Sunday, May 18, 2008

Explaining the Invisible School

The Invisible School is a term that refers to the collection of tools and cultural characteristics present in hunter-gatherer nomadic societies around the globe. The bi-product of this collection of tools and strategies is individuals with a heightened sense of self and of their environment; master trackers and superlative (self-actualized) beings. For over fifteen years I have been studying primitive skills and the learning and teaching strategies of hunter-gatherer societies. At our school we have been fortunate enough to have learned cultural tools from Australia, Africa, Asia, Old Europe, and North and South America. Each of the cultures studied or represented are unique and as individual as one would expect(being from landscapes so far removed from each other). However, there are to be found some common threads, or tendencies, that bind them to their landscapes and provide us with some trends inherent in cultures representative of our collective ancestry.
These rare, but similar traits, offer a common place from which to reconstruct an educational model based on the evolution of the human mind rather than the post industrial philosophies of a handful of people, predominantly white european males, steeped in European philosophy and ideology. The collection of similar traits found in pre-basket hunter-gatherer nomadic cultures will be referred to as “The Invisible School”, because its participants don’t realize that they have been “schooled” at all. These people respond to the demands of their environment by learning or perishing.
The presence of mentors, individual ownership of ones skills and understanding, and the nurturing of an innate sense of wonder and curiosity about all things are a foundation and the dominating tenants for the invisible school. (develop in to a paragraph) Instead of relying on one point source of information for learning (the teacher or school) the invisible school is about amplifying the students innate awareness and curiosity in order to interpret everything as a source of teaching, learning, mystery, wonder, empowerment, and enlightenment. The invisible school thrives off of the idea that people are actually happy to be alive, not plodding miserably from place to place dependent upon others for happiness.
In the ecological lab, biology refines those skills important for survival and, following natural processes, culls those less efficient systems of information gathering and processing out of the genetic pool. The information gathering organs are developed and honed over thousands of years to couple with a dynamic environment to accomplish specific goals. These goals are the needs for physical survival and breeding. The more complex the society is, the more diverse the needs and the more complicated the approaches to those needs. It is why westerners wrongly believed that the native peoples of the world were uneducated savages. Without desks, curricula, and in most cases, without the written word, it was assumed that hunter-gatherer nomads were less intelligent. In actuality the opposite is true. That is to say, our ancestors, with the same sized cranium as us, utilized more of their physical and mental faculties, problem solved more actively with those faculties, and did so dealing with broad spectrum situations in an environment where life and death were much more intense than what most modern participants of Western Culture experience today.
The results of modern research based neurology and educational psychology indicate correlation's between increased problem solving abilities, creativity, and a general sense of health and well being when aspects of the invisible school are employed. Typically, they are often employed as the latest in “modern educational research” or as part of the latest educational fad. The Invisible School is as powerful as it is subtle.
The construct of the Invisible School emerges in spite of formal educational models and manifests in our daily lives. We are hardwired from birth to learn and interact in a certain way. Contrary to popular practices, that “way” is not to sit in a classroom for six hours a day. Rote memorization of facts and thinking in a controlled and contrived environment opposes thousands of years of evolution. The human brain evolved to learn in a dynamic, natural environment. The mere act of bringing students outdoors increases their awareness. Also, by being outside, students tend to shift from high stress levels (which reduce learning and increase frustration and boredom) toward lower stress levels. Having them interact with the landscape stimulates their Medial Temporal Lobe, which binds the separate elements of their experience into an integrated memory. The interactions we yearn for as children are best satisfied within the architecture of the invisible school. This means creating people with a joy for life and innate curiosity by bringing them into contact with their surroundings and awakening their senses.
Judy Willis echoes these sentiments through her studies of brain research as it applies to learning:

“Given the fact the neuro-imaging and qEEG studies of the human brain allow us to see what happens when students are stressed or affected by positive and negative emotions, how can teachers create the environments where destructive anxiety is low while providing enough challenge for suitable brain stimulation for each student?

From brain scan research, we know that pleasurably challenging lessons cause the amygdala to have moderately stimulated metabolism and that this warmed up state of alert stimulation stimulates the brain’s processing of information.”

