Let’s get rocking!… Paul Henderson

You can always rely on Paul to make get your brain cells ticking on matters of learning and learning systems. Here he argues that our educational institutions are in fact the impediment to an education… we couldn’t agree more Paul… thanks for this contribution!

Consider a scenario in which you are a highly self-motivated autonomous learner developing your autodidactic learning skills in a convivial and invitational state-of-the-art limitlessly resourced learning environment perfectly tuned in every way to meet your learning needs. You decide to set yourself the target of being able to play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix. The world’s greatest guitarists are all put on call to act as your personal mentors; you are given unlimited one-to-one tuition by the world’s leading guitar instructors and given free and unrestricted access to the finest guitar teaching resources available. Over time your guitar skills develop to such a degree that on a blind listening test none of the world’s greatest Hendrix aficionados can tell the difference between you and the man himself. If you were to sit a formal exam in Hendrix guitar playing you would get straight ‘A’s. When evaluating the success of your educational aims, objectives, implementation and planning you are completely satisfied that your learning approach was a total success and your target was fully met. YOU ARE WRONG. You might be a very good Hendrix impersonator but you are no Hendrix. From a historical perspective an impersonator’s contribution is of negligible significance in comparison to the original. Impersonators do not make any significant contribution in the field of the people they are impersonating. Jimi Hendrix, like all leaders in their field, was a creative innovator. He did not play exactly like any of the great guitarists that came before him, he imitated many of their techniques then, crucially, varied them in order to evolve to a new level, and therefore if you want to be like him you have to be different from him. It doesn’t matter if you are inspired by Einstein, Darwin or Hendrix, if you want to be like any of them you have to be different from them.  One thing that the above scenario illustrates is that the more time you spend emulating previously established best practice, the less time you spend nurturing, enhancing and developing your own inherent proclivities, the very thing that could potentially lead you to finding your own style and contributing to your area of interest in a way that fully maximises the potential you were born with. The more time you spend copying, the less time you spend discovering and creating and, consequently, the less chance you have of making a significant and unique contribution to whatever your chosen area of interest may be. The less time you spend discovering and creating, the less able you will be to discover the true extent of your natural abilities and creative potential. What has this got to do with education in general? It is the complete lack of understanding of this type of paradox that stifles the individual potential of the vast majority of learners in every formal learning institution throughout the world. Learning within an environment that does not allow for personal creativity can only result in one outcome; stalemate. To explain why, we need to look at the above scenario and identify what change needs to be made in order to avoid this ubiquitous lack of understanding which precludes so many learners from reaching their full natural potential, or ever making a significant contribution in their chosen domain, even when they are straight ‘A’s ‘successful’ students. We then need to see a parallel between this scenario and formal institutionalised learning. In order to do this we need to look further into the world of the electric guitar, a very low status area of study as far as most academics are concerned, and reveal the surprising parallels between the learning methods used by the great heroes of the electric guitar and those adopted by the great heroes of physics, which is regarded very highly in the traditional hierarchy of subjects. By showing that there are strong parallels between highly effective learning at the opposite ends of the academic spectrum, we can then interpolate these parallels to all areas of study across the entire academic spectrum.

 The Lowest of the Low
In the generally accepted hierarchy of subjects, along with such subjects as Art, PE, Dance and Drama, Music is generally regarded as a low priority and thus low status subject compared to English, Maths and Science which are often referred to as ‘core’ subjects by school timetable designers. The history of music education has been characterised by a well documented hegemony of Western classical music. Attempts to address this issue were made in the 1980’s when electronic keyboard, electric guitar and drum kit were introduced in UK schools as ‘classroom instruments’. This measure was designed to redress the balance between classical orchestral instruments and those found in popular music genres, but it merely served to underline their low status. Why not make the cello, oboe and French horn classroom instruments and have them taught to classes of 20 pupils by non-specialist teachers using barely playable budget instruments? The musical elite would never allow this. The discrimination against electric guitar, keyboard and drum kit and the music they are associated with continues to this day and can be clearly observed in the way they are taught. ‘Classroom instruments’ are generally taught by non-specialist classroom teachers to classes using dumbed down content; premium content can never be delivered with this or any other ‘stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap’ approach, as elitist musical curriculum designers well know. Western classical music has exquisite and highly refined forms and textures but just like any art form, it does not have an absolute value; any style of music cannot be given global precedence over indigenous African or Indian classical music or any other style; a piece by Vivaldi has no more value, in absolute terms, than a piece by the Sex Pistols, each serves its purpose in its own way. A traditional education has always been centred on literacy and numeracy, and Western classical music, with its complete dependence on musical literacy, fitted extremely well with the traditional model. This model was called into question by Howard Gardner and others who put forward now widely accepted theories which strongly indicate that linguistic and mathematical intelligence are quite separate from musical intelligence, therefore it is perfectly possible to obtain the highest level of musical attainment without being musically literate. This is something that traditionally taught elite music educators who still make the big curriculum decisions are still getting to grips with since it is an anathema to the traditional values they were indoctrinated with.  Howard Gardner’s work has possibly raised more implications for change in music education than in any other subject. Prospective music teachers have always been selected based on their logical mathematical and linguistic intelligences (the intelligences required for musical literacy) rather than their musical intelligence (characterised by an ability to play by ear, compose and improvise) which was why the natural abilities of members of bands such as The Beatles went completely unnoticed during their schooldays. Their music teachers probably had very little if any musical intelligence. Of course the very greatest classical composers and soloists were both highly musically literate and intelligent, traits they share in common with the cream of electric guitar session players who have proven the instrument’s worth at the very highest levels judged by the very highest standards.

