I came across this excerpt from the Happy Child by Steven Harrison (a speaker on human development and alternative education) and it touches soo many levels of the human condition.
In theory, it truly sounds great! I might just plunge deeper into his work to see what other theories he puts forth and what suggestions he has to implement these ideas into being. He is also the founder of www.alltogether.org and www.livingschool.org
Its a long excerpt so I’ve bolded my favourite parts for those who have been ”mediated” and as a result suffer from short attention spans like myself..
“Thought as Technology
What are we teaching our children? This is not just a question of what subjects to teach, but the need to understand the essence of the reality that we are conveying. In education, we have actively chosen the development of thinking, conceptualization, and abstraction as the most valued elements of learning. The seduction of information and intellect is so strong that we are only beginning to remember that there are qualities in life worth learning that have nothing to do with information at all. Thinking skills are not the only area worth teaching to our children, and yet this is the area that is immensely overdeveloped in our school systems. The capacity for linear thinking is easily measured, tested, and quantified as a direct result of our educational dollars.
But why are we so enamored with this one faculty of the human being that we have built our entire culture around it? Thought, after all, is only one way to understand the world, and only relatively recently has it come into vogue as the best way to do so. Yet the conceptual mind, more than any other human capacity, characterizes the structure of our society.
In the 17th century, Descartes wrestled for a long time with his difficulty in believing in thought as an accurate representation of the world. He felt that thought could be deluded, that it could be illusory; but, if so, then what was there to hang onto? This was pretty scary, so he capitulated. Thought, he decided, was probably the best thing we had to identify us and everything else. If not thought, then what? This was a great question, and since existentialism hadn’t been invented yet, it was a real showstopper. If not thought, then there really isn’t anything you can think about, and…..poof….there goes reality.
Descartes thought about this a great deal and decided he would rather exist than not. He said, “I think, therefore I am.”
And we believed him.
So, what we began to live was: “I believe, therefore I am.” We built a world based on our belief in thought and on the notion that “I am.” We built a marvelous society based on thinking and the separation of the individual thinker of those thoughts.
Now we cannot find our way out of the maze, but we cannot completely believe in the maze either. The maze of thought is interconnected, but it connects us in separation, like suburban tract home developments where we live in a community, but we don’t know our neighbors.
Evolutionary biologists suggest that thinking developed as a skill to identify food resources and strategies to acquire them. Memory developed as a means to remember where we left our food supplies and how to get back to them. Today, thought continues to design our life so that we survive. It is not so concerned that we are happy; this is not the job of thinking. Thought knows a lot about the theory of happiness, but not much about its actuality. If we are concerned that our children are happy, then they must develop their thinking capacity so they will survive, and develop a great deal more than their thinking so they can live a fulfilled life.
We live in proximity to each other in thought, but we cannot fully connect to each other in that area; too much ideology is in the way, and too much survival instinct. Something else besides our ideas connects us to each other: a quality of heart and feeling, the perception of commonality that has little to do with our education, but something to do with the qualities of relationship we have experienced with our teachers and fellow students, with our family and friends.
Thought is a great tool. It has allowed us to produce the world of technological wonder that we see around us. Thought allows us to model, predict, and manipulate the world. We can hold the world in our perceptual field or in the field of our imagination, representing it in conceptual form. We can use that model to extrapolate possibilities for the future. Using thought, we can attempt to change that future in order to minimize any danger to ourselves. We can represent all of this in language.
This mental capacity is extraordinary. We can think, model, predict and manipulate, and as a result, we will survive. Except it’s not “we” that will survive, it is “me” that will survive. This wonderful technology has a small programming bug, like an unstoppable, replicating computer virus. The glitch is “me”. The program runs really well, but what survives when all the modeling, predicting, and manipulating dust settles is not necessarily the common good.
This fragmented sense of self, growing out of unintegrated thought, uninformed by all the other dimensions of life, does not have the capacity to think holistically, but only individualistically. Our culture is built on these fragments and educates each generation from this perspective. The overemphasis on the education of thinking without regard for its integration into the whole of life is simply amplifying this tragic evolutionary wrong turn. The rugged individual will go the way of the really rugged dinosaurs if that sense of self is not mitigated by a sense of space, community, and relationship. The sense of individuality is important, vital and irreplaceable, and needs to be fostered. But that individual, as a fact of life, is in relationship to all that is in life; this realization brings wisdom, compassion, and sustainability to the separate self. The freedom of the individual need not be impeded by anything other than the deep sense of responsibility and connection that is the natural expression of the human being.
In our infatuation with the thinker - a single dimension of the spectrum of human experience - we have created a culture of selfishness that takes pride in its separation. We educate our children to compete, testing for their accomplishments and rewarding those who excel by surviving and surmounting. We reward individualism without suggesting its interrelatedness with the whole of life.
We have forgotten the limitations of the function of thought and created a psychological identification with it. Thought is a technological gizmo, and we are so much more. The individual who is only an individual is living at far less than the full capacity of the human being. Our human potential is to be uniquely, even eccentrically individual *and* in full relationship to the whole of life. But we never learned that at school. There are no tests designed to measure that. The integrated human being does not stand above all others; he stands *with* all others.
What if Descartes, facing the question of self, had realized the integral self rather than the separate self? What if he had declared, “I love, therefore I am”? What if we had believed this and built our society around the connection to each other, a society where giving, helping, and healing were valued, and the function of thought was to facilitate a compassionate life? In such a society, what would a school be like and what would it teach?
Dare we question our identification with our own knowledge? Can we find a perspective on thought that returns it to its function and recognizes its limitations? Can we find a perspective that encompasses the thinker of thought in the fact of our interconnectedness? Can we find a kind of intelligence that recognizes thought as a tool, but the whole of life as the context?
What does education become if it is broader than the concepts it teaches, broad enough to teach the whole child?”
- Steven Harrison, The Happy Child
and to end with a quote on this topic…
“Learning teaches us what is known, play makes it possible for new things to be learned.”
-David Elkin, Professor of Child Development