Getting Back to Building Blocks - A Shift in Focus
I have said often enough that we need to have a different perspective toward our relationships on this Earth. Although the shift to self awareness in those relationships is not rocket science, up till now letting go of self preservation of our Egos and our attached identities has been reserved for a few. While a great many have joined the ranks in the last fifty years those in power have not. Once you have power it is really difficult to let go of it because like every ego based attachment we become identified with what we do, not very often with what we are.
So I will focus on the building blocks. What are they you ask?
Our biology dictates a great deal. How our brains and body are connected, how our biology shapes our mind which in turn colors our interpretation of all we see and experience is important to our understanding who and what we are as human beings. The formation of our identity as a person comes very quickly after we are born. this is turn begins the isolation of each of us from each other and the rest of creation. At some point in our lives we see a need for a different perspective usually brought on by great dysfunction and chaos in our inner world. The outcome of the metamorphosis to come when we finally wake up brings into the world a new human being - caring, aware, free, loving, and able to address each experience as it is and not as it should or should not be. This process releases the individual from the shackles of the past and bring the freedom and creativity to the experience of the moment, without harmful side effects.
Of course there is always a price to be paid for any serious change to our former belief systems. It is what it is a lady said to me. This means she was seeing what was in front of her not the illusion we so often create because what it is is not what we wanted. This living with what is without all the judgements about it can be disconcerting. There will always be those whose glass is half full or half empty, not so many that see a half of a glass of water.
What are our really great capabilities? Problem Solving, Language, Inventiveness, Far Sight, Imagination. Problem Solving allows us to grapple with things that are not working and make them work. language (music, mathematics, speech, writing) allows us to transfer our discoveries to the world with or without direct contact, Inventiveness and creativity gives us the ability to create something new or change what is for the better, far Sight allows us to visualize what does not presently exist and to plan for the unknown, Imagination allows us to go beyond our senses and our present circumstances to imagine and potentially create a totally new world.
Lets Begin with Problem Solving
Problem plus solution equals problem solving. Once mastered no problem is out of reach. This is slightly different than discovery which may not become apparent for years, decades or even centuries. An entire curriculum could be created at any level of education with the identifier - problem solving.
Imagine if you will a classroom. Class A is approximately 7 years old, class B is entering high school, plus or minus 14, class C is entering college, Class D is entering adulthood, class E is middle age, Class F is retired or over 60. Obviously at each stage of development and maturity the understanding of problem solving will be different. Not better or worse, just different.
Lets start with something simple. My child, 7 years old, is round and obviously over weight. He plays a lot of video games, watches a lot of TV but also does his homework (1st or 2nd grade) because he likes to read and loves asking questions. He'll grow out of it my wife says and since I work long hours I cannot manage his daily habits, snacks, and activity. Do I have a problem, do we have a problem, does he have a problem? Seems happy enough, well adjusted, too early for girls, too late to change our parental behavior. Of course I want him to be physically strong, active, play a lot, but do I? Do I see this situation as a problem that needs fixing? Does my wife? Does my child?
The first rule of problem solving is: Some one must recognize there is a problem, someone must care enough to take ownership of the problem, and when all of that has been accepted the problem solving begins. Of course when you are working for someone, they usually skip this stage and tell you there is a problem and you are responsible for getting rid of it, fixing it, solving it. Ok, I mull this over for a while, negotiate with my wife to put the monkey on her back, she hands it back to me and asks me what I am going to do about it. After all she says sweetly it takes two to raise a child and I haven't been around much. Besides you need to get closer to your son, he needs you.
By the way,we won't get into it, but this stage many times becomes difficult when all parties want to dodge the responsibility. The blame game arrives when there are other issues that need addressing, but now is not the time. Ok that is another complication in relationships that we won't get into here.
The second rule of problem solving is: Brain storming, asking questions, finding out what exactly is wrong, and of course what it looks and feels or acts like when it works correctly. For example a healthy child is active, full of energy and curiosity, pushes the limits a little bit, and just has fun. So in this case the father begins to pay attention and watches his sons attitude and behavior for a while. Many times there is an urgency that this case does not present, so a working knowledge of how it is supposed to work can often substitute for the research phase - Gathering knowledge and understanding the problem, what works, what does not work.
