Exploring Optimum Learning Relationships
A virtual class based on
Magical Parent - Magical Child
by Michael Mendizza and Joseph Chilton Pearce
Lesson 10 - Our Brave New Industrial Mind


In lessons 8 and 9 we looked at athletics as an expression of our contest culture. Contests imply a winner and often many losers. We celebrate and often reward winners handsomely. Losers we pat on the back and say, better luck next time. The challenges that games and contests provide don’t do the damage. What impair optimum learning and performance are the false meanings attitudes to winning and loosing. Just as the young child constructs a self-image based on the mirror they see in relationships, so does the participant in contests identify with and becomes controlled by the contest culture. Play, the Zone and Flow implies slipping out of the limitations imposed by both self-image and by the contest culture. In Lesson 10 we are going to look briefly at how this contest culture has increased its implied pressures for conformity in recent years. We begin by looking at what David Orr, Chair of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College calls our Industrial Mind. We will visit again the latest brain research that links brain development to environmental changes. Our purpose is to reflect on the tremendous pressures and changes our modern high tech industrial culture is placing on us all, but especially our young children. We conclude lesson 10 by summarizing the very practical benefits of cultivating and maintaining Optimum Learning Relationships, life long. This summary will be followed in lessons 11 and 12 with a set of principles that help us achieve this.

Why, with a history so rich in noble ideals and lofty philosophies, do we exhibit such abominable behaviors? Our violence toward ourselves and planet is an issue that overshadows and makes a mockery of all our high aspirations…Why, after thousands of years of meditation, has human nature not changed one iota?…Why, after two thousand years of Bible quoting, proselytizing, praying, hymn singing, cathedral building, witch burning, missionaries and canon, has Western civilization but grown more violent and grisly efficient in mass murder? In exploring the issue of transcendence, we explore the issue of our violence by default. The two are intertwined.

The Biology of Transcendence

Our Brave New Industrial Mind

The greater the rate of change the more intense our pressure to predict and control. Today everything is heating up, the planet, the stress we feel, the number of decisions we face every day, the conflicts, and the violence.

It took thousands of years dreaming of flight before the Wright Brothers succeed at Kitty Hawk. Less than seventy years later we landed on the moon. In 1900 the majority of people, 97 percent, lived in rural communities, supported by extended families. Our great-grandparents grew their own food and participated in local, bio-regional, economies. In recent decades the family has been blown apart. The majority of marriages end in divorce. When asked to draw carrots, New York City preschoolers drew tiny orange squares. American children can recognize only a few plants but easily identify over one hundred corporate logos. “Corporate time,” sponsored commercial media, has replaced family time and the bedtime story. Stay-at-home mothering is disappearing as fast as many endangered species. Huge assumptions are driving the rapidly changing world we live in, assumptions that translate into directly into parenting and education. Behind the unprecedented changes lurks what ecologist David Orr calls the industrial mind.

Much of the current debate about educational standards and reforms is driven by the belief that we must prepare the young only to compete effectively in the global economy… The kind of discipline-centric education that enabled us to industrialize the earth will not necessarily help heal the damage caused by industrialization. Ultimately the ecological crisis (and the crisis facing childhood) concerns how we think and the institutions that purport to shape and refine the capacity to think… More of the same kind of education will only compound our problems…

Today we will lose 116 square miles of rain forests, about an acre a second… By year’s end the total loss of rain forest will equal an area the size of Washington state; expanding deserts will equal the size of West Virginia; population will have risen by more than 90,000,000. By the year 2000 perhaps 20 percent of the life forms extant on the planet in the year 1900 will be extinct.

David W. Orr, Ph.D.
Chair of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College
Selected quotes from Earth in Mind, On Education, Environment,
and the Human Prospect

The impact of our industrial mind on the environmental is also being reflected in our families, our neighborhoods, and our schools. Child abuse and neglect doubled in America between 1983 and 1996. The number of seriously injured children quadrupled. One million children run away each year. Eighteen million children spend more time in day-care than with their parents. Mothers are the fastest growing segment of the work force. This year over 20 million prescriptions for highly addictive stimulants will be offered to children to control their behavior, beginning in preschool. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for American children, resulting in a teen attempting suicide every 78 seconds.

This is not the work of ignorant people. Rather it is the result of people with BA’s, B.S.’s, M.B.A.’s and Ph.Ds. Education, in other words, can be a dangerous thing…It’s not education, but education of a certain kind that will save us… Educators must become students of the ecologically proficient mind and of the things that must be done to foster such minds. In time this will mean nothing less than the redesign of education itself.

