Let the children boogie – What teachers can learn from Bowie & Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Having hit David Bowie pretty hard since his death this year and this corresponding to another reading of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile or On Education. These are the things Rousseau & Bowie have taught me about facilitating children’s education. I try to have them as my compass but sometimes it’s hard in the current climate.

1. Try not to interfere negatively with or suppress children’s natural tendencies & aptitudes.

2. Try only to teach something when the child is ready to learn it.

3. Try not to make rote-learning the dominant mode of education for a child.

4. Try to let children primarily learn in context and through experience and ‘projects’.

5. Do not treat a child’s attempted acquisition of moral knowledge differently from their acquisition of other types of knowledge. Hold both in high regard.

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Nursery Rhymes, Oral Traditional & Mindfulness

decameron1Language, ritual and culture influence all oral traditions. Nursery rhymes and songs make up a large part of these traditions. I believe there is more to it though. Special forms of language have always been important in the promotion of interdependence. The concept of interdependence is a key facet of mindfulness. These often take the form of chant, song, dance and ritual. The language of culture is usually highly thought of, firstly because it is, in fact, memorable, and secondly because it is designed to have a powerful and lasting effect on our development of a collective self or ‘enculturation’.

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Historically most oral tradition came as a result of lack of print or its use was centred around religious and social custom. This is, in the most part, no longer the case. Little is left of that great wealth of common cultural experience which used to be so important to early education. We can not and should not expect that the hymns of the Bible begin to ring out across schools or that children begin each day with Tibetan chants – but there are benefits to the interdependent nature such acts give and should not be lost. We should look to keep this alive.

00577-MEDAn important aspect of oral tradition is of course that it is largely learned in union situations – and gains in its social meaning from that ‘togetherness’ – that ‘interdependent spirit’. Chant, song, dance and linguistic rituals are mindful because they tend to be rhythmic and set to some form of chant or melody which often focuses the mind. Chant, song, dance and linguistic ritual are among the most powerful forms of human learning; primitively satisfying, deeply memorable and globally meaningful. Much of its power comes from the sense of security generated by repetition, familiarity and universality.

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So why not sing a nursery rhyme or take a dance in class more often – no matter what the age.

Place & Time: The Vital Role Geography & History Have In Promoting Mindfulness In Schools

Place & Time

This principally includes how History shapes culture, events, consciousness and identity and the lessons which it offers to our understanding of present and future; and geographical study of location, other people, other places and human interdependence, locally, nationally, and globally. Like the arts, this subject seeks to give children an understanding of:

  • Who they are,
  • Change and continuity,
  • Cause and effect,
  • Why society is arranged as it is,
  • The interaction between humankind and the physical environment.

In opening up children’s understanding of these matters the subject may range beyond the boundaries of what is conventionally included – for example Forest Schooling, which can make up a school’s curriculum.

Place and Time not only provides links to other curriculum areas but lies at the heart of the children’s everyday lives, showing how the past can impact upon the present and ultimately, the future. The subject aims to equip children with the basic skills required to be confident and capable members of the community, as well as to appreciate the importance of the role they play in respecting and preserving the society they are a part of. Lastly, ‘Place & Time’ provides a platform from which children can communicate their ideas and query the existing world around them. For many, Place & Time will be the first time that ‘big questions’ about the world have been asked and is an opportunity for such questions to be debated and philosophised.

The approach to history is for children to know that things have not always been as they are now, and by implication that they need not remain the same in the future. This is the teaching of Impermanence in its clearest form. They will also learn of some of the best examples of wisdom that have taken place in history and learn from these historical examples. Children, through history, also come to recognise that whilst many things have changed and will continue to change there is a degree of Interdependence with the past; that of seeing connections between what happens in the modern day and how things were done in the past; including the principle of cause and effect (Karma); particularly through local study. Through the discipline of social history and the interpretation of primary resources children can practise empathy, compassion, morality and patience. With a better understanding of primary resources they also practise treating things with care and doing no harm. 

The study of human geography emphasises the interdependence of people across the planet. The children learn about how other children in the world live and about the sufferings that occur. They learn to appreciate how fortunate they are to live in a stable affluent society. Physical geography encompasses valuing nature, conservation and recognising threats to our world. Studying the rainforest inspires children to raise money for a conservation project, and charity work on a local and global scale should be encouraged. Understanding and possible application of the 10 One Planet principles should also be encouraged and central to both local and global human geography study.

Mindfulness, The Teaching Of PE & Competition. Can it work?

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Let us begin by establishing that PE should be renamed ‘physical & emotional health education‘. Teachers care deeply about the emotional health of their pupils but until the policy makers make it a priority schools can only do so much.

Physical & emotional health education would deal with the handling of human emotions and relationships and with the human body – its development and health, together with the skills of co-ordination and team-work acquired through a combination of sport, exercise and mindfulness practices.

It is vital that the significance of this configuration be properly understood. I believe that it makes pastoral as well as educational sense to group together physical and emotional health and indeed for it to be named a mandatory component of a school’s curriculum.

I’m convinced that through emotional health we promote conflict resolution, change from within, loving kindness, compassion, community building and the concept of interdependence.

Schools should continue to provide inter-class & inter-school tournaments which provide every child with the opportunity to compete. PE, like any other curriculum area is differentiated to cater for all abilities ensuring that all children gain a positive experience from their learning.

Complementing this physical learning will be the theory, knowledge and understanding of our body and what makes us healthy. A close link to ‘Citizenship and Ethics’ would help develop children’s emotional literacy… I’ll explain;

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Sport is one of the most mindful activities anyone can undertake. When a person is playing sport they are in the moment. Being competitive is part of our nature and can be seen as positive if viewed through the eyes of interconnectedness. Children want to work hard and play well for each other. Working hard shows how using right effort, loving-speech and right action can help us reach our full potential. Playing for a team and showing effort is what should bring us pleasure as much as winning.

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Losing provides us with valuable lessons in accepting the suffering which can come with this. How best to deal with those feelings is an important part of why we continue to take part in competitive sport with children. We should give children the skills on how to deal with this using mindfulness practices. 

Many sportspeople discuss the fact that their favourite part of playing is providing the platform for others to express themselves on the field. Defending well so other players have a chance to express themselves and create opportunities for their peers requires right effort, speech, action and mindfulness. The key thing we want children to take away from playing competitive sport at school is that of the community and teams working hard for each-other. We want to encourage loving-speech to be used when children see their peers, regardless of ability, putting in right-effort. In turn this will encourage children to see their peers as a place of refuge for when they are playing poorly, making mistakes or are disappointed by the result.