The third rule of problem solving is: The combined effort of planning, pursuing possible solutions, and eliminating one by one possible fixes to the problem at hand. In this case the father (me) noticed a few things. The child had friends, they played games together, watched TV together. He liked school. He asked a lot of questions and did not seem moody or disturbed. He ate breakfast, bought lunch at school and ate a good supper. He was seen to be eating snacks after dinner. The father took a trip to school one day to observe what they served at lunch, very interesting. While vegetables were available so were cheese burgers served on white bread buns, french fries, milk shakes, chocolate milk and quite a few other treats.
The father also noticed a few things about his own behavior. A drink after work, and maybe a little ice cream before bed time. Breakfast was quick or skipped and lunch was often eaten on the fly. Dinner was usually great but seconds came often.
This was one of those problems that did not fit the emergency category so the father had time to implement a few trial solutions.
The last rule of problem solving is doing something: So first, to prevent any obvious conflict the father addressed what food was available at home. The potato chips disappeared, the ice cream disappeared (except on sunday), he sat down at breakfast and asked everyone to join him (getting us earlier was part of that). He asked his wife to buy whole grain cereal and bread, more salad fixings, vegetables and skip the soft drinks (some diet was ok). He also limited their eating out and set the salt shaker off to the side.
Over time he talked to his son at their meals about what different foods did for the body and mind. Of course he was aware that his son did not want every meal to be a lecture so he just sneaked it in when he could. To make a long story short when the child became a teenager, he was playing soccer, developing muscles and running a lot. Case solved.
Problem two - The tax code: This country cashes more IOUs than anyone can imagine. Borrowing is what we do. The tax code is there to collect revenue for this country. It has a few rather odd rules that structure who pays what and for what reason. This tax code, individual and corporate (any size), pays for all the government expenses, payroll, health benefits, and retirement benefits for all who work for it. Some expenses are big, very big. The military complex, and all national Security organizations, Social security, Medicare, Medicaid. The net of all of this is the Federal and State expenses must be balanced by Federal and State revenue. Also all money borrowed must be paid back with interest. I am guessing that 3 to 4 Trillion dollars is our yearly budget, while our GDP is 13 to 15 Trillion (variable). These are big numbers. For example a circle would have to be 7 to 8 million miles in diameter to equal our GDP. a foot long brick set end to end would stretch out into space 3 Billion miles. Or, every man women and child on this planet would have to contribute 2,000 dollars a piece to match our National Gross Domestic Product.
So why can't we admit that as reasonable people we should figure out a way to match our expenses (including our debt) to our revenue and make the appropriate financial decisions when they are not balanced? I know, I just went from figuring out how to help a child become more active, eat healthy and lose weight to this complex, convoluted thing called our Tax Code. There are so many problems between these two extremes that would be easier to demonstrate the problem solving process, why touch this one.
Because it is the elephant in the room which no one will admit needs a bath.
I was having lunch with my son and a friend of his. You guessed it, the issue of a balanced budget and our presidents leadership role was brought up. When all of the dust settled, of course we did not agree on all of the issues, a few things survived that allowed us to come to common ground.
To net it out the following items were agreed upon:
* For roughly 100 years our net average cost of running the government has been 18% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
* Our current expenses for running the government is 26% of our GDP.
* Our average tax base has been 16% of our GDP
So the problem definition was: Grow the GDP, Cut Expenses 8% to match the 100 Year Average Tax revenue, and reform the Tax code to balance out the pain among all people and raise taxes 2 % to match the average cost of running things.. Pain being taxes which none of us really want even though we want a lot of stuff from the government. What that means is expenses must be trimmed 8%.
The next question became the real problem definition. Why is this not being done? Leadership!
Those that are running things, are not leading things. Why? Self Interest? Whose self interest?
Politicians want to be re-elected. Sick people cannot afford to be sick. Older people who are no longer part of the work force need support (medicine, medical help, pharmacology assistance, catastrophic health events, Economic impacts that force people out of the work force (job loss), poor people cannot afford to take care of their families, Wars and soldiers returning home have no support structure, Education (very expensive), special interest groups lobbying for their piece of the pie, wealthy people wanting to keep their wealth, corporations wanting special favors (subsidies, tax breaks, research and development incentives). And a host of others.
So lets start, one by one, suggesting how to get a grip on the thing no one has a grip on.
Create a referendum to demand term limits for all elected government employees.
