why school sux

Education is purposed to help us make sense of our identities while providing the skills for shaping positive and participating global citizens. In westernised countries, where we spend the majority of our waking formative years engaged in compulsory schooling, the role of education in fashioning well balanced contributors is undeniable. Unfortunately, the curriculum of the current system is so cluttered by meaningless requirements and bound by so much red tape that organic growth is stifled and significant exploration of self and world are commonly deemed unfeasible.

One of the biggest tragedies of this era is the way in which students’ inherent capacity for innovation is persistently and ruthlessly squandered through our education system. The way in which we continue to dismiss the value of creativity in favour of a blind and empty emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic is a primary facilitator of this problem. Despite massive changes to educational theories, our approaches to teaching and learning continue to discourage intellectual risk taking, simplifying concepts and limiting discovery by implying that there is a right and a wrong answer to every question.

It’s absurd that in the twenty first century, we continue to award an apparent value to subjects on the basis of outdated perceptions of economic utility. Somehow, despite radical changes to the global climate, subjects such as mathematics and the sciences are still considered overwhelmingly more important than creative alternatives. Consequently, our education system remains geared toward right brain thinkers. Those with a propensity toward academia who respond to traditional forms of instruction and assessment are able to thrive, and are used as evidence that the system is working. Meanwhile, students who are otherwise inclined are abandoned by the system. Their inability to tow the line is interpreted as antagonism and behavioural rebellion and is typically remedied through discipline. Bombarded with blame and accosted by seamless experiences of crushing failure, these students see themselves as the stupid problem. Hopeless or hardened, they eventually enter the world with a sense of resignation that penetrates the core of their identity and what they could have been. On an individual level this is a tragedy. On a societal level, this epic loss of untapped potential is inexcusable.

Too large a portion of our country’s adult population spend their lives mindless and miserable, waiting for the weekend so they can drown their discontentment by indulging in excess. We waste our existence tolerating the greater part of our waking hours because from our earliest educational influences, we were discouraged from pursuing our passions and dismissed from developing a greater knowledge and understanding through poor teaching. Studies show that those fortunate enough to fall into fulfilling fields of work are more content, less aggressive and far superior contributors to their professions and broader communities. So why, when the benefits are evident, does our education system place so little value on individuality, programming us to fear failure, to strive for less?

Exponential growth in technology and rapid changes to cultural and lifestyle philosophies in the past half century are redefining the role of education. Possessing the skills necessary for survival in an increasingly left brained, beyond the box world is becoming increasingly requisite. Educators should be obliged to equip young people with these tools. Through necessity, our approach education needs to quickly evolve. Yet instead, we remain reliant on an outdated nineteenth century model, originally developed to meet the needs of the industrial age. A system of schooling which favours conformity and standardisation can have limited benefits in a twenty first century context. It’s time to rethink our view of intelligence, as we are entering an era where innovation, difference and diversity will be the qualifiers of success.

Every government makes a superficial attempt at reforming education. Unfortunately, their efforts are usually limited to adding more requirements to an already overloaded curriculum, placing unrealistic pressure on staff and students while leaving the archaic philosophies that undermine the model untouched. The system is failing. What we require is a fresh page on which to begin drawing something suitable for our shifting culture.

For better or worse, schools are shaping the next generations of our society’s adults. Our approach will dictate whether we use this time to prepare positive and passionate contributors or disheartened, indifferent drones. Education should be fuelling students’ fires. As it stands, our system does nothing but squander our kids’ enthusiasm, driving them to opt out; if not literally then certainly figuratively. The repercussions of this reach way beyond the realms of the playground. Education is the institution which is deciding the dynamic of our country’s populace. It’s imperative we begin to get it right.

 

For a deeper understanding of our need for an educational revolution, enjoy this informative presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, a world renowned expert in the field of education. If you’re interested in hearing more, I’ll post a selection of his more engaging pieces on the Facebook page.

 

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school sux

When I was in my final year of secondary study, I was instructed, along with countless other year twelve candidates, to elect the university course for which I wanted to apply for the following year. A typical seventeen year old, I had next to no idea what I hoped to do with my life. That said, regardless of my bewilderment regarding the future, on one point I was certain; I was aching to escape the mundane reality that was high school.

