William Golding’s novel, The Lord of the Flies is a classic piece of literature that opens the door to profound discussion. When introducing this novel to a class, I usually direct their attention toward current social practices and ask; Is a person born evil or is evil a learnt behaviour. In a scary twist of fate, each time I teach the novel, the media delivers a story about boys behaving badly. Last year it was the London riots. This year the story was closer to home. This year the papers shared the heart wrenching story of Thomas Kelly and Kieran Loveridge.
It is not my intention to discuss the question of innate or learnt evilness here. Nor is this a comparison between the writings of Golding and modern society (although a post comparing Loveridge and the character of Jack begs to be written). Rather, I would like to explore comments made recently in the Sydney Morning Herald.
An article entitled, ‘Sydney’s Newest Sport – Beat Someone Senseless or Kill them for the Heck of It ‘ (chilling in itself) appeared in the SMH on pg 13 (interesting structural choice) on the 28/7/2012. In this article, Sydney’s Father Riley (founder of Youth Off The Streets) was quoted as saying “I wish I’d gotten to this kid [Loveridge] sooner. All kids want is a connection. When you connect a kid you can turn them around”. In the same space, youth psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg speaks of seeing an increasing number of angry adolescent males. Carr-Gregg creates a picture of a youth who is “beset with rigid, inflexible thinking, has no respect for authority, little exposure to tradition or ritual and has few, if any skills in anger management.”
To my way of thinking, these comments reflect a failure in our schools. Father Riley and Carr-Gregg highlight the problems besetting an education system which is too rigid, too inflexible and too slow to offer meaningful change. The institution of education is reactive rather than adaptive. Instead of being proactive, it offers band aid solutions – medicine to treat the disease, rather than lifestyle innovations to prevent it from occurring.
I find people such as Father Riley and Carr-Gregg inspirational. They are actively working towards improving the lives of teenagers in a practical sense. Even though individuals such as Father Riley and Carr-Gregg only reach the students they connect with, their ideas can, by proxy, reach many more. This is where teachers and schools may make a difference.
As a teacher, forged in the kiln of the classroom, I and many others who share a similar vision want to enact change. But we need those who form policies, to listen. Rather than being bogged down by consumerist debates regarding funding, class sizes, facilities and who has power in a school (yes of course these are important topics, but they are not the places to find preventive solutions to mindset problems) we need to change what and how kids are taught. Teachers need to be mentors who are connected to their students. To achieve this level of connectiveness, teachers need to be intuitive, empathic and alert. They need the space to be creative and the time to develop their own sense of well being, so that they may support their students. Students require this support in order to develop a sense of identity and, so that they may experience a sense of security within a community.
Of course, it is not enough to talk about developing student’s self esteem and personal responsibility. Action needs to be taken. I believe the key is creative, critical literacy. Being able to wield the skills of creative, critical literacy opens the door to a World of Expression. When a person believes their voice will be heard, they are more likely to feel secure in their identity.
How does a person uncover this key? By actively making a choice to travel the learning path. When a person perceives learning as FUN (functional, universal and necessary) they are more likely to accept learning as a valuable lifelong process. If a person identifies themselves as a Learner, they have access to tools which can help them LEAF through life’s pages. In other words they can draw upon the skills required live life in a loving, enthusiastic, aware and flexible manner.
You may be wondering how a person can develop this mindset for learning. I believe a person develops a learning mindset when they feel as though their learning is relevant. Learners learn best when they are supported and connected. In other words, when they feel centred and balanced. This is why I believe practices such as meditation and mindfulness should be core components in school curriculums. We should be teaching young people how to connect with themselves so that they may appreciate outer connections to community.
This is what I plan to do. I am determined to create a learning environment which offers young adults a place to learn about themselves and their place within a wider eco/social system; a mindfully, creative meditative way of living
Perhaps, if Loveridge had a different school experience, an experience that met him where he was and walked beside him as he developed a secure sense of self awareness and community connectivity, he may have found different ways to feel as though he mattered.
What do you think? Can schools become a place of learning rather than an institution of education?
Welcome to a World of Expression.