What does it take for ‘employee engagement’ to show up? (Part VI) v2

This post is an update to the earlier version (released yesterday) which I published before it was ready to be published by pressing the wrong button.  I apologise.

The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear”  Herbert Agar

In this post I continue sharing with you what shows up for me as I grapple with ‘employee engagement’.  Given that some of you may have not read the earlier posts, I will first cover some essential ground and the move forward with the ‘new’.

It all comes down to the “concept of persons” and how one should treat one’s fellow man.

I came across this quote which pretty much sums up the humanistic school’s stance on human being and how man should relate to and treat his fellow human beings:

“If you don’t find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further.”  Gandhi

Wow!  That occurs in my world as a massively powerful assertion and I can only imagine the love that gives rise to this assertion, this stance, uttered and lived by Gandhi.

Whilst the words of humanistic philosophers (e.g. Rousseau) and psychologists (e.g. Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers) are nowhere as poetic, the underlying stance is remarkably similar: a ‘romantic’ notion about the beauty, the goodness, the nobility of the human being – every human being.  Which is why Gandhi and the humanists, as I understand them, are labelled ‘idealists’.

The world that you and I are dwelling in is shaped, ruled and peopled by ‘pragmatists': philosophers like Hobbes;  and psychologists like Freud and Skinner.    Pragmatists look at the same reality and come up with a radically different “concept of persons”.  They say that the being of human beings is brutish and that left to their themselves people would turn our life into a brutish one.  Recent examples of this brutishness include Rwanda and Yugoslavia.  And who can forget the WWII concentration camps.  And given this dark side lying at the centre of human being, human beings need (and can be) controlled.  Who is to do the controlling?  Those who have always done the controlling:  the elite who hold/exercise power and get to determine what is good and what is bad.

Where do I stand on this matter?

As an “idealist” I can see the beauty/wonder of human beings and as such I say that “pragmatists” have a dim/dark view/unduly negative and possibly self-serving view of human beings.

As a “pragmatist” (I do have a BSc in Applied Physics) I see that human beings are so addicted to and run by the ‘four prime directives’ (you have to read my earlier post to get what these are) that human beings will slaughter life including millions of fellow human beings simply to be right, to dominate, to look good.  And if we those of us who have killed (including those of us who have stood by whilst the slaughter took place) are questioned about what we are doing/have done, we get busy enthusiastically invalidating others and justifying ourselves!

I say, I can see the value and limitations of both of these distinct “concept of persons”.  They both disclose as well as hide stuff about human being.  Taken together they provide a fuller/richer picture of human being.  Now lets move on with the main thrust of this post.

What is the underlying context that fuels our organisations and management practices?

As I have said before, the dominant concept of persons is that of the pragmatists.  Why?  Because  it is the pragmatists that won the fight, who hold positions of power and shape our world including shaping us, human beings.

If you get this then you may be able to hear and be with what I am about to say.  And which I say   gets to the heart of the matter of ‘employee engagement’, ‘empowerment’, creativity and innovation.  That is to say, it spells out why these phenomena/qualities are not present in almost all organisations and especially not in large/established organisations.

I say that organisations are prisons. Please note, I am not saying that organisations are like prisons.  No. I am saying that organisations are prisons.

When I say that “organisations are prisons” I am pointing out that the people who commission, fund, build and run prisons are primarily concerned with control: controlling the prisoners so that they become docile and do what they are told without asking questions, without questioning the power of those in power – in short without being troublesome.  And this elite use the tried and tested philosophy and practices of command and control that originated in the military which consisted of a small elite officer class and the much larger class of conscripts who were expected to do the fighting, killing and dying upon orders from the officer class.

Crucially, the people who work in organisations (the employees) experience themselves and show up (for themselves and each other) as prisoners.  They speak as if the organisation is a prison and they are imprisoned in it from 9 to 5.  They do not speak even when what is being asked of them shows up as being ‘stupid’.  They do not challenge bosses that show up for them as being incompetent and/or sadists.  In short, they show all the signs of  learned helplessness: people who, no matter what they do or do not do, cannot affect their circumstance and organisational practices.