In contrast to academically low status instruments, orchestral instruments are generally taught one-to-one by specialist instructors who have been given the resources to offer a high quality learning experience to their mostly middle class students without compromising on content. Widely publicised programs that bring classical music to disadvantaged children merely confirm its middle class bias. Without such an established bias such stories would not be newsworthy. Where rock and pop instruments are taught by specialist instructors the lesson times are often shorter, one-to-one tuition is rare and there is a strong obligation to offer remedial help for those who struggle with the dumbed down curriculum prescribed classroom content. It can therefore be said with a high degree of certainty that if music is regarded as a low status subject by timetable designers and the electric guitar is regarded as a low status instrument within music education then, academically speaking, the electric guitar is one of the lowest of the low along with the drum kit, bass guitar and the electric keyboard.
This extraordinarily unique discriminatory situation offers educationalists an extremely rare opportunity to gain a fresh insight into highly effective autodidactic personalised learning methods by plundering a very rich untapped seam of learning that was developed and refined for over 30 years throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s entirely outwith traditional formal academic institutions. Generally regarded by ‘proper’ music establishments as unworthy of academic study, the electric guitar managed to thrive under the academic radar for all those years. From musicological perceptive, the leading exponents of the electric guitar have developed the instrument to the very highest level of musical self-expression and in recent years, with the development of new performance techniques, have arguably surpassed and certainly equalled the dazzling technical virtuosity produced by the very best graduates of formal classical music institutions. It is the disdainful attitude that our most highly respected elite colleges of music have had towards the electric guitar that have allowed it to flourish in all of its immense and extremely diverse glory. The guitar is found in more musical genres than any other instrument in the world; some right handed (reverse for the left handed) players play it resting on their right leg, others on their left, most strap it over their left shoulder, some over their right, some play using a plectrum, others use thumb and fingers, others use plectrum and fingers, others use a thumb pick and fingers, others use finger picks, others use their thumb exclusively, some play with their left hand thumb behind the neck, others curl it round the neck, some use classical techniques on electric guitars, others apply electric guitar techniques to acoustic classical guitars and many more use a vast variety of hybrid techniques. The first thing a student of the electric guitar will discover is that there is no single text book definition of how to hold it, how to play it and what posture to adopt (Hendrix played it behind his back, on his shoulder and above his head) and if they do find a text book that dares to provide a single definition you will find several others that contradict it. Comparing the natural, organic and highly personalised development of the electric guitar, learned principally through natural learning techniques, to the development of more formal academic subjects raises some interesting questions. Could it be that formal institutionalised learning controls the way students learn to ensure they imitate previous knowledge and understanding without ever being given the opportunity to apply it freely and creatively in the almost free play kind of way that learning happens in more natural settings? This leads to more controversial and provocative types of question such as; could it be that the development of such a large and diverse range of personalised electric guitar styles has only been made possible due in large part to the fact that they have been allowed to flourish free from the sterilising academic processes that require all areas of study to be broken down into rigid decontextualised learning outcomes? The ability to absorb, demonstrate and apply the principles of previous knowledge and understanding is vital, but without the capacity for creative intellectual free play, which gives rise to divergent thinking, are learners rendered intellectually impotent? Could it be that even straight ‘A’s students are merely clones of each other who have been robbed by formal institutionalised learning environments of their inborn natural capacity for creative thought? Sadly there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that the answer to all these questions is yes, and by the time our most highly able students study for PhDs it is already too late for some them to be able to think in the creative way required to make a truly unique contribution to their chosen area of interest and the ones that do do so despite their schooling not because of it. Creative ability is often brutally repressed as a consequence of the many years of mindless imitation and convergent thinking required by traditional formal institutionalised learning environments in order to provide evidence of ‘learning.’ Many of the mechanisms behind this creativity stripping process and constructive ways to avoid them are described by Ken Robinson in his book, ‘The Element’.

