Could do better: why we must set young minds free

Back to the chalk-faceIn the same week that my 16 year old son began assessing his options for subjects and sixth form colleges for next year, his 11 year old brother made a bold but flawed attempt to bunk off school, managing to duck away from the school bus and secrete himself in the local churchyard with his packed lunch and a plan to sit out the day under a bush.

The closeness of the school community and his older brother’s vigilance meant that his absence was spotted and reported within an hour; to his chagrin he was back in school for second lesson. But there were insights to be taken from this traumatic, if brief experience.

His school – despite being one of the most supportive and admired in the region — has not been designed for bringing out the full potential of free spirits like his. Where his older brother, less affronted by the regimented timetable, lengthy rulebook and variability of lesson quality, has been able to deploy a philosophical distance at moments of cognitive and emotional dissonance, our second born is less malleable: inherently, psychically allergic, it seems, to the indignities of the machine.

Yet, lurking under those well-honed adaptations, the first-born too has inner conflicts to negotiate. He is quietly nonplussed by the prospects he faces for further education and finds himself asking, rather than which subjects, why subjects?

Finding meaning
As a family we are well versed in the factors conspiring to make the past not what they told us and the future not what it was. So what, we wonder, as an academically inclined, creative and inventive lad, should he (or any young person) study now? How should he lay plans for a life-path into a future characterised by ecological disintegration and loss, and by sporadic, violent societal convulsions as the sickening realisation that our species has conspired to destroy its own habitat sinks in?

What line should he follow in order to gain skills and knowledge that might facilitate some meaningful contribution to this world-on-the-brink, while keeping himself fed, housed, possibly even happy?

There are a surprising number of quality, top-rated higher education facilities in our rural part of the country. An arts college caters to the musically, dramatically and artistically inclined. A technical college offers all imaginable apprenticeships in practical skills. Two sixth form colleges promise quality teaching of a range of subjects to A level, enabling the academically inclined to get into the most demanding of universities.

Dazzled by the range and professionalism on display it is easy to feel privileged, spoilt for choice. In many ways we are. But a sideways look reveals something of an illusion. The apprenticeships are unashamedly geared to vocations in the “industrial world” – a world that depends on cheap energy, lax pollution legislation, an abundant, never-ending supply of minerals and fresh water, and an infinitely large landfill hole in which to dump billions of toxic, obsolete products each year.

All of the preceding things are in diminishing supply. The model cannot and will not remain buoyant for much longer. Even if it offers careers in the short term, the long-term is considerably more shaky, to say nothing of soul-destroying: where is the satisfaction in working for the pointless, hopeless goal of contributing to consumption rates until the planet can’t take it any more?

The arts courses offer impressive options for creative self-expression but, as they are described, no hint of the corporate stranglehold to which such creativity must succumb if it is to manifest a half decent income.

As for the A levels … well, they are the same as they ever were. Jam-packed intensives in single-subject assimilation and regurgitation, their basis a model of the world in which west is implicitly best, analysis comes from dissection and comparison, proof of competence comes from feats of memory, and modernity and growth go largely unchallenged.

Theatre of interviews
With impressions of these experiences still lingering, the day came for my annual voluntary stint as a fake interviewer of our school’s year 11 students, to help prepare them for a future of ascension by inquisition.

As ever I was impressed by my young interviewees’ energy, determination and enthusiasm; but, as ever, the experience felt like an exercise in make-believe. The unstated assumption is that the conveyor belts are all working fine, and a cheerfully unquestioning outlook of hard work and compliance will bring fulfilling working lives for all.

In all the discussions about ambitions, interests and passions I heard no reference to the existence of the natural world, let alone its faltering health, upon which our own is contingent, nor the work that must be done to prevent what’s left of it vaporising into desert or drowning in toxic sea-water. Not a single young person out of the dozen I spoke with had an interest in ecology, forests, conservation or the environment nor any aspiration towards work in anything green or socially aware.Computers in a Northampton School

But is it that surprising really? They have been railroaded by a national curriculum for the last 12 years into thinking in terms of subjects, tests and results. In preparation for the next stage they have seen leaflets and websites about pre-existing job slots, targets for which they must take steady aim if success is to be assured.

The technically inclined, for example, of which my older son is one, are pointed towards categories right within the machinery of the capitalist curriculum: industrial product design; consumer electronics; manufacturing optimisation; military systems.

And of course, the young people knew what they would be asked in their interviews and are well versed in the responses that gain the approval of authority. The state of the world was never on the agenda. They played their part. I admit it: I played mine too.