This helplessness and the docility, compliance and doing the least that is necessary to get through the prison day is understandable – at least I understand it, I have lived it!  Think back to prisons, what shows up in prisons?  One group of people, the prison guards, are relatively small in number and exercise power over a much larger number of people who are deprived of their freedom and are powerless to decide how they live. The fundamental design and operating practice is to get the prisoners to get present to their powerlessness, their helplessness.  Deming totally got this: one of his 14 points is “Drive out fear”.

How much prisoner engagement, creativity and innovation shows up in a prison?  To date, I have never heard of anyone expecting these phenomena to show up in prisons.  Nor have I read or heard about great prisoner engagement, creativity and innovation in prisons.  Which leads me to believe that these phenomena – engagement, creativity, innovation – are not expected and do not show up in prisons.

What does show up in prisons?  The exercise of power and the compliance with power.  And the acceptance/resentment that goes with one set of people exercising power over the lives of another set of people.  I get that from time to time, characters like  Lt. Colonel Nicholson (from the movie Bridge on the River Kwai) show up who get fellow prisoners to be more, to do more for the sake of themselves, their morale, their dignity.  And this engagement, creativity, innovation dies when people like Lt. Colonel Nicholson lose face, lose power, change roles and/or leave the prison.

If you get, can be with, that organisations are prisons then you will stop wondering why there is a lack of employee engagement, why empowerment rarely works out , why there is so little creativity and innovation.  And you will stop listening to and taking seriously those who peddle ’10 steps to employee engagement’!

I ask you, who truly wants the prisoners to be creative/innovative?  Not those who run the prisons!  Creativity and innovation are threats to control in a number of ways including the fact that they embolden the prisoners who may then act beyond their station. Saddam Hussein engendered is downfall by his prison guards (the USA) by becoming creative/innovative and thus beyond the station assigned to him by the USA.

To sum up, creativity, innovation and authentic empowerment are seen as disruptive – threats to the orderly running of the prison and the maintenance of the status quo in power relations.  And thus are not given the space to show up and if they do show up then they are suppressed.  Those that don’t get the rules and play by the rules experience what Saddam experienced.  Yes, he was tyrant and he was not deposed because he was a tyrant.  He was deposed because he acted beyond his assigned station: he got too creative/innovative in deciding to conquer/rule and reattach Kuwait to Iraq.

How do you call forth ‘employee engagement’, creativity and innovation?

Werner Erhard coined an insightful stand/possibility: “a world that works, none excluded”.  Notice, that Erhard got that the current design and function of the systems of power is such that the world does not work for all and many are excluded.  I say this is the same for organisations and organisational life as lived.

Stealing from Erhard, I say that the foundation for employee engagement, creativity and innovation is creating/living/operating from the context “an organisation that works, none excluded”. That means that the organisational play is designed so that it works for everyone in the organisation: shareholder, management, employees, customers, suppliers and regulators.  And that there is an wholehearted authentic commitment to this context by all especially those who wield power and thus see only threat/risk (to themselves) from putting in place and operating from such a context.

What goes with such a context?  What is necessary to enable such a context to take hold and operate?  I say authentic communication.  Jurgen Habermas calls this “undistorted communication” and he spells out four conditions for communication to be undistorted:

1. Symmetry condition – every single person has an equal opportunity to talk and duty to listen;

2. Sincerity condition – every single person means what s/he says;

3. Truth condition – every single person discloses what s/he believes to be true; and

4. Normative condition – every single person says what is right morally.

If you are going to create this context “organisations that work, none excluded” and a context where “undistorted communication” is called forth and is kept in existence then you need to get present to conflict.  And you have to be a stand for peaceful conflict resolution.

Before I share these guidelines I have a question for you.  How many “leaders” do you know that are authentically up for creating/embodying the kind of context and practices that I have spelled out here?  Put differently, how many want to see/be with this truth?

