I'm Andrew Kutt. Let's engage in a conversation about education, the earth, peace, being human and how it all ties together.
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Category Archives: education
March 11, 2018Posted by on
I turned my gaze upward to behold a most clear star-lit sky. I felt as if he were looking out into the farthest reaches of the Milky Way. I saw planets, moons and stars up close – as if I could reach up and touch them. There were swirling nebula, shooting stars and comets, waves of light with colors unlike any on earth. Everything was filled with a deeply peaceful, dynamic energy. I felt all that I was seeing was part of a vast whole. I heard ethereal tones echoing, filling my entire being and more beautiful than any song I would ever hear.
I was filled with an immeasurable joy. I felt that I was of the same substance as the entire universe: that there was no real barrier between it and me. I realized that I was something very big and unlimited. Normal time and space did not exist. I outstretched my arms and realized I was in an open channel and could fly as high or as deep as I wished. I did not worry about falling or finding my way back.
The celestial sky looked familiar to me and I felt like I had come home. Everything was welcoming me and there was a conscious presence of the deepest love, sanctuary and joy. It was like the entire universe was alive, and that its breath and mine were one and the same. The realization dawned: This is where I’ve come from; this is who I am.
This childhood dream impacted the trajectory of my life. Perhaps deep inside each one of us there is a memory of a dream that was very special to us – that conveyed an important message to us and that carried with it feelings that would affect how we see the world. Those dreams in which we touch the core of life are like celestial emissaries – singing the song of our souls – which can become like beacons when we get lost in the trials and tribulations of the world. In my case this dream has always reminded me of what is important in my life – and what is important is often hidden from normal sight, yet not far away at all
Beyond all of our to do’s, our tasks, our goals and the plans, there is no more important thing that this very moment we are in. This moment we are in will never come again. And while this moment may be challenging or filled with pain, loss or frustration, it is a moment that belongs to us. To push it away or look past it to a “better time” might miss the message or gift that this moment brings. Trying to be present to the moment we are in is not just healthy for ourselves; it is ultimately the best way to nurture our children and to reap the greatest benefits of being parents and teachers.
The human mind is not very accustomed to being present to each moment, however. It is programmed to proceed in a linear fashion from one thought to the next, and in like fashion we move from one task to the next. Our culture is accomplishment driven, and we are measured by what we produce and get done. Our lives are geared toward getting results. And each result we get drives us on toward the next bottom line, the next goal. We know this string of activity is the nature of the world we live in, but we also know it is not the ultimate meaning of life.
In our ordinary workday consciousness, the spaces in between tasks, like the spaces in between thoughts, are not that valuable to us. They are the interludes between what we are doing now and what we need to do next. But in the realm of spiritual awareness and growth, it is those very spaces that take on significance. They become a refuge, a gateway to new levels of awareness about ourselves and about our lives. Inside those spaces is where we are reminded of who we really are where we hold what is most important to us. In order for us not to live out the movie “Groundhog Day”, where we are mindlessly repeating the same tasks day after day, week after week and year after year, we need to intentionally shift from our “normal operating system” to our “pause in awareness mode”.
To stay in touch with the core of who we are, we must try to be cognizant that we are moving from a space in which thoughts are important and necessary to a mode of being where thoughts are like the tips of waves. It is what lies in the depths beneath the waves that we want to reach when we are practicing awareness. For those brief periods of time when we are pausing in awareness, our normal thoughts are no longer that important to us. We shouldn’t try to push them away, but just recognize that there is a level of experience deeper than our thoughts – and that deeper level of experience is what we are aiming for.
To try and find our own inner child, we need time to ourselves. This is not being selfish. It is being wise and practical. Ultimately spending more time with our own “inner child” will only help us to be more patient, loving, and inspiring caregivers. If our intentions are aimed at the healthy and balanced growth and development of our children, then we must nurture ourselves first. Just like they say on the airplane – “put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then put on your child’s mask.”
From spiritual calm and centeredness come emotional calm and mental clarity. If we are giving ourselves the soul-nourishment we need whenever we have the opportunity, then everything else will work itself out. Raising healthy and happy children takes energy. The batteries of our personal energy are located within – especially in our quiet spaces of inner awareness.