Create a National ID (no this is not big brother looking over your shoulder)
Corporations are not people, are not citizens, and do not have the rights of citizens
Election finance reform (what you are allowed to spend, where the money comes from, Transparency)
Really reform the Tax Code
End the wars
Revisit and reform health care (processes, insurance, accountability, hospitals, doctors, health organizations, legal accountability).
Identify and prioritize our National Domestic Expenses.
Change the legislature process to separate national need vs local needs. All expenses must have a revenue source. No add ons to National bills.
Lobbying is restricted (who you are, who you are representing, who you are lobbying to)
Notes: How do you get our leaders to represent the people that elected them, to protect the constitution, to deal with the real problems facing our nation, our world, to honor their position of guardians of our democracy)?
One option: Elect different ones. Restrict their time in office. Demand accountability and transparency.
Option Two: Change our spending habits, change our voting patterns. Demand Election reform.
Option Three: Understand that change is difficult, that the free honey pot is not free and that we must all share the load, and the responsibility.
Option Four: Use the Internet in a responsible way to get the real problems identified, and consensus on what to do about them.
Words, in whatever language you speak, have multiple personalities. It does not matter what your message really was because the message received will be based on what I believe to be your message. Tone, body language, inflection and my understanding of each word you speak or write determines my interpretation of your message. If at any time one or more of these types of communication touches a weak spot in my wall of understanding, my emotional history could shade what you are saying as an insult, as dumb, as really smart and wise, or as caring, as hateful or as a nice warm fuzzy sense of approval. You have little control over what I interpret, unless you are really paying attention.
So language is not really the building block. It is our awareness of what we are saying with our entire body as well as our choice of words. So when we communicate, when we are in the moment and not wandering around in our heads, when we are paying attention we increase exponentially our ability to communicate what we meant to say.
Not talking a lot is not a sign of not caring, but a sign of great caring. Paying attention, focusing on the experience of the moment, allows our language ability to communicate with a measure of accuracy, what we wanted the other person to hear and understand.
What then is the building block of your new awareness? It is the understanding of all our avenues of expression, the multiple personalities of each language (word or phrase), and zoning in on what was received. This is not as difficult as I am making it sound. Most of this stuff is automatic. The real component in Language is not speaking, but listening. For if you are paying attention most conversations will not stray too far afield. And, you can correct the message if the other person heard you wrong or allowed their ego to get in the way of their understanding. Listening to others is one of the warm fuzzies we can freely give, listening to yourself makes sure what you are saying is what you meant to say.
Since language can be used for any purpose, for accomplishing any goal, for good or for not so good (self interest of a negative kind), it seems only right that we pay close attention to what we say and how we say it. While this may seems exhausting at first glance, it is not a waste of your time. It is part of being present or in the moment for the more aware you are of yourself the more fruitful your communications will be. Sabotage is what we often do when our hidden agenda eludes us and we speak without awareness. Before you know it the hole you dug for yourself cannot be easily filled in. Although politicians continuously say one thing today and the exact opposite tomorrow, conveniently ignoring their former position, most of us can't get away with such blatant contradictions in what we say. When it is appropriate to speak our minds we should do so, lies and story telling should remain with the soap operas and the more flexible politicians. If we can only remember that every word or phrase has multiple messages then we can actually choose what we say and how we say it.
Language is here for us to pass on what we know, feel, experience, discover, invent and imagine. Such a powerful tool should not be used carelessly
Imagination, inventiveness and far sight
For some people these are the easiest tools to use. We all have them to one degree or another. We imagine different lives, great loves, riches beyond measure, space exploration, the end of oil, our children happy, a bountiful existence for all life. We invent stuff to get us where our imagination takes us and we use far sight to project far into the future the results of our current behavior. It is all mixed together and for some the creativity is amazing.
Can these attributes be developed? Of course. For anyone? Yes. How one might ask? Well, the earlier the better. For one, the essential elements are curiosity, interest, paying attention, and the love of problem solving. Where do we learn these? Early on from our parents, teachers and mentors. It takes patience and a whole lot of creativity to instill these attributes in children. Those teachers who are able to, begin the process of changing the world. I am not an educator but it seems that the process of learning is not just reading, writing and arithmatic but using these basic subject to teach critical thinking, getting the children to solve real world problems, making decisions, using research tools, writing down their ideas, expressing themselves in all the paths possible, music, writing, math, science, art, speaking, physical development, health, and of course relationships. If this were really the case most children would be sparked by one or more of these and begin the process of self development.