With all of this in mind let’s get back to our original question. What do we need to change in the above scenario in order to avoid a paradoxical stalemate? Instead of targeting the style of just one guitarist would it have been better to widen things to incorporate all the leading players of the genre in order to pick up their techniques with a view to applying them in a personalised fashion? This would be better; however care would have to be taken not to purely develop a generic style interpolated, plagiarised and strongly derived from its multiple origins. American colleges that now teach the electric guitar to honours degree level have stratified and quantified every aspect of guitar playing into academic units of currency and clone thousands of technically able, highly knowledgeable but stylistically characterless graduates every year. That is not to say that a rare few cannot still manage to graduate with the ability to inject some of their personality and character into their playing, however this is achieved despite academic processing and not because of it. The best ploy in learning the guitar, and learning in general, would be to take the approach that all the great players took; learn what you need to learn from the best sources you can find in order to fulfil your self-defined objectives, in other words just learn what you want, when you want, how you want from whichever source best meets your needs. Perhaps their motto might have been ‘If you don’t want to know it, you don’t need to know it.’ But was that not the approach taken in the above paradox evoking scenario? Yes it was, so, even in an idealised personalised learning environment, a paradoxical stalemate can still rear its ugly head. This is a crucial realisation. The mistake that was made was a result of poor autodidactic learning skills and not the learning environment. The mistake made was to set a learning target which could never be achieved. Striving to be like people who are different from everyone else is impossible because to be like them you have to be different from them; and of course we are all different so striving to be like anyone other than yourself is impossible.  Any learner with fully formed metacognitive autodidactic skills would know this. The only targets such learners would set would be ones which allow them to make the best of themselves through their chosen areas of interest by being the best they can be in their field of choice. The goal of any highly metagognitive autodidactic learner is to achieve their personal best in their areas of interest, not to merely imitate others. This will inevitably involve assimilating the knowledge, principles and techniques of past masters with the crucial addition of freely utilising this newly acquired knowledge in creative and personally meaningful contexts. This is the way all of the great guitar heroes learned by default. The fact of the matter is that all of the greatest electric guitar players who learned to play in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s whether they play in a rock, pop, country, jazz, world or hybrid style, would fail any exam in electric guitar playing that was designed according to the learning outcomes of a broad and balanced guitar curriculum arrived at through normal academic procedures. Due to being autodidactic by default they all have gaps in their knowledge when compared to a generic one-size-fits-all broad and balanced curriculum, but what they do know they know so well that they can apply it intuitively in unique and creative ways that were previously unimaginable. What they do know they learned because they felt it was important to learn in order to further their ambitions. What they do know was deeply learned within a personally meaningful context. It is interesting to note that, now that the electric guitar is seen as worthy of academic study, our current guitar heroes are mostly fully or partially self taught, despite thousands of guitarists graduating from universities throughout the world who have benefited from the formal academic guidance and wisdom of their guitar professors. It is also interesting to note that the rate of change in the evolution and development of new guitar styles has slowed significantly. Is this a mere coincidence or is it a direct consequence of institutionalised learning, which requires students to provide evidence of their learning by incessantly replicating previous best practice instead of striving towards achieving a successful personally meaningful variation or application which will in turn be imitated? Memetics, the cultural application of the theory of evolution, draws parallels between the evolution of species and the evolution of cultural phenomena. As in biological evolution, the incidence of successful variations over a given period determines the rate of evolution. As a cultural phenomenon, institutionalised learning is more about homogenising, stratifying, quantifying and converging towards prescribed definitions i.e. cultural imitation, whereas intrinsically motivated autonomous open source personalised learning applies previously assimilated knowledge in explorative, creative, personally meaningful ways while facilitating connections between academically divergent scenarios, which is an approach more conducive to developing successful cultural variations. There needs to be a perfect balance between cultural imitation and environmentally adaptive cultural mutating for optimal cultural evolution to occur. It may well be that traditional institutionalised learning impedes optimal cultural evolutionary progress by not equipping its graduates with the ability to develop successful environmentally adapted cultural variations or applications because its obsession with imitation significantly reduces their capacity to do so. For progress to be made in any cultural endeavour it is vital to assimilate the past with a view to future adaptation. Of course the need to adapt is not lost on the teaching profession. Teachers are implored by their superiors to adapt all the time. They are permanently snowed under with fresh initiatives and sweeping new reforms yet, no matter how up-to-date the content of their teaching is, if they don’t adapt to the more recent findings in how we learn, all other adaptation is futile. Teaching methodologies have not changed since ancient times when the word ‘pedagogue’ was coined. As long as learning plans are created by teachers and not by learners all other adaptation is rendered decontextualised and meaningless from a learner’s perspective. All the most recent insights into how we learn indicate that the learning process should be left in the minds of learners where it belongs. This way, rather than have them atrophy through lack of use, learners can enhance and refine the autodidactic abilities they were born with. Any educational environment that tyrannically dictates otherwise would surely be regarded as neither suitable nor efficient by any informed and credible educationalist.