 

I attended what could be considered a standard public high school. In fact, hindsight suggests mine was probably more reputable when compared to the average secondary institution; its culture was established and respected and the students wore the motto Pride and Loyalty well. But never the less, with the exception of English and the Visual Arts, I found school utterly boring. Due to a restrictive state syllabus undermined by archaic educational philosophies, I was expected to take science and math based subjects, despite my disinterest and obvious inability in those fields. Further, timetabling made it impossible to select more than one creative elective; an obstacle constructed to point students toward academic subjects with stronger university admission scores and traditional employment opportunities.

At my high school, it was virtually obligatory to take classes you did not enjoy, making enduring the tedium of school an absolute slog. In truth, there was more than one occasion during those final years that I decided my best option was to drop out of school and work full time at the local fast food joint. In the end, all that stopped me doing this was my unconquerable fear of quitting. So I endured, denying my interests and relenting to the constraints enforced by marginalised opportunities. After all, what choice did I have?

When the inevitable moment of tertiary study selection arrived, I was a cluster bomb of confusion. With nothing to guide me but a humble university admission guide, which was more reminiscent of a telephone directory than an oracle, I went about compiling a list of careers into which I could see myself entering four years down the track. Months later, after driving myself sick from the stress of exams they’d said would singularly make or break our futures, I was accepted into an education/arts degree. For better or worse, after waiting thirteen years to escape school, I was to become an English teacher.

Despite the way in which I’d seemed to fall into the decision, as the course progressed I grew increasingly excited by the prospect of sharing my love for words and literature with generations of young people. University gave me the impression that my job would be important; that teaching was one of the most gratifying and vital professions into which I could possibly hope to enter. As the four years neared their conclusion I began to buzz; I was about to start changing lives! The optimistic, utopian attitudes of our instructors implied that my own school experience had been an unfortunate exception, and I started believing I could play a part in making things universally better. So it was to my dismay when, after finally graduating, I realised that my original suspicions had been correct; the institution of education was severely lacking. Furthermore, as a new teacher, I would bear the brunt of its short falls from the front line.

I witnessed as our restrictive and poorly executed education system constantly failed countless young people. They arrived at the start of every year, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and within a week their innate fires were collectively extinguished by outdated dogma. Dead weights, they’d wander home after being smacked in the face by the realisation that this year, nothing would change. They would be force fed facts, a portion of which they would be required to regurgitate on an exam paper, and eventually they’d be spat out, none the wiser.

I was struck dumb by the injustice and frustrated by the fact that education, possibly the single most important social service, has been left to stagnate. Truly, there is little wonder that as a people we are becoming increasingly ignorant and lethargic; our world is rapidly changing, yet we are stunting the growth of our younger generations for fear of change. Teaching should be about opening minds, not limiting them. Our current system, founded on an obsession with bureaucracy and restricted by a tradition of control fails on this most fundamental level.

Finally my disdain and discontentment grew to a point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I quit my job and moved far away, believing it had been a bum steer getting involved with education in the first place. That what I should have done all along was something else.

Yet ever since I threw in the towel, a niggling nuisance in the back of my mind has refused to quiet. I dwell on the fact that, despite the system’s bottomless pit falls, the fundamentals of teaching and learning are alive and well. After all, in its basic form education is simply a process of interpersonal relations. Working with young people is wonderful; passing your passion about, watching them weigh the happy shape of it. And despite the bombardment of bureaucratic bullshit there remained rare moments when, against all odds, students managed to reach realisations about themselves and the human condition through our lessons. Witnessing that was truly wicked.

This week I will begin the process of returning to school as a casual teacher. I miss the classroom, but I’m primarily being driven by my compulsive inability to give up. Education needs to be better. And I want to play a part in making this happen. In the long term, that will mean returning to university. For now, if all I can do is be ready with a soothing hand to steady a student whose disconsolation has left them floundering, I’m going to want to be there for that, too.

