the beginning at the ending of everything

This week marks the end of six months of freedom and concentrated introspection. After having spent the last seven days shifting my life to the other side of town, setting up house and settling in, I’m currently making ready to throw myself into preparation for the job I’ll be commencing in precisely one week’s time. Even as the days fall away, I feel the potency of reaching the end of something. The existence I’ve come to know and love is about to come to a sudden and absolute close, and will be replaced once more by someone else’s rigidly dictated schedule. There will be no more days filled with writing, no more afternoons spent running. I’m finding myself busy coming to terms with the fact that in the very near future I’ll be re engaging with the machine. Although I’m excited for the change, a part of me is less than sure about what it all might mean.

The thing is, six months ago I was convinced that throwing in my job would prove the answer to all my problems. I was certain I’d been shackled by the constraints and necessities of a society obsessed by economy and was sure that if I wanted to reclaim my happiness I would first need to demand my autonomy. But in all honesty, even as I prepare to reinstate myself as a cog, my distaste for the system remains a constant. Although I’m excited about my job, I’m not disillusioned; it was primarily necessity that motivated me to seek it. I was running out of money.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think we should have to work or contribute. On the contrary, I think it’s important we all strive to make this life a better experience for ourselves and others through the giving of our gifts. Truthfully, slaving over warm words has always been my singular most personally fulfilling experience. I suppose in a nutshell my belief is that we should all be striving to find something to give about which we feel passionate. I’m convinced this is the secret to personal wellbeing and contentment.

So even as I make ready to re enter the work force, I know that this is simply a stop gap solution. While it will be grand for a while, in the long term I need a job that will allow me to practice my craft; something that feels like a natural extension of my self. After the past six months, I’ll never stop pursuing the ultimate goal of being free of the conventional work / life unbalance that seems to govern the most part of our brief lives.

This is simply yet another beginning. Happily, I guess there’s one at the ending of everything.

 

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.

 

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.

 

just another four letter word

It cannot be refuted that as a species we are uncannily resilient and endlessly optimistic in love. It doesn’t seem to matter how often desire dies and our hearts are broken; even as we kiss goodbye one lover, our soul somehow allows itself to mend, enabling us to be wrapped in the arms of another with renewed vigour and a sense of boundless hope regarding how we’ll fare this time around.

It wouldn’t be fair to say I’ve been unlucky in love; harping on about one’s romantic misfortune seems fitfully reserved for those among us who’ve suffered heavily at the hands of the opposite (or same) sex. Thus, for me to complain would be altogether ungracious, as actually, I’ve been loved by some fantastic men over the years. Yet despite their many collectively admirable qualities, at one point or another, something’s gone awry, and here I am, journeying bumpily through the years and tears alone.

Recently I’ve spent a deal of time pondering the nature of love. It really is a deceptive beast; the way it colours each romance with the genuine shades of passion and devotion, making it feel like the real deal. For myself, I can’t help but wonder whether I might be an especially foolish breed of  romantic, as rather than learning to look where I’m going, I carelessly walk face first into the condition, repeatedly mistaking that concussed cluster of spinning stars for universal bliss.

I met my first heart breaker when I was in high school. I fell hard and hopelessly for this kid when we were fifteen, and as sure as day follows night, I was convinced we’d be together forever. Of course, with an attitude like that, I was in big trouble.

What I’ve found over the years is that although you can dive over and again into the very depths love, our hearts only truly break once. After that point, you’re already in pieces. Sure, lovers may come and go, shattering you shamelessly and taking the best bits with them. But although you may be left once again with the slow and arduous task of picking up the scattered pieces, wandering aimlessly in an effort to locate the things you lost so as to become whole again, that original smashing pain only ruins you once.

Needless to say, things didn’t end well with my high school sweetheart. He ripped me to shreds by dumping me over the phone one night, just days before what would have marked our fifth year together. It took weeks and an endless stream of bad television before I could finally crawl out of bed and begin to function again. At the time I resented the fact that I had to break while he could simply hang up the phone and get on with things. Now I realise that it’s only during that wretched process of putting ourselves back together that we’re gifted the rare opportunity of seeing our inner most components and the stuffs of our cores. As strange as it sounds, it wasn’t until that awful breakup that I grew to know myself.

That first time around I experienced the piercing glory of naive adoration. It was the tender type, founded on friendship and grieved like a loss. While the pain of it ending was sharp and deep, the wound was clean and healed well. Other varieties of love aren’t so harmless.

The kind of which you need to be particularly wary is that based principally on physical attraction, as this type comes partnered with the smack and reek of addiction. Knowing it was a bad idea, when met by the opportunity for this breed of love affair, I pushed against it with all my weight for many weeks, before waking one morning to find I’d fallen head first into the messy thrill of it. This guy was bad news; the sort who gave it away for free until the moment that I was hooked, at which point I began to pay the optimum price with my pride and humility. This is the kind of love that coats you in its sticky sweetness until you’re completely stuck. Worst of all, you don’t even mind that you’re slowly drowning in its saccharine syrup; it tastes so good! I guess that’s the nature of lust; accompanied by sleepless nights and melancholy, a complete abandonment of self respect is inevitable.

Perhaps the hardest love to bridge is the kind that seems as if it was never supposed to happen. When you’re hopelessly romantic, it’s these initial difficulties that concrete the idea of it in your mind. After all, anything that’s so hard to come by, but for which you’re willing to fight anyhow has to bare some kind of meaning. When I was faced with impossible love, I assumed I’d found my soul mate. Maybe I had. But while I’d concluded this meant spending eternity together, actually, a soul mate is simply a mirror; someone who shows you to yourself in all your flawed glory. This guy shook me up, giving me courage and introducing the notion that I could be a better version of myself. Unfortunately, once he’d done that, the love seemed to fizzle to no more than a soggy version of its former fireworks, and despite my sadness and regret, it was time to walk away.

Love is a curious thing. Every time you curl into that other person’s side, in your mind it’s for the first and the last time. I suppose therein lies its beauty; we’re able to bounce back and give each partner the real deal, regardless of how many lovers came before and how many may follow.

Perhaps the truth is that when it comes to the raw, untameable chaos that is love, our mind and our consciousness have nothing to do with it. It’s our souls who choose one another, and whether they bind for a year or a lifetime, it can never be discounted as a waste of time or energy or heart.

Maybe this is the reason behind our ability to revive like we do. Despite what our minds may think, our spirit is never defeated or cheated by a transpired love affair; some integral part of us knows that whatever the union was supposed to achieve, it fulfilled its purpose. But when our heart needs something other, we must permit it the freedom to seek it.

So I guess there’s no such thing as being unlucky in love; no matter its duration or motive, it’s a gift and a growth. And afterwards, there’s nothing to be done but gather our missing pieces so that in our entirety we can look forward to the next time our core connects, for as long as it will, with another.