Now you know why I opened this post with that quote by Agar.  Pretty much everyone who writes, and is listened to, by the business world, about these topics ignores this elephant in the room: the fundamental imbalance in power relations and organisation as prison.   Hence, the profusion of banal recipes/checklists for employee engagement, empowerment, creativity and innovation.  Which also explains (at least to me) why  these banal, even idiotic, 10 step checklists fail to deliver on the promises they make.  And some 80% of the people who work in organisations are alienated/disengaged from their work and the organisations they work for/within.

An even bigger idiocy is to put your faith in technology to bring about employee engagement, empowerment, collaboration, creativity and innovation.   Why?  Because prison guards always use technology to further their needs to control/enslave/restrict the little freedom that the prisoners experience themselves as having in organisational life. I was there when sales force automation hit the corporate scene.  I saw and experienced how those of us involved in actually doing the selling saw the technology for what it was and is.   And we used ‘guerilla tactics’ to ‘fight it’.  The fight continues and which is why social technologies have failed to deliver ‘social behaviour’ that the software vendors peddle and managers want.

I have another question for you: how likely is it, really, to get any significant and enduring employee engagement without moving from the existing context (organisations as prison) to the context that I am proposing (“organisation that works, none excluded”) in this post?  

If you think I push this too far then I ask you ask yourself this: why did so many people live normal jobs in large/established companies to start their own companies or join dot.coms when the internet hit the business world in a big way!

Guidelines for peaceful conflict resolution

I came across these guidelines at the Montessori School that my children attended.  When I saw these guidelines it struck me that every family, every team, every organisation can dramatically enhance ‘workability’ and ‘performance’ by embodying the following maxims:

Respect the right to disagree

Express your real concerns

Share common goals and interests

Open yourself to different points of views

Listen carefully to all points of view, all proposals

Understand the major issues that are involved

Think about probable consequences

Imagine many possible alternative solutions, at least several

Offer reasonable compromises

Negotiate mutually fair cooperative agreements

And finally

Montessori School stops here in the UK at age 11.  Which means that I saw no option but to put my children into the normal/traditional schools.  For my children traditional schools (they went to two of them, first was so bad I took them out after a year) showed up as prisons.  Prisons where the students have no voice, no say on the clothes they wear, nor the behaviour of the teachers or the quality of their teaching.  Prisons where the teachers are prison guards intent on dominating/controlling the pupils so that they became docile and do what teachers want them to do.  My children hated these schools and did not want to go to school.  So I made frequent trips to these schools and was seen as a troublesome/difficult parent.

I went to see the head teachers.  At each school, the headteacher  listened politely to my exposition of the Montessori philosophy and how it could be practiced in their school and the benefits for all.    Each headteacher told me that his/her school was not designed for such a philosophy, that the Montessori philosophy is disruptive, and it would not work in their school.

Each told me that their mandate is “to run an orderly institution, in a standard manner, treating all children the same’.  And this meant ensuring that they teachers had the power to control 600 unruly students.  Which meant ensuring that the student knew the rules and stuck to the rules.  And any students who created trouble were acted upon quickly.   When I pressed for the need to respond intelligently, taking into account the needs of the child/the circumstance, I was told categorically that exceptions to operating rule risked the orderly running of the school and the loss of their jobs.

School is the first organisational prison (in our society) that acts on the creative, innovative, empowered, energetic, enthusiastic, alive human beings amongst us: the children.  And it’s hidden design function/purpose is to turn these children into docile creatures who take orders from those in power and carry them out in the prescribed manner and timetable set by the powerful.  In short, to prepare them for organisational life.  And life in society.  

What do you say?

 

Posted on November 23, 2012, in Leadership / Change / Transformation, Social and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Maz, I enjoyed your post very much, particularly the assertion that most organisations are like prisons.

    It occurs to me that that is an unfortunate truth, but worse still, most of the people who work in those organisations are institutionalised, and offering them freedom can be an uphill struggle.

    James

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  2. Hello James

    It occurs to me that your point about it being an uphill to offer freedom to those who are used to being without it is bang on. It is a HUGE issue to get man to move from ‘victim’, ‘powerless’ and his lived experience of ‘helplessness” to where man reclaims his freedom and operates from the context that he is the ‘author of his life’. And has always been.

