What informs learning?

This is not the typical type of experience that I would share with the kind of people that make up the majority of my main twitter feed, most being developers and testers who I tend to think pride themselves as being scientific, rational and most seem agnostic or atheist in their beliefs. But still in the words of Nicole Kidman this experience ‘is what it is’. My attitude towards science is that it’s a subset of truth and that’s what I’m sharing here.

When I was seventeen or eighteen I spent a whole Saturday surrounded by books, magazines and essays (this was before the internet) sifting through them to find quotes and insights to use for my first speaking engagement. The topic was ‘the importance of education’. No biggie, it was just a church talk, but it was to be in front of a few hundred people and that kind of thing is scary.

So I wanted to nail it and besides, getting an education really was the most important thing for me at that time. I’d left home earlier than most and paid my own way through the last two years of high school. I was now working 30 plus hours a week, apart from a grant I had won, paying my own way through a full University year.

Education also was a topic I was conflicted over. A lot about school and University education system angered me, particularly how much of it I felt was irrelevant, various unfair flaws in the marking system, the disconnect between what I was learning and what I could see myself using. And the feeling you get from school that getting a C, B or A made you a “C”, “B, or “A” person.

I’m not surprised that the day probably influenced the dream I had that night. I dreamed I was walking through a church and a minister stopped me in the hall and said; “I want you to go on a mission”. Hello? He wanted me to go wandering around knocking at stranger’s doors interrupting their dinner time, wearing clothing that looked like it came out of the 50’s, live 24/7 with a perfect stranger and worse -stall a University education that I had invested so much in? Even though I was just dreaming, my chest felt heavy and my heart sank to the floor of my stomach. Whilst thinking more such thoughts, a calm voice spoke right in my dream ear and said; “The most important education in life, is the education of character and all other forms of education are towards this end, or secondary to it”.

It woke me up. And I lay quietly mulling that over for some time.

Now, here’s the interesting thing. Whilst I lay there, the dream started to replay while I was still awake. Literally it was like a slow screen flare that opened to display a 3d see-through movie image, right in front of my eyes and below the ceiling above me. I froze and I stayed very very still, stilled my breathing, stilled my body and thoughts, I didn’t allow myself to think or analyse what was happening. It was just the most curious thing and I didn’t want to spook it. When the hallway reformed, I heard again the same words, but this time the voice spoke not just in my ear, but clear and audible from all sides.

Throughout the years thereafter, whether teaching kids, mentoring young adults, coaching candidates for job roles or getting to know the number of people I’ve interviewed for high tech roles, I’ve seen how much character impacts on your ability to learn and grow. I’ve met quite a few PHDs who have worked more than 20 years in factories and a number of Bachelors, Masters and Doctors of Academia that live sour lives in low paid work far below their intellectual capability and their career expectations. In contrast others I’ve met who’ve succeeded without degree or other academic qualifcations.

In recent times, when I’ve explored in interviews the whys or wherefores of either group. I’ve seen or heard that their ability to have success, has depended more on traits like resilience, passion, courage, ethics rather than their formal education alone. Resilience to knock-backs & upsets. Passion, enthusiasm or curiousity that fuels ongoing learning and improvement. Courage to attempt at things that they could fail at, or courage to take a risk when problem solving requires it rather than be hand held through to a solution. Open mindedness to open themselves to ideas outside what their past which informs them on things they don’t actually know. Ethics; that gives a person a pride in producing quality work.. and so forth.

An academic education is a boon, but I’ve seen for myself that much of our capability to learn and grow is rooted in character.

 

 

Small events that hardwire you for life

I saw a picture of people in the community of Ferguson, standing in front of the doors of local businesses to turn looters away. Their resolute faces got me thinking about those who choose to commit crimes and those who don’t, even though they come from a similar environment.  It reminded me of a social worker I met once, who wondered the same thing of me. She asked ‘why I didn’t go the way of many troubled kids she dealt with, given the similar kind of experiences of multiple homes, violence, molestation that kind of thing’. Why hadn’t I got into crime or trouble of any sort? I ignored her (nosey woman), but I remember that it was due to the impact of one small event.

