Saturday, 24 September 2011

What might the economic crisis be teaching us?

As further shock waves permeate the banking system and the Eurozone in particular, what should we be learning from the current economic crisis?  The I-Ching in the hexagram Shock says:

"The shock of continuing thunder brings fear and trembling.  The superior man is always filled with reverence at the manifestation of God; he sets his life in order and searches his heart, lest it harbour any secret opposition to the will of God."

So if the continuing thunder of the economic crisis is the manifestation of God and it is prompting us to set  our lives in order and search our heart lest it harbour any secret opposition to the will of God, what are we to infer is the will of God?  Firstly, if we understand that life is perfect (ie. paradoxically that being so imperfect it challenges us constantly to learn and evolve and in this is perfect), then this crisis is no mistake, it is exactly the black hole (cf. One Way of Looking at Man by MC Philp) we need to learn something important.  As astrologers it is easy to see the archetypes involved; the crises have followed the Pluto-Uranus square with Saturn and Mars thrown in for spice at various points over the last few years.

What seems to be happening is that we are in the death throes of the dominance of Europe as an economic and political power.  Economic power is shifting to the East.  Humbling it may be for the European economies but not surprising given the population demographics.  What are the lessons for Europe?  Firstly there is a degree of letting go and acceptance that our time is passing.  It also seems to be particularly affecting the Eurozone.  The experiment of Europe was to create a European super state which could continue to be a potent force in the world even if the individual countries might be losing their individual power and influence.  Yet the reality has been more like a parent with a collection of unruly children.  The promise of Europe was to divert funds to underdeveloped parts of the Union in order to promote growth and development across the Union.  This is laudable but like any idealistic notion it harbours the danger of "opposition to the will of God" and in typically taoist fashion, when we try to consciously impose our vision on the world, the world usually creates the opposite.  The reality of European projects has been that it has encouraged countries to spend beyond their means in order to attract European funding.  Outdated agricultural systems are propped up, unnecessary motorways and buildings built.  The result has been that like children with indulgent parents the individual member states have been spoilt and rather than benefiting they have been left in crisis.  Europe has become the parent to whom everyone turns to "put it right" and bail them out.

Having a son who is 18 I am entering on the journey of trying to help him set sail on his voyage of becoming independent.  I recognise that if I am too ruthless, he will lose confidence in himself and it could precipitate a collapse; also it might leave him with a bitterness that when I could have helped him, I did not. On the other hand if I am too supportive and indulgent and he is not given the responsibility for himself, he cannot learn and grow.  It is a difficult balance to get right - I sympathise with Europe.  Like any crisis though, it is really a prompt to growth.  We need to be in crisis for us to take the situation seriously and "set" our "life in order".  What if our idealistic notion of Europe is itself the secret opposition to the will of God?  "Do not make false idols" the Bible tell us.  My own learning has been that it is not worth entering into a power battle with Life (a more neutral term since God has many connotations and I don't really know what God is).  If Life wants something to collapse it is going to do so.  I suspect it may be the Euro currency in the same way that the previous Exchange Rate Mechanism  fell apart.  Perhaps it is a phase of learning for Europe on how to work together collectively. Or perhaps the very notion of Europe is exclusive and needs to go; since the whole world is "us" why do we need any boundaries between us, why identify with Europe more than with being human and why exclude or put up barriers to other countries?  I have always had a discomfort with clubs and religions which cause people to identify with them rather than with humanity (what Transactional Analysis calls the "I'm ok, you're ok, they're not game").  Perhaps we have simply become too attached to the notion that material objects will make us happy and we need this to lever us out of that notion?

Perhaps this is also part of the preparation, or clearing of the ground, for the new age?  Since the new age is the age of Aquarius-Leo (cf. The Golden City by MC Philp), it is something to do with the collective (Aquarius) and with identification (Leo).  I notice that in recent years it has become fashionable to talk about cultural differences between countries and how we cannot understand each other unless we are aware of these cultural differences.  I have been lucky enough in my job to work all over the world and my experience has been very different to this.  What it has confirmed to me is that culture is simply one level, like being tall, or thin but beneath that we are all human.  I notice that when people identify with cultures they separate themselves from others and create "us and them", when we identify with being a fellow human being all this drops away and we see, as the I-Ching describes it, that we are "all one in our hearts".

Certainly, we seem to be moving towards one language (English) and with the internet we are breaking down physical barriers between us.  Ironically business has been a force for good in this.  We have been beautifully manipulated by our desire to make money into breaking down barriers and becoming globally interdependent.  Our technology in terms of the internet has re-inforced this.  Perhaps our approach to the material now needs to shift and our clinging to power in Europe be conceded gracefully in letting go?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

School of the Future

Prompted by my daughter's recalcitrance, I have been considering what the school of the future might look like.  In his address to the RSA Sir Ken Robinson was pointing out that the current educational model was devised to satisfy the needs of the Industrial Revolution with a curriculum designed by age of enlightenment academic thinkers.  Indeed having read further on this, Seth Godin points out that the genesis for schools was to persuade factory workers to employ adults rather than child labour with the incentive that schools would turn out productive factory workers.  This is evident in the education of large classes of children of the same age ("batches") in rooms set out in formal lines of desks with a great emphasis on discipline and conformity.  My wife who was a state school teacher for some years was advised in her first year of teaching not to smile before Easter.  The primary focus is control.  Thus, sadly, teachers are often those who are skilled at control and value conformity.