Practice One: Creating time and space for yourself:
Consciously trying to create a time and a space for our own personal reflection can be an important step in expanding the possibilities for growth and empowerment in our lives. Create a special area in the house that is especially intended for your own personal reflection. In this special place, you can set up a shelf, a small table, a rug or a cushion. You can include items such as inspiring pictures, a candle, flowers or other items that will help foster a peaceful atmosphere. Regardless of how small the place, the most important thing is take a few minutes each day to tune out of our ordinary mind and tune into a higher and deeper level of awareness. After a short while of regular practice, we will feel the benefits: greater peace, poise, and patience, as well as greater contentment.
Practice Two: Reflecting on our dreams:
You may have had a dream in your childhood that was special to you. If you cannot remember any special childhood dreams, stay attuned when you first awake and see if you can remember a dream from the previous night. All dreams “bad” or “good” may have some meaning or value to us, but the dreams that that leave us with a positive, energizing and inspiring feeling can provide us with “soul nourishment” that we can bring with us into our daily lives. Take time to sit in your personal reflection space and write or draw the images, feelings or insights that come from the dream you had. Pause and close your eyes and sit with that awareness for a few moments. Take a deep breath or two. Are dreams not simply another realm of experience where we relate to a different, deeper part of ourselves?
Reflection Quote: “That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.” -Maria Montessori
Postscript: Later when I was about 12, I remember hearing my parents talking in hushed tones late one night about how little money they had. How would they afford rent? Groceries? School supplies? Listening to the concern and despair in their voices I was filled with worry and helplessness. I started to wonder what would happen if we had to move out of our house? What if we really didn’t have enough to eat and we would all go hungry? As I lay in bed and my mind was spinning anxiously in this way, out of nowhere a wave of calm came over me. A vivid memory of my dream came back to me. I heard a message from within me, saying – “Do not worry about anything. Remember the source you came from. It will always provide for you.”
March 19, 2017Posted by on
Thomas Friedman’s fantastic new book is called Thank You for Being Late – An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. I recommend it as essential reading for educators and parents alike – as we all try to come to grips with the incredible rate of change in our world and what it means for our children.
Friedman points out in poignant detail exactly what is changing and how: “The three largest forces on our planet – technology, globalization and climate change – are all accelerating at once.” And the rate of change is faster than anything we’ve had to adapt to before. Friedman says it is “surely one of the great transformative moments in history.”
The possible pathways forward for us to adapt as individuals and as a species center around our ability to be resilient and adapt in the face of this potentially staggering change. This ability will increase if we can become “radically inclusive” – each of us bringing into our work “as many relevant people, processes, disciplines, organizations and technologies as possible.” “Indeed as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and synthesize more perspectives.”
In reading this book, it struck me like a lightning bolt that Friedman is also laying out in stark detail the pathway forward for education. This pathway is both exhilarating and daunting. Exhilarating because there is a world of new opportunities for collaboration, of new technology platforms and of interdisciplinary explorations. Daunting because we ourselves need to adapt our thinking about education itself – and be courageous enough to let go of the old and explore the new.
If we are to help build new neural pathways for innovation and creativity, we must allow our students the space necessary to explore and develop curiosity. We must build into the schedule time for students to go deep with subject matter and discover connections between subject fields. We must allow the opportunity for students to get into the flow of the learning process by supporting what they are passionate about. And we must foster the opportunity to collaborate, share projects and add their own improvements to the innovations of others.
In these ways we can begin to begin to foster the kind of adaptive thinkers who can leverage the changes we face – and transform them into net positives for humanity . To accomplish this, we as educators and parents will need to learn – and to encourage – a new capacity called “dynamic stability”. Dynamic stability is like riding a bicycle: you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. Eric Teller, CEO of Google’s X Research and Development lab says, “It is not our natural state. But humanity has to learn to exist in this state.” As we move into this state of adaptive change, Friedman says, “We’re all going to have to learn that bicycle trick.”
March 8, 2017Posted by on
The discoveries Maria Montessori made over a century ago about the evolving brain of a child have been proven to be true by modern brain science. In Montessori education, students learn by doing. They learn in a hands-on way with educational materials scientifically designed to meet their brain development at different ages. Students learn in a concrete way and build concepts from interaction with their work and the socialization that comes with their classroom activities.
In a Montessori classroom the most important thing is the deep engagement of the students in the learning process. Maria Montessori called this “concentration”, but in modern terms we would call it “flow”. The ability of a student to be deeply engaged in their work leads to superior study skills, organizational ability and internal motivation. A major factor in developing this ability is the opportunity for students to have some choices in their learning process – and to pursue topics they are passionate about. A second major factor is to allow students the time to engage in an activity without being rushed and to be able to explore a subject in depth.