 

facebook: give me my friends back

friend

1. A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.

2. A person with whom one is allied in a struggle or cause.

3. One who supports and sympathizes.

4. A contact associated with a social networking website.

 

I’ve started to worry that the term friendship is losing its meaning. In light of the above definition, society’s evolving understanding of the word certainly raises a few concerns. Undeniably, what it means to be a friend is slowly being compromised, so that the phrase is no longer reserved for those with whom we feel strong bonds and meaningful connections. Indeed, when considered as a verb (I’ll friend you on Facebook), the value of friendship depreciates and the benefits of being and having friends are significantly weakened.

According to a study by Professor Robin Dunbar, an individual can connect with a maximum of one hundred and fifty people. Of those, the ones with whom we enjoy active friendships are fewer still. As reported by extensive studies, maintaining genuine friendship depends primarily on actually doing stuff together. It’s been established that, with the exception of a very few close and long term relationships, if you don’t physically interact with a pal within a six month period, they will become a distant friend, and from this point it’s only a matter of time before they gradually become nothing more than a person you once knew. This is because friendship is fostered and concreted through three acts: watching the way in which others respond to what you say, the sound of shared laughter, and physical contact.

After reading Professor Dunbar’s study, I thought about the ways in which I conduct my friendships. To my shame, I recognised that in most scenarios, I am not an active friend. Generally I wait for my friends to phone me for a chat, invite me for dinner, arrive on my doorstep for a walk. In a moment of dawning it hit me that if I want to keep my friends, especially now that I’ve moved away, I’m going to have to make an effort to maintain those relationships. Sadly, due to a bad track record, I have many mates who are very barely hanging on to our tattered ties.

This negligence did not happen on its own. My becoming a lazy friend directly correlates with the rise of social networking. When I signed up for Facebook, seeing friends’ statuses and pictures in my newsfeed created for me the illusion of being connected to them. I truly believed that I was interacting when in actual fact, Facebook was enabling me to be a voyeur of lives with which I was growing increasingly uninvolved. In next to no time I developed the habit of writing on their wall when I was thinking about them, rather than organising for us to spend quality time together. Meanwhile, I was growing more and more isolated. I’m sure I can speak for many when I say that, thanks to social media, in the space of a few years I devolved from a kid who would fluidly reach for the landline when I wanted to contact someone, into an anxious creature who’s more comfortable sitting at my pc and offering throwaway lines to the inter webs than pursuing face to face contact.

This revelation goes a long way in explaining why I’ve been feeling lonely of late; I have friends, but I’m not availing myself of their services. So the other night when I began feeling a shade of blue, I did something I rarely do; I phoned a couple of my mates from home. You know what? Suddenly I felt loads better. What’s more, I didn’t feel the need to write an arbitrary and obstructive status on Facebook alluding to my state of melancholy. For the first time in a long while I let my friends help to fix me. The effect was instant and two fold; I felt better in myself and closer to the darling people who had happily picked me up.

So I’ve made myself a promise; I am going to be a better friend. I am going to use my voice, rather than social media, when I feel like speaking with my buddies. I am going to play an active role, so as to make my friendships more meaningful. Because my mates are excellent. And I intend to keep them.

 

Have you noticed social media affecting your friendships? What do you do to keep it real when it’s so simple to be passive?

 

little pieces

When I was small, my father went through a shameless country music phase, and as a result, so did I. Now an adult, I sometimes like to listen to those songs, permitting myself an occasional and clandestine appointment with my past. Somehow those melodies with which I was inadvertently raised can call to life the moments enjoyed by my younger self, and I’m warmed by how brightly my family burned before our fire went out.

Those songs muster images of my mother standing in a faded sundress beside an old brick barbeque in the back yard, separating a string of sausages with a blunt butter knife and tossing them onto the hot plate. My father moves between the kitchen and the picnic bench for utensils and margarine, setting the screen door banging. They laugh with one another. The air is filled with the smell of sizzling fat and flowering jasmine, and my siblings and I circle the crooked drive on dinkies, while John Williamson blasts through open windows, filtering through the fence and into the midsummer streets of suburbia.

It was within these moments that my smaller self learned what family looks like, what happiness sounds like, what togetherness feels like. But that music stopped playing when this accidental thing my parents made was broken. In the years that followed, now and again on balmy evenings my father would play his country tunes, and the older versions of our selves would cook a meal outside. But the mood was different; in our own ways we all knew where those songs belonged.