In our current environment where there is such a wide range of new technology and jobs and where factory style jobs are increasingly automated, this mode of education looks increasingly outmoded.  Our children have access to so many creative stimuli and it seems time to move away from this conformist model to an approach to education which is centred on the child.  As I reflect, my own job as a coach in business did not exist when I was at school and my wife's as an equine therapist following natural horsemanship has only become a possibility in the last few years.  Having been the chairman of governors at a Steiner school for over ten years it is clear to me that, of schools, Steiner schools come closest to genuinely fostering an approach based on the child and believing in their potential.

Much of my own experience in career terms has been concerned with dispelling the myth, which is currently so dominant in education, that there is a boat and you can miss it.  This pervasive fear has created a system based on measuring achievement on a very narrow academic set of criteria and leaves the majority of children, who do not make it to the academic pinnacle of university professorships, feeling that they have in some way failed.  The Steiner schools seem to focus on loving children and on a belief in the inherent potential of children, everyone is special and valuable not just those few who get A grades.  The focus is not on finding a place in the world of work but rather on growing as a person with a belief this will allow the child to contribute most fully to the world and find their truest expression in it.  Critically, the Steiner schools also differentiate the children by the 4 humours or temperaments (Choleric, Phlegmatic, Sanguine and Melancholic) and so expect children to behave and learn differently.

All this is fine, but it nevertheless leaves the institution of school untouched and even the Steiner schools persist with a largely conformist model where adults know best and where discipline and the institution are both fundamental.  My daughter was a catalyst for me, because whilst my son had been blissfully happy at a Steiner school my daughter was not.  Indeed she had no desire to go to school and felt she was wasting her time.  As astrologers we had insight into her personality.  With the Sun conjunct Mars in Gemini on the descendant opposite Pluto in Sagittarius rising this was not a child who was going to tolerate having someone else having power over how she learnt.  With Chiron in the 11th house she did not like being part of a group either.  This was definitely a problem.  We had a child who was not motivated by school but was very motivated by being with horses (my wife runs an equine centre working with a wide range of autistic children and those with behavioural problems as well as adults and children who want to learn to ride).  We struggled for many years with every strategy we could think of but nothing seemed to work.  In the end my daughter said she wanted to move schools, we were open to this but warned it might not change anything.  Then my wife suggested the option of being home educated and my daughter leapt at it.  I was very nervous, I had some prejudices about home education and the social isolation.  However, since my daughter was now determined to do it, we decided to follow her and we agreed to do a half-term trial.  We knew of a tutor who could teach her French and on the advice of my friend Mario, who knew all about tutors, we decided to employ kids who had just finished school to cover other subjects.  Returning from our week's half-term holiday my wife commented that she was going to have work hard on motivating our daughter.  I was nervous about this - I did not want to replicate the role her teachers had played in trying to make her learn so I asked my wife to give it to me and said I would take responsibility.  My wife was sceptical but she agreed.  I thought about it and said to my daughter that she could design her own curriculum.  I told her it could be whatever she wanted and suddenly I began to see something I had been wrestling with since listening to Ken Robinson's talk.  At the time I had tried to envisage what a new school, a school of the future, would look like but I could not envisage it.  As I have learnt from the I-Ching, I had put it on hold to wait for further input and suddenly here it was.  As I described to my daughter that she could design her own curriculum, I suddenly saw the scope.  I realised she could do anything; dressage lessons with her horse, trips to equine centres, cooking, emotional intelligence, the I-Ching, Astrology etc. etc.  The scope was almost limitless.  My daughter went straight off and worked solidly for 45 mins, full of enthusiasm, only coming back to ask me the odd question and by the end of the time she had designed her own curriculum.  I told her to show it to her mum who was amazed that she could think of nothing to add or change.  It confirmed my belief that children are amazingly responsible if you give them responsibility.  Most of our systems assume that they are just children and we know what is best for them.

