Friday, March 14, 2014

Beauty according to De Lupita Nyong'olu

Education is about giving opportunities for beauty. That is possible if our children are surrounded by the real beauty. "Talk to your daughter about beauty before the beauty industry does" (Dove)

I share with you the Oscar winner De Lupita Nyong'o's beautiful speech on beauty.


Thirty years forward to go sixty back

The Waldorf School in Los Altos, Calif., eschews technology. 
By Catherine L'Ecuyer
Published in Metropolis

What kind of schooling awaits our grandchildren? In the year 2040, this question is answered in an article that takes stock of the educational situation and the changes that have occurred over the previous decades.

Thirty years ago (in 2010), the technological boom had peaked, comparable to the technological and real estate “bubbles” of 2000 and 2006, respectively. Nobody could possibly have expected it to collapse like it did. Over this period we have gone from having interactive digital displays in virtually all preschool classrooms to none in 2040. But why were we so easily seduced by technology in the classroom?

This technology fever was brought on by several causes – marketing for schools, hypereducation, the disproportionate concern of our parents (who perhaps suffered from the digital immigrant complex), the trend factor, etc. Were there proper studies that justified such disproportionate spending? No. A chain of events helped to turn what were once known as digital natives into digital emigrants and to usher in the Digital-Free Schooling movement.

The year 2011 brought news of the first school to alight from the tech train, an American Waldorf school, attended by the children of high-ranking executives from technology companies in Silicon Valley. In the wake of this news, “surprising” for those times, books began to spring up telling of the latest scientific findings that questioned the efficacy of the use of screens in early learning, and some even demonstrated their potentially detrimental effects on children. Shortly afterwards, due to the fact that the vast majority of children were discovering the world through a PC display rather than through reality, it transpired that some were seeing reality in 2D; they were living in a flat, shallow world! A loss of the senses of touch and smell through lack of use was also detected. 

According to a study performed in 2015, any child could identify a cow on a screen, but few knew how they mooed, virtually none knew what they smelt like, and not a single child had ever touched one. Some experts began to talk about two new disorders, “reality deficit” and “humanity deficit”. We know that kids triangulate between the world and the people who teach them. They make their discoveries hand in hand with a real person whom they trust, who helps to give meaning to their learn­ing, something which a screen cannot do. Gaping at a screen that becomes an intermediary between them and reality, children become passive, waiting for the screen to do everything for them. And so their minds wander, their sense of wonder – the engine that powers their desire to learn – is numbed, and their creativity wanes.

At this point one might recall the controversy of 2017, sparked by a group of parents who complained to the Department of Education over the overuse of screens in a subsidised private school. The school alleged that lack of funds, plus the increasing number of learning disorders in children and the number of children per class, rendered it impossible to manage classes without resorting to the use of screens. The controversy, which ended with the school’s licence being withdrawn, sparked a dialogue between science and education that culminated, by popular demand, in the educational reform of 2020, to firstly regulate the use of new technologies in the classroom and secondly revise pupil ratios. The law was visionary as it included the input of hundreds of renowned experts in psychology, neuro­science and pedagogy.

Limitation of the use of new technologies

The reform drew on the recommendations of the experts, who associated poor academic performance and a number of learning disorders with the disproportionate use of screens. Note was taken of the so-called “displacement effect” cited by American literature. While a child is in front of a screen, he or she is losing out on other more “excellent” activities which make a greater contribution to their development, such as reading, playing, rambling, making friends and forging bonds with the people who look after them. Following these recommendations, the reform prohibited, “for reasons of public health”, the use of screens throughout preschool education and permitted it in higher years – in less than 5% of teaching hours – provided that the content and objectives were clearly for learning purposes. Following the legal reform, the use of commercial films in schools was totally prohibited, and decisions on choosing the most suitable contents for children at home were left up to their parents. It had been made clear, once and for all, that school was about education, not recreation. The idea was to make better use of our time so that children would come home with less homework and more time to play, read and be with their parents.

It is significant that this change took place just after the Conciliation Law of 2018, which cut lunch time to half an hour, converting this break into paid time, to allow all workers to finish their working day eight hours after starting it. Now that most parents both get home at the same time as their kids, time spent in front of the screen has dimin­ished drastically, while time spent playing outdoors and playing sports has increased.

During the “2009–2016 crisis”, ratios rose to thirty children per classroom in preschool and primary education. This change, prompted only by short-term and short-sight­ed cutbacks, was radically revised by the educational reform. Following the recommendations of experts who advocated the importance of the creation of a secure attachment in children’s early years to ensure good development, and who also recommended the application of personalised education in later years, ratios of thirty pupils per class were slashed to ten. Recent longitudinal studies published in indexed journals report benefits across the board for children who were subject to these changes, which are now reaching primary education, and these studies cite our country as a model for the rest of the world.

Consequences of the educational reform

A few years after the educational reform, experts reported a reduction in learning disorders, bullying and violence at school. And purely by way of anecdote, the sales of educational books with methods on how to get children to eat, sleep or obey plummeted. The experts hold that this change is due to the fact that most parents spend more time with their children, and are therefore more receptive to their needs, which in turn has a positive impact on their mutual relationships. Parents no longer need the “packaged advice industry”.