Of course this is not the whole enchilada. Some of them will be sitting on a latent energy, a well-head of curiosity, a rebellious streak, or a spark for justice that would never be revealed in that constrained setting and that could see them careering wildly and unpredictably off the edge of all the tick-box charts in the book.

Many may consider, at some future point, the impact of their work, and try to use their talents for good. For the curious, there are avenues to explore: alternative careers fairs; an Ethical Careers Guide, which I was proud to help edit some years ago for Scientists for Global Responsibility; or environmental job listings like this one.

Could do better
They are good starting places for some, but others might be led by them into incapacitating keep-nets that absorb their energy for change and deflect their rightful anger. Being grateful for having one of the least bad jobs in a system of accelerating destruction and inequity is neither individually nor societally empowering.

These options are not good enough.

It is time all young people knew this: the work of our time is the work of reconnection, regeneration, restoration and reconciliation. Their talents and open minds, their unselfconscious creativity and determination are all desperately required.

Their ideas, stories, music, art, calculations and innovations and general lack of preconceptions are urgently needed for the creation of the alternative cultural, economic, social and governance systems that will support this restorative work of our time.

The young people of today who wish to transcend the machines of destruction have a greater calling than merely competing for the handful of internships in ethical NGOs. They must demand a groundswell of restorative opportunities, and go on to build the systems and networks that will create more of these, for the sake of their own future. They must organise and — in some way not delimited by my own dated vocabulary — get political — and fast.

This exhortation is the culmination of the concerns that obsessed me in an earlier post here — concerns about the nature of work, about the future for young people, and about the sharp contrast between the worst case conflation of these two factors and the very best.

RegenerativeEducation282For a while I nursed an urge to help create the desirable opportunities myself, but realised that the process would be long and demanding and would require skills that did not overlap much with my areas of strength.

My working title for the project was Life’s Work, a cheesy pun on the work of the young people and life working through them. I realised late in the day it would in fact be describing my own life’s work — a worthwhile use of a life, for sure, but others can do this faster, together, and it makes sense that those others should be the young people themselves.

On the case already
I applaud those already on the case. They include events to “build youth and student power for a new economy“; the UK Youth Climate Coalition; an initiative to train the next generation’s leaders in systemic change; the Generation Waking Up campaign; the Global Youth Forum and Generation Alpha.

They are promising seeds that deserve to thrive and spread their DNA far and wide. If they can form an ecosystem of fresh initiatives, which cooperates and evolves to bring about a system reset, there’s a chance at least that the better aspects of humanity and some proportion of Earth’s living communities make it through the storm.

That vision keeps me looking ahead; without it I struggle. I see little hope that the older generations in power now will change how things work. There is too much vested interest, too much pre-programming, too much psychological damage and too much fear.

Those with the least to lose, the disaffected and disenfranchised younger generations, will be the ones who turn things around. It is crucial that enough of them have the knowledge, vision and confidence to do this constructively from the outset.

I want them to know, before they get strapped into debt and career ladders and blinded by business bullshit, that the world out there is theirs and that they must grasp it. I want their mentors and parents and sponsors to know that the critical mission these young people are about to undertake will be made considerably easier if they could have a more appropriate education than the one they are getting.

If I were a teacher, I’d want to correct for their years of training in how to take things apart by teaching them how to put them together again.

sunleafI’d want to discuss the forces between the particles, the energy shared within systems, the love between people, the dynamism and exchange of life cycles and ecosystems.

I’d want to expound on the synergies that come from connections within communities; and then on the connections between communities and the land that supports them. On belonging. On feeling.

On the bridges and reconciliations that counter the borders and wars, the healing that corrects for the damage, the ways in which we can participate instead of expropriate.

The way in which fulfilment is found when you collaborate with others to play a part in something bigger than you and longer than now — rather than in receiving awards for outstanding achievement that set you apart from your peers. I’d want them to absorb and believe that when things come together, beauty happens.

Transition engineering?
It is astonishing and cowardly that we still don’t properly educate our young people about the changes underway and the options for dealing with them. There is relevant expertise in a variety of areas just waiting to be passed on: low energy living, soil restoration, carbon-neutral agriculture, zero carbon building, alternative economics, global systems science, permaculture, earth law, rewilding, conflict resolution.

Where then are the apprenticeships in post-peak skills? The A levels in ecological restoration and ecological economics? The sociology focus on communities and co-operative economies? The literature and history studies on cultural transformations? The training in transition engineering?

