Friday, 9 January 2015

First We Get Away.

This post was originally written back in October for Another Way. Myself and Martin Hodges, of Square Sunshine, had set up a Facebook Group under this name, which is proving to be the most active thing amongst all my social media. It's a place where people can share their thoughts, and posts they find online, around the topic of educating our children. This is a subject that has been taking up a lot of my headspace over the last year in particular, and one I will be writing about here regularly, and one which, clearly, a lot of people have a lot to say about. Parents are passionate about this, about what they perceive to be wrong with today's system, and the conclusion we are coming to is we are going to have to sort it out for ourselves.
So, my ranting sparked some lively connections, and a bunch of us like-minded folk got together one weekend to just get outdoors with our children and eat, play, love, and just hang out together. It was great. And out of it I wrote the following piece - the first time I'd written a blogpost in the best part of a year, which is what has finally led to the existence of this Thing.


Last weekend, we drove out into the autumn mountains, the winding road taking us up away from the sea and into the wild wilds of Wicklow, down into deep, green valleys where the trees are just beginning to turn, that first melting of green into yellow and ochre and brown. 
Down we came, down the steep roads, across the rushing river, and the place we found ourselves arriving at felt like a refuge, literally the last house in the valley. No electricity, no running water, no phone signal. Perfect.

Here was a gathering of folk, families much like ourselves, many of whom had never met one another before but who were there because they wanted to talk, to connect with others who shared the same concerns of today: how do we guide our children, and ourselves, through this very new experience of parenting the first ‘touch-screen generation’, or Digital Natives, as they are being called. In the last couple of years having two older teenagers no longer gives me the sure footing of the experienced parent, as our knowledge garnered from parenting them in the late 90’s and into the first decade of the 2000’s, doesn’t cover this most recent, all encompassing development, (and indeed leaves us totally unprepared for what the teens are experiencing, but that’s another days discussion). 

Alongside this growing concern, is a strange dichotomy, whereby this digital age is, on the positive side, allowing us to put our voice out into the ether, and to hear common voices that others are putting out too. Suddenly topics that need to be addressed are gaining ground. Topics that before may have felt like a voice in the wilderness for those that were searching for communal ground and a place to be heard. Suddenly we are finding one another. We are connecting with one another, discovering we are not alone in our questions. For me now, the questions and uneasy feelings are about something we have never questioned before: our education system. And how does it fit in with this new app-for-everything age. It’s confusing, right? The pros and cons, the good and the bad, the amazing advantages and the horrendous disadvantages of this digital age. How do we find the right balance? 
Here’s something I don’t understand: we want the newest gadget, the latest update, the most recent version, of everything else in our lives, yet why are we not looking for the same for our children? There are countless writings out there on the latest studies on how children learn best, and yet, as the wonderful Ken Robinson points out, we are still using an education system that was devised for the industrial age, an antiquated system who’s purpose is to turn out workers. 
We know better. We do. But it’s so huge no one wants to tackle it. 

But what if we did? Us parents, and educators, what would we do? What are we already doing? It’s as simple as starting a conversation, because that is where the seeds are sown. If you have read this far, chances are you are on this journey with us already. 

Last weekend we started a conversation. We talked, shared ideas, and who knows where it will lead, but it is definitely a beginning. And here on this blog, and over in our Another Way Facebook group, we've started a conversation, and although we are all scattered around the world, we are all thinking the same thing, and that's what reassures me that change is on it's way.
And in the meantime we can get our children off those screens and outside into nature, back into the wild where they know how to learn without being told how or when or what goals they have to reach in order to be deemed successful. We owe them that much at least.

So, back in the valley, while the grown ups warmed themselves up, cooked up some food to share, got the fires going, and talked up a storm, our children ran wild. They forged the river, chased one another in the dying light as the sun sank behind the towering mountainsides, and even the darkness did not slow them down. Later, before we made our way to our candlelit beds, we sat by the river, around the campfire, and the conversations continued, our thoughts and ideas carried along with the rushing water, like prayer flags taking our wishes and dreams to the future. 

In the morning there is frost, the gorse festooned with dewey spiderwebs, a spider city revealed to us as though our time here has granted us special Nature Powers to see, really see the world around us. Driving home the road steams, mist drifting into the sunlight, and the trees across the valley seem to fall away from us, as though we are skybound. We feel energised, renewed, cleansed. In the back of the car, Billy (age 7) cannot stop talking, and do I imagine his voice is lighter and clearer than yesterday? There has been no mention of the iPad in the time we’ve been here. ‘When we get home can we smash the iPad with a hammer?!’ he calls out with slightly manic glee in his voice. There’s a moments silence and we all burst out laughing at his uncharacteristic drama.

And as we pause at a crossroads on the road, turning towards home but for a moment gazing at the further mountains that seem all too inviting,  all at once we see them, a pair of sika deer hidden among the trees, the dappled light almost fooling our eyes. They pause in the dim glade, gaze at us shyly, and for that moment we are held captive, connected to this creature who’s curious eyes meet ours with calm acceptance. 

Eyes shining, hearts singing, we make for home, yet he takes us with him when he turns and melts into the deep green of the woods. 

Edit: Since writing this we have set up a more local group called Wicklow Hedge School for anyone in the area interested in taking this further. You can find us here: Wicklow Hedge School. 

No comments: