Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Inviting the Miraculous



Assumptions regarding education are like coke-bottle glasses, thick and dense. How is it possible that an industrial-revolution structure remains appropriate for a post-technological global-brain where the mobile computer in your pocket has twice or five-times the computing power of the human brain, which is not far off? And yet, we still believe children in mass should be ferried to local knowledge incubators for six to seven hours a day, one hundred eighty days each year, and be inoculated with one to three homework assignments per week, taking fifteen to twenty minutes each, first through third grade – two to four assignments per week, lasting between fifteen and forty-five minutes each in fourth through sixth grade. Daft!

The primacy of knowledge is shrinking. Buckminster Fuller, 1895-1983, noticed that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. On average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. According to IBM, the “Internet of Things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. Simply put, The Internet of Things (5G) is the concept of connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of. By 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices… That’s a lot of connections (some even estimate this number to be much higher, over 100 billion). 2020 is two months away. What does this say about our outdated and reflexive assumptions about schooling? Impossible!

Joseph Chilton Pearce was fond of quoting a Carnegie study. In 1963 that study found only 5% of what we learn lifelong is acquired through formal instruction, training and schooling. And of that 5% we retain only 3% to 5% for any length of time. American kids will spend 943 hours in elementary school this year, that’s 12,259 hours K-12. Of that only 612 hours will be functionally remembered (5%), about two-thirds of the time invested in one year, not thirteen years. What is going on the remaining 95% (11,647 hours)? And this does not include the time needed to get ready and travel to and from school each day or the time invested in so called homework. What is wrong with this picture especially considering that the future looks very different than it did in 1963?

John Taylor Gatto, famous for the term Dumbing Us Down, his definition of compulsory schooling, shared that the form and structure of compulsory schooling was designed for social conditioning and obedience training, at the expense of optimum individual development, not to encourage it. The phrase that best summarizes this is ‘form is content.’ The form of a structure is the primary content being learned, something most evident in the early years.

Total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States in 2015–16 amounted to $706 billion, or $13,847 per public school student enrolled in the fall (in constant 2017–18 dollars) which include salaries, employee benefits, purchased services, tuition, and supplies – of which, according to the Carnegie study, 95% is wasted, or, is being invested to achieve goals other than optimizing individual learning and performance, i.e., social conditioning and obedience training for parents and children. From a social conditioning and obedience training perspective the system is working perfectly. But, social conditioning and obedience training to what? Civilization as culture.

But, what if this massive experiment in social conditioning and obedience training is hitched to the wrong wagon? What if civilization and culture, as fostered by education and psychology as we know it, is fatally flawed, even suicidal?

The societies where [education and] psychology has its deepest roots are those that have promoted the devastation of biocultural diversity around the world and led us to the brink of planetary disaster (Amel, Manning, Scott, & Koger, 2017; Steffens et al., 2018; Trout, Stockman, Rubinstein, & Maiorana, 2019; Turner, 1994). Yet, the institutions of contemporary [education and] psychology do not systematically critique these societies or their institutions; rather, they instead help citizens to “adjust” to a life-destroying culture (Kidner, 2001).

The contrast between civilized and indigenous (first nation) peoples the world over could not be starker. First nation peoples perceive themselves as part of the fabric of life, always situated relationally, dynamically in relation to the natural world; they have small egos but large selves (Descola, 2013; Ingold, 2005; Redfield, 1956). SBHG (small band hunter gathers) and similar societies show a great deal of extra-human awareness and interconnection, showing expanded capacities to take the perspectives of local animals and other-than-animal life (plants, rivers, mountains). This multiperspectivalism is fostered in the communities by local story and practices like trances through dancing and singing. Entrancement allows for receptive attunement to life energies in the vicinity, often as a means to promote balance and flourishing within the biocommunity but also to remind the humans that they are part of the circle of life, not separate or superior (Descola, 2013; Katz, Biesele, & St. Denis, 1997; Kohn, 2013; Mann, 2016; Shepard, 1998).