Of course, those fields funnel neither money nor power up the hierarchies, and so are seen by establishment policy-makers, drenched in conservative values, as counter-productive or subversive. But to hell with them. With a different aspirational model and a different economic one, the system could change quickly.

“How ridiculous!” retort the pragmatists. “That would entail resetting the global economic system so that young people are largely employed in locally-focused, eco-restorative livelihoods!” Yes, it’s ridiculous. And yes it must happen. For the start-up investment, look no further than existing subsidies.

The world’s governments currently spend $500 billion a year subsidising the fossil fuel industry; more than $486 billion a year subsiding industrial agriculture; and $1.7 trillion a year on war. Diverting just 10% of the amounts currently subsidising the enterprises of death into life-restoring equivalents would enable a generation of change agents to be trained and employed in work with a genuine life purpose.

Time is short
P1070026I read somewhere, although cannot find the source, that Martin Luther King (perhaps it was Malcolm X) described the young people of today as the revolutionaries of tomorrow. Quite frankly, they need to be, or they will not survive.

This is not a romantic fantasy or over-dramatised scare story. We need an earth revolution. Time is short and the young must be at the forefront. I hope these words spread far enough that they might provide encouragement and fortitude to those who are ready.

I hope also to encourage mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, teachers, educational foundations, policy makers and even careers advisors to help spring-board these new change-makers into their own future, even if we don’t understand it or them; and to help them in their preparations by demanding and facilitating the education they require. After all, it is not our future to withhold.

I have no plan in mind here – not even a petition. But I sense the energy is there already; all I can hope to do is add to it, push it along a little. Despite the odds and the urgency I retain faith in the next generations’ capacity for what is needed.

My youngest son sat under the bush with his lunchbox that rainy morning because he knew what the alternative meant.

I didn’t need to tell him that school is a factory; he knows that. He knows how it feels to have to ask permission to move. He knows that much of the natural world is dying. He knows that his teachers can’t see what he sees. He understands that they are no longer aware of the bars behind which they go through the motions. He indulges them in their world.

His childhood is not their childhood. Unlike many kids, my son knows all this consciously and can articulate it. His adjustment to high school could well be slow and difficult. I pray that it is incomplete.

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39 comments

  1. Reblogged this on janetthomas and commented:
    It is time all young people knew this: the work of our time is the work of reconnection, regeneration, restoration and reconciliation. Their talents and open minds, their unselfconscious creativity and determination are all desperately required.

    Their ideas, stories, music, art, calculations and innovations and general lack of preconceptions are urgently needed for the creation of the alternative cultural, economic, social and governance systems that will support this restorative work of our time.

    The young people of today who wish to transcend the machines of destruction have a greater calling than merely competing for the handful of internships in ethical NGOs. They must demand a groundswell of restorative opportunities, and go on to build the systems and networks that will create more of these, for the sake of their own future. They must organise and — in some way not delimited by my own dated vocabulary — get political — and fast.

  2. As one of those young rebels, now 74, and having raised a few young rebels, I’d like to pass on the question I couldn’t answer, and that I don’t think you have answered above:

    “Why do I have to be the one making the world a better place, at the cost of my own freedom to conform, to associate, to live in society?”

    I say this because associations of the “free” (in the sense you imply and describe) most often do not live up to the psychological fulfillment that society offers in its trinket shop.

    It’s very easy to assign low values to society’s rewards, but as you note, people vary in how well they accept those rewards.

    And the bad axiom that we well escape the future after we’ve laid such good groundwork for it, well…

  3. Thanks for this powerful and obviously heartfelt piece, Vanessa. It may be that Naomi Klein’s new book sets out the kid of societal re-engineering that is needed (although I haven’t read it yet). I’m struck by the apparent scale and entrenchedness of people’s not seeing / denying the issues. There’s also a real challenge to doing the right / different thing while living in the world of mortgages, property, jobs and money. Part of the solution may rest on people being encouraged / helped to start their own businesses and initiatives, rather than wanting the mainstream to change.

  4. This piece could easily have been written 25 years ago. What makes the current generation of youth able to change the world when mine evidently wasn’t?

  5. Really excellent, thanks for this Vanessa. Have been sharing it around and glad to see others have picked up on it too.

    Where then are the apprenticeships in post-peak skills? The A levels in ecological restoration and ecological economics? The sociology focus on communities and co-operative economies? The literature and history studies on cultural transformations? The training in transition engineering?