When I was 3 nearly 4 years old I remember picking up a deflated balloon off the floor at Woolworths. It had fallen off the counter. And I put it in my pocket because it didn’t seem wrong if it was ‘rejected’ on the floor. I knew stealing was wrong. But this didn’t seem to be it. Later we’re in the old Humber driving the long way back home and I sitting in the backseat, brought it out of my pocket to play with. My grandmother was driving glanced at the car mirror and saw me.
Asked me where I got it, I told her, her face went resolute and she sharply turned the car around and drove alllllll the way back to return it. It cost less than a farthing (which is like less than half a cent today). It was a really long way back, or so it seemed to me as a child. But my grandmother’s logic was that it didn’t matter whether it was a farthing or $100.00 the taking of it would make me a thief.

That one thing totally stuck in my head, her absolute honesty, that this is something you just didn’t do. It imprinted on me and I think hardwired me from that point on – that there was no other way to behave than the example she set.

It’s a small thing, but it strikes me as I remember other small happenings – just how powerful a small action a person can take that it can completely hardwire you for the rest of your life.

Maleficent – a reflection

From Maleficent Facebook page
From Maleficent Facebook page

Ancient cultures the world over have all had oral traditions as the roots of their literature, both to educate and entertain. I imagine in the darkness, by a fireside, story-tellers enthralled their fellow tribes people with tales handed down through countless generations and centuries. What determines whether a story gets told or retold through the ages? I suppose it’s a story that illustrates a moral value, a particular quality or a lesson that your society deems important.

When I was growing up in the 60’s my ‘fireside’ was the all-surrounding darkness of the picture theatre, sitting mesmerized, enthralled by the animated tales of Disney movies; Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella and others. I learnt Good was beautiful. Ugly was evil. Good was always good, Evil was always evil and Good always won out in the end. I learnt being a heroine had little to do with courage or power, it had more to do with being lovely, making friends and winning instantly the hearts of powerful others through your beauty and grace.  Growing up, these Disney ‘lessons’ haven’t stood the test of time.

So it’s good that they’re being retold, and Maleficent the movie is a case in point. If a story is to be repeated generation after generation, I think it needs to tell some truth, some human law or principle that stays with a child and later gives them an insight into the human condition.

Whether it was intended or not, I found a few truths within Maleficent that are worth passing on. In the old Disney movies, ‘true love’ I used to think was the province of the beautiful and elite. I thought to be loved you needed to be beautiful. After all I saw when Prince Phillip kissed Aurora, his ‘true love’ was based on little more than the fact; she was lovely.  Young Stefan and Maleficent seem to play out that old Disney theme in the beginning.  Maleficent is beautiful, loving and caring to all the creatures of the Moor. Stefan happens along like Disney Princes before him and by chance discovers her. They become friends, and in time he bestows a kiss on Maleficent representing his ‘true love’. Maleficent the movie turned that definition of true love on its head. Prince Phillip in this story failed, his infatuation wasn’t recognised as love. Instead it was the kiss of Maleficent who had watched over Aurora protected and made sure she survived childhood.  Hers was the spell-breaking real kiss of true love. Good lesson to learn.

In our culture, (Maori/New Zealand), we’re taught all things were created to be good in the beginning, the road to evil or great good requires choice. So I liked that Maleficent was both villain and hero. Because evil isn’t inherent in any of us, we’re innocent in the beginning.

As was Maleficent she was innocent, loving and a powerful protector in her youth. But then she was betrayed by her friend; Stefan. Stefan chose to do her evil that he might be King and have all the power that that title gave him.  Stefan slipped Maleficent the equivalent of a medieval ruffie, he violated her, blooded her, cut her wings and stripped her of her greatest joy; freedom. In doing so he deeply wounded a large part of who she was. His was an act equivalent to rape.  Maleficent turned. Once a strong, powerful protector of the weak, she became instead an overbearing ruler of her domain and suppressed the freedom of many of the creatures in the moor to be their natural selves.  The moors became then a dark place. And there’s another truth; it’s the nature of evil, to make its victims in its own image. People who are wounded and take the path of hatred and revenge; tend to do to others the wrongs done to them. Its why evil really blows.

If I had a child I would use Maleficent to illustrate one more truth, you would recognize it, if you’re Maori, Black, American Indian, Aborigine, abused child or been some kind of minority that’s dealt with an oppressor. The oppressor hates those they wrong.  They will hate you and seek to paint you as ugly, inherently evil and deserving of anything you the Oppressor may do to them. Thus what is done to the bullied, is ‘good’; a punishment, and not simply wrongful acts done in order to satisfy the Oppressors want for power, status or wealth. Or out of the Oppressor’s fear that the wronged will retaliate or seek justice.

