The best school curriculum for a peaceful world

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The topic of schools, schooling, and education is one that frequently comes up. The reason is simple: education is of the utmost importance and many agree that our school systems do not always provide the best environment for learning. The whole structure is unnatural (large same age groups with one adult) and forces kids and adults (the teachers) into a strait jacket that might fit some, but many it doesn’t.

There have been educators who try to fight for better educational concepts, better schools, for approaches to education that consider the psychological and cognitive nature of humans. For concepts that cater better to our minds: our brain’s fascinating capability to figure things out, to recognize patterns, to be curious about our surroundings – and enjoy the whole process.

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk is always a good place to go to. For many, many years Ken Robinson fought for an overhaul of what he describes as the educational system of the industrial age.

Recently I listened to Ricardo Semler’s educational concepts practiced in a school he created with like-minded followers called Lumiar.

What Ken Robinson describes and Ricardo Semler created makes so much more sense than our traditional schools. However, it seems our school system is extremely rigid and so ingrained in a culture driven by an economical structure of material preference – and thus resistant to change. Governments refuse to put more money into something many consider one of the most important institutions of our societies. (That it is an institution might be part of the problem, but that is a different discussion.)

Lately I have been practicing Dancing in the Moonlight on the guitar. I completely fell for Toploader’s version and the video they created for that song. And I keep thinking what it is that has taken hold of me so strongly. Afterall, it seems, it’s just a bunch of halloween monsters dancing in a grave yard. And what does this have to do with the topic of education?

I started thinking that to me the video is much more than a bunch of supernatural creatures awkwardly dancing around in the moonlight. If you check the background to the original song by Sherman Kelly, you might get a feeling for the significance of this song. I certainly did. Sherman Kelly wrote it after being attacked and badly injured by a gang that later was responsible for several murders. (The socio-political background to these violent acts are the topic of a different kind.)

In his song, Sherman Kelly envisioned, as it says in the wikipedia entry, an alternate reality: The dream of a peaceful and joyful celebration of life.

Toploader changed the lyrics slightly, but the spirit of the original is still there.The idea for the video might have derived from the lines:

Everybody here is out of sight, they don’t bark and they don’t bite.

A diverse group of fictional characters of the monster category – werewolves and zombies among them – and a larger group of skeletons are all dancing in a graveyard at night in bright moonlight. In their original respective stories, the ‘monsters’ are deemed vicious and violent, and responsible for many skeletons. But here, in this graveyard, they are all dancing in harmony together in the moonlight. What is it that unites them all, what brings them together in peaceful joy of ‘life’?

Which brings me back to ‘education’. I believe in the need of a complete overhaul of our school system and the traditional subjects prioritized. For one thing, any focus on facts needs to go. Facts change in every field. We need to understand how ‘facts’ are created, how researchers and scientist come about there findings, how they derive ‘certainty’, but how even the most certain ‘facts’, or what is believed to be undeniably true, changes over time. All ‘facts’ are transitory.

Some ‘knowledge’ seems more stabil. Models and structures you find, for instance, in language, mathematics, and music. Patterns we (humans) discovered or created. They too have a history of development and creation, can change and are not universal.

What I find of utmost importance is an honest approach to conveying the transitional nature of facts and the model character of knowledge systems. Teach, or rather show and reveal how systems and structures in math and music, for instance, are bound to culture and how different cultures can have different models. In addition, be honest about histories, show how biased they are, and have fun fantasizing about how things could have developed differently if the respective protagonists in our history books had been different persons and had made different decisions. Reveal the interests and the fictions behind all ‘history’. (See James W. Loewen’s Lies my History Teacher Told Me. 1995, 2007)

There is no universal truth to be tested in exams. In fact, get rid of grades and tests and let young people explore. (Also see Grades versus Learning). Keep it loose and keep it tight – give everybody a tool box of learning to figure out different kinds of ‘knowledge’ on their own.

And this brings me back to Dancing in the Moonlight. Many, if not most, schools prioritze the same subjects: languages and math, a little science and history, and if we have the teachers and the time left, we might offer a few art, and/or music lessons.

But what brings people together, what makes them forget their differences and just have a good time together? It is the arts and music, the step-child of public school education. And if you approach the subject from all possible angles, you also learn about patterns, and histories, and storytelling, and all the things that make us human.

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