    These are such telling questions. And the answer: ‘nowhere to be seen’ is just more proof that the dominant culture doesn’t give a f*&£ about mending its ways, that the institutions all feed off one another, and everything vital and alive suffers, even dies as a consequence.

    Also telling is the absence of anything to do with the natural world in your kids’ interviews. Deeply concerning, but not all that surprising given how their participation in the other-than-human world has been deeply curtailed in recent decades (see: The Last of the Monsters With Iron Teeth‘). They reflect the values they’ve been taught, don’t they? We’ve got a fight on our hands if we’re going to compete with the dominant culture’s monopoly on their perception, compounded by the reward system in place for those who accept & internalise its mythology.

    Seems to me there’s a necessity to build a kind of solidarity with the kids facing this onslaught, based on empathy with their experiences and a willingness to remember and validate our own, from the deep (or not so deep) past. I wonder: what do you think of sharing this kind of analysis directly with children? Have you done so with your two, may I ask, and what was the result? I learned some bitter lessons back in school and higher ed about how the various authority figures were liable to all band together over certain issues, and present a united front against me, making use of information I thought I’d given in confidence which they’d clearly discussed among one another behind my back. My parents most often sided with them, so what chance did I have? To win battles you need allies, which means people you can trust, which in turn means people who have a proven track record of providing support in difficult situations. I don’t think the kids can do all this on their own without organised, reliable support from sympathetic adults.

    Thanks again for the great article!

    best,
    I

  6. Among those mainstream and destructive mythologies are all the religions and arbitrary mythologies, many of which are “protected” by political correctness, like democracy and equal abilities and relations with instinct. Women and men are different!.

  7. Hi ormondotvos and thanks for your comment. I’m glad there’s rebellion in your family :). Your question is a good one; I suspect the issue has dampened many a spark for change over the years. There does need to be some sort of tipping point – a more widespread and consciously-acknowledged understanding that the material goodies don’t compensate for the psychological and physical damage that the pressure of relentless, soul-destroying work inflicts, and that the freedoms to conform are often not freedoms at all – if change-makers are not to feel out on a limb. But looking at the rapidly diminishing material compensations available to younger generations now, as well as their growing awareness that they are inheriting a polluted, bankrupt world, it is hard to imagine that tipping point won’t come. What form it will take will depend on their awareness of the possibilities. I try (or choose) not to predict beyond that point …

  8. Hi Steve, a pleasure and thank you for your comment. I see the entrenchedness too, of course, and absolutely take your point about the pressures and requirements of being embedded in and dependent on the economic system we have; in fact have blogged about this one way or another several times. I’m not sure of the solution but agree that encouraging independent projects and livelihoods is a good start. I don’t think these are enough, however (as I’m sure you don’t either), especially if those initiatives rely on standard models of property, ownership, patronage, or whatever. There are alternatives, as we know. I would like to see awareness of these spreading, and ideally introduced at an early age – while acknowledging the herculean challenge of achieving this across mainstream society/education. I simply felt the need to articulate the need :). Who knows what happens, in some unknown future on unknown lands, once seeds are sown by hopeful hands. (That just came out – apologies for the rhyme!)

  9. Hello Miss Nisbett, and thanks for your comment. We corresponded by email but I will copy my thoughts here too. You’re right of course that the issues aren’t new. Your question presents a good challenge and I don’t pretend to have the answer. My article doesn’t attempt to assess the chances of the current young generation in that respect though, nor to compare them with previous. Its emphasis is on the imperative. However I believe there are some differences today. For example, 25 years ago there was nothing like today’s awareness of the ecological destruction and climate disruption that we are causing, let alone of the link between these impacts and economics. 25 years ago young people weren’t connected through the internet and able to inform themselves and organise via social media. I could probably think of more; perhaps you might also find reasons that it’s the same as it ever was. Either way, my preference is to focus on the call for change – for whatever good might come of it.

  10. Hi Ian,
    Thank you for your appreciative words, and especially for this excellent addition to the discussion. I’ve saved responding to your comment to have a look at the link and ruminate on your thoughts. “The Last of the Monsters …” is absolutely fascinating, if not rather saddening; to think of that children’s cultures once vibrant, place-based and passionate, now relegated to an online world of fantasy, albeit retaining certain characteristics of their earlier forms. You’re right that we’ve got a fight on our hands. Perhaps the best place to fight it is in that virtual world, but who is going to “gamify” a lesson in cultural reprogramming?! Can’t see any profit in it, somehow…

    Yes, absolutely agree about the necessity to build solidarity with those more questioning kids. I have had some sort of network, or publication, or video series long in the planning to do just this; I can’t seem to take steps to make it real because I’m not confident about the way in or the most useful approach. (This article was in some ways an attempt to get those urges off my chest. Perhaps it will come to something, in the end.)