Highest of the High
Now let us leave the world of electric guitar playing and consider the other end of the academic spectrum. Physics is universally regarded as a high priority core academic subject. A degree in physics would never be described as ‘Mickey Mouse,’ yet the learning methods used by the great heroes of physics bear an uncanny resemblance to those of the guitar heroes of the classic rock era. In his book, “Heisenberg Probably Slept Here,” veteran science editor, Richard P. Brennan, profiles the life and times of the world’s greatest physicists. Interestingly their learning methods are far more commonly characterised by purposeful interaction with a mentor and through intrinsically motivated self-study than by any memorising of prescribed learning outcomes and demonstrating the application and manipulation of concepts in the contrived hypothetical problems of a formal academic exam paper. Here are some quotes:

 “Newton did not pay much attention to established routine…He read what he wanted to read and studied what interested him.” (p19)

 “Like Descartes, Bacon was a rebel against established dogma” (p21)

 “Rigid discipline and rote-learning techniques bothered him” [Einstein] (p47)

 “He [Einstein] reacted to this coercive teaching style by distrusting authority, in particular educational authority” (p48)

 “Einstein became indifferent to his school work and his grades began to suffer.”(p49)

 “Einstein, like Newton before him, did not depend on his professors, but relied on self-study. Again, as in Newton’s case, the classical physics being taught in the classroom was out of date. To keep abreast of a fast moving science, one had to read independently, which Einstein did with an unbounded enthusiasm for new ideas.” (p51)

 “Farady was a son of a blacksmith and although he had little formal education, he was the Thomas Edison of his day. He taught himself enough science to become the outstanding experimental physicist of his time. As a young man he obtained a position as a laboratory assistant at the Royal Institute of Great Britain. He stayed for forty-six years, eventually becoming the institute’s director.” (p52)

 “Like Newton and Einstein before him, Planck turned to independent study of the subjects that interested him.” (p88)

 “Rutherford’s interest extended to science early on. When he was ten he had a copy of a popular book called Primer of Physics …similar to the teach-yourself-physics books of today.” (p110)

 “He [Heisenberg] had taught himself calculus… and, at the age of eighteen, had attempted to publish a paper on number theory.” (p155)

 “He [Feynman] had been trained by his father…he [Feynman’s father] had no formal training in science – but he did know how to search for the underlying fundamentals, and this his son never forgot.” (p188)

 “He [Feynman] …had even taught himself advanced algebra while in elementary school. (p189)

 “He [Feynman] had discovered by reading an encyclopaedia that calculus was important…so his father bought him a book called Calculus made Easy, and he plunged right in.” (p189)

 “When he [Gell-Man] was only three he was taught to read (from a Sunshine cracker box) by his twelve-year-old brother, Ben, and he has never slowed from that fast start. Gell-Man credits his brother with much of his early education.” (p215)

