Friday, 22 April 2011


I was reading a book the other week in which the main character was talking about being taught the counties of England; in other words how to dissect and label.  And that's what education in the way it currently exists, is.  It's purely a labelling and dissecting exercise.

Take each subject:

Geography: How to divide land masses into 1st: land masses!, 2nd: bits of land masses, 3rd: features within those bits including weather systems in a bit we label the sky.

History: How to categorise, chronicle and describe a past that no longer exists. It's often defended as being important so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past.  Try telling that to the dead of all the countless and pointless bloody wars.

English Literature:  How to dissect and analyse a work of fiction.  Trying to find the meaning or message in it.

English Language: Categorising and applying laws to the method of spoken and written communication.  So that if a child writes 'sed' instead of 'said' it is wrong, even if it works in being able to communicate understandably and effectively.

Biology: Cutting up and dissecting nature - trying to work out HOW it works.

Physics: Trying to explain the laws which govern the physical world, trying to identify the stuff that it's all made out of.

Chemistry: Working out the interactions between the properties of the stuff that it's all made out of.

Maths: Formularising and categorising according to numerical representations and their relationships.

And those are just the basic subjects.  Not forgetting Sociology, Psychology, Politics, Engineering, Domestic Sciences and I.T. (I'm not even going to touch on R.E., otherwise this blog might blow itself up through furious indignation).  And I'm sure I've missed out a whole load of others.

But do you see what they're all doing?  Even labelling themselves as distinct disciplines is sub-dividing the world into lots of different subjects or areas.

And all of these subjects is concerned with sub-dividing and labelling.  Taking an aspect of the world or reality and analysing it and breaking it down, until it's just a concept.

And we wonder why children need to spend so much time in school - it takes years to teach a child how to apply false labels and distinctions onto reality.  How to map, and apply rules and laws, and properties and formulas, and relationships, and ... for what?  To try to understand something that never stays the same in any way.  As though it CAN be understood. 

And ironically, that's the last thing we tell the young ones.  That it is always changing and so it can never be absolutely understood.  If we taught them this from the outset and then said, "but you're going to spend the next 11 to 16 years pretending that it can be. Treat it as fun, as a diversion, as something to do and remember that there are no rights or wrongs, because the perceived wisdom of today is the debunked theory of tomorrow.", they might just be able to have fun with it and realise that it's not a serious endeavour at all.

But, unfortunately, it's taken very seriously by the education system (and how's that for a distinction and label in itself!) and children have it impressed on them with the full force of this system that they have to be able to understand all the distinctions, labels and categories in the ways that they are presented to them and then to be able to make up more of these distinctions of their own and apply all these distinctions so that they can earn money.

I feel exhausted just thinking about it.


I don't know what an alternative would look like, but there has to be something that doesn't divide quite so... divisively.

Any educators out there got any ideas?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Your Presence Is Requested

There was recently an advert on the TV, in which the voice-over said something like: "You can't fake've either got it or you haven't.", as a handsome male walks down a sepia-tinted street towards his latest edition German car.  Wearing elegant clothes with just the right air of insouciant casualness, a faint smile playing around his mouth - a right cocky bastard!

"You can't fake presence".... no shit, Sherlock.

You can't fake presence, because you can ONLY be present. 

It's like there's this idea that people can be 'more' present, but how can you possibly be MORE present than you presently are!?

What the advert really means is "Buy this expensive pile of tin and plastic for shitloads of money and you will turn into some uber-goodlooking bloke with the cool of James Dean and the charisma of Jonny Depp."

Errrr, no, actually, you won't.  You'll just be someone walking around with a massive overdraft, loan or H.P agreement, who THINKS they  now have some kind of kudos due to the car they drive.  Which actually makes you a dickhead.   Once for believing the advert and twice for acting on it. But ultimately, because you don't realise that presence isn't something that can be bought, got, learnt, attained or given.  

And it's a shame.  Because we spend so much time trying to assert our existence.  Believing that we can be something more than what we already are.  You can never be more than what you already are.  You can't ever get away from it.  Even as you're trying to move towards something that you wish you could be, you're only ever being you.

And it always comes back to looking at reality.

To seeing the stories AS stories.  Seeing the reality for what it is.

There's nothing wrong with daydreaming, as such, it can be a lovely way to pass some time.  Providing it's recognised as just that... a dream.  I'm not saying that dreams can't come true, but it's interesting that more often than not.... they don't.  

And when they do come true, do they ever match up to what we thought they would be like?  Isn't it true that the reality is never like the thought of what it would be?  Think of something that you wanted, that you then got..... was it ever how you imagined it?

And maybe that's because reality is only ever that.... real.  A dream isn't.  It can't conjure up all the possibilities of the real situation/experience.  All the dream gives you is some idealised, cartoon version.  

Just like the car advert really.  It doesn't tell you about the debt that the cool bloke is in, or the fact that he's got a corn on his big toe, or has a really silly, high-pitched voice, or his piles itch, or that he actually works as a regional manager for an insurance company (no offence intended if you're reading this and that's what you do for a living, but it doesn't have the image of being the most exciting job around, now does it?).