If we really believed in "no child left behind" we would revamp our entire teaching methodology and our curriculums. We would have a requirement to teach the teachers, i.e. have them upgrade their credentials every year. The seniority system would have to go. The student measurement system would have to be changed to have different metrics to evaluate these basic building blocks. I know there are those out there that could do this. I believe that the creativity is willing and available.
The barriers? Our entrenched administrative system (seniority, admin staffing, student measurements, teacher authority, teacher measurements, where the money comes from and how it is used). How learning is evaluated, and of course removing the financial and political football that education has become.
There are those who can fight for this change but it will take a realization by the politicians, the teachers, the parents, and the Educational administrative arm that the current way of educating our children is so flawed as to be damaging to future generations.
Building Block Summary
So if we net out what capabilities we have that are the basic building blocks of a fully functioning human being, we can try to develop those while we are learning what our societies will expect from us - to speak, to listen, to read, to add, to write and to adapt to our cultures changing needs, and above all to feel a sense of responsibility for who we are and what we do, and how we do it.
Communicating, problem solving, critical thinking, and the creativity that arises when we apply ourselves to change and improve the world we live in is not all there is but from a educational and developmental point of view these are important elements to focus on.
In any subject area, problem solving, communicating, critical thinking and creativity can be focused on. Children respond most when they are called upon to participate in solving problems, applying the idea of critical thinking, and using their creativity to create new and novel approaches to the subject at hand. For example take the times tables, 0-9 and 0-9. You could say "memorize this table" or you could say "talk to me about this table, how it could be useful, what does each column and row give us, and why learn it?"
Of course I am not an educator but the above comparison shows the difference between memorizing without a purpose and understanding use of the table with a purpose. Especially when the students participate in exploring their own ideas about what it means and how useful it is. Participation is the key.
It appears teachers are trapped by the very system they work in. If we really believed in no child left behind, exploring understanding and reasons for what the child is asked to learn, brings them into the game as participants and not just objects to be taught. This strongly applies to test taking. Do we teach the test or do we teach subject matter with a purpose. Which is better that I know my times table or that I know how and why the times table is useful to me.
Teachers are our society's foundation. They teach our children not only facts and figures but more importantly why they learn, how they can apply it and how they each can teach themselves. They must have the training to teach in this manner, and, the authority and responsibility to implement novel approaches that will stimulate the children's interest , curiosity and desire to apply themselves. This is the merit system as it was meant to be, not a seniority system that rewards time and not necessarily talent and dedication. How many educators are out there that could revitalize our education but are thwarted by the administrative system that controls them, a lot. Education needs to be returned to the teachers and out of bureaucratic hands.
One or two of these building blocks requires that many things, many institutions, many facts get questioned. The "why" of it all slows things down, but the answer to the why stimulates the mind much more that "do it because I said so approach".
A Conversation with Teachers, Administrators, and Politics
Everytime I speak to a teacher to try to explore what is going on and what changes are necessary, I get the same conversation. The teachers I spoke to were very clear about what is wrong and what needs to be done. It was painful to listen to each describe the administrative trap everyone lived with and at the same time listen to the creative approaches each deep down wanted to implement.
Rules, rules and more rules. Teaching the tests. The evaluation system that actually prevented creativity. The really dismal results that "no child Left behind " is creating.
The teachers try to battle the system but they have no tools to do so. The administrators, who could join up with the teachers, are not inclined to put their jobs on the line. The barricades to change are at the state and national level. So it will take a serious networking effort to address the political influence that created and holds firm to "no child left behind".
Everyone agrees: Active participation by the student to develop Critical thinking, problem solving, Expression, Conflict resolution, and real world understanding of human development. What does that mean? It means each teacher and student facing the real world they live in. Relationships, what they are and what they mean. Growing up in the world and how to take their place in it. How to view the world in a way that permits a creative outlook. An understanding of how each subject fits into a deeper awareness of the world, its eco systems, its relationships. Guidance on each students capabilities, special skills and interests.
The teachers know what they want to do. The real issue is how to get the administrative and political leaders to back off and completely revisit the structures they have implemented. To me this is a critical need for our Nation, for our Children, for our teachers. They are all getting frustrated, discouraged and one by one will leave, to the great loss of our children and our future well being as a democratic society.