    I’ve certainly had conversations, very productive and valuable ones, both ways, with my boys. In fact they are an ongoing part of family life. The older one has become a fan of Derrick Jensen and Daniel Quinn. He finds the overculture amusing. The younger, feistier one is also well immunised, and considerably less tolerant of the nonsense. I feel (hope) that the explicit acknowledgement of the veneers will help them navigate their future paths – including hostile experiences like those of your childhood. How terribly betrayed you must have felt – talk about a voice in the wilderness – especially hard to bear as a child. But kudos to you for being so acutely aware at an early age and for speaking out.

    Thanks so much again for your thoughtful comment. Your belief in the value to young people of reliable support from sympathetic adults has revived something of my earlier thinking. Perhaps we can chat more by email at some point. All the best, V.

  11. Ah, Vanessa, how I have missed your wonderful, pithy words! Your turns of phrase always hits the nail on the head. 🙂

    My reaction is… anger. Anger at how the machine just keeps on grinding the young people down, and then another generation comes, and nothing has changed. Expecting anything from the system… seems a dead end.

    Why not act yourself, and give your son the gift of unschooling? I remember reading a wonderful book years ago, I think it was called Teenage Liberation Handbook or some such. I felt heartsick nobody had the sense to think along those lines when I was a kid and going through my own travails born of the excess of schooling. The woundedness persisted with me, I could not handle college, and it was many years before I was born again as a confident self-learner. Once I transitioned, going back to school was (relatively) enjoyable.

    Now, past more years than I care to count, I am looking into moving back to Europe and teaching English as a foreign language. As I am skirting the edges of the field, I am absolutely flabbergasted to see the same crap, same boring, stilted textbooks and methods, as when I was a kid struggling to learn German, English, Latin and well, yes, Russian. SAME identical crap! This can mean only one thing. The system is geared to produce such results. It thrives on damaging people. As an old friend once said, if a system produces the same results over a long period of time, then those results are in accordance with how the system is designed, and any talk of improvements is a way to cover up.

    I hope, for your sons’ sake, you find a way to help them. Like Ian says, they can’t do it without elder allies. It’s too much. (Hug.)

  12. A delight to hear from you Vera and thank you so much for your comment and kind words. It is deeply frustrating – and insulting, actually, to humanity – that the system prevails and continues to stifle creativity and imaginative thinking, especially in regard to our options for the future. I agree with you that it’s likely working just fine – producing the results its proponents are after – but I’m not so sure that they recognise how worthless are many of those results, nor the extent of the damage done and opportunities lost; more likely they see the constraints and compressions as necessary compromises in a system to which they see no structural alternative, and which has to cater for sometimes thousands of children in a single institution.

    Perhaps there are still people higher up who are into the process as a programme of pacification, as in the 19th century; it’s possible. But my feeling is that the system prevails because of a combination of a profound lack of imagination, complacency about the future, careerist self-interest and a fear of shaking things up. Looking after my own children’s interests is the easy part. Of course we’ve discussed home education, many times, and my son knows it is an option. Believe it or not, he is currently in school by choice: it is a relatively nurturing, small one and some of its staff are very creative and sensitive teachers. He gets a lot from the social side and the things it teaches well. We’ll keep a watching brief over time. I’m far more concerned with education at the generational scale, and the individual, collective and planetary opportunities and potentials that are lost by not addressing this. I don’t pretend to feel upbeat about the chances of changing it; I just wanted to flag it up as a huge barrier to change as it stands, and a massive catalyst for cultural transformation, if it could itself transform.

    Thanks again, and hug back 🙂

  13. Thanks for that Vanessa, always glad to spark you off in new (or old) directions! Some further thoughts:

    re: ‘Last of the Monsters’, fighting these battles in the virtual fantasy world is an interesting idea, though I’m not sure how you would go about that (my computer gaming only ever went so far as Mario Kart, Red Alert and solitaire). Personally I’d rather look at all the realworld stuff that has been lost and try to get some of it back somehow. This would involve major challenges to the modern fears the media/political culture has been nurturing all this time (despite falling crime rates) and the prevailing kinds of ‘helicopter parenting’ that are the result. “Hey kids, how about going to the park and climbing a tree or two?” That was one thing my parents were good at, seeing the importance of unstructured time spent outdoors, even (shock!) without adult supervision.