Nowadays, owning up to being a digital emigrant is cool. But our generation hasn’t completely emigrated, as more than 50% of parents work from home, via the Internet, so as to be able to attend to their family obligations better. I wonder: might we not be taking our rejection of all things digital a bit too far? The Internet is still a wonderful tool for those who know what they are looking for and what they are not looking for.

In short, we have advanced thirty years, to go sixty back. The difference is that sixty years ago we used to think that progress was synonymous with novelty, while now, we know that novelty may be but an illusion of progress. Progress is the pursuit of excellence, recovering context to connect with beauty and with the wonders of reality. So fortunately, these last sixty years have not elapsed in vain.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What is this "Wonder Approach"?

By Catherine L'Ecuyer

Mom... Why is it not raining upward? Why aren't the aunts lazy? Who wonders why all the time? The children! Why are we so bothered when they wonder why? Perhaps we think it is useless and there is no time for wondering why. Furthermore, we do not understand why are our children put into question the way things ARE.

When our children wonder why, they are actually wondered before the very fact of the reality around them. They wonder why things ARE, while they could very well NOT BE. This is, as Plato said, the beginning of philosophy! So when are our children are wondering why, they are actually philosophizing!

Chesterton graciously explained it when, referring to the children, he said "with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea."

St. Thomas Aquinas use to say that "Wonder is the desire for knowledge". Nowadays, the educational system, the entertainment industry, among others, are acting on the presumption that children, and as a matter of fact, everyone else, is completely dependent on the environment to learn. And this is why we are surrounded by constant bombarding of information. It is as if everyone out there were competing to occupy a small space in everyone else's brain. Recent studies in neuroscience are telling us that we are not dependent on the environment, but rather at the expectation of it. In some way, a scientific confirmation of Chesterton and Aquinas' intuitions.

When children are surrounded by overstimulation, their natural sense of wonder disappears, the child becomes passive and, eventually, addicted to the external stimulus. The child alternates between the states of boredom and anxiety, which causes hiperactivity and lack of motivation. 

"The reason children are the future is not that they will one day be grownups. No, the reason is that mankind is moving more and more in the direction of infancy, and childhood is the image of the future." Milan Kundera

We need, more than ever, to let the children grow with a sense of wonder.

The Triple-Win of Work and Life Balance


By Catherine L'Ecuyer

The Work and Life Balance debate reminds me of the Galileo case. The parallel does not come from the controversy that the issue has raised, but rather from the very approach to the issue. Does the sun revolve around the Earth, or is it the other way around? Do life and work balance issues have to be approached exclusively from the perspective of the woman and the company’s needs and rights, or is there a key third-party point of view that should be taken into consideration, to the extreme of perhaps converting itself into the center of the debate?

Not only does science confirm Galileo, but it also tells us about the forgotten third party to the work and life balance debate. The attachment theory, first developed by John Bowlby, is now one of the most widely recognized and established theoretical approaches in the field of psychological development. Throughout the years, this theory has converted itself into the dominant approach to understanding early social development, has been confirmed by a quantity of empirical research in psychology, neurobiology, pedagogy, psychiatry, etc., and is now being used to ground most of the social and childcare policies. The attachment theory tells us that children need a stable and available caregiver during their first 18 months of life in order to be self-confident, capable of obeying, respectful of authority, well disposed to learning and psychologically well balanced.

Most work and life balance arguments contemplate the company and the women’s rights, but forget the most important party to the debate: the child. I do not know of any woman in a management position who has decided to stay at home in order to clean her house and to go to the supermarket. These tasks can easily be delegated. Accompanying a child in discovering the world for the first time and shaping his paradigm towards life is not delegable.

When I go to the park with my children and I look around, I can see hyperactive children looking into the emptiness, accompanied by their nannies or, in some lucky cases, by their grandmothers. What will be of that generation of young children, who are being cared for by strangers, by the mass media or who are competing for the attention of their caregiver, in a class with 25 other children?

And the next logical question would be: what will be of these future employees, managers, executives, who have grown up under these conditions? Milan Kundera said “The reason children are the future is not that they will one day be grownups. No, the reason is that mankind is moving more and more in the direction of infancy, and childhood is the image of the future.” I fear companies have spent no time in addressing this issue. They are too busy resolving the short-term goals of reporting to the stockholders at the end of the current trimester. It is incongruent that environmental issues and non-profits be on the agenda of the multinationals as stockholders, while children aren’t.

Many of the women who decide to "take a career break" to take care of a child, later on have to face an odd situation. Interviewers do not understand how their non-traditional curriculum can add value to their company. Companies might even go as far as apologizing for not being able to do them the "favor" of compensating their benevolent decision. This "career break" often kills their opportunities to go back to the labor market. In times where companies are struggling, in need of managers and employees capable of out-of-the-box thinking, the narrow-minded attitude of the absolute search for industry knowledge and uninterrupted full-time business experience makes me wonder. Isn’t the current work and life balance debate as wrong and outdated as the thought that the sun revolves around the Earth? There is a need for a new work and like balance debate that adjusts itself to the reality: the triple-win of work and life balance. However, this triple-win will only be effective when taking a professional break to take care of a child is no longer to be considered “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the feminists, the same way Galileo’s heliocentrism was.