Monday 28 February 2011

Under a Kenyan Moon II

Further updated 11.3.11

I am a 62 year old man, sitting on a Mombassa beach in very hot sun, shaded by giant palm trees. I am supposed to be retired, they tell me, and I am surely on holiday, but I am beginning to believe that now, only now, am I coming to understand what my real work could be.  Someone, will tell me I am off centre but a stronger muse will no doubt urge me on.  The poem "Under a Kenyan Moon" (see earlier post) tries to capture the emotion of our visit to Nakuru, north of Nairobi, where we met some fine people, dedicated, visionary people, who refired my passion for what too many, in England, seem to have lost the excitement for.  But the Nakuru experience is now just a starter for a big idea about the philosophy and practice of education...

I have to log it simply and urgently here, as a record of teeming thoughts at this time.  Forgive the tumble of words and the typos.... it is expensive to use this hotel computer!

Simon, Nicky, Dodo and I were hosted by Joseph, Lydia and their children in Nairobi and later Nakuru last week.  We visited the two year old school (Bahati Division Academy) Joseph and Lydia had built in their community and met the children, from 4 -14years, who welcomed us with warm and loving smiles.  As sponsors, for some children, we visited their homes, met their families and saw, for the first time, the subsistence, hand to mouth livelihood their communities are forced to rely on.

They were inspirational in their joy, hope and excitement for education, learning and all it can mean.  We were fed and sung to, we listened to their stories and we laughed and cried.  We told our stories and sang English and Kenyan songs.  The "Old Lady who swallowed a fly" was a great hit. My lasting impression is of a developing deep, deep respect for these warm people, their integrity, humour and some nostalgia for the community spirit that exuded from all we met in Nakuru.

I was lucky enough to work with the nine teachers in the school one morning, as requested, and we discussed their reasons for being teachers - the WHY?  WHAT? and HOW? of learning.  I must be careful, so careful, not to romanticise, or worse still patronise, in what follows....but I learnt so much in those all too brief hours we had. It had something to do with the obvious simplicity and cruel reality of life there.  It had much to do with peeling back my unnecessary words and diagrams to a basic message - to a precis of what I wanted to say in response to their critical questions - by email before and whispered, too respectfully, on the day itself.   "How do you bring back the self-reliance of children who have been dominated in an autocratic government system?"  "How do you work with a range of abilities in one class?"  "What is your view of discipline and corporal punishment, as some here believe it to be necessary?"   There were many other questions too and there will be more for next time... Rarely have I been so nervous before a session with teachers and I sensed they were too!  

In the end chalk board notes chartered our discussion of their answers to WHY? they are teachers, We skipped the WHAT? they teach, for that there is no argument. It is clearly laid down by the Kenyan government.  We moved on to the HOW? of teaching.  And suddenly, in that classroom, with those teachers, it all became clear!   The HOW? behind each of their questions -  the pedagogy, the methodology, has to be borne from the WHY? Is it too simple to say that getting right the WHY for education, leads logically to the HOW we educate? Is it too simplistic to say that the WHAT? is already, to a large extent, there in most of our systems? I believe it is, it is that simple.

Put simply - If teachers want to teach to: "make the world a better place;  allow children to find and achieve their goals; make the country more cohesive; bring unity to tribal conflict; to build peace; educate the citizens of tomorrow;  teach moral purpose (all their words not mine!) Then it is simple - each classroom must be a country in itself.  The teacher must be the leader of theri classroom nation - the ruler of their classroo community and society in the style and purpose of the country s/he wishes to build.  How else will the children know how to be leaders and rulers as they grow? 

If the overwhelming and predominant, if not oppressive, force in their classroom is the teacher's views and is dominated by what s/he thinks and says and does  and this is enforced by corporal punishment - then the future leaders will be predominantly dictatorial and cruel.  If classrooms are led by leaders who have a vision to inspire, involve, motivate and work with and alongside their "citizens" and eventually accord them the trust of delegation, sharing and responsibility, then the future leaders in their wider country will be democratic, responsive and enlightened....

We covered a lot in those three hours.  The teachers understood and took the notion of interdependence to heart.  I was not surprised, for the whole of their community already exudes it, I am less sure their educational processes do.

Too soon, we left - after a plaque was unveiled to my good  friend Simon whose original sponsoring, some 33 years ago, began the chain of events that led to this school being built. His emotion, so understandable as they cheered and sang, was embarrassing for him but for no one else.  What he, Lydia and Joseph have achieved in this school was tangible. 

