Human Potential and Hope

I came across this piece by Marcia Devlin this morning.

The first part of her post reminded me of my Grade 6 teacher. (A Mr Horn, if I remember correctly.) Now I liked Mr Horn very much. I thought he was an engaging teacher who always made us think. But I do remember him one day looking around the class and saying, quite seriously and matter of factly, “I don’t think any of you will go to university.”

I now have four degrees and I know one other member of the same class has a PhD.

Predictions are not really very useful. I could go on about that but the part of Marcia’s post that really caught my attention was :

I’m a bit taken lately with human potential ideology and hope theory. The former moves away from deficit models to models of human potential and the latter promotes the generation and pursuit of goals. (links added.)

I was excited by just the thought of these concepts. How would it be if we were to move away from all this talk about (inherently self-limiting) standards in education and moved towards finding the potential in each child in our care? That instead of focussing on all that is wrong with our world, we were to move towards generating hope.

Our previous prime minister was famous for saying he wanted Australians to be relaxed and comfortable. On reflection, this sounds like an opium for the masses. It sounds a long way from finding the potential in every member of our society and generating hope.

Education is currently dominated by standards. What if it were dominated by potential and hope?

Business leaders are evaluated on achievement against “key performance indicators.” What if they were evaluated against the extent to which they developed their organisation’s potential? What if they were evaluated against their achievement in promoting hope, both within their organisation and in the wider community?

Lot’s of questions I know. You didn’t really expect me to provide answers did you?

Further reading:

The Dangers of the Human Potential Movement.

Education is broken – but it doesn’t have to be

If you read this blog regularly you will know that my heart weeps for education.
At a time in which the world faces its greatest ever challenges, we are returning to
models of education that were essentially developed 200 years ago.

In Australia, we have the NAPLAN and
MySchool which are regressive simplistic
measures of student and school performance respectively. It is as though we have not moved a
millimetre from the industrial revolution model of education since wide scale public education
became common in the mid 19th Century.

In addition the Australian federal Education Minister,
Julia Gillard, declaring herself
a world expert on education has just announced a ‘back to basics’
national curriculum.

Kevin Donnelly, one of the most
conservative education commentators in the country has completed a 180 degree shift on national
testing. Previously one of the strongest and most vocal advocates for public accountability of
schools through ‘league tables’ Donnelly

now argues
that the evidence from overseas indicates that these measures do not increase
educational performance.

In this piece on the ABC website, he argues:

…an argument is put that test scores, while giving the impression of being scientific,
are not completely objective or reliable. In addition, standardised, multiple and short answer
tests (like Australia’s National Assessment Programme Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)) measure a
limited range of skills as schools are forced to narrow “the curriculum towards the knowledge
and skills that are easy to assess on such tests”


Jeremy Ludowyke
, principal of
Melbourne High School,
(itself ranked #1 on literacy in Victoria), pointing out that his school is one of those that
stands to gain the most from national comparisons of the type promoted by MySchool describes
the whole initiative as ‘nonsense’
(The Age 8/2/10.)

At heart these initiatives are based on a belief that 

  • teachers have a cosy life and have little or no interest in providing high quality education
  • education has been hijacked by left wing ideology (eg see this piece by Donnelly)
  • parents demands are more important than the view of educators

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Wide scale public education was a mid 19th Century response to the industrial revolution.

Many argue that as a result it was modelled on the successes of industrial production. Children could be treated as items to be produced. You start with raw materials and apply the same processes consistently to produce items of consistent quality. Put all children through the same education and they will all learn the same things. Of course, some children are ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ and refuse to either apply themselves or to learn. But, by and large, the successful products of the system have similar characteristics.

Right there, at the beginning of public education, we were confronted with a dilemma. Do we educate children to provide fodder for the industrial machine or do we educate them to produce thinking individuals who will experience better lives because of their ability to make decisions for themselves?

We have never fully addresses this dilemma.

Perhaps we don’t have to. Perhaps we have moved beyond the industrial revolution to a place where educated, independent thinking individuals able to make independent decisions are what we need as a post industrial society and is also a socially just outcome of education.

In a future article I will discuss ‘modern’ approaches to education and how they might indeed be just what we need.

Clara Schumann

Do a google search on Schumann and you will most likely find references to Robert Schumann, the 19th century composer. You won’t immediately find that his wife Clara Schumann, was also a noted composer and virtuoso pianist.

As an interesting aside there was a strong and complex relationship between Robert, Clara and Johannes Brahms

Marie Curie

Marie Curie‘s name is intimately associated with the discovery of ‘radioactivity.’ This is not accurate as that discovery belongs to Henri Becquerel. To me precise she isolated the active radioactive source within pitchblende. Starting with several tonnes of pitchblende working with he husband Pierre, she isolated one gram of pure Radium.

