The Ecologist, September 2008

Reproduced here with kind permission from the author,  Nick Nettles

FULL ARTICLE click to view .pdf

Excerpt from above article:  ROBOTIC CHILDREN

Our conveyor-belt education system is geared towards the production of clones and parrots, not imaginative, creative and curious human beings. Is it any wonder our children are stressed and unhappy?

According to lobby group Leave Them Kids Alone, upwards of 3,500 UK schools are fingerprinting their students, with biometric equipment bought from two Department for Children, Schools and Families-approved suppliers.

Could there be a more frightening motif for our brave new world of order and control?

It's true that this equipment is, ostensibly, being used for computerised class registers and libraries, in order to ease the bureaucratic headache of many schools. True, too, that the Information Commissioner has issued guidelines that parental consent should be obtained, and records removed by a data-cleansing service When a child leaves the school. But that really is not the point.

The trend speaks volumes about our mechanised approach to Our children in an education system created in the image of the Industrial Revolution and still maintained today, in service of keeping the cogs in the global economy turning. Perhaps it is time to update the old adage that a child is not a vessel waiting to be filled, but a lamp to be lit. In today's educational climate, perhaps we need to see children not simply as units to be processed and counted, but instead as future citizens to be empowered to address boldly the legacy of problems -- environmental, social and economic -- they will inevitably face as adults.

Although businesses today urgently need people who can cope with and contribute to the breathless rate of economic, technological and ecological change, Sir Ken Robinson, author of Out Of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, thinks that schools are failing adequately to equip children with the qualities they need to do so.

'There is another crisis today in addition to the climate crisis,' he says. 'It's a crisis of human resources, and in particular a failure to tap the full potential of human creativity and imagination. There are major problems facing all organisations in recruiting and retaining people with creative abilities, powers of communication and adaptability. Although young people have these qualities in abundance, by the time they emerge from formal education many of them do not.'

Revealing research shows that young people lose their ability to think in 'divergent or non-linear ways' as they get older. Divergent thinking is defined by the ability to generate many, or more complex or complicated, ideas from an original idea, and then to elaborate upon those ideas. It is a key component of creativity.

More than a decade ago, in their book Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, George Land, a world-renowned general systems scientist, and Beth Jarman recorded research on divergent thinking that they had carried out over a series of years.

Of 1,600 children, aged three to five, who were tested, 98 per cent showed they could think in divergent ways. By the time they were aged eight to 10, 32 per cent could think divergently. When the same test was applied to children aged 13 to 15 years old, only 10 per cent could think in this way. And when the test was used on 200,000 25-year-olds, only 2 per cent could think divergently.

The reason for this, according to Guy Claxton, professor of Learning Science at Bristol University and author of What's the Point of School? (published this month by Oneworld), is that school is -- at worst -- a protracted apprenticeship in passivity, uncritical thought and recapitulation.

'You can get good results by spoon-feeding, but you don't get creative, independent minds,' he says. 'There's no evidence that learning to solve simultaneous equations prepares you for the uncertainty and difficulty of real life. But we blunder on in the vain hope that somehow it will.'

Indeed, if we are to believe the media reports of teenage gangs, binge-drinking, drug-taking and pregnancy, children have enough problems dealing with the present, let alone the harsh reality they may face in the future.

'Many young people today are exhibiting the signs of stress, which they act out in destructive and/or self-destructive ways,' says Claxton. 'People "do" stress when they don't feel they have the resources to meet the demands of an uncertain world; but instead of school helping youngsters to develop those resources, like a vicious circle they increasingly see education as yet another set of demands they have to meet.'

Clearly; to create leaders and managers to steer the business community in the right direction is not the only purpose of schools, but as Maurice Holt, emeritus professor of Education at the University of Colorado at Denver, says in his 2002 article, 'It's time to start the Slow School Movement', the purpose of education should essentially be about equipping children with the ability to act responsibly in a complex society.

Richard Gerver, an award-winning primary school headmaster at Grange Primary School, Derbyshire, agrees. 'We have to re-engage with the essential purpose of education and question its underlying moral imperative,' she says. 'We have to move beyond framing the discussion as a matter of how many exams a child has, and ask the question, "what will our children be like as people, as human beings, when they leave school?" -- and having established that, what to do in the process of education to achieve that:

Obviously, it is important not dismiss the value of the verbal and mathematical reasoning central to academic life today. As key drivers of the Industrial Revolution, one can argue that their benefits to society to date have been immeasurable. By the same token, it is arguable that we won't work out how to solve the environmental costs of the Industrial Revolution if we continue to equate these faculties with the totality of human intelligence.

As an index of human potential, current leading-edge research into the brain points towards a far more diverse, human intelligence than previously suggested by the notion of the intelligence quotient (IQ). American psychologist Howard Gardner's multiple-intelligence theory, for example, broadens the concept of intelligence to acknowledge behaviours and skills that would otherwise be called 'abilities', as reflective of the different ways people think and learn. His schematic of eight different types of intelligence includes naturalistic intelligence (nurturing and relating to information in one's natural surroundings) and bodily-kinesthetic (the intelligence deployed in activities that utilise movement: sport, dance, acting, building and making things). Hardly the stuff that will get you into Mensa.

If we want to create an education system that creates citizens whose curiosity extends beyond the next episode of their favourite TV soap, however, and who aspire instead to be creative, intelligent guardians of the Earth, then it's arguable that a more diverse, child-centred education, including a central role for subjects that nurture nonlinear, creative thinking, is essential.…