Getting to Baselines for Human Nature, Development, and Wellbeing
Darcia Narvaez, University of Notre Dame
David Witherington, University of New Mexico

Implicitly, schooling as conditioning is an identification with culture, a means to fit in. Mass education and mass media are THE ways this is done. The game changing insight is that now identification with culture may be suicidal (note the sixth-great extinction under full swing). If culture is toxic and the meaning of knowledge, as it is now understood, is shaped by the context culture represents – what is purpose and meaning of education? How does the model-experience we call education prepare the next generation of young people to not only cope, but flourish joyfully as human beings in a future overflowing with instability?

Existing knowledge cannot meet this challenge. Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach… Our culture prides itself on thought being its highest achievement… Thought is very powerful, and has created many good things, but if we don’t notice how it works, it can become very destructive, as with the present danger of nuclear war, pollution and mass destruction of natural resources. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the structure of thought and knowledge, to see what the problems are and to explore the question of insight, which is required to bring knowledge to order.

David Bohm
Theoretical Physicist

Civilization as culture and what we experience as ‘self’ are expressions of thought as Bohm describes. This field or force; thought as knowledge-self-culture-civilization has indoctrinated all of us into believing that thought, and now technology, is the high road to salvation. The impending likelihood of the sixth-great extinction fully blossoming challenges this assumption.

Implied in this challenge is a radical reevaluation of what it means to be a human being, perhaps one of the last editions as we might know, and this of course redefines, and urgently, both the purpose and meaning of what we call education.

Years ago in Earth in Mind, David W. Orr, the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and a James Marsh Professor at the University of Vermont, observed that most of the great personal and global challenges we face have been created by highly educated people. David argues, “it is not more education that we need, but a particular kind of education.” David Bohm points to insight as a force that brings thought and knowledge to order. Darcia Narvaez and David Witherington hint at extra-human awareness and interconnection, showing expanded capacities as a means to promote balance and flourishing within the biocommunity and also to remind humans that they are part of the circle of life, not separate or superior.

What does a model and structure of education that brings this about look and feel like and is that even possible using the industrial-revolution model, the form and structure we call compulsory mass schooling or even schooling at all? Wow. Now, that’s a big idea. See the writings of John Holt, an American author and educator, proponent of homeschooling and, specifically, the unschooling approach, and a pioneer in youth rights theory. In a world that is changing as fast as our, less form, less formal structure, expands dramatically the potential content implied. In this expanded view of content, I include what is generally categorized as the miraculous.

If 95% of lifelong learning is not acquired through formal instruction, training or schooling, what would a model, form and structure look like that is grounded in that 95% rather than the paltry 5% we currently accept and pay billions for? And how could individual children and families engage fully in that 95% model, form and structure in ways that prepares them all to flourish in an era of deepening global and environmental challenges? In a word authentic play. Play? How can play be taken as seriously as formal education? Ridiculous! Or is it? I asked Joseph Chilton Pearce about the relationship between play and learning.

J: They are certainly interdependent. You can’t have real learning with a child unless they are playing. Real playing is how real learning takes place. You can have conditioning and a Pavlovian conditioning of his dogs, or behaviors modifications through other means which we look on as very serious, and we generally call learning, but it’s not learning. It’s conditioning.

Real learning takes place by what Maria Montessori would call the absorbent mind of the child. Simply absorbing their universe, absorbing it, becoming it, and they do this through play. Play can be the most serious undertaking of a child’s life. They are completely entrained in play. The three parts of the mind; thought, feeling, action, and the body, every aspect of the child’s self is entrained, focuses totally on the activity of absorbing their world. Absorbing their environment. This is the most serious activity in their life because they’re literally building their construction of knowledge of the world, of themselves, of the relationship between the two and laying down all the foundations for the later forms of intelligence. And in all of that, play is the activity itself. So you have those two things. What we think of as learning is conditioning, training, but real learning is that state of play. We have to interrupt the child’s real state of learning or play in order to bring about what we think should be their training and their conditioning.