Once something breaks, it will eventually begin to crumble. Yesterday I learned that recently, my mother remarried. I stumbled upon the photographs on the internet, and saw her standing beside a man I’ve never met, voicing a new vow. It’s true she’s not the woman from my past, but her eyes, the first to ever lock with mine, remain the same. And with her in the pictures is my sister; one who used to be mistaken for my twin and who now believes these things are not for me to know. For a reason I cannot understand, she chooses to deny the inextricable link we all share and which like it or not, cannot be severed. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and refuse the sting of a mother who wanted something else and a sister who could not bear to be left behind.

Turning up the music I revisit the times before the cracks and the crumbling. Back when we were pieces that belonged together, and who were willing to share a route around warm concrete in the evenings of our childhood. Listen, sister. Remember.

 

 

failed intentions

The weekend after I turned sixteen, my mother showed up. Sure, she’d missed the big day, but then we never did dwell much on ceremony and anyhow, until then she’d overlooked every scarring ricochet in my skewed trajectory towards womanhood. Without her along to show me how, I’d been wearing my new found femininity as if it were two sizes too big; shuffling along in a flush of feigned flippancy.

So after twenty two months silent, I was surprised and secretly pleased to know that she’d remembered without prompting the day, sixteen years earlier, when I’d been cut from her stomach and lain, blue and bawling, on her naked breast; the first of three rude shocks to be placed there. This was our anniversary. And she had come.

After sharing our space for a few days, we understood that she’d soon be gone. Then on the third night, she pulled me aside. Following her into my bedroom, we sat beside one another on a sagging foam mattress while she rifled awkwardly through her bag, uncovering a book filled with poetry and proffering it to me.

For the briefest of moments, I caught my mother peering tentatively from behind a shield of false confidence to observe how her toughened daughter would respond. Bewildered, my guardedness fell away, making space for recognition at the sight of her poorly painted mask, as if catching a shaky reflection in a tainted pane of glass.

She stared at the empty palms lying in her lap. I looked at the book. Letting it fall open I found the words she’d inscribed on the inside cover.

Like mist in the morning you came to me, showering me with love.

And I took it all in; as does the grass.

Clearing her throat she took my hand, and held it like a resignation; light and loose and absent. A ticket for a ship that’d long since sailed. She said nothing. The following day she was gone.

For my sixteenth birthday my mother gave me poetry. But despite countless hours cradling that book of words, I’ve not had the heart to page past the naked lines she penned; an exposed underbelly of romantic sentiment.

A silent revelation of my mother’s best intentions.

 

stuff they should have taught us at school

The most influential years of our lives are endured trapped within the confines of a classroom, yet looking back I can count on the fingers of one hand the beneficial things that I learned there. For instance, I remember hearing that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains (though I couldn’t tell you when they did it or how it all went down), and I realise that the sum of the square of the two shorter sides of a triangle are equal to the square of the hypotenuse (learning that sure changed my life). However, there’s not been a single instance in the real world (wherever that is) where either of these little pearls has proven useful or relevant.

What I am wondering is why they don’t teach us the things we need to know; stuff that might help us become successful, well balanced human beings? Some people will tell you that life lessons have to be learned the hard way, but I’m not so sure. For myself, there are some things that, had I known them in advance, may have saved me a lot of angst. While I may not have understood them right away, having them told to me would have certainly set the mental ball rolling, saving me from needlessly wasting so many hours of my youth and young womanhood articulating my feelings into bite sized philosophies. When you think about it, there is little wonder teenagers are such melodramatic little buggers; we have them reinventing the emotional wheel!

I think it’s time for a handbook. The Stuff We Should Be Teaching You But Aren’t, Because We’re Too Busy With The Circumference Of A Circle And Other Such Irrelevancies handbook. And it should have DON’T PANIC written in large letters on the back cover, Hitchhiker style. Because God knows there are countless times when I could have benefitted from that little snippet of wisdom.

