Yesterday I attended the In The Wild conference at Channel 4 which I mentioned a while back. The point of the conference was to explore what informal learning might be and what learning “in the wild” might look like – wellbeing, the web and the future of education.
It was an interesting day for me because some of the speakers addressed interesting questions about modern society that obliquely touched on spirituality. To make life easier, because this is a long post, I have split my thoughts into sections and you can jump about using my anchors (don’t say I never give you anything).
Happiness – Richard Reeves
Richard spoke about the emerging science of Happiness. Statistically speaking what makes us happy, what doesn’t make us happy can be measured and conclusions drawn. Apparently riches don’t make you happy. A good standard of living does increase happiness but about c.$15,000 average gdp for a country an increase of wealth in that country doesn’t have a significant effect on improving happiness. Oh and being married is worth £100,000 per year!
Why is that interesting for the purposes of this blog? Well one of the unstated truths about almost all spiritual approaches to life (apart from Scientology) is that money can’t buy you happiness or salvation and didn’t someone one write, “Man shall not live by bread alone” Relationship – primarily with God but between human beings is the key to a life well lived.
Living well – Nick Baylis
A life well lived is exactly what Nick Bayliss says that we are hard wired for – not for happiness. In fact he says that the current obsession with happiness is a myth created by the media to sell us stuff and in fact what are hard wired for is to live well – to learn from the ups and downs of life. He is quite vehement about there not being negative or positive emotions but that rather it’s what we do with those emotions that matters. He is a player in a very real sense. He plays with language when he speaks, he has taken on the universe in his studies of lives that have gone well (rather than lives that have gone badly which is where most psychology sits). He has refused to play by society’s rules of what you should and shouldn’t do and say and has come out of it rather well.
Another interesting opinion he has is around Fear. He states that we are a society living in fear and that our addictions are created by it. Examples – the biggest box office smash of all time is Titanic…we immerse ourselves in retro film worlds where there is no techno threat or imminent environmental destruction( eg Lord of the Rings, Pride and Predjudice, The Black Dahlia. And he attributes our fear to the fact that we are lonely and tired (although personally I would say that fears of the technology that has created the environmental disaster we may be facing are pretty understandable and legitimate in their own right!). He attributes our loneliness to technology.
I would agree that modern society believes it can maintain close personal relations with people miles away and that stops us frmo knowing our own neighbour. But faiths and beliefs create coherence – if you go to mosque or church or temple every week you become part of a local community by default. You can’t avoid it. And it is healthy. And didn’t someone one write “Perfect love casts out fear”. It is dishonest to discuss these things and not to look at the positive attributes of faiths that can deal with just these questions.
God-shaped hole – Dr James Bradburne
Bradburne is an experienced and respected museologist and architect (amongst other things) and made very interesting points about informal learning and institutions. As Frank Oppenheimer put it “you can’t fail a museum” he made an interesting case for the co-existence of formal and informal learning models and the value of both to the young people in schools and education today. But he was clear that informal learning models need to be given value to equip learners to take this learning outside the insitutions where they are experienced.
He referred to Nietzche’s quote “God is dead, with what sacred games will we now amuse ourselves” and by that he spoke of the split of the truth part of God out to science and the wonder part of God out to art but of our continuing search for that God bit that we feel is still missing. I think that’s true and I also feel strongly that we need to play such games with and in the world in order to approach God and to learn to live well (see above!). Understanding power play, subverting communal identity or adopting ritual are all ways that teach us informally and immeasurably about God and our relations with them.
Preparing children for a playful reality – Pat Kane
Pat Kane developed his ideas about how playful current society is using the definition “taking reality lightly” to highlight the lack of preparation that young people are receiving at schools. He points out that we are preparing them for a work based not a play based societal model – one that valued qualifications (gcses, degrees etc) and that offered strictly confined jobs and roles in life rather than the increasing trend towards skills (confidence, people skills, planning, production) and a free form experience where players make their own way and expect to mash-up their lives on a daily basis as they do online now.
Bebo and Spirituality – Rachel O’Connell
Interestingly only one other person mentioned spirituality during the day (I was not brave enough to) and that was Rachel O’Connor. She mentioned it in the context of helping the whole person when Bebo is dealing with difficulties that young people face and the way that they deal with them . But she didn’t go into it and it left me feeling frustrated.
You can say that I should have said something or asked some question about why it is that we as a society don’t feel that religion, spirituality, faith is something to be talked about, particularly because I believe that young people are perfectly capabale of making up their own minds about such things but they do actually need some information to make their mind up about! If approaches that back up the ideas of Richard Reeves and Nic Bayliss and others are so inherently part of religions and faiths, and if living well, happily, “taking reality lightly” (Pat Kane’s definition of play) are so important to the development of young people in an increasingly technological skills based rather than qualification based society at what point will the people who determine educational direction wake up and smell the incense? (and perhaps also the incensed)