What I realised was that the obstacle to the school of the future was the institution of school itself.  If you took away school the whole thing shifted (what adult would agree to being incarcerated in an institution for at least 11 years of their life which they were legally obliged to attend, being put together in a large group of peers not of their choosing who could only be the same age and having adults who had complete power over them, capped off by having to learn what they were told to learn?).   You could allow children to build their own curriculum and share it with children across the region or country who shared their interest.  You could organise trips for kids who shared similar interests and lessons could be as long or short as you liked.  You could also have lessons with kids of different ages based on interest.  This would allow for enormous variation and creativity and could be organised on a regional basis (or whatever basis you chose - from very local to national or even international).  My friends challenged me - how would you pay for this, how would you organise it?  On the payment front, I realised that the cost of school buildings and infrastructure is a huge proportion of the cost for education.  If lessons instead took place in people's homes and in community spaces you could be far more flexible and it made children and learning far less separated from the rest of the community.  You could also put the money you saved back into providing community spaces.  It also solved a particular problem that I saw in schools, namely that the needs of the institution dominated and they unwittingly began to serve the needs of teachers rather than children.  Also, teachers become institutionalised; this way teachers served children rather than dominating them.

Others started to contribute to the idea, my friend Chrissy suggested that people in the community who were brilliant in their area could give up some time to offer to teach others about their speciality.  I realised that farms, equine centres like my wife's, cafes, businesses, community projects could become focal points.  For those children who loved to be with others in larger groups they could be with others who loved to do that, for those who wanted to dip in and out they could etc.  My friend Steve set me thinking about adults; what would be to stop there being a cross-over with adults learning together with children? I thought we could have brilliant facilitators with emotional intelligence who would help children design their curriculum and work with parents; they could also help resolve conflicts between the children and teachers and even between parents and children.

At the same time we discovered an astrology programme which gave scores against 25 headings for charts.  We all scored ourselves and the results were fascinating.  The average score was between 75 and 125 with scores 125 -150 being high and above 150 very high and scores between 50 and 75 being low and below 50 very low.  My son, who had loved his time at school scored just under 150 for his need to be part of an organisation, company or club or contribute to a group effort.  My daughter scored 1!  Not only that but she scored 138 on her need for solitude, quiet and retreat and 161 on intensity of bonding.  This was a child that did not want to be part of a large group but wanted a more intense relationship and some peace and quite.  This was great as it provided insight into what individual children might need.

This was all very exciting but how to start?  I met with my friend Mario to decide how to set this in motion.  Mario is brilliant at structuring and organisation and he questioned how we would organise it.  Thinking about this I realised that we couldn't and also I realised that that was what was backwards about school.  People had creative ideas for schools and they created these institutions and then they tried to find and fit in the kids.  So I suggested we go the other way and start with the children and let it emerge (my training with the I-Ching and my friend Chrissy had taught me not to lead but to follow).  On this basis I decided to start with the one child I had and let it build child by child.  Over the summer, a friend of ours was telling me she did not know what to do with her daughter who was a close friend of our daughter.  She did not want to go to school and stayed at home whenever she could.  She was popular and bright but did not want to be at school.  I told her about my idea for a school of the future and the school doubled to two!  We have just finished our first week as a school of two.  They are being taught by teachers who are mostly eighteen years old and full of enthusiasm - they love this but the range goes through teachers in their 30s, 40s and 60s!  The two of them are like different children.  It is very early in the project and it may only be for the benefit of my daughter and her friend - who knows?  But it has already been worth it and we will see where it goes.

Climate Change - what is really going on?

Recent developments in technology see us now getting to the point where we are enhancing the capability of the human body. We have stem cell therapy allowing us to improve on the body's ability to heal itself and bionic hands allowing some improvements over "normal" function. With pacemakers we can extend the capability of the heart and so on. It is interesting to note what has brought all this about. Without pain and suffering would we have been prompted to be so creative? Indeed, for life in general, pain and suffering has played a key role in evolution. If something hurts sufficiently, either physically or mentally, it prompts us to creativity. The larger the discomfort the greater the motivation to change or adapt. So if this pain and suffering is leading us to evolve where is it taking us?

If we are to move beyond the confines of the earth, it seems clear that we will need enhancements to the human body to allow it to survive in new environments. This is laudable but would we devote huge resources and energy to it? The great value of pain, suffering and failure is it is universally motivating. Our history shows what a remarkable prompt it has been to the global development of life. But are we now starting to play a bigger game?

What if we are part of a large laboratory experiment or even field test (much as Douglas Adams in his prescient Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy described Earth as being). If this is true, then climate change takes on a different complexion. It becomes our beautifully motivated field experiment to develop our ability to learn how to adapt new environments for successful human habitation. We are going to need this if, or as, we move beyond the earth to colonise new worlds.

When you look through this lens we appear to be being orchestrated beautifully to play this game of evolution.  Since our personal neuroses and our collective ones seem to be the key (Chiron for astrologers) to evolution, perhaps we can now evolve away from blame and dividing the world into good and bad and instead play the game more consciously  This would allow us to be less scared of change (like climate change) and not seek to blame people and get stuck in cataclysmic negativity but rather recognise it as a prompt to evolve.

In mythological or astrological terms, it is interesting to note that as we move into the age of Aquarius the climate change concerns of the old age of Pisces (and it's Virgo counterpart) with the body and the immediate environment are moving to more global concerns.  Perhaps with the age of Aquarius-Leo we are at the seed point of being able to play this game (Leo) with greater collective consciousness (Aquarius).