From the Nobel Prize website:

Her early researches, together with her husband, were often performed under difficult conditions, laboratory arrangements were poor and both had to undertake much teaching to earn a livelihood. The discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel in 1896 inspired the Curies in their brilliant researches and analyses which led to the isolation of polonium, named after the country of Marie’s birth, and radium. Mme. Curie developed methods for the separation of radium from radioactive residues in sufficient quantities to allow for its characterization and the careful study of its properties, therapeutic properties in particular.

Frank Tate

Frank Tate was Victoria’s first Director of Education. Reading his biography is an amazing experience. Here was someone who was passionate about education and an educational reformer. He addressed issues we think of as modern.

Tate was not content to be a routine inspector and embarked on a personal crusade to revive Victorian state education. He sped through his huge district, winning the loyalty of teachers by his gift for humour, anecdote and epigram, and by his seemingly inexhaustible flow of quotations from English literature, especially Shakespeare. He offered them a vision of a liberal curriculum, imaginative and realistic methods, and a gentler and more constructive discipline; he introduced them to the ideas of the ‘new education’, a loosely organized reform movement which was gaining popularity in Britain. He showed teachers, as they toiled for meagre salaries in century heat in their tin-roofed schools, that their task, although grossly undervalued by society, was one of importance and dignity. Through them, state-school children, previously offered a narrow and unappealing fare dominated by the three Rs taught rigidly and by rote, could be introduced to the richness and variety of a great culture.

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi held no pubic office and was the head of no organisation yet he was one of the most influential people of the 20th Century.

Character of the day: Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt may be best known as the wife of US President Franklin D Roosevelt. However she was an amazing and influential woman in her own right.

Perception – Seeing with Fresh Eyes

This “seeing with fresh eyes” exercise is something I often use when I find myself stuck or I think my client is stuck. When I’m stuck I can make decisions but I’m not confident about them. They might be OK or they might not, either way they don’t resonate. When I’m in this state this exercise really helps me to see things from a different perspective and usually enables me to see a key piece I’ve been missing. Why don’t you try it out?

Find a quiet place take a few calming breaths and close your eyes. Imagine the room you’re in. Because you’re imagining you can make it anything you want. You can change the colour of the carpet, rearrange the furniture, put people in the room and take them out again or turn the lights on or off. You’re now fully in imagining mode. Now let yourself go to sleep ready for a new day. You drift into a deep sleep and wake slowly from it. As you become aware of everything around you again you realise something is different. You went to sleep as the man you know you are but you have woken up as a woman.

Only you know you were a man right up until this point. All of your memories
are living a life of a man but everyone else seems to be living in some sort of parallel universe because to them you are a wife, a mother, a businesswoman!

Now it’s over to you to do the work of imagining what happens next. Here are some questions to get you started, but I want you to really put yourself in this situation and use your imagination to follow through with all the details.

Think about how you would handle the situation if: 

  • You sensed the board wasn’t taking your brilliantly prepared presentation seriously just because you were a woman?
  • One man kept looking at your cleavage the whole way through the presentation?
  • The men couldn’t look you in the eye and the women ignored you?
  • Whenever you made your best points, the men spoke over you or, to make matters worse, represented your ideas as their own?
  • You  were  a  woman  for  a  whole  day/week/month/year?
  • As  a  woman  at  home  you  are  now  a  mother instead of a father. How does your relationship with your children change? How do your responsibilities change?
  • How do you think you’d relate to your partner in this role reversal?

Now I want to take your thinking to another level. Instead of negative thoughts and feelings, I want you to think about the opportunities this presents. Suddenly you have the ability to see the world through a completely fresh set of eyes. Everything is the same and everything is different. You have the opportunity to experience how perception really works.

You have the ability to noticethings  you  never noticed before. You have the ability to notice things about your company that you never noticed before.

Think about relationships:

  • Who has the real power?
  • What really  matters  to  these people? 
  • What  really  matters  to  the company? (is it more than just profit?)
  • Although  your  gender has changed, do you think the core of you has changed?
  • Think about the things that really matter to you. Have any of those changed?

By allowing my imagination to really get into experiencing all of what the contrast has to offer, and by allowing myself to step out of my own body and look at life with fresh eyes, this exercise has allowed me to see what really matters to me, sometimes with a clarity that I’ve never before thought possible!

Other results I’ve discovered is a different type of energy and the ability to act swiftly and decisively.

I hope you give this ‘seeing with fresh eyes’ exercise a go. Your world may become a place of clarity, full of possibilities and opportunities.

If you would like to share your scenarios and experiences I’d love to read them – just click the ‘comments’ link above.