09 January, 2011

Vision of the Future

by Jean Houston

Vision incites the courage to be, to act, to succeed. It gives us the passion for the possible. Vision is also the picture of the future, the promised land, whether it is Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt or Martin Luther King Jr. offering a land where people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Our future is not Armageddon, nor need it be a crazy patchwork quilt of Band-Aids covering insoluble problems. Our future can be a unique civilization that honors diversity, moves from fixing to finding, from debate to conversation, from despair to discovery, nonviolence as a way of life and the maintenance of contracts between ever larger groups. Our future can be the New Story.

The architecture of change requires new guiding principles, new methods and new infrastructures. We know that the state of the art in many areas such as education, health care, negotiation, is very high, while the application lags far behind. I am reminded of the marvelous words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour, falls from the sky a meteoric shower of facts...they lie unquestioned, uncombined. Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill is daily spun; but there exists no loom to weave it into fabric."

The loom I think is that of the imagination-- yours, mine, ours. It will take a creative, an imaginative leap to reweave the threads of education, healthcare, technology, media, employment, politics, welfare, politics and the environment into the pattern that bridges us into a better world. I remember the power of John Lennon's song, "Imagine" and I wonder at the of group that encourages each other to imagine and then create a finer society.

Imagine, for example, the past, when economics was but one image among the multiple images of a society's concerns; only now has it occupied center stage with all other concerns being considered as satellites. Perhaps if we change the image in our own minds, and put it back where it was for so long -- a satellite to the soul of culture, instead of the soul of culture being a satellite to economics, we can begin to restore some sense of balance in ourselves as well.

Imagine a style of education, which, in an age as complex as ours requires that students learn how to learn, how to think, and to do that with the many kinds of intelligence that are ours. In many years of observation I have never met a stupid child but I have met many stupid and debilitating, and yes, even brain-damaging, systems of education. As we have discovered, a child can learn almost anything and pass the standard if she is dancing, tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and feeling information. She can delight in doing so because she is using much more of her mind-brain-body system than conventional teaching generally permits. So much of the failure in school and home stems directly from boredom, which itself stems directly from the larger failure to stimulate and not repress all those wonder areas in the child's brain and soul that could give him so many more ways of responding to her world and therefore becoming capable of envisioning a different future for themselves and others. Additionally, schools can model a civilized society: realistic training for employment and community involvement combined with zero tolerance for racism, sexism, violence and psychological abuse. Part of the task would be that of calling in real teachers to imagine and then do real work in modeling optimal and replicable public education for the 21st century. Imagine too, a society in which lifelong learning is taken for granted even in the White House.

Imagine becoming the orchestrator of the many voices in health care as it enters a new phase. The expansion of healthcare professionals is reducing the power of physicians; the increasing knowledge base of the patient is increasing the power of the consumer; the democratic demand for an expansion of basic healthcare to all citizens will decrease the power of for profit medicine.

Imagine politics becoming more democratic with greater civic involvement as well as electronic participation. This, along with the gradual increase of elected women and minorities is going to cause real movement and citizen involvement. For too many, the Macarena became the metaphor for political life--most of the movement takes place while your feet stay in the same spot.

Perhaps we can explore ways to help them discover as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it that "...the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: to reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it--but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."

We find ourselves at the end of one era, and not yet at the beginning of a new one. We are caught in a parenthesis between the reluctance to leave what was, and the terror before what is yet to be. Some of us have subsided into lives of serial monotony, while others risk all for sensation at any cost. And still a vision beckons. We are the citizens of closing times, and this makes us pioneers of opening time, bridge builders and architects, the ones who will make it happen. In this, our vision and guidance is essential for these are the times, and we are the people.

About the Author:

Jean Houston is co-director of the Foundation for Mind Research and an eminent scholar, philosopher, and teacher. She has written numerous books drawing on thirty-five years of research on human development and exploring ways of developing extraordinary capacities in people and organizations throughout the world.

Source: New Horizons

Read, Learn & Flourish!

For Your Success & Glory!

What are the Determinants of Children's Academic Successes and Difficulties?

by Marian Cleeves Diamond, Ph.D

Environmental factors can influence both the pre- and postnatal brain. Most of us are aware that in the Eastern world the concept of "intrauterine education" goes back in Chinese literature over 2000 years.

I could find one reference published in the Ming Dynasty in 1237 when women were advised to behave favorably during pregnancy so that their offspring would be bright and survive well. Good behavior included: "Sit and walk dignified and sedately; maintain a good temper and with a mind at ease; do not look at evil happenings and ugly pictures; etc. In the Western world Omraam Aivahov stated in 1938 that the State should concentrate all of its attention on its pregnant mothers. In our laboratory we have been able to demonstrate the effects of enriched environments on the prenatal rat brain. So when one addresses determinants of academic successes and difficulties in today's world, one really should take into consideration pre- as well as postnatal conditions for forming healthy children and their precious brains.

How can parents and teachers provide conditions that will most effectively promote growth and change in our children's nerve cells with their branching dendrites? Dendrites are like the trees of the mind, growing like poplars in the sun. How can parents help a child to develop his or her full potential and set a pathway of lifelong learning? Parents and teachers should create a climate for enchanted minds to obtain information, stimulate imagination, develop an atmosphere to enhance motivation and creativity and discover the value of a work ethic.

Innately, children are very adaptable and feel natural in any comfortable pattern a parent may set. In spite of what has been said, parents can play a very active role in developing a child's behavior, for children spend far more time outside of school than in, reportedly 80% more.