I guess what I'm really trying to say in my convuluted and long-winded way, is that we're constantly being peddled stuff that we don't need in order to make us into something other than what we are.  And we don't need it because (a) it can't be had, and (b) if we do get what we think it is, it won't be anything like the dream and will lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction & dissillusionment.  Like, for instance, having presence.  You can't 'have' presence.  It's not like a coat that you put on. You can't buy a bottle of 'Presence' (ha! what a great marketing idea for a perfume!).  It doesn't rub off on you cos you've got the latest 'stuff'.  Snake-oil salesman don't even come close to it!  

I mean, sure, buy the car cos it's got an efficient engine, or a great sound system, or tight cornering and it's a joy to drive, but don't buy it because you think it can give you 'presence'.  You don't need that.

If you weren't present, you wouldn't be.  

Presently, you are.  

WHAT you are... well, that's another question.  Just try to make sure that you're NOT the dickhead in that advert... cos no-one likes a smug bastard, with or without presence!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Best Thing in Life is Free....

There has never been ...... nor will there ever be ......nor is there now........

Anyone quite like YOU.

The character that you are, the embodiment that is living, is utterly unique.  Life is doing you like nothing else on earth, in the universe, in fact.

Doesn't that amaze you?

I mean, really... just ponder on it a while.  Even if you think that you have faults and weak characteristics... there is not anywhere another aspect of life that lives in the way that you do!

And every aspect of what you are is totally, thrillingly, alive.  Is constantly changing and buzzing and throbbing with life.

Even if depression or boredom is experienced - isn't it absolutely, profoundly alive?  It may be labelled bloody horrible, or dull and tedious, but you can't deny it's real-ness.  The profound depth to its reality.  Even as it starts to change, ceaselessly moving..... sometimes with fey subtlety and at others with dramatic sudden-ness.

Just to be able to know the character that you are and to feel how alive it is, is a wonder really ... and there's no effort needed. 

You don't need a licence, or to pay a fee, or get permission, or be granted rights, or pass a test to be completely you..... it's entirely free.

The best things in life always are......

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Muvvas, eh? Who'd have 'em?

Tomorrow is Mother's Day.  This day was invented by one: Anna Jarvis, in 1914 in memory of her mother.  It is said that she came to regret campaigning so tirelessly for such a day due to the commercialism which resulted.

And it's ironic that something which was instigated as a way to remember, honour and appreciate a mother has turned into something which can engender guilt, obligation and inadequacy on the part of children,  and loneliness and self-pity on the part of mothers.

Done properly (that is to say, how the commercial world would have us do), children may well feel that they've done their duty in paying dues to their mother and a mother may feel valued and cherished.

The point is, though.... that it's a MADE UP DAY!

I mean, it was lovely of Anna Jarvis to want to commemorate her mother, but couldn't she have done it in a more private and personal manner?  Rather than foisting on the world this obligation, and playing into the consumerist society by further sucking money out to be spent on useless stuff that doesn't mean anything, couldn't she have just written a moving epitaph, or set up an orphanage?

I know it was not her intention for it to become such a commercial opportunity, but I bet there are children all over the world (it is, apparently, 'celebrated' in 43 countries) who feel that unless they can convey through the thoughtful choice of a present and a card how much they appreciate their mothers then they will have failed to demonstrate their love.  Of course, any mother worth her salt wouldn't give a flying fuck if their kids didn't buy them something expensive or anything at all... but I know that there are some out there who may use it as another stick to beat their offspring with, with subtle inferences about their disappointment and the lack of appreciation that is shown for the sacrifices and difficulties they have faced. 

It's my opinion that if a child feels obligated to show attention and appreciation on mother's day, then that mother has failed in one very important respect.  By engendering guilt in another person by dint of their inability to choose their parentage. No-one chooses who their parents are and if a parent feels hard-done-by, or that they have suffered, as a result of being a parent, then it absolutely is not the child's fault.  It's not really anyone's fault - No-one can have any idea what it's like to be a parent, until it happens.  It's often ignored that parent's are people too.  They are the way they are in part because of their parenting and everyone does the best they can with what they're given.  I know that it couldn't be any other way.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't show love and appreciation, but shouldn't it be a spontaneous and natural expression? Not something that people feel pressurised into because of the expectations of a purely fictitious occasion.

Will I feel upset if my children don't remember me on Mother's Day in some way?  I'd like to say 'No'. But I'd be lying.  I would absolutely not want them to spend any money on me... but a cup of tea and breakfast in bed.. a head massage.... a hug ... or an offer to let me off all household duties for the entire year [;-)] would mark the occasion much more effectively.  If they were to buy me an expensive present and card, I would consider that I had not been as an effective mother as I would like, because it would mean that they value money and possessions too much and think that these things demonstrate caring.  Although, I guess, if you find it hard to be demonstrative, then spending money is equivalent to spending your time (time = money for many).

It would be stupid, and human, of me to be upset if they completely forgot Mother's Day, because I could infer that I mean nothing to them.  And perhaps on that particular day, I didn't - perhaps they were too busy living their lives and I should in fact, be glad that they hadn't bought into such a pointless event.  My worth to them as their mother is only useful in the mundane, ongoing relationship that we have.  And it is that everyday and utterly unconditional attention that makes Mother's Day (and Father's Day for that matter), obsolete and a little obscene.  IMO.

But, whatever you do, don't tell your mother that!