I want to place the three notions of instinct, insight and maturity into an “educating naturally” context and develop the implications.
Instinct is nature’s protection for the vulnerable. This can best be seen in the relationship between mother and child in which both instinctively relate. The child needs milk from the mother, and the child’s glee brings an infectious response from the mother. This bond exists throughout the child’s life, is broken through the “double bind” (Gregory Bateson) – although for many perhaps it is never truly broken. We call this mother’s love but it is rather a valuable but disposable instinct.
The word “disposable” is crucial, and the lack of disposability is a significant weakness in our education system. The system makes little effort to dispose of instinct – naturally, and we are very much dominated by an adolescent youth-orientated culture because of this.
The instinct of mother’s love is perhaps our best instinct but it is also restrictive. Mummy’s boys never outgrow the mother’s influence, occasionally they are ridiculed for their immaturity but it is not a significant social stigma.
Adolescent sexual interaction is an instinct that does cause damage to society – more so than “mother’s love”. Adolescence is dominated by the growing pains that revolve around relationship and procreation. For the adolescence the relationship between the sexes is dominant. Our education system tends to run in parallel to this sexual development neither encouraging nor in general educating about such relationships. However that adolescent desire for sex continues throughout adult life especially amongst males. I suggest that nature’s way is that adolescent searching leads to marriage, procreation and child-rearing. But society’s focus is not on family because of capitalism – the pressure of accumulation (the instinct of greed at its worst). Rather than the focus on child-rearing the family is often conditioned to be a consumer unit, and again because of the lack of focus sexual digressions occur because that instinct has not been “disposed of”. If the focus was on child-rearing then sexual fulfilment would be satiated within the relationship for the good of the children.
This distorted development of instinct within society gets reinforced through conditioning. What might develop from adolescent searching into a mature family focussed on child-rearing gets distorted by the media messages of consumerism and sexual dalliances that threaten the mature development. Insight sees through conditioning – it could perhaps be understood as seeing without conditioning, and it is the very process that begins maturity. Instinct and conditioning are interlinked within our society, our society is based on instinct and the conditioning reinforces that. Education ought to be seeking to move beyond instinct to maturity, and the process that can take us there is insight.
It is therefore an essential aspect of natural education that strategies for developing insight be researched and introduced. Creativity is the nearest recognised strategy that exists in our current education system. Through genuine creativity we break out of our conditioning, and the process of genuine creating is the same as that of insight. Unfortunately what passes for creativity in our schools does not focus on genuine creativity but more on imitation. The skills of imitation are valuable but in themselves are not creative. Within our existing education structures creative art, music and writing are the best methods we now have for creativity.
But insight is not only gained through creativity it can also be developed through meditation. Whilst introducing the methodologies of meditation into education cannot guarantee insight, as a tool for adult life such methodologies need to be introduced into education.
In practise our education system prepares people for the world of work – in a negative but true perspective the purpose of education is to provide consumer-oriented wage-slaves. In theory education ought to be providing us with the skills to lead a mature life. Getting rid of nature youthful survival crutches – instincts – through the development of insight that sees through the conditioning ought to be a natural priority of education, and the development of insight would give us the main tool for living a mature adult life.
1) It is interesting to note that I first picked up the process of divesting instinct as part of growing-up from Ajaan Buddhadasa somewhere.
2) It is also interesting to note how this became a Matriellez blog. In the middle of writing The Arico Chronicles Chs 2.5 and 2.6 this became a significant theme.
Archive for the ‘Natural Development’ Category
Just before the end of this term I attended a retirement do at the village school I volunteer for. This do was for two teachers, and it was fundamentally a community event.
I first met this community aspect 6 or 7 years ago at the kindergarten I taught at. Once a year the parents have a do at the school in which the kids dance (prepared by the teacher) and the parents bring food. A pleasant day but typically a tedious school event. Various officers from the education department also attended, and I got dragged into a formal meal with them. It was PR but the parents brought the food and it was community.
The retirement do had a lot more. The school had a day off, and the event started at 07.00 am. The thought of attending a school function (in Thai) from that time until early afternoon did my head in, but I wanted to show respect because I had worked with one of the teachers so I attended from 10.30. My Principal who is one of the few Principals I have ever had time for always parades her Native English speaker, and I don’t like it. I do not blame her, my working there apparently increases her school’s selection but I do not like it – it is a Thai community event.
At 10.30 the two retirees were sat on the stage, and the students all went on the stage and poured water from a small cup over the hands – a traditional gesture of respect, I think. I looked at it and became self-conscious as the Principal asked if I wanted to do it. My ego was sufficiently low to realise that if I didn’t it would be disrespectful so I overcame my self-consciousness and did it. This has no relevance at all to this blogpost.