I have taken it upon myself to commence composition of the handbook and have outlined some ‘rules to live by’ in the space below. Of course, any suggestions from the floor would be much appreciated; I have every faith that the youth of tomorrow will be sure to thank us.

 

Perfection Is Dull

…your idiosyncrasies are what make you interesting.

Young people are too often preoccupied with trying to be like the film stars on the covers of teen magazines. They spend the majority of their time tanning and dieting, colouring their hair and figuring out what the media reckons they should wear. The sooner they realise that this cookie cutter mentality is shallow and boring, the sooner they will learn to love themselves. Think of the people at school that you admired. My bet is that they were the ones who had figured out the secret: individuality is a whole lot more interesting. (Though it needs to be noted that those who force individuality by assuming a certain style and practiced affectations are often pretentious, superficial and a royal pain in the backside. So don’t do that, either, okay?)

 

Mistakes Are A Good Thing

…they imply that you are learning.

Too often people mentally beat themselves up over the things they’ve done, whether in their relationships or their lives in general. Once we embrace the notion that it’s our past that shapes us, it’s much easier to make peace with the choices we make and the things we’ve done. The more colourful our past, the richer the tapestry of our lives, I reckon.

 

It’s Okay To Change Your Mind

…but (in the words of Joan Armatrading), if you’re going to do it, do it right.

There is nothing more irritating than people who do things half arsed. If you are going to do something, don’t waste our time with anything but your very best. If your heart isn’t in it, don’t whinge about it, do something to change it. We live but once.

 

Not Everything Old Is Boring

…not even your folks.

Okay, some parents are boring, as are some old things. But they aren’t boring because they’re old; they’re boring because they’re boring. Lots of old things are actually really interesting and entirely worthy of our time. So listen to vinyls and read books and spend some time watching old films. Doing these things does not make you a square, it makes you awesome.

 

In The End, The Love You Take, Is Equal To The Love You Make

….thanks, Beatles.

This is true for all realms of our lives; whatever we give out we will get back in equal measure. Said in another way, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The implication is that the more we send out into the universe, the more we will get back for ourselves. The harder we live, the more enjoyment we will receive. The greater the risk, the richer the reward. Get the drift?

 

Relax

…whatever will be, will be.

There is not a lot of point fretting over what ifs; nothing that is for us will ever pass us by. If something is supposed to happen, it will; if it isn’t supposed to, it won’t. Knowing this little truth can save a lot of anxiety and frees us up to live happily in the moment without becoming wrapped up in the hypotheticals of the future.

 

Nobody Is Happy All Of The Time

…enjoy your melancholy; all feelings are healthy.

It isn’t realistic to expect to be content all of the time; we are complex beings and there are countless emotions that contribute to making us dynamic and interesting. Melancholy is a place where a lot of great things happen; in fact, many of the most creative and poignant artistic expressions were dreamed up in the depths of despair. So indulge in these feelings, but realise they don’t belong to you alone. And when it’s time, pick yourself up and order yourself a slice of happy.

 

Remember To Breathe

…the little things are what it’s all about.

In the hustle and bustle of the daily grind it’s so easy to lose perspective and forget what’s really important. As often as you can, stop and breathe. It sounds corny, but it feels really grand. When you concentrate on nothing but filling your lungs with fresh air, you open yourself up to noticing the things around you. It’s a nice feeling. : )

 

Don’t Be Too Focused On Where You’re Going

…live in the here and now.

Too often we set our sights on the horizon and pour all our energies into reaching it. However, the horizon is an illusion, a destination impossible to reach. Forgive the cliché, but you are much better focusing on the journey, enjoying each day as it comes. Because when you do reach the end of your life, you will want to know that you made the most of every single day.

 

Life Is Short

…so make your own rules and never go to bed angry.

Forget what everybody else is doing; you would be much better off if you simply ran your own race. None of us dream the same, so dismiss convention and do your own thing. And never go to be angry; making love is a whole lot more fun than making war.

 

This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True

…Shakespeare, you’re the boss.

To think it was all summed up by some guy who was kicking around four hundred years ago. Even Alicia Silverstone was down with this guy. (If you haven’t read or seen Hamlet, I would highly recommend it; it is easily one of Shakespeare’s finest.)