    Sartre referred to the flight from freedom, that automatically comes/goes with being a human being, as “bad faith”. A person who shows up for himself as merely an object/instrument at the hands/mercy of others is acting in bad faith. Why? Because Sartre says that man is condemned to be free.

    The grand inquisitor in the novel The Brothers Karamazov makes the same point to Jesus when he returns. He makes the point that Jesus offered man freedom. And this was too much responsibility for man to bear. The church, instead, offered man a set of rules to live by, and asked man to put his faith/reason in the church, and man happily gave up his freedom. Another point is key: man will sacrifice his freedom for bread. That is a profound truth for the man of the modern age.

    Then we have Eric Fromm who wrote a whole book called The Fear of Freedom pointing out the many ways that man flees from freedom. To accept that I, man, am free is to take responsibility for my life AND the world that I live in. It is to first look at myself and ask “who have I been being such that my life and the world is as it is? what has been my contribution?” That takes profound courage in an age where courage is not been encourage nor cultivated in the general populace – being reserved for soldiers who are needed to kill for the state.

    Yet, it can be done. Landmark Education has helped a number of very large companies (Magma Copper, BHP) to generate breakthroughs in organisation performance that nobody envisaged. How? By enabling all parties to deal with the past and move toward envisaging and then creating a shared organisational future which “works for all, nobody excluded” . And Peter Block has used the “Landmark Way” to build community engagement around issues that matter to communities and get good/great results.

    What is lacking is not technique, it is the will to act. And in particular it is the will of the powerful/elite to act. One of the ‘get out of jail’ cards that the elite/powerful play and have always played is to say that that the reason the man lies on the floor, at their feet, is that he is incapable of getting (capacity) or that he lacks the will to get up and stand on his two feet. What they conveniently do not mention is that the man is on the floor because one of the elite is standing on him, keeping him pinned to the floor!

    If you want an inspiring real life example then check out this article on HCL and what the new CEO has achieved – albeit over a number of years and through persistence:
    http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/18/employees-first-vineet-nayar-leadership-managing-hcl.html

    Better still read his book Employees First Customers Second. In this book he shares both the commitment that is needed from the CEO and the work that is involved primarily in dealing with the management: from senior management through to junior management.

    All the best
    Maz

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  3. Hi Maz,
    Something occurred to me a while ago that speaks the prisons that you talk about…..If we look at education we are battery farming many of our children but once we get to the end of the education cycle we expect our children to operate as ‘free range’. And, there’s the problem that’s at the root, in my mind, of much of youth unemployment.

    Adrian

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  4. Hello Adrian
    It occurs to me that you and I are in complete agreement. You have no idea how my heart sank when I got to present to my circumstances – that I’d have to put my children in traditional school. And then it was something else to see the following:

    my children being ‘attacked/ostracised’ by the teachers for insisting that they be treated with respect, that the teachers embody the values/practices that they were preaching, that the students be able to share their voice and help in the running of the school…. This taught me that it takes a courageous child to stand up for his rights. Do you know that whilst the UK is a signatory to the UN charters on children’s rights, the UK does not practice it nor enable parents to fight for these rights? Do you know that children (and parents) pretty much have no rights when it comes to school? Try holding teachers/schools to account for the quality of anything including teaching or not abusing/bullying students by shouting at them, by ridiculing them in front of their peers…..

    my children being ostracised by many other children for being ‘troublesome’. Why were they troublesome? Because they stood up for the values/practices they had grown up in at their Montessori School and at home. In short, the children that had only known state school had become used to being ‘battery farmed’.

    my children being ostracised/picked upon for turning up to school to actually learn, to participate, to put something into the game of education as opposed to simply getting through the day with the minimum of learning. This convinced me that it takes a courageous child to actually show he wants to learn. And to stand up for his right to do so.

    So you cannot have a school system like this and expect the children to think for themselves, to be creative, to have a strong self-esteem etc.

    Maz

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  5. Hi Maz,

    I have often felt the same way about the British education system. Having gone through it not too long ago, it’s still fairly fresh in my mind. In particular, your point about teachers not being held to the same standards as the pupils struck me as very familiar.