Lastly I like, that at the end, there was a choice for both Stefan and Maleficent. Maleficent could have killed Stefan,both their faces were reflections of the same hatred as they fought on the high tower. She paused and in a moment seem to recognise that.

And in that briefest of moments – she again turned. She put her hatred aside and turned away. However Stefan didn’t, consumed with hate, even though his daughter was now alive, he tried to kill Maleficent and in the end caused his own death.

So for me, this was a far better tale to pass to a new generation. I hope children sit in dark pictures theatres and be enthralled by all it’s movie magic. Because evil isn’t always evil, good isn’t always good. True love is more than just a pretty face, heroines can have power and courage too as into the fortresses of burning iron we saw her and her faithful friend go. We can undo a wrong. We can be villains or heroes, either is in us, and it’s in us to choose.

Peepsweave – (people weaving or the art of Rangitiratanga)

einsteinWhen I went to University I was disappointed in the memorization and regurgitation style of learning, and again disappointed at how very little that I was taught was relevant in the real world. Therefore when I starting working in soft-skills, IT training and the new e-Learning space, I followed a more Māori model to learning.

Learning is change, change in the world and change in people. No real education leaves a person unchanged. Learning is about the pragmatics of everyday life, but it’s also about unfolding what you were put on the planet to do. Developing your talents, exploring your natural interests and developing a career that doesn’t go against your natural grain.

In older times, our community would watch a child carefully throughout his early life to determine which skills should be taught him .When he got to be about 11 or so, he was brought before an Elder and with great ceremony told a story. He was then to separate himself, meditate on the story’s true meaning and relay it day later. What ever interpretation he gave, he was right. Because there was no ‘true’ meaning, what the child focused on, how they interpreted the meaning, what they saw in the story pointed to who he was and where his place was.

This is critical for a happy person, a healthy community. There are long periods in our history and the history of others that we associated with, that I can say speaking from those experiences; you don’t change people, you don’t try to make them ‘perfect’ , ‘better’ or create some kind of Utopia society. You simply reveal who people really are and historically we found that sufficient to weave the community together out of what people are, not what you may want, wish or think them to be. The ‘bad’ in the community as necessary as the ‘good’ to knit a community closely together. As necessary as a weaver once put it, as the knotted and smooth strands used to weave baskets.*

People tend to not ‘hear’ that, they can’t imagine living in a society without jails, violence or mentally ill. It’s enough to invite scorn. But, I took the opportunity to put this concept in practice in a Western setting, when I served a proselyting mission in Melbourne, Australia. I declined to spend time knocking on doors. Instead I made a statement to the local church community that I would get a 100% voluntary participation of all youth I approached between 11 and 18 years old in a project to develop their talents, be able to express their real voice and create a relationship with them sufficient to work through some of their problems. I targeted street kids in the area and kids who were active members or who were listed as members in the community, but who never came.

I chose a musical play, wrote the main theme from scratch and wrote each character with a specific kid in mind, to express a talent they had or wanted (sing,dance, act, paint, order people around, play with the technical stuff –whatever.) It was magical that whatever town we traveled to, it all came together. I don’t have the time to tell the type of success we had, but for example; a bunch of Tongan boys too shy to socialize had a love of rap, connected them with an inactive Lebanese guy who had a natural gift for rap, teaching and involved them in that community. Two boys that were often separated by force because of their violence, I instead got them to work together with a comedic one-upmanship routine they wrote mostly themselves. Two groups of 13-14 year old girls who hated each other, who had contrasting life styles and loved dance, one group identified funk the other group identified with ballet, we wrote a scene that played a music rounder that we could have both groups dance to at the same time, the different dance styles contrasted and complemented each other in a total piece that looked dynamically great, which created a hook for girls to start converse without rancor and fear to justify their contrasting styles.

I got 100 percent participation, it’s not hard to get people to do what they love to do.

In my life now with a background of 20 or so years in training people of all ages and a number of years in recruitment, Peepsweave is a movement towards building healthy communities by realigning the disconnect between what Universities teach, what industries need graduates to be and know and kids learning to map a career to their actual talents and nature.

*The ‘knotted strands’; the problems people have or are being, were used to bring out the best in the community and to knit that community out of need. Problems were used as tools to unite, rather then seen as divisive.

“This way of life” – a Karena viewpoint

My niece had said there was an interesting documentary on ABC1 on Sunday night “This way of life” about the Karena family, living around Hastings. So I watched it, as any Karena from Hastings would be a relative of mine.