David W. Orr, Ph.D.
Chair of Environmental Studies, Oberlin College
Selected quotes from Earth in Mind, On Education, Environment,
and the Human Prospect

Journal 1
In what way would our educational system change if Optimum Learning Relationships were the goal, rather than the current policy of high stake testing? Would our children be any worse off? What prevents true educational/parenting reform?

Optimum Learning Relationships open the door to this complete redesign of education and what we call parenting. The shift of state is the factor that will reveal new definitions for both.

Each of us and our economic, social, and educational institutions have been shaped by the “industrial mind.” We are inside it. As water is transparent to fish, the assumptions and values implicit in our industrial mind is transparent to us. We rarely catch a glimpse of the limitations and deep conditioning that defines our world view. What we do see is the impact our minds have on our families, our children, and the environment.

Bohm, Einstein and others have pointed out that the problems created by the industrial mind can’t be solved by that mind. We can’t solve a problem at the level of the problem, for the mind that created the problem is the problem. So it is with our current approach to parenting and education.

Adults need a new mind, a fresh mind, an original and authentic mind to see beyond the limitations which cause so many conflicts in ourselves, our children and the world. Exploring Optimum Learning Relationships opens the door and invites this new mind to meet and respond to the world. And what the new mind sees will be a revelation to our current industrial mind.

Our great challenge, according to Bohm, is to find ways of reaching beyond the pressures and limits imposed by our conditioning. To do this we must discover new states and unfold new capacities that are not confined to our predetermined patterns. Every time we “think” we have arrived, we must return to the optimum state of authentic play and invite the perception of new patterns and possibilities. Rest too long on this belief or that conclusion and we lose the living vitality and intelligence of our true nature.

Many potentials are missed through failure of response from parents, who were in turn not developed in those potentials by their parents, and son in infinite regress. Every capacity conceivable to imagination is inborn in us, since ours is an open-ended mind/brain, but any specific capacity must be brought forth and developed.

Bond of Power

Not Nature, Not Nurture, Their Relationship
To help us move back to the future I have selected a number of quotes from a leading book on neuroscience and brain development, Liars, Lovers, and Heroes, What the new Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are, by Steven R. Quartz, Ph.D., and Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D.: New York:, HarperCollins, 2002.

Journal 2
As you read each quote, reflect back over the many issues we have explored and see the connection to what is being described as the new brain science. Notice how often the words interaction, interplay, flexibility, relationship, and other similar OLR and Play/Learning analogies are made. Reflect on how deeply conditioned we are by our industrial, high tech, mediazed culture and the impact this is having on brain growth and development. Finally, as you read each quote, ponder how the brain/mind of a child would unfold in a radically different manner if he or she were mentored by a true playmate rather than an adulterated adult.

Brains are prediction machines that use information gathered from past experience to predict future events important for survival.

The last decade of brain research has converged on the realization that worldly information and the brain are two sides of a very complex interacting system. Experiences with the world alter your brain’s structure, chemistry, and genetic expression, often profoundly, throughout your life.

If intelligence reflects our biology’s capacity for responsiveness to our environment, then a new science is required to understand the nature of intelligence, one that places the inter-play between our biology and the world at its center.

In partnership with precisely timed developmental programs, the world helped construct your mind’s circuits when you were growing up, and it continually reshapes them as you experience new things and call on new skills.

New challenges throughout life can spur new brain cell growth as the brain responds to the demands you place on it.

This interplay of environment with genes routinely triggers a cascade of gene activity, often leading to enduring cellular changes that underlie our brain’s construction and plasticity throughout life.

The magnificent cortical structures supporting a human mind are not entirely hardwired by evolution, but are built by genes interacting with the world. Your experience with the world literally helps build your brain, which in turn gives rise to your mind.

The brain’s developmental program, then, is not simply contained in the genes. Rather, it is held implicitly in the interaction between genes and the world.

Culture helps to shape your brain, which in turn creates culture, which acts again on the brain, reverberating throughout the generations.

It’s not a question of nature or nurture, but of an intersection of the two that is so through that it dissolves that simplistic dichotomy.

Getting a glimpse into our essence means asking why a child laughs four hundred times a day, an adult twenty-five, and Spock zero.

Mental flexibility is the hallmark of our species.

Baby monkeys whose mothers are exposed to a major stress while pregnant show the signs of that stress in their temperament.

Our greatest evolutionary achievement meant escaping the niche limitations inherent in acting the same in different situations.

This sociability, Aristotle believed, grows out of the child-parent bond, which is essential to an animal requiring intensive and prolonged child care, and spreads from there to create the bonds that underlie all your social life.

Given how central social bonds are to human life, it is surprising how little we know about the brain mechanisms underlying them. In fact, virtually every form of mental disturbance involves disruptions in social attachments.