Our recipe for an enriched environment to determine academic success:

  1. Includes setting the stage for enriching the cortex by first providing a steady source of positive emotional support - love, encouragement, warmth and caring. Our old rats live longer with tender loving care.
  2. Provides a nutritious diet with enough protein, vitamins, minerals and calories. We have shown that with a low protein diet during development the branches on the nerve cells in the cortex do not flourish to be able to respond to an enriched condition.
  3. Stimulates all the senses, but not necessarily all at once. A multisensory enrichment develops all of the cortex; whereas, an input from a single task stimulates the growth of only a precise area of the brain. One example, growing up responsibly on a farm surrounded by clean fresh air with all of its multisensory input supplies a wealth of varied stimuli to develop a cortex
  4. Has an atmosphere free of undue pressure and stress but suffused with a degree of pleasurable intensity
  5. Presents a series of novel challenges that are neither too easy nor too difficult for the child at his or her stage of development
  6. Allows for social interaction for a significant percentage of activities; there is no doubt peers are intrigued with and enjoy each other.
  7. Promotes the development of a broad range of skills and interests that are mental, physical, aesthetic, social and emotional
  8. Gives the child an opportunity to choose many of his or her own activities. Allow each unique brain to choose.
  9. Gives the child a chance to assess the results of his or her efforts and to modify them. As he builds sand castles on the beach and admires his construction before a wave destroys them and he need to earn to start over and resculpt.
  10. An enjoyable atmosphere that promotes exploration and the fun of learning; rats living in enriched environments are more exploratory than those living in impoverishment.
  11. Above all, enriched environments allow the child to be an active participant rather than a passive observer; a healthy body will have the energy to become involved.

A nonenriched, impoverished environment, which can cause difficulties and a lack of success, will tend to be opposite in most of these ways, including:

  1. A vacillating or negative emotional climate
  2. A diet low in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and too high or too low in calories
  3. Sensory deprivation
  4. High levels of stress and pressure
  5. Unchanging conditions lacking in novelty
  6. Long periods of isolation from caregivers and/or peers
  7. A heavy, dull atmosphere lacking in fun or in a sense of exploration and the joy of learning
  8. A passive, rather than active involvement in some or all activities
  9. Little personal choice of activities
  10. Little chance to evaluate results or effects and change to different activities
  11. Development in a narrow, not panoramic, range of interests

We should also not underestimate the importance of supporting creativity with imaginative toys, fantasy friends, a rich language environment, the value of music and art, and the value of a mentor who cares and listens and will remain in her mind when she later needs support.

Let me take one example, when it comes to providing toys and activities for young children, there is, in general an inverse relationship between the specificity and elaborateness of a toy and its ability to excite the imagination. A cast-off cardboard box can become a doll house, a puppet stage, a school or an alien planet. Tools for exploring, a magnifying glass, an old tape recorder, a map, can open doors in the mind, as can the artifacts of make believe. The more pressure the parent puts on a child to produce something specific, the harder it is for the child to express creativity and imagination.

All of these have their role to play in brain development. BUT we have also learned that too much stimulation is detrimental. The cerebral cortex does not show significant growth with too much stimulation as it does with a moderate amount. The brain needs time to transfer information into its association cortex. Allow the child time to think about what is happening and what is coming next. Allow for ample free time too. Creative efforts need time to utilize what has been stored in the brain. DO NOT OVER STIMULATE.

In conclusion, I would like to cite an example from one of my own four children. I recently had the courage to ask them the positives and negatives of having a working mother. Ann, who majored in geology at Harvard, then after graduating, played soccer for half a year before entering medical school at UCSF, provided the following positives: you gave us the freedom to choose what we wanted to do; you served as a role model showing if we worked hard we could succeed; and we are proud of you. What parent/educator could ask for more?

About the Author

Marian C. Diamond, Ph.D. is a neuroanatomist in the Department of Integrative Biology ay the University of California, Berkeley. She is co-author of Magic Trees of the Mind. She is also a member of New Horizons for Learning's International Advisory Board, advising us on the development of the News from the Neurosciences area of the website.

Source: New Horizons

7 Skills students need for their future!

There are two major trends in the world that pose a fundamental challenge--and many opportunities--to our educational system. One is the world is shifting from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. The other is the rising generation--brought up on the Internet--is very differently motivated to learn.

These two forces, argues Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard's Change Leadership Group, compel us to reconceptualize education in this country. In his thoughtful analysis of future industry needs and education readiness studies, Dr. Wagner has identified what he calls a "global achievement gap," which is the leap between what even our best schools are teaching, and the must-have skills of the future:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination

Dr. Wagner points out that in today’s digital age, the “Net generation” is, among other things, accustomed to instant gratification and use of the web for extending friendships, interest-driven, self-directed learning; and are constantly connected, creating, and multitasking in a multimedia world—everywhere except in school.

In order to motivate and teach this generation, the school system must be reinvented to be accountable for what matters most. That means to do the work--teaching, learning, and assessing--in new ways.

Students must acquire knowledge, but “we need to use content to teach core competencies,” he states.

To learn more about the seven skills, and how to reinvent the education system to prepare our graduates for the 21st century, please view the accompanying video. This video is based on Dr. Wagner's book: From The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need—And What We Can Do About It (Basic Books, 2008). The program was made possible through the generous and visionary support of the MetLife Foundation.

Read, Learn & Flourish!

For Your Success & Glory!