I’ve seen this style of story or documentary before; white boy raised by natives, gone bush living an idyllic life in paradisical surroundings, overcoming challenging struggles and in conflict with the evil (insert the bad guy’s name here).  It’s a common storyline, that sells well.

This isn’t a fictional story though, it’s dealing with real people.  But there is always an element of fiction I think in documentaries.  I notice they weave bits and pieces of what they film, picking and choosing what they do and don’t want,  to tell a story the director wants to tell.

Throughout this story the picture is painted of a malevolent stepfather, you know this mostly from what the wife and husband say. Peter and Colleen say things like; ‘he stole Peter’s home’, probably stole ‘his wild horses’, ‘does dodgy deals’, ‘acts out of anger a lot’ and things of that nature. It’s implied the father did abuse to Peter as a child, it’s even implied that the Father burnt the family home down.  Towards the end of the movie you get to meet ‘the evil stepfather’ as the director takes her cameras to film Wero Karena and his wife Patsy overseeing the removal of the burnt out wreckage of their family home.

It was telling that this was the day, the director chose. It would be a highly emotionally charged day.  That home, my family’s home was only a shack really, but there’s been more than 7 generations of Karena literally who have been born and died in that home. (Great things have come out of that place, discussions for the full immersion school that Tame Karena championed, where Maori learnt in Maori and disproved the Government’s belief that Maori had to learn the system in English, by achieving higher scores than Maori children learning in white schools. The raising of one of the first Kohanga Reo – the language nest, Maori kindergarten for pre-schoolers. The restorative justice program the community ran to take prisoners out of gaol and instead have them live and work in the community. The meetings with some of the greats of New Zealand, Sylvia Ashton-Warner and her husband, government ministers of various sorts.. and then you have all those ties to family who have passed on and the memories of recent generations.)

It’s there that Patsy and Wero raised her kids, his kids in other words all their kids. Along with children from abused homes they fostered, as Patsy’s a social worker. And Wero having been adopted himself always opens the doors to children without a home. This wasn’t just a house.

This is the day they chose to impose their cameras? Did the audience I wonder notice Patsy, Peter’s mother walking head down in grief?  I doubt it.  Nor did they care about stomping on either’s pain. And you wonder why Wero gave them an angry reception? The camera’s first shows Wero stopping them from trespassing on his land, and they then re-position the cameras to look up at Wero, only his body, you don’t see his face, so he appears to loom over you ominously. The Director proceeds to accuse him of setting our family home on fire.  Personally I would of slapped her. That was a foul accusation to make and it was made to fit the story she wanted to spin.

As I was watching, I was asking myself, what do you mean “Peter’s house”?? How does Peter, precede his own older brothers let alone the Karena sons and daughters of Wero? How does his Step-Father and Mother’s home suddenly becomes his? When it’s obvious if Wero is selling the home, the home couldn’t of belonged to him in the first place? What gives Peter a sense of entitlement to a legacy that’s not his own? If my memory is correct I don’t think they even paid rent, as Wero and Patsy temporarily vacated the place to give them a home till they could get on their feet.

I found it particularly invasive that they took cameras into our family home and showed the pictures of my ancestors and relatives. Neither Peter or Colleen have a drop of Karena blood in them, so what gave them the right? They would of known how upsetting it would of been to the family, to literally have the eyes of thousands of strangers invade our family privacy.

There were other things I found upsetting, not really for me, but as I imagined how Wero and Patsy would react. As I watched how Peter related to his kids, it struck me, he was modelling the same upbringing he got. The philosophy he espouses, the affection he shows wife and children, he’s modelling the loving parenting that he received. Wero and Patsy are inseparable, they’re a partnership.  How then could he disparage them?  And it was shocking to the rest of the family and the community that knows them all. Wero said to me once, he was talking about his adopted father; Tame, “you owe your parents, they raised you the best they could, you owe them to raise your own children better than they raised you”.

As I’ve read the feedback on twitter, Facebook , YouTube and on the radio calling a loving, good man a psycho, a monster, a malevolent evil man. There is some wrong, for the Directors; Sumner Burstyn and Thomas Burstyn to do a character assassination of a man, through careful editing, a one-eyed, one-sided viewpoint in order to make a more engaging story.
It’s been greatly divisive for the family, it’s distasteful and it’s very wrong.