    However, I’m also a pragmatist. Are Montessori schools practical for large volumes of children? When you allow greater freedom, you also create more opportunities for disruption. If you give children greater control over how they learn, is there not a greater risk that they won’t learn anything? I expect that your answer would be along the lines of greater freedom satisfying the natural inclination of the pupils, making them care more about their learning and giving them no reason to be disruptive (please correct me if I am wrong). However, without the ability to change the education of all children from the very beginning, I fear that many children would take the introduction of the Montessori system as an opportunity to do nothing, or worse be even more disruptive to their peers. I expect this is why you received the response you did from the teachers you spoke to. Perhaps I have poorly estimated the effects of this system on discipline.

    Three constructive thoughts though:

    Would the free school system allow for Montessori schools to be established that take children from an early age through to 18?

    Is Montessori education in this country the preserve of the wealthy? If so, how can it be made accessible to those from all social backgrounds?

    Can technology help us to manage a system that has greater freedom? Perhaps something like the School of One?

    I hope you find the time to reply to this. I really like your blog, and education is a particular interest of mine.

    Many thanks,

    Joe

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    • Hello Joseph
      I thank you for inviting me into a conversation here. I will think over the constructive thoughts and get back to you. First, I want to dealing with the matter of being a ‘pragmatist’ and the issues/fears that you raise? And I have little patience with the b*****t that goes with ordinary way of being human. So let me be straightforward.

      I say that if the lives of the people who run government and run the education system were at stake then they would find ways to put in place a Montessori Education system that works in this country. That is right. If the live of David Cameron was at stake and/or the people he loves then he would find a way. If the live of Michael Gove and/or the people he loves were at stake then he would find a way.

      Put differently, those that lack the passion and/or the courage present themselves as ‘pragmatists’ – to themselves and to others whose opinion matters. Look, you and I are human. What goes with being human – ordinary way of being human? ‘Looking good, avoiding looking bad': that means we will do anything to avoid saying:

      a) I lack the passion for shifting to the Montessori system because this acts against my self interest; and/or
      b) I have the passion for making this shift and that means taking on powerful vested interests who will seek to crush me and I lack the courage to take on these vested interests.

      You see that would simply be too honest. As it would leave you/I coming across as being selfish and cowardly. And we cannot have that – our culture allows us to be that as long as we do not say that! So ‘pragmatism’ comes in handy.

      Also ‘pragmatism’ is the refuge of those that lack imagination. You know the people that I mean. I am pointing out at the people that show up as boring. These people have a role – they tend to be great at making existing ‘systems’ work, to keep them working well, to practice kaizen (continuous improvement).

      How would we make the shift to Montessori? By making the shift. Is it likely that the first version of Montessori Schools will have issues that crop up? Of course. Is it possible that one or more issues is likely to be serious? Of course. Have you done any software development? What shows up? Despite the best of intentions bugs show up even after the software is released to users (after testing). What happens? If your reputation matters, you the software, organisation fix the urgent/critical issues, prioritise the rest and get on with fixing them.

      That is my way of saying that we use the ‘trial and error’ approach to traveling the journey to a Montessori Education. The key is to have in place people who have a burning commitment to bringing it about. Look, I am a physicist and I can categorically state that there is nothing in the law of physics that says that schools cannot be using the Montessori philosophy, educational method & tools, and in the process having helping children to be at their very best and leave school with self confidence (belief in their capabilities), self-esteem (value themselves as being worthy human beings who make a difference, discipline, great social skills, creativity and innovation.

      Here is the real issue that we have to grapple with. And no, the real issue is not cost, nor is it feasibility, nor is it time. What is the real issue? The real issue is that of self confidence, self esteem, independent thinking and especially creativity and imagination. Why? History shows that people who have those qualities challenge authority – they challenge the existing ways of doing things and that challenges the power/riches/status/privileges of the powerful. Bluntly, speaking it occurs as an existential threat to the powerful – remember the French Revolution? So it is in the interests of the powerful (and society as it is orchestrated/designed by the powerful in the same way that history is written by the powerful) to keep in place an educational system that turns children into docile citizens that want what the powerful/society wants them to want.