    I have had some sort of network, or publication, or video series long in the planning to do just this

    Ooh, sounds good! Have you been in touch with the people at EduLens (http://edulens.org)? They reblogged this article, if you didn’t know already. Maybe you could find co-conspirators there.

    Quinn and Jensen by the age of 16? You’re the coolest mum I know 🙂 Even cooler that you’re able to talk with them about it – I’ve never had an in-depth conversation with my folks about all these books I’ve been reading and the philosophy that has come about as a result. On the one hand I’ve no reason to believe they would understand – they get overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance on even trivial subjects. On the other hand I’ve come to realise that I discourage, even deny access to that stuff – as a form of self-protection but also as a kind of revenge over that lack of earlier support. That was my only successful tactic for controlling situations during childhood and adolescence: denial of access where trust was in question. Either the book stays out in the open, or I put it down out of the way with the cover facing down. (I’m slowly realising this is not a useful attitude to take forward into independent adulthood, where relationships have totally different balances of power.)

    Ahem. Didn’t quite mean to get into all that here… Yes, feelings of betrayal and anger as Vera says. Takes a while to work through, or at least make sure it’s pointing in the right directions!

    best,
    I

    PS: did you see Sunny Hundal’s brief comment on your article in response to J.Cook’s generous praise? Gave me a chuckle:

    @Jonathan_K_Cook 2) I didn’t think the blog post you linked to was particularly enlightening. He wants teaching outside the box? Fine…

    @Jonathan_K_Cook .. you may not have to like the current system. He is welcome to set his up his own school. Others may not follow though

    What a foolish thing to say…

  14. leavergirl said:

    The system is geared to produce such results. It thrives on damaging people. As an old friend once said, if a system produces the same results over a long period of time, then those results are in accordance with how the system is designed, and any talk of improvements is a way to cover up.

    Yep, that’s the way it seems. It’s the same in foreign policy where elites are described either as being entirely successful (based on false premises) or, at the liberal extreme of mainstream Acceptable Opinion, being foolish and making mistakes. The same mistakes, over and over again. Statements of humanitarian intent and deep desires to bring peace and democracy are taken at face value and nobody considers that they might be acting on different priorities, as made plain by any consultation of declassified or leaked documents.

    Dan Quinn made the point well in the context of education:

    [T]he essential point to note is that, for all your complaining, your schools are actually doing just what you actually want them to do, which is to produce workers who have no choice but to enter your economic system […] Mother Culture’s deception here is that schools exist to serve the needs of people. In fact, they exist to serve the needs of your economy. The schools turn out graduates who can’t live without jobs but who have no job skills, and this suits your economic needs perfectly. What you’re seeing at work in your schools isn’t a system defect, it’s a system requirement, and they meet that requirement with close to one hundred percent efficiency. (My Ishmael, pp.139-140)

    The system works. It’s just that most people are in deep denial about its purposes, as well as the intentions of those who continue to build and maintain it.

    cheers,
    I

  15. Hi and thanks again Ian for those interesting additions. I entirely agree that the real world is the only place offering the chance of re-establishing meaningful connections, despite my glib comment about the virtual. But yes, much cultural resistance and misinformation to overcome.

    I have indeed been in touch with EduLens (well spotted) – I think it was a three-way exchange, including Media Lens, that put them onto my piece. I would love to take some of these ideas further. I’m struggling with prioritising at the moment; after my permaculture- and storytelling-inspired sabbatical from writing I returned to the page with the sense that the twin channels of education and the media are the most promising targets for my work. I vacillated for a time between the two but have settled at last, and am about to unveil a web-based project highlighting as-yet missed opportunities for change-making within the media. I hope to find time to come back to education systems and young people; or to broaden my new thing out to include those, somehow.

    Thanks for the cool mum compliment 🙂 I feel lucky to have kids who get where I’m coming from, or at least aren’t overly susceptible to the changing fashions and shallower influences of the day (extended bouts of Minecraft notwithstanding) and so are available, mentally and emotionally, for exploring more deeply. They keep me on my toes, if anything! I guess having open-minded, curious parents does play an important part in not being stifled … that feels like the least I can do. I can only half imagine the frustrations you experienced from the lack of that.