So we make this profound error of looking on education, schooling, and all those things as dramatically separate from play. Whereas in actuality, all we’re doing in our activity is conditioning or some forms of behavior modification which inhibit the child’s ability to open to and absorb the universe within them.

We have to remember that schools are set up for conditioning. There are certain aspects of the child we want to train to respond in certain ways through schooling. This is all part of conditioning, behavior modifications. In each case we must interrupt the child’s real learning process of play in order to bring about these conditionings which we think they should have. 

I think this is one of the reasons we find a very small percentage of retention of the conditioning we think we’re giving our children. I remember the Carnegie Institute’s famous statement back in 63, that children seem to retain only 3-5 percent of the total information or conditioning modifications we’re trying to bring about in school. About 3-5% retention, whereas the learning that occurs in the state of play is literally built in as a permanent neural-patterning in the brain which they never loose. If we could just recognize the direct correspondence between play and learning and the dramatic difference between that and conditioning and by simply shifting over, I think our entire schooling can be extremely successful and produce say 95% retention. But it would have to be within the frame by which nature has set up the learning process, which is play.

Joseph Chilton Pearce
with Michael Mendizza

Play for a three-year-old looks and feels very different than play for a seven or twelve-year-old. That means real learning looks just as different. Individual learning styles and what is actually worth playing with, what is intrinsically interesting or challenging, will change dramatically between children, even at the same age and stage. How can a mass-curriculum meet this? The answer is obvious. It can’t. To meet this play-based model of optimum learning lifelong, the environment must be constantly changing to meet the innate wonder, curiosity, intrinsic motivation and capacity of each child. This demands attention, care and creativity on the part of adults, and yes, that means individual parents. And it assumes that the adult model models, in practical ways, the new capacities we so desperately need. Ah, here we meet the real elephant in the room. Parents are not interested. They, like our children, have been deeply conditioned to believe that they are incompetent, are too busy, and often simply don’t want to or can’t the way society is organized, invest the care and attention needed to meet this challenge. It is much easier to turn this responsibility over to government trained clerks, to use John Taylor Gatto’s term.

But the culture implicit in this conditioning and obedience training is, or may soon be, suicidal. Form is content. We need a form that replaces our current content model of education that is not implicitly destructive. And to discover or evolve this healthy, life affirming form, we must negate the core assumptions upon which the current model was designed and built. We need to shake ourselves awake from the spell that thought as knowledge-civilization-culture-self has woven.

Waking up from our deep-state of conditioning implies, does it not, experiencing a completely new state. Rather than rushing to fit into or trying to fix a toxic, perhaps suicidal culture, we look with fresh eyes at those capacities that will serve and enhance our children’s capacity to adapt and flourish in an increasingly hostile and complex world.

As Bohm describes; existing thought as knowledge cannot meet this challenge. Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach. It is not more education that we need, but a particular kind of education, a form the is grounded in insight along with extra-human awareness and interconnection, showing expanded capacities as a means to promote balance and flourishing within the biocommunity.

As stewards of this emerging new generation our present challenge is to create experiences that draw out of our children these capacities. This opening and expanding of new and perhaps even undreamed of capacities replaces ‘content’ as the foundation, meaning and purpose of what we used to call education. Actually, we drop that outdated word all together. Positive, adaptive and environmentally-holistically and appropriate learning rests at the center of the cyclone.

Yes, our children need to be fluent in language and symbolic reasoning, what the ‘liberal arts foundation’ is intended to provide. But this experience-based, extra-human awareness and interconnection model reaches beyond even unschooling in its scope and the challenge it represents. Of course it is easier to hand our kids off to government certified clerks.

Yes, what we call climate change and the global cesspool of environmental toxins we are all marinating in implies hostile and life-challenging global events. From the existing paradigm these changes are catastrophic, life threating and depressing, depression being nature’s way to suppress the immune system at a time when a robust immune response, creative optimism, is most needed. But, perhaps, there is another paradigm. How on earth can we and our children be creatively optimistic about possible extinction? Stay tuned.