Did all of these great scientists know everything there was to know about science before making their greatest work? No, due to being highly autodidactic they all had gaps in their knowledge when compared to a generic one-size-fits-all broad and balanced curriculum. For example Einstein claimed that he was never as good as he should have been at maths, the language of physics, and had to ask his first wife (a physics graduate) for help with it, although he realised he was good at abstract spatial visualisation, a metacognitive realisation which drove much of his work. Another illuminating comment he made with regards to his way of working was that he used to play with physics in the same kind of free play way that children do with toys. His working practices were clearly shaped by his metacognitive awareness in that they were developed in ways that played to his cognitive strengths while avoiding weaknesses where possible. In his ten year gargantuan struggle to generalise his special theory of relativity it was maths again that stumped him. Only when talking to an old university pal from whom he used to borrow lecture notes (since he himself hardly attended) was it suggested that he should try non-Euclidean geometry to solve his problems. He had never heard of the obscure form of curved geometry used to described curved space (it certainly would never have been included in any formal physics curricula of that time) and if he had heard of it he probably would not have seen the need to learn it however, realising that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and in true autodidactic fashion, he sourced information on it in, taught himself about it and adapted his equations to include it. This led to his earth shattering general theory of relativity which changed our understanding of the universe forever. One of the shock revelations of this theory is that space-time is curved. Einstein never wasted time cramming his mind full of personally meaningless decontextualised prescribed learning outcomes from the past in a desperately paranoid attempt to fill gaps in his knowledge in order to cover all hypothetical future eventualities; he never worried about gaps since he knew he could trust his autodidactic instincts to fill them if required.

While the great scientists may have had gaps in their knowledge, what they did know they knew so well that they could apply it intuitively in unique and creative ways that were previously unimaginable. What they did know they learned because they felt it was important to learn in order to further their ambitions. What they did know was deeply learned within a personally meaningful context.

With their lack of regard for authority and established dogma, the same rock’n’roll vernacular may be used with regards to these great scientists as it would be for the great guitar heroes; they rocked.