After the whole hall, including parents, education office, police – monks had been there earlier – had paraded past, the dancing started. Every class did some form of Thai dance. I happened to be sat next to the two retirees – I suspect placed there by the Principal to be seen, and I watched as all kinds of people came up to the two teachers. Ex-students were there, and again I suspect that many adults who paid tribute were also ex-students and had made time to come back and pay respect.
I had lunch, the photos were still happening, and went home. I would hate to have to do that too often – tedious. But the teachers had something to remember. However genuine this display of community respect was it at least had the appearance of respect for a person who was important to the community and parents – a year 6 and year 4 primary school teacher.
I want to compare this with long-serving teachers in the UK who I had worked with. It was in two different schools, the three teachers had “risen” to Deputy Head, and had worked hard for their secondary schools. There were announcements in assembly, and the students were polite. Staff associations organised leaving dos, and more of an effort was put in for these people – and that was it. No parental involvement, no community involvement, the students did little. When I watched what this small village school and its community did for these two retirees and compared it with the lack of respect shown the long-serving Deputy Heads I had worked with, I just felt anger.
Despite all the politics surrounding education teachers are community lynchpins, these people are community elders, and our western communities are deeply lacking in their respect.
The article has a teacher recommending teachers increase online profiles, what do the parents give back for this? I do not blame parents it is the escapist ethos that is manipulated around teachers – as well as the pressure placed on parents’ time. But whilst I don’t blame the parents shouldn’t they be ashamed by comparison with this small farming community? Shouldn’t the communities? Parents, teachers and students should be working together despite the politics that intentionally divides them.
I am always pleased when there is talk of introducing mindfulness in schools but it can be seen as a bandwagon for those advocating it – part of the non-mainstream careerism that abounds in education.
Mindfulness as a concept was “originally” raised by the Buddha (as discussed in Samyutta Nikaya 45). The mindfulness peddled in western education has nowhere near this quality of tradition and experience. I am also not so sure of the quality of those who are advocating it. Typified by this Flipboard article the western approach seems to require scientific justification, and to my mind any scientific acceptance of benefit is only the tip of the iceberg. There has been much scientific work done by the Dalai Lama with the Mind and Life Institute, I would always start there.
Having said that bringing mindfulness in schools can only have positive benefits – at worst students would think they get nothing from it, how can it hurt? Adults often wonder whether they get anything from meditation.
The real issue is how to get mindfulness into schools, not whether it should happen. Mindfulness is clearly an individual activity, and therefore does not lend itself to the classroom situation. To discuss mindfulness academically – as part of an exam or PSE – is meaningless, students have to do it. Here in Thailand meditation in schools is common place because Buddhism is the national religion. In my volunteer lessons with kindergarten kids, with the help of the class teacher we always finished with a short meditation before eating lunch; it definitely helped. Kids were sat still sitting in lotus position, both of which would be virtually impossible in the UK.
In Nigeria I had a bunch of rowdy year 7’s. They came into the room, I made them shut up, and we did meditation for a couple of minutes. This was for discipline purposes, I have previously made kids stand in silence when they come into the room for discipline – meditation is better. Both discipline techniques really applied only for younger kids. Some of the Nigerian kids actively liked it, others were just this side of disrupting the activity.
Nigeria also had some very devout Christians. I noticed that just before a test they would pray – they would even use part of the test time to pray because there was test silence. I thought it would have been good to have a silent time before the start of a test – a “5-minute” mindfulness time. It would go something like this. Give out the papers so that everyone is ready to start the test. Then have a mindfulness time in which the emphasis would be calming down ready for the test, and by agreement there would be a period of the mindfulness time for prayer if students wished – or they could just continue to try to be calm. At an important exam I got a bad case of the “wobblies” after reading the paper, I lost nearly 10 minutes of the exam; in the end meditation helped with this.
Mindfulness and concentration are associated in Buddhism (see Samyutta Nikaya 45 again). In maths I felt there was a particular place for both with regards to problem-solving. Much of maths is technique but for many students they can remember the technique but do not know how and when to apply it. Most teachers overcome this by cramming – past papers, the students do not solve problems they just remember similar problems and apply the techniques the same way. I investigated meditation/mindfulness approaches for doing this under the umbrella of study skills but only after I retired so am unable to describe whether it would be effective. LINK
A slightly different approach to this could be considered. I don’t know whether it is common in all Muslim schools but one Muscat school I worked in had a prayer room. With cooperation a prayer room could also function as a “mindful prayer room”, “chanting” v Muslim prayer battles would not be conducive.
Mindfulness could be greatly beneficial to students, and attempts to introduce all students to mindfulness techniques is long overdue. But it does need to be practitioners who introduce it, and not a curriculum-required talk on its use in an ignored PSE lesson.
The German weekly Der Spiegel quoted in its cover story on 2 February 2012 the US American psychiatrist Leon Eisenberg, born in 1922 as the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, who was the “scientific father of ADHD” and who said at the age of 87, seven months before his death in his last interview: “ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease”