A Message For The Downtrodden



by David Mills

If you have read my post (The teacher who dared to step outside the box) and think my experiences as an adult are shocking, imagine what it is like to be a child within this system. Students lie on the very bottom layer of the hierarchical pyramid, furthest away from the apex of control. They are subjected to far more evaluations, reporting procedures and behaviour modification processes than teachers.

I have always felt an affinity for children labelled with conditions such as dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (yes, our society has actually sunk to the depths of describing children as ODD). Many of these kids are no different to me! They are free thinkers and truth bearers. Their innate knowing and sense of self is so strong that they simply cannot keep quiet. They see through all the lies and hypocrisy of the system and they question it. They will not betray themselves by conforming to a school system that makes no sense to them.

I view these warrior souls as gifts to humanity. Far from silencing, suppressing and drugging them, we should be encouraging them! They are serving the evolution of human consciousness by drawing to our attention stale and obsolete systems and structures within society. If we listened to these children, we would be humbled by their wisdom. They have the power to lead us out of the darkness of ignorance and into the light of truth. But they need adults who are willing to listen.

Consider thirteen-year-old student Zac with whom I did some coaching a few years ago. This boy was seriously struggling at school. His parents were very worried about his future. He was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD tendencies. According to Zac’s end of year school report, he was a lazy, uncooperative, insolent, time-wasting daydreamer. His test scores in the core subjects were well below average. In English, he was one of the worst performing students in his entire year group. “Zac spends more time gazing out the window than he does focusing on my class work,” wrote his English teacher.

One day I was in the middle of explaining to Zac how to add fractions when I noticed his attention drift to the window. Rather than attempt to redirect his focus, I chose to stop speaking and silently observe. Clearly, there was something far more important going on for Zac in this moment. He was looking up at the sky, seemingly transported to another world. I attempted to join him in this world by looking up at the sky myself. After twenty seconds or so Zac turned back to me:

“So sorry David, what were you saying?”

“No need to apologise,” I replied. “I’m curious to know what happened when you looked out the window.”

[For the record, I don’t ‘do’ learning labels such as ADD. I have yet to meet a single child with an attention problem. The problem always lies with fearful, change-resistant adults looking at a child through the eyes of judgement rather than unconditional love. The trick is to find out what the child is paying attention to and to allow learning to flow naturally from that place.]

Zac’s response still brings tears to my eyes:

“I was looking at the sky and wondering…… what would happen the day the clouds stop moving?”

It was one of the most poetic things I had ever heard come out of a teenage boy’s mouth. Knowing that Zac viewed himself as a miserable failure in English (as confirmed by his school report), this was a truly beautiful moment. My lesson on fractions faded into insignificance in the light of Zac having offered me a glimpse into his inner world. We spent the rest of the session discussing end-of-world prophecies and exchanging our knowledge on ancient civilisations and cultures.

As a result of this impromptu conversation I discovered that Zac had a passionate interest in ancient Greek warriors. The depth of his knowledge on the subject was quite extraordinary. The excitement with which he spoke about Hercules, Achilles, Theseus and other warriors was inspiring and infectious. He told me about their respective strengths and personal attributes. He gave me vibrant, imaginative descriptions of their clothing and weaponry. He told me about books he had taken out of the library on the subject. The articulate and authoritative manner in which he described his heroes was breathtaking. And yet… here was a boy with supposedly limited ability in English heading on the highway to failure.

What a tragedy that none of Zac’s teachers had bothered to ask him what he was thinking when he gazed out the window. What a sad indictment of the school system that none of his teachers knew or cared about his interest in warriors (I guess they were too busy “covering the curriculum”). What a missed opportunity. What a complete waste of human passion and potential.

To every downtrodden child within the system:

I see you. I acknowledge you. I feel your pain. I respect you. I value you. I trust you.

I’m listening.

Keep daydreaming. Keep looking out that window. Trust your inner voice. Follow your excitement. Pursue your passions. Be yourself.

I love you unconditionally.

David Mills is a UK-based education futurist and innovator, confidence coach, public speaker and former school teacher. He spent five years researching and exploring existing alternatives to the prevailing school system – including Waldorf/Steiner, Summerhill School (UK), The Kin School (Russia), Big Picture Learning (USA), the Sudbury model (USA), home education and unschooling – as part of his mission to formulate and share a new vision for the future of education. Eduspire is a child-led and innovation-oriented paradigm of education designed to meet the needs of 21st Century learners and to liberate future generations of children from the current monopoly of schools over education. David is passionate about the creation of natural learning environments in which children are free to be themselves and trusted to pursue their own interests and passions. He models this approach to education himself as a professional singer, actor and recording artist.