 The Bad News and the Good News

Terms leading thinkers use to describe the most desirable attributes of an effective education such as ‘developing personal genius’ (John Taylor Gatto), being in your ‘element’ (Ken Robinson) and ‘finding self-concordance through intrinsically motivated activity’ (Oliver James) are all alluding to the same thing. They all describe states through which learners make the best of themselves within personally meaningful contexts through developing their proclivities with a view to fulfilling their full natural potential. ‘Genius’ can be a misleading term since one of its many popular connotations suggests high IQ and high logical, linguistic and mathematical intelligence, however, in light of Howard Gardner’s work, we all have varying amounts of at least seven multiple intelligences most of which are never revealed by traditional formal learning environments. Gardner’s work led to the now rather commonplace expression often heard in educational circles, ‘The question is not how smart are you, but how are you smart.’
The opposite slang expression for ‘dumbing down’ is ‘braining up’. Braining up is not necessarily about traditional cerebral activities. It is about understanding personal unique intelligences profiles which are just as likely to manifest themselves in spatial and kinaesthetic activities or musical activities than linguistic or mathematical ones. In order to make the best of themselves learners need to be aware of and be in touch with their personal optimal learning preferences and their learning environment should be able to adapt to these preferences. Whenever learning aims, objectives, plans, implementations, evaluations or reviews are taken out of the of control learners, learners are robbed of the opportunity to practice the essential inborn ability to manage their own learning. If they are deprived of this practising for too long they lose the ability to learn independently.
A good analogy for this can be found in the world of medicine. Sometimes critically ill patients have to be hooked up to a mechanical ventilator to enable them to breathe. Great care has to be taken not to have the patient hooked up for too long in order to avoid ventilator dependence, a condition in which the patient looses the ability to breathe independently. Learning is as natural as breathing. Therefore the medical equivalent of schooling would be to hook up the nation’s children to mechanical ventilators from 9am until 3.30pm for 190 days a year from the age of 5 to 18 in order to make them breathe. This analogy illustrates just how ridiculous, unethical, unnecessary, harmful, unsuitable and inefficient schooling is. Of course a perfectly healthy person would never be hooked up to a ventilator in order to make them breathe, yet every school day kids are sent to school to make them learn. Learning is not a gift from education authorities; it is a perfectly natural ability we were all born with. Schooling teaches that children need to be taught in order to learn; a false but globally thriving meme. It teaches them to become dependent learners yet when they learned to walk and talk (fiendishly difficult tasks when decontextualised and split into formal academic learning outcomes) they were more than able to learn by themselves with a little support where necessary.
It can be seen from the multitude of examples of effective open source learning put forward by Ken Robinson in his book ‘The Element’ and John Taylor Gatto in ‘Weapons of Mass Instruction’, and in practically any biography of any person who has made a unique and significant contribution in his or her field, that education can only be effective when it is taken rather than given and the true success of any effective learning environment lies in letting rather than making students learn. The only problem about books that profile the lives and times of successful people in order to illustrate effective learning is that the definition of success tends to be subjective and it may lead some readers to conclude that effective education should result in some kind of fame, celebrity or historical significance. Of course this conclusion would be wrong. If you measure success purely in terms of emotional and psychological well being then there are probably millions of people who are not famous at all who would have been better examples to illustrate the point, the problem is that their lives and times were never documented and since they were never known outside their immediate community they don’t serve very well as general points of reference. The purpose of using the lives and times of people generally regarded as being successful is to debunk the myths that teaching equals learning and the amount of future success a learner will achieve is directly proportional to the amount of teaching received. Just one example would call these false memes into question. The amount given in Gatto’s and Robinson’s books destroy them completely. Another criticism of these types of books is that they pay no regard to the millions of people who drop out of traditional formal learning environments who go on to lead spectacularly unsuccessful lives. This is missing the point. The people who manage to escape traditional formal learning environments and become successful do so because of a metacognitive realisation that to stay in these environments would be to kill their dreams. The ones who drop out of school to realise their ambitions are the lucky ones who have managed to hang on to some degree of autodidactic ability. The many who drop out of school disillusioned because their dreams and ambitions are already forgotten along with their inborn autodidactic traits are as much the victims of having their creative capacities repressed as the straight ‘A’s students. The only difference is that their multiple intelligences profile was not suited to the linguistic and logical mathematical bias found in schooling, making it very difficult to utilise their intelligences profile within a personally meaningful context or to pick up any job coupons, otherwise known as academic certificates. It is a widely held belief that disabling of creative ability cannot really do any harm in subjects like maths, science, engineering and technology and that it only has an impact on more creative and artistic subjects. This is wrong. Creativity is the spark that ignites fresh and exciting new change in every area of human endeavour; it cannot be evoked by the ringing of a school bell but it certainly can be extinguished by it. Learning with a view to fulfilling a personally meaningful creative vision, no matter how great or small, is a joy; learning under pain of punishment in order to achieve hollow rewards is drudgery.
While Gatto’s and Robinson’s books are very successful at debunking educational myths, the true indicator of successful learning has nothing to do with achieving a life that can be used as a cultural, social or historical point of reference. A good education should not leave you wanting to be like some air-brushed celebrity, it should not leave you at all; it should inspire you to strive to be like no one else other than yourself. The unique strands of genetic material that came together to make you who you are did not battle their way through hundreds of thousands of preceding generations over millions of years just for you to want to be like someone else. It has often been said that to be successful in life you have to take your chances and make the most of any breaks that come your way. As Richard Dawkins points out in ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ we have all been given the luckiest and biggest break of all, against the greatest odds of all, just by being alive. This achievement is greater than all the lifetime achievements of Gates, Branson, Einstein, Darwin, Newton and the rest put together. A good education should enable you to be happy discovering and making the best of exactly who you are, nothing more, nothing less. A good education should be, in a word, personalised.
Intrinsically motivated autonomous open source personalised learning is opposite in character to the shallow minded regurgitation and intellectual impotence that currently takes place in the vast majority of our learning establishments, even when they produce straight ‘A’ students. Maximising the potential individual learners were born with and maximising the amount of marks they achieve in externally imposed exams are mutually exclusive aims. You can do one but not the other. All formally state prescribed learning outcomes are related in some way to the fruit of brilliantly creative minds yet the stalemate written into the formula for state run learning dictates that this fruit is fully harvested without ever allowing for any new seeds to be planted, thus severely disabling any capacity for creating and bearing any new fruit. It is like being extensively and rigorously trained over many years to be fully fluent in language without ever being given the opportunity and consequently the ability to converse. The relentless processes of traditional formal education result in the mechanised factory farming methods that leave vast swathes of even our brightest and best minds intellectually infertile. When politicians boast that their education system has, yet again, produced the best results ever, it is nothing to celebrate. Target driven results are nothing more than traps that teach-to-the-test teachers and convergent thinking outcome cramming students are snared in every hour of every working day across the entire academic spectrum.

 The bad news is that, for the vast majority of its pupils and students, traditional formal institutionalised learning as it stands today is a crippling educational impediment. The good news is that thanks to the deeper insight we have gained through the excellent work of visionary pioneers such as John Holt, Ivan Illich, Howard Gardner, Roland Meighan, John Taylor Gatto, Jimi Hendrix, Alfie Kohn and their many associates, we are now ready to evolve to a new and diverse educational landscape in which we can all ‘brain up’ to our hearts’ content.

Let’s get rocking!          
Paul Henderson, February, 2010

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