    As for your comments on leavergirl’s observations about the system thriving on damage: yes and your examples illustrate that perfectly. I’ve thought a lot about damage recently. Not only physical, humanitarian damage but also the less visible, psychological damage, as inflicted by schools (especially private schools) and other discipline-focused institutions (including families ;)) – and the fact it all too often manifests in characteristics and behaviours that are associated with success. And so we encourage it, and because of our own damage, pass it on, as if benignly, down through the generations. I wondered at one point if the whole civilisational structure could be seen as an outpouring of emotional reactions to that damage. I mean, the cities, the churches, the mines, the internet – all scar tissue, of sorts. But that’s for another blog post perhaps!

    Denial and obscured intentions have a lot to answer for. Thanks again for your stimulating comments and feedback. (And btw I have belatedly been catching up on your blog too, and am very relieved to read your counter to the George Monbiot human nature piece, Megafauna and Misanthropy. I intend to comment properly but sometimes things take over so in case I don’t: thank you!)
    All the best, V.

    P.S. Hadn’t seen the Sunny Hundal comment until you pointed it out. Yep – he misses the point entirely. Duh.

  16. Commenting a bit late now, but I really related to this post, as with many of your thoughts on work and jobs for the coming generations. A not so recent grad, I have recently ‘hopped’ from the private sector into a sustainable development NGO. My relief at being among like-minded individuals is tempered by frustration. Frustration on so many counts! That a) even the lowest-paid, entry-level roles seem to require a masters, b) that once you are in the change is slow, so slow. c) That you are still, at the end of the day, a desk ‘warrior’. Often I think there are just no other options. Then I read this inspiring article from Orion Magazine about young professionals giving up their city jobs and becoming a second wave of ‘go back to the land’ pioneers. You can read it here: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/8356. It gave me hope that not everyone is hooked on the idea of conventional jobs. Now I just have to drum up the courage to take the plunge myself…

    As for the damaging effects of schooling, at least your son has a supportive parent! It’s easy to underestimate how beneficial that might be. I was always taught that academic excellence was the number one most valuable thing you could have. As an adult, I’ve found and still find it really hard to shake off that belief, a belief that roots you into the existing system, which also values academics at the expense of things of more substance.

  17. Great passage from a blogpost by Christine of ‘Falling into grace’ backing up my point about parent-child solidarity (a clumsy word for what it points to):

    #1 son was, well, a pain in the ass. Not for me, but for his teachers, wow. “Persistent opposition to authority” was the box checked on the form whenever he was sent home from school. Part of me was so proud because they were, as a rule, petty tyrants, unworthy of the title “teacher”, and he was a smart kid with a hungry brain that they had no interest in teaching, just ruling. But most of me was pained, oh so pained, that his schooling was so much damn trouble. And how, exactly, was I to balance the need to placate the authorities just enough that they’d leave him be, with convincing him to stop baiting them? Oh, and in the meantime, keep his love of learning alive and not betray his trust in me?

    Tricky business, and I’m not sure I did as well as I could have.

    But there was one place I learned to draw the line.

    Whenever he was in trouble, I’d be hauled in for a talking to. Yep. I may not have had any control over what he did in the classroom – not being there and all – but dammit, I was held responsible. After telling me what a “troubled boy” he was, these not-so-well-meaning authority figures would proceed to advise me on how to rear my own flesh and blood. Never mind that he gave me (comparatively) little trouble at home, especially during summer holidays (which was telling in itself). Never mind that he was wonderful to his little brother (and as a single mom that meant a lot to the stability of the family). Never mind that at home his idea of fun was doing math or reading at a level far beyond what they were allowing him to achieve in school. No sir. I was told that when he was a pleasure at home it was because I coddled him (not!). I was told that I should “withhold his privileges” in punishment for his misbehavior at school.

    Wait, excuse me?

    For one thing, we were dirt poor. His “privileges” were basically zilch. He had a guitar. I admit, at first I tried it their way and confiscated it … for about 10 minutes. The kid was stressed and frustrated to the max. I wanted him DE-stressed and calm enough to eat and sleep properly. I’m not into cruelty, and that’s what it amounted to if I punished him for something that didn’t happen on my watch. His life at school sucked big time. At home it sucked less – why would I want to destroy that for him too?

    What it came down to was that he was a very bright kid and a very bored kid, a dangerous combination for a system that specializes in the dumbing down of the kids in their charge. Who he was at school was a problem they created. Of course I wanted him to treat his teachers with respect and there were many, many kitchen table lectures to that end, but nothing I said could change the fact that they didn’t treat him with respect. I absolutely understood why he – a child, remember – reacted as he did to the very real threat to his personhood.

    Time heals (mostly) all wounds and he turned out all right, no thanks to them. But I shudder to think of all the kids who didn’t, and don’t. It is downright wrong when the parent takes the side of the teacher when the teacher is an idiot. He did have some good teachers, and when he did, I was pretty fierce with him in backing them up. Not that it helped much! He was a child and unreasonable because children are unreasonable, it’s the nature of the beast. The inconsistencies in his school life weren’t helping to tame that beast, either […]

    The whole thing is worth a read, as is the rest of her blog. Tell your friends!

    BTW great point about how the psychological damage plays out in ways exploited by the dominant culture. This especially:

    I wondered at one point if the whole civilisational structure could be seen as an outpouring of emotional reactions to that damage. I mean, the cities, the churches, the mines, the internet – all scar tissue, of sorts.

    struck me as true. But if it’s all associated with positive success what stops the trauma from reproducing itself with escalating virulence, rather than moving towards resolution & healing? A self-stoking, self-fueling fire. Difficult to know what to do…

    cheers,
    I

  18. Hi Natalie – and I”m delighted to have your comment here – apologies for the delay acknowledging it. Good to hear you’ve made the jump and are now working with like-minded people. But I do sympathise with and understand your frustration at the huge limitations of any paid work, however well-intended, that occurs within the existing system – and especially if it’s from a desk! Thanks for the pointer to the Orion article about the “farmster” movement. A fascinating and encouraging development. I agree with its subjects that food, farming and the land sit right at the intersection of so many critical things – and there’s nothing quite like getting out there and being productive, especially if you can boost soil fertility and restore biodiversity at the same time. Obviously making the $$ is the tricky part but that will come …

    Glad to have your thoughts on education and the counterbalancing value of open-minded parenting too, thank you. I too struggle to get away from my academic programming: that early conditioning is very powerful! I can only try my best not to pass it down the generations…

    All the best and thanks again, Vanessa

  19. Hi Ian and thanks for this. Yes it’s a great post, and blog – I appreciate the pointer. The parent-child solidarity thing is certainly a life- (or at least, sanity-) saver (and working well here, for the time being).

    Glad the psychological damage idea resonated. Agree totally about the Catch 22 situation that the scars of trauma are also, in our culture, the marks of success. (This ties in with the pressure to be dispassionate, to eliminate emotion from decision-making, to dismiss love as weak.) Impossible, really, to know how to unpick all that, except in small, ‘being-the-change’ ways.

  20. Reblogged this on Damn the Matrix and commented:
    THIS, is compelling essential reading for anyone with children…
    “Transition engineering?
    It is astonishing and cowardly that we still don’t properly educate our young people about the changes underway and the options for dealing with them. There is relevant expertise in a variety of areas just waiting to be passed on: low energy living, soil restoration, carbon-neutral agriculture, zero carbon building, alternative economics, global systems science, permaculture, earth law, rewilding, conflict resolution.”

  21. What a wonderful post.. First I am pleased your Son’s escapade was noticed early on and to no ill affects.. But I so concur with your views..
    Children are put under so much pressure today.. And half the things in my own opinion are not needed.. While I so agree with your paragraph here
    “It is astonishing and cowardly that we still don’t properly educate our young people about the changes underway and the options for dealing with them. There is relevant expertise in a variety of areas just waiting to be passed on: low energy living, soil restoration, carbon-neutral agriculture, zero carbon building, alternative economics, global systems science, permaculture, earth law, rewilding, conflict resolution.”..

    We should all be teaching them Earth Law..
    Many thanks… I came via Wibbles reblog..
    Blessings your way
    Sue

  22. Thank you Sue for your comment and kind words (and apologies for the delay approving them). I’m very glad this resonated with you and yes, Earth Law would be a valuable foundation for all children to learn. A curriculum that included such things seems like a world apart; an inconceivably huge shift from where we are now. But perhaps something will tilt as people wake up. I am encouraged by this project, which has just finished its crowdfunding push, and can only hope it inspires wider change. Blessings to you too. x

  23. Thank you so much for the Link.. I hope more will join in this project.. of a Generation Waking Up.. and see how we can help change the ways we have become used to Into sustainable living and encouraging conservation etc.. Many thanks I have book marked it to read further when I have a little more time..
    Many thanks for getting back to me.. I appreciate you taking the time 🙂
    Sue

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