The knowledge that simply bringing folks outside can profoundly influence growth, learning, creativity and memory will undoubtedly influence teaching strategies in a positive way, but caution must be used. Even with all of the tools of the invisible school in place, the results can shake a community as human potential is unleashed and fully realized. This is in stark contrast to systems that currently subdue this potential for the sake of order and efficiency. The warning comes as we realize that the accepted definition of learning has been allowed to atrophy as time has moved on. Learning is that which should change you. We now know, for instance, that television does not stimulate new neural pathways. What happens when we watch an “educational” program, therefore, is not learning, only the memorization of facts and images. Regardless of the contortions that new fads bring, the modern experience in the majority of public schools tends to favor rooms filled with nearly twenty seated children memorizing information long enough to be evaluated. Once the evaluation tool has been administered, the information, mastered or otherwise, is quickly forgotten to make room for the next in the series of testable material. When real learning occurs, it becomes a memorable, often moving experience. It is often an experience involving discomfort, hardship, joy, and any variety of intense emotional states. When it occurs often, the experience can be overwhelming and in stark contrast to what has become the “norm”.
Another aspect of the warning is to recognize what happens when we don’t acknowledge behaviors that manifest naturally, regardless of whether we nurture them or not; as has happened in our modern western experience. Many of the same tools used in a supportive community to raise superlative beings are also present in societies that don’t acknowledge the potential of such tools. Since we are predisposed toward interactions in a hunter-gatherer context, it should be no surprise that these ‘genetic pre-programs’ can manifest as dangerous, and even predatory. Sociopaths and psychopaths, shop lifters and con artists derive their pleasure from tapping in to these primal abilities and refining them. “Street smarts” or the “criminal mind” are descriptors of behaviors allowed to manifest and self nurture without the accompanying cultural tools to harness them for the betterment of society.

An example of just one of the components of the invisible school, left unchecked in our modern experience, is “secret societies”. In a diseased or imbalanced construct, invisible societies are built around hate, greed, or power, rather than service and healing. Even when a greater common good is the foundation for such a group, without vital elements of the invisible school like “initial premise” and “peace maker principles”, the group quickly erodes, becoming “exclusive” or “elitist”. Without a defined purpose beyond self-centered motivation, gangs, hate groups, and criminal organizations are the result. They even manifest in four of the major archetypes of human development mapped out in the invisible school. In a healthy community, these archetypes are used as profiling tools to better understand and nurture growth. Here they are expressed as the four cardinal directions. In an unbalanced community we see Elders in the form of Original gangstas (north), Capos (West), Foot Soldiers (South), and new recruits (East). This occurs because Heroes journeys without the guidance of healthy mentoring relationships and elders are as powerful as what has occurred in our distant past, accept that the motivators and goals of these journeys are either random, or steeped in self absorbed energy. If we do not provide healthy heroes and archetypes, the children will devise their own. Arguably, they already have.
Even when everything is in place and working well, the outcome can be devastating. When we share primitive skills we awaken primal wiring in the brain. Passionate feelings emerge and folks light up with an interest level they cannot explain or control. It is an enjoyable and profound pursuit of something that is “real” in comparison to their “normal” life. I would argue that what they have been conditioned to view as “Normal” is the baseline of contrived western experience that they were born in to (APART from the natural world, as opposed as a part OF the natural world). In short, some one leaves their family and comes to a primitive skills program for a weekend, and returns home a different person.
This sounds good initially. We unplug a person from “The Matrix” and they come home energized and impassioned about what they know is right and real. They have a mission, a higher purpose for being. They are enlivened. Except, the people in their lives didn’t ask for this. They weren’t notified of an impending change in their loved one and are caught unprepared. Where is the person that they loved? Where is the known quantity and the routine that they have grown to love and be comfortable with? In short order, the person WE taught, no longer speaks the same language as their closest loved ones. There is a division and a loneliness that comes when one cannot share the joy that they have been awakened to. This is especially true with regards to those who feel awakened, yet surrounded by loved ones still “plugged in” to a system that is effective at generating a standardized experience based on, if nothing else, mass conformity .

Next, the initial premise of the invisible school.

Respect and Good Medicine ,