expression of reality, in any form.
Nature: What We Are Part of and the Essence of What Keeps Us Alive.
We are a part of nature and should not only understand our part in it, but also feel it. Many people who really observe nature in a deep and attentive way; whether they are scientists, bushmen, guides or bird spotters, found deep insights and meaning through their connection with nature. Taking time for stillness, observation, being in and interacting with nature are all key elements of a personal development that are integrated into our whole world; not just our local societies (city). We are natural beings and our whole biology is built for interaction with nature. Mental diseases, loneliness, stress, disconnectedness all might stem from our lack of contact with nature. One key lesson Capitalism got wrong and nature got right, is that we are a collective; a society.
Collective: We Are All One Society.
It’s important to emphasize that it is essential for every human to understand that we are part of something bigger than family, city, nation or race. We are part of a bigger whole which influences us in many ways, and on which each of us will leave our mark. And it’s our responsibility that each student considers what kind of mark they would like that to be.
The collective means more than the team; it means the whole school, tribe, or local community. It is within the collective that our special role becomes apparent. We can also use the community or organizations around the school for action learning by getting students, for example, to do some real work for real people. It not only enhances their skills but it improves self-worth and motivation toward further learning as well. And they get a real sense of what they are doing it for, not to mention what they need in order to become a professional in that field. Consider cooperative and democratic education – where everyone learns and runs the school together. Isn’t that the most trust you can ever give a child; to make them co-responsible for their whole school?
How the Five Elements Encompass All of Being Human in Work, Life and Community.
Many essential topics and learnings arise from fruitful combinations of these essential aspects. For instance: between nature and play, lies body. Physical consciousness; from basic health rules to deep intuition, is essential to create a culture of aliveness and awareness. It cultivates humans who cannot be taken for a ride, yet will seek to contribute to the larger whole in their own way. I think such an outcome will lead to astonishing economic growth, at least more than most businesses – who fear independent workers – would. Why? Because the more we are all involved and engaged at our best, the more profit the whole must receive. This goes for personal health (less disease, depression, and people ‘burning out’ etc) and individual purpose (employees seeking to make their company and their work meaningful). And about those (companies) that resist this idea: are they the companies we truly need around in their current structure?
Integral understanding as the outcome of art and wisdom may mean that through art, we can learn to express the ambiguity or the multi-faceted face of reality. Many great artists are still relevant because they have been able to paraphrase deep human affairs in one image, poem or other work of art. To try to do the same is not only an education in art, it is about learning to deal with complex realities, and being able to express a deeper sense or greater meaning of life. This is important when one wants to become fully human, and may also be essential within large organizations, to be clearly understood. Much like how a cartoon reveals the hidden problem. Another example would be (technical) innovation. This gains much strength from the combination of art and nature. Many engineers daily wonder how solutions from nature can be reproduced in technical ways.
Whatever you take out of this proposal and these views, to paraphrase sir Ken Robinson: “Help start building for a future we don’t know yet.” Good luck!
1 Maniacism; The blind result oriented kind of capitalism, that one dimensionally seeks money and for this eats natural resources, depletes forests and seas and turns the world into a wasteland of industrial garbage or plastic soup.
2 Hackathon; an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.