Our test driven culture too often results in a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” If we want true learning to occur we must understand that concepts are acquired when the learner makes an active choice to know something new – not when the learner is forced to memorize information that must be repeated later on. Knowledge is how each student puts together information into unique sets of ideas – it is not the mere gathering or storing of information. In this way, Maria Montessori was far ahead of her time – and her many discoveries and innovations are only now being truly appreciated as we strive to develop educational models that match the swiftly accelerating pace of change in our world.
February 5, 2017Posted by on
“We need schools that provide young people with well-structured spaces in which to discover who they are and what they care deeply about. We need schools where adults prepare students for active citizenship and the 21st century work place. And we need schools to reinforce democratic practices that extend beyond the school’s walls, helping adults unite behind the shared belief that all children deserve to be seen and heard.” –Sam Chaltain American Schools – The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community
Sam Chaltain sums up succinctly and eloquently the change that is on the horizon for American schools – if we choose to embrace it. We must rethink what school is for, and that requires us to revisit what we deem to be a life well lived. If we keep going down the current path, we will continue to graduate high school students who are all too often disengaged from their own learning and unsure of what the purpose of their education is. Moreover the stress they are under to meet perceived expectations in terms of college entrance requirements saps the energy and joy out of the high school learning experience. The hyper focus on grades, SAT scores and creating the perfect profile for university applications places the goal of education at some obscure distant point in the future rather than a process of human unfolding and personal growth.
We are at a crossroads in education in America. We need to choose between a pathway that unleashes the human creative spirit or a pathway that literally dulls the mind and deadens the heart. This crossroads demands we have the courage to abandon the constraining curriculum structures of the past and allow for more individualized and cross-subject learning. It forces us to pause and reflect how we can fashion standards that serve as useful benchmarks but don’t reduce the human learning experience to the tabulation of bubbles filled in by number 2 pencils. The signs at this crossroads implore us to answer several key questions: Why are we evaluating? What are we evaluating? And how are we evaluating?
Why are we evaluating? We should evaluate to find out if we are doing a good enough job in supporting students in developing their unique Talents and Passions. We should evaluate to check whether the internal motivation of a student is increasing and whether they are developing the Discipline and Drive necessary to achieve their dreams down the road. We should evaluate to help students know if they are on the pathway to becoming good citizens and to finding the opportunities they desire in the 21st century work force.
What are evaluating? I would postulate that the reason we evaluate is to determine if students are making progress toward goals they themselves have set and toward learning objectives that comprise both content and aptitudes. Information and factual knowledge is of course indispensable for students as they head toward the career path of their choice. However the complex world they are entering will require very refined skills in how to gather, verify, combine and share the myriad kinds of information. In addition, students will be all the more successful and fulfilled in that complex world to the degree they have a personal ethical code and an understanding of civic responsibility.
How are we evaluating? For decades we have measured learning as if it were a lake that is a mile wide and an inch deep. New types of measures will be required to help schools and schools determine if aptitudes such as critical thinking, information literacy, innovation, collaboration and communication are being acquired. This will require teachers to learn new techniques that foster student self-reflection, peer-evaluation, digital portfolios, presentations and exhibits – as well as teacher to teacher professional development. Such a shift in emphasis will in turn require that teachers be liberated from the pressures to teach to the type of tests that now drive so much of the curriculum and consume the vast amount of class time and school resources.
In his book American Schools, Sam Chaltain quotes Fred Givens, middle school principal of Bronx Prep Charter School in New York City: “Some of us have learned that – despite what intuition might suggest – structure actually creates freedom. Through experiences implementing democratic principles in the classroom and in the process co-creating our shared culture, it has become clear that the potential for looseness, play, free thought and creativity is generated when the structures are so elegantly constructed that they become nearly invisible. This has been a fundamental revelation.”
In other words, it is not that we need to abandon structure altogether in order to foster the creative thinking and love of learning we envision for the new fabric of our schools. Rather it is imagining new types of structures that allow the development of what I call USP™ – Unique Student Potential. Every student has a particular constellation of Talents and Passions. Understanding each student’s Talents and Passions and empowering him / her with the Drive and Discipline they need to develop them – should form the basis for the curriculum frameworks and evaluative mechanisms going forward. The rapidity of change in our world is staggering. The tide of the future is already here. Let’s give our students the tools to confidently ride the waves to the shores they seek.