There is abundant evidence that high levels of childhood stress alter levels of noradrenaline, a finding that has ominous overtones. We have found that your internal guidance system colors your world with positive and negative value and sends this information to higher brain areas to mediate decisions. This suggested that a child whose toxic experiences have resculpted his or her noradrenaline system might live in a relabeled world. The result would be a brain that sees danger signals everywhere and sends errant alarms to higher areas.

Stress can ravage our bodies in many ways, but its effects on the brain can be just as deadly. Recent research has found that chronically high levels of stress trigger the release of highly toxic amounts of brain chemicals called corticosteroids, which at high levels literally attack brain cells, causing permanent damage.

Lifelong learning is essential both to navigate a highly dynamic workplace and to prosper in the larger world of change.

The dendrites of those who lived in a complex environment – had a college degree, a stimulating job, and were mentally active throughout their life – were a full 40 percent more complex than those of high school dropouts. They were also more complex than those of university graduates who had not been mentally active after college.

Since complex, stimulating environments have such enormous effects on brain complexity, which in turn helps ensure successful aging and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, we should pay more attention to the design of our environments for public mental health reasons.

Experiments with animals demonstrate that the largest brain changes occur when novelty is maintained by regularly rearranging and changing the objects in the animal’s environment, keeping the animals in a constant state of learning.

The risks of avoiding novelty are real. In fact, Schaie found that people who at midlife were fixed in their ways, either by not accepting new challenges or by refusing to budge their core beliefs, were at risk for cognitive decline in later life.

As we’d suspect from the close relationship between thought and emotion, flexibility and adaptability are also crucial for emotional well-being in later life.

Indeed, the traditional notion of retirement remains a vestige of the industrial age that is doubly out of step with our times, in which life expectancy is soaring.

The demands of the knowledge society require that we support and foster not just occasional retraining efforts but a lifetime approach to continual learning. The intertwined threads between lifelong learning and mental, emotional, and physical well-being suggest that a cultural commitment to lifelong learning will bring with it an entire spectrum of benefits as yet untapped and only beginning to be known.

Is Play Practical?
Optimum Learning Relationships expand the current model of parenting and education by incorporating states of being and relationship as fundamental and increasingly critical components of learning, wellness, and performances at any age, in any field.

Is it practical? Will it achieve the results we are now trying to achieve with our control strategies, our punishments and rewards? A few educators have been experimenting with Optimum Learning Relationships in their classrooms. They found that optimum states:

· Reduced violence, social isolation, and defensive aggression
implicit in the contest behaviors of children and adults.

· Increased empathy, cooperation, and perception of community
by reducing conflicts normally associated with categories,
judgments, and differences.

· Self-esteem, communication skills, and true creativity increased
by reducing fears and stress found in most learning

· Increased recognition that touch and movement are essential
elements in normal learning and healthy development.

· Students became more complete learners. They became more
focused as they felt safer. They learned from the world around
them and not just from their teachers. They became more
sensitive to observation and change.

· OLR/Play shows us that it is possible to connect with people
and other forms of life, both cross-cultural and cross-species.

· OLR/Play continually opens new possibilities.

· There are the positive effects of moving your body through
space, learning to read body language, learning about cause-
and-effect relationships, learning nonverbal communication
skills, learning to pay attention, to focus; being present in a

· While playing with autistic children, eye contact increased,
touch increased, verbalizations increased, social interactions
increased, violence decreased, giggling increased. Following
play, students were more focused and more willing to
attend to other tasks.

· OLR/Play provides a greater opportunity for social skill
development. Many of the children that we play with are
withdrawn, quiet, and very timid. Play helps to bring children
“out of their shell.”

Optimum Learning Relationships reduce violence and increase safety:

· Students become less violent and are able to work out
differences more readily. They are more sensitive to each other
and staff.

· They develop strong bonds and feel comfortable throwing an
arm around one another without fear of being teased for
demonstrating affection.

· They are safer knowing what safe touch is. They know what it
feels like to be touched in a positive way so when someone
touches them in anger or sexually they readily read the signals.

· They develop an innate sense of “belonging” to the bigger

· Peer pressure is reduced. They don’t need to find their sense
of “belonging” in their peers or with drugs.

· Play provides a safe space to be who you are and grow
(experiential learning). Children learn that “acting out” is
unnecessary in an atmosphere of safety, trust and love.

· Play provides an environment, role modeling, and a definitive
design where gentleness is the norm rather than the exception.


And this is just the beginning. We really don’t know the limits of human perception, learning, performance. We’ve never grown up in environments that optimize these potentials. That is, until now.


We are finally confronting the mirror of our true selves, we are that fate. We are in our own hands.

Crack in the Cosmic Egg

Journal 3
Are play/optimum learning relationships practical on a large scale? How would you begin to reform your family, preschool, child care center, and/or corporate cubicle?