Relationships and Values
This week the philosopher Alain de Botton said the following on his twitter account.
“If school curricula were determined by subjects’ contribution to future happiness, at least 50% would be on relationships.”
Our response was to agree and suggest that he could join our campaign to ensure that personal and social development of children and young people is at the heart of a school as well as the curriculum that it offers. Whilst PSHE lessons are desirable, they shouldn’t become a tokenistic and isolated curriculum area that has no bearing on the values of the school and the people within it. Personal and social development should be at the forefront of every lesson, every activity, and in every interaction between adults and children in a school (and modelled by adult/adult interaction too).
If, as Alain de Botton says, we should be considering the future (and present) happiness of our young people then of course we should look at how we relate to one another, both in the present and also how we have reacted and responded to events in the past, as well as our aspirational reactions and responses in the future. These relationships should be part of every lesson – for example, history, geography, science can all tell us something about how we relate to one another. Relationships are an integral part of life and if we are going to live wisely for ourselves and others, we need to look at how we relate to one another.
At the core of the Bhutanese education framework, there is one word – vision. Without a vision, can we really be offering a complete, holistic and worthwhile education to our children? If we are merely following the latest edict from government ministers without thinking about the purpose of education (and life), then how can we value what we are providing for our young people?
Within the vision for Bhutan, there is explicit focus on relationships. Within this incredible document, those responsible for education in Bhutan felt that it was important to place relationships at the heart of learning. Interestingly, they place the relationship aspect in a section on pedagogy, thus raising the profile and significance of relationships within teaching and learning – and quite rightly so.
“Learning is a result of active interaction between a teacher, student and the surrounding world to which they belong to.”
“It is the relationships that one forms with those around that shape the personality and character of an individual.”
“Children acquire competence and knowledge only when they are able to communicate with others who are involved with them in their learning and activities.”
Without interaction, you can’t have learning. Without a relationship between teacher and learner, you can’t have interaction, and you can’t begin to understand if there’s no relationship between the self and the rest of the world. It’s so obvious!
The framework then refers to David Hawkins “I, thou, it” model of interaction which reminds us of the Eric Berne’s famous Transactional Analysis, where throughout our lives we take on the role of parent, adult or child in any given situation.
“I” the child has a special relationship with the adults “Thou”. From the day the child is born it has an emotional connect first with the mother and then with other adults around. In a school setting specifically the teacher is the “thou”.
The document then goes on to explain that there are times when the “I” and the “thou” change places, with the teacher being the participator in learning and not merely the instigator of learning, with the child taking on the role of the “thou” or, as Berne’s would have it, the adult and child role reversal.
“A teacher must necessarily intervene and connect so that she and the students can actually be involved together in the process of sharing the world they are already a part of.”
The “It” part of the triangle is the content and context of learning that is shared between teacher and learner. Without the context, the interaction is limited. It is this triad that is the key to learning before you even get to subject knowledge, so why do we pay such scant regard to it within our own National Curriculum? Why don’t we have this sort of explicit statement of the purpose of education?
“While the teacher encourages and scaffolds the student to engage (physically, emotionally and behaviourally) with the IT, she also takes a participatory role with the students to seek knowledge of the IT.”
It’s so important to see the worth of relationships, and this is an integral part of the entire framework for education in Bhutan. It’s at the heart of their culture and their values too. So let’s now look at their values framework.
We must be mindful that Buddhism is a central part of Bhutan yet the education document makes it clear that it is secular. As we have said before, there are many aspects of Buddhism that are more philosophical than theological, and can therefore be as relevant to those in the west as those who are steeped in the traditions of the east.
“Traditional Bhutanese values not only address individual self-discipline and the conduct of interpersonal relationships but also delineate the responsibility of all sentient beings.”
“Values help people to organize social relations by distinguishing between what is socially acceptable form what is not. The concept of ley judrey13 (actions have consequences) and tha damtshig (sacred commitment to others) is central to Bhutanese values. It is vital to appreciate and value life by understanding the preciousness of human life (M-lue-Rinpoche) and its impermanence (me-tagpa). Thus, values education forms the apparatus that would help the Bhutanese youth to bloom into responsible, productive and compassionate citizens.”
In the National Curriculum for England, we have a bland and generic phrase at the beginning of the document as an aim – “promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society.” But what do we, or Mr Gove, mean by the spiritual, moral, cultural etcetera? Where is the definition of values and what we value individually and collectively? Mr Gove appears to have a very strong set of values but they are completely at odds with some of the values of the teaching profession. Without being explicit about our values then how do we know what we value, and whether that value is indeed virtuous?
Another quote from the Bhutan document …….
“Values are described as a set of ideas and beliefs which influences the thought(s) and action(s) of a person. Values help people to organize social relations by distinguishing between what is socially acceptable from what is not.”
We think it’s really important at this point to distinguish between values and virtues. You can have a set of values that may not be virtuous – for example, you could value the right to bear arms. Some people value that, but is it virtuous? You might value a prized possession but again, is that virtuous? We may indeed value something that isn’t socially acceptable but that doesn’t necessarily make it a virtuous value.
Particularly when we are looking at a collective set of values, it must be guided by virtue rather than value alone. Without looking at the fundamental purpose of education, and understanding the virtue of education, we can’t make glib statements about the development of the self, society and what we deem to be moral because it is vastly open to interpretation. What the Bhutanese have done is try to gather together their collective thinking on what their society values – and these values are largely guided by the fact that they are virtuous.
Thus, they value the virtue of developing “responsible, productive and compassionate citizens”.
To do this, they explicitly state that they want to encourage every child to value
- Individual self-discipline
- Individual relationship with nature
- Relationship with others in society
These are the integral societal virtues that they wish to value collectively. This is their moral or ethical reasoning and is here in the very centre of the edict on education.
In full, their vision is for their children is to be,
- Creative: intellectually curious, open minded, questions and innovates and strive for excellence; appreciates beauty of Bhutan and the world, ideates (think about ideas); thinks divergently and analyses critically, good problem solver.
- Industrious: keen to share and collaborate, energetic, masters proficiency in specific skills related to work life
- Communicator: makes connections between home and school, secure, socially adjusted, globally aware, interactive, cooperative, builds relationships beyond community
- Knowledgeable: curious & seeks knowledge, enjoys learning and is self-motivated learner; constructs knowledge and makes sense of the world, global view of the issues that confront Bhutan and how they relate to the rest of the world
- Caring: respects, cares and loves the family and the community respects peers, care for ecological sustainability; values team work and collaboration; cognizant of the struggle and contribution of its people and leaders
- Mindful: conscious of self and others, culturally aware, self-disciplined and believes in self; discover their own world view, ideals & identity to establish identity of the self; appreciates Buddhist values and tolerance of other cultures and diversity; global citizen with strong cultural and moral values, integrity and tolerance.
- Reflective: a lifelong learner who is able to develop an identity, use knowledge to make a difference in community and country, adaptive and flexible, deductive, sets narrow goals directly related to self, evaluates the consequences of action of self and others”
- Disciplined: responsibility to self and others; understand the rules of life; spirit of entrepreneurship; national pride; analyses and evaluates the consequences of the actions of self; accommodative, adaptive, flexible; judges situations and constructs his own code of morality; moral values are internalized; equity and diversity hallmark of life
- Productive: competent to apply the concepts of academic disciplines learnt in the working world, participate and contribute; knows the value of hard work; apply reason to thinking and action
- Skillful: Makes decisions that are considerate of others, committed to sustainability and the preservation of the environment, work to solve the issues that confront Bhutan, connects knowledge from all curricular areas to enhance understanding of the world, shows leadership qualities, manage conflict.
Alain de Botton is partially right. In order to fulfil this vision the education system needs to look at relationships for more than 50% of the time. Our own draft national curriculum deals mostly in knowledge and skills, and pays the smallest of lip-service to attitudes, values and ethical dimensions.*
In our opinion, this example from Bhutan demonstrates precisely how a multiple-intelligent education framework can be constructed, and it’s exactly what young people in England should be entitled to as well.
As we said at the beginning of this series of posts, please consider the values and virtues of education as outlined here when completing the consultation document on the National Curriculum for England.
*Several of our 3D Eye posts have dealt with the multi-dimensional, multi-tasking nature of the best education in the best schools. It’s very important to recognise that intellectual development and academic learning should not be taking place in isolation, and that the best schools ensure that children learn collaboratively and cooperatively, and that through doing so they informally learn lessons about themselves and others, about relationships and about overcoming conflict, disagreements and differences of opinion. It’s important that students not only learn about such things as empathy and conflict resolution, but also have regular opportunities to develop empathy and practice conflict resolution, etc.
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”