One teacher, Kevin, said, "You can count the seeds in an orange but not the oranges in a seed".  The responsibility on those children is huge. We planted four trees, one for each of us, in the school grounds, with promises that each would be looked after by a child.  The leaf image was not lost on me!  We spent one more night camping and singing around a bright campfire under a massive spread of stars, in a Garden of Eden, a haven, built by Charles Mwai, a giant visionary Kenyan and friend of Joseph and we left, overwhelmed, humbled, muttering of somehow doing more, coming back, keeping the links.....

Here in Mombassa, on the holiday part of this visit, in a great hotel we are relaxing accompanied by a backdrop of flickering  television screens reminding us of the wider world, out there.  There spreading public uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.  Dictators are falling, threatened and frightened.  Their bluff of power is being blown away in a few days of street protests, fuelled by the horror of deaths in city squares.  Gaddafi, another dictator, holds out in desperation as I write.  Ordinary people are fired up demanding more involvement, a greater stake in their community's, society's and country's affairs.  Now it has started, it cannot be put back easily...although history shows regime change can lead to alternative evil powers and further corruption...  It takes weeks to bring down a regime and years to build a stronger and better one.  I cannot now help but make an obvious link.

It will take decades to educate these new nations.  My thoughts, on this unreal beach, away from it all is that teachers hold the keys to the future. It will be the educational structures, systems and teachers that lay the real foundations for the future in all our countries, not just Kenya, not just Egypt, or even England.  It's the vision and work of individual teachers in their classrooms that will create the sustainable foundations for democracies, or dictatorships. 

I am now more sure than ever that, all that "Leading learning for interdependence" is an idea stronger, more viable and meaningful than I could ever have thought before this visit.  We philosophers of education must strengthen our resolve about purpose, common goods and the UN Charter for the Rights of the Child.  We must step up and offer to help these new regimes and some old ones too.  The curriculum developers will be important too but I guess, as always, that the WHAT? we teach will be more obvious and easier to sort...indeed it is probably already there in many of these places, if my experience of global curriculum work is anything to go by...  

It's always far more about the HOW? our methodology.  A new pedagogy will be our most crucial work....  If newly established democracies want their citizens to be empowered, responsible, functional and with moral purpose then the classrooms in their schools must be microcosms of this...  There is surely a critical place for The Pedagogical Oath.  The new governments will do well to think and plan early and work hard, in collaboration, with their teachers about HOW? their classrooms and schools will reflect their new vision.

This has to be a new focus for my work - no not new, or even a wider focus, a tighter focus...

So, what next?  I want to work with "more powerful others"*, interested collaborators who want to motivate and inspire the development of educational systems to build interdependent learners and leaders (*). I want to signpost the HOW? of teaching and ask, "What do teachers say and do to build interdependency in their classrooms (and countries)?" 

So, thank you Kenya, thank you BDA students and most importantly thank you BDA teachers for helping me see clearer... 

(*) These could be Joseph, Lydia, Charles, Simon and Nicky in and for Kenya.  It could be my Moroccan friends in Taroudant (and the British Council).  John in Kuwait.  It could be Brian, John, and others in the Curriculum Foundation England, Pippa, Jill, Illy, Alan, Phil, John, Kevin, Dave and Jennie and a host of others. Please make contact if this makes any sense to you.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Under a full Kenyan moon

Under a full Kenyan moon,
Lit by fires of Bushmen cooking meat
Warm hands clasp. White eyes flash
We whisper then shout smiling words
Over deafening drumbeats.

We talk of names and some meanings
And how places, people, journeys
Always connect on the trail to here and now.

Listening, I come to understand
Why I can never remember names, nouns and numbers.
I know now, suddenly, in this cool Nairobi night, that
Wisdom is not names, nouns and numbers,
But deeper, dark and warm blooded things,
From the born, the dead and unborn people.
Knowing is in the verbs, voices and visions
Captured in these firelight noddings of sadness and joy.
In the hush of families and friends.

And I see all the others’ stories and my little poems,
(To strangers, of enemies and over time)
As specks of light from these fires
Sprinkled over the black earth.
Pin prick mirrors of stars in this black African sky.
And, as each fire dies, it marks a charcoal trail
Under this Kenyan moon.

I see suddenly, truly, that our future was made there
And know that it is being made here, now in this ash and am 
Happy in this place.
This place that needs no name.

 Note:  In penultimate line:  ash = Ashley; and = Andrew, am = Amy the children of our Kenyan friends Jospeh and Lydia