 

the origins of easter

Most of us realise that like all religious holidays, Easter was adapted from an existing pagan tradition. If you’re curious about the actual origins of Easter, you’re in luck; I’ve sussed it out and prepared a tidy 250 word summary for your reading pleasure. : )

Easter was originally a celebration which honoured Eostre, the pagan goddess of spring. It was a seasonal festival, marked by the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (an equinox is an occasion which occurs twice yearly when a day’s hours of light and darkness are equal in length). As a consequence of it occurring in conjunction with the equinox and the full moon, the actual date of the holiday changed slightly every year, just as it does now.

During the festival of Eostre, people gave thanks for her timely deliverance of spring; a season which has always been synonymous with regeneration and fruitfulness. Eostre’s earthy symbol was the rabbit, selected for its obvious association with fertility.

The significance of the egg is a little more complicated. Ancient Romans understood that all life comes originally from an egg. In accordance with this assumption, it was believed that the moon goddess endured a twenty eight day cycle and ovulated when full. On the first full moon after the Spring Equinox it was believed that she dropped her egg, blessing the earth with her abundant fertility.

Hot cross buns were also a part of the original Eostre tradition. The sweet cakes, which were baked and consumed during the holiday, were marked with the letter ‘T’. This was the initial of Tammuz, the child of the sun god and the moon goddess. Being their child, he was considered equal parts day and night and was therefore celebrated every year during the Spring Equinox.

Happy Eostre, folks.

i don't know these bunnies...

a book or ebook?

I used to believe in the humble book. There was a time I was certain that nothing could come between us and our fistfuls of musky scented yellow pages; that undeniable sense of character imparted by time and the tender hands of countless companions. Somehow I was sure that no matter how technologically advanced we became, nothing could possibly replace an authentic and unassuming hard cover.

There’s something deeply romantic about the book; a physical collection of words and sentiments, whose compilation is tangible evidence that as a people, we have existed. Through the book we happily accept the love and laughter, tears and tragedies of others; a testament to the human condition. Then when we’re done, we pass it on so that those words that shook us might wake the senses of a new reader. In that moment when we hand it over, we send our own story wordlessly with it; an unspoken yet undeniable shared history that can be sensed in the margins of every page. The happy knowledge that the leaves you now turn have been caressed by some number of others, binding you with your humanity, like the linking fingers of a best friend.

I was wrong, of course. I have always been, above all else, embarrassingly naive. How green to imagine that while the rest of the world became increasingly clinical, disinterested in their brother and the intimacy of breathing someone else’s air that the defenceless book could survive. No one wants to own something that’s been handled by an unfamiliar other any more. We want to live apart. Possess our own things. Selfishly believe the world is ours; that we are the only one. Populations are booming, but even as we’re forced to dwell on top of one another, moving ever higher into an unconquered sky, we are slamming tight our shutters.

Needless to say, there will always be stories. We’re too governed by ego to let the story die; we see ourselves in every narrative and our sense of self importance is affirmed. But books and stories, those words that were once synonymous, are about to be broken apart. Driven by our need for efficiency, we can now download our own version of the texts we wish to read. These days we need not even leave the house. What a blow of cruel irony when the interwebs adopted the phrase connectivity.

Like so many things, it’s come to pass that every book you own can be uniquely yours; you read it once but do not pass it on. The pages are ever crisp and white; untarnished as a surgeon’s scalpel. But the romance is gone. In our hunger for perfection and instant gratification we have sliced off and slaughtered the glorious romance.

are books becoming kindle? like, literally?

It’s been estimated that within this decade, electronic books will have completely replaced commercially available paper publications. There are of course, many advantages to the electronic book. Affordability is one; for the time being, they are certainly cheaper. Owning an electronic reader also means you can have countless titles at your finger tips. Many people are also citing the environmental card, claiming that the e book is better for the environment. I’m not sure I buy this one. While I’ve done exactly no research on the subject, I can’t believe the process involved with constructing these little gadgets is particularly sparing on the fossil fuels.

 

What do you think about our move toward electronic books?

Have you taken the leap to e reader?

How do you feel about the humble hard cover being made redundant?