      Put bluntly, it is no accident that the school system crushes the self-esteem, self-confidence, creativity, imagination, independent thinking and autonomy/freedom of the child. It is by design. If you make a child feel inadequate/unworthy then the likelihood is that for the rest of his life he will strive to do that which holds the promise of feeling/being hailed as adequate/worthy. If you teach the child to sit on his but, suppress his voice, take orders and obey for 6-7 hours a day, 5 days a week, for say 40 weeks a year and for 10-17 years then you have the perfect soldier for the factory/office – ready to obey and do the most boring/mindless stuff. Why? Because he has been conditioned to it!

      No, I do not buy the ‘pragmatist’ argument. Nor do I buy the cost argument. Yes, it might cost more and the key is value! The current system is enormously wasteful of talent (teachers and children) and of money. The difference between could be accomplished and what is accomplished makes the Grand Canyon look like a pinhead to me! No, it is not pragmatism, it is power relations and ideology that keeps it in place. As I said, at the start: if the lives of the powerful depended on it then we would have an effective and efficient Montessori system in place.

      As promised, I will look at your constructive suggestions and get back to you.

      At your service and with my love
      Maz

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      • Thanks for the lengthy reply. I also appreciate your being candid. I hope you will not mind if I behave the same way!

        When I described myself as a pragmatist, I was referring primarily to the ability of the Montessori system to scale reliably. My pragmatism is about accepting that sometimes the costs outweigh the benefits. You are right then to highlight cost. I agree that with sufficient funds any good system could be made to work. I believe that cost is a very significant barrier, alongside inertia and fear. Inertia, because it is always easier to do nothing, and there are always so many things to be done. Fear, because any government or individual that seeks change risks making things worse.

        I think fear is a useful point to dwell on momentarily. I do not agree with you when you imply (unless I am mistaken) that the powers that be prop up the current system because it restricts creativity, free thinking, and self-confidence. Quite the opposite, I think that the government want to encourage these attributes, but that like all governments they are afraid of causing damage. I don’t agree with letting such fear control us, but I do think it is fear that does it, fear and inertia, rather than malice or megalomania.

        So, back to cost. Suppose that fear and inertia were not factors. We would still have the problem of how we could fund such a large change. If the Montessori system turned out to be significantly more expensive to implement, the increased value return might not outweigh the value lost from cuts in other areas. It is not enough to say “if Cameron’s life depended on it…”, because his life does not depend on it and it never will.

        This is why I posted in the first place. I would like to understand whether the Montessori system is well suited to scale. As a pragmatist (I am not ashamed of that word, but then, I don’t define it quite as you do), I believe that changes must be both cost effective and affordable. The current system is affordable (in as much as anything is at the moment) but not cost effective. You say that Montessori is cost effective, but is it affordable? And it’s not good enough to say that changes should be made at any cost. If that were the case, we would have free university education, personal rapid transit in all cities, and funding for all cancer treatments, but we would be in even more debt too.

        Furthermore, this is not a binary choice. If it were the case that Montessori could not operate well at scale, perhaps there are cheaper ways to overcome the inefficiencies in our current system.

        I would like to make clear that I am not presuming that the Montessori system is unaffordable, or that it is vulnerable at scale. I would like to hear your thoughts on this. I would like to hear your thoughts on the relationship between the success of this system and other factors, such as the teacher-student ratio or the social backgrounds of the pupils. I am a natural sceptic!

        You haven’t got round to answering those questions yet, and I’m not trying to rush you! Thank you again for replying so quickly.

        Joe

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      • Hello Joseph
        Excellent, I have a deeper grasp of where you are coming from.

        Please note that my natural showing up in the world is as a ‘pragmatist’. So all that I have written applies to me – am I not an ordinary human being?

        I will get back to you as promised. In the meantime, I ask you I to grapple with the following:

        a) The Americans (without an army) defeated the world’s most powerful nation – in no short measure due to their commitment/cause as evidenced by the American Declaration of Independence;
        b) The Americans came from behind, put a man on the moon and won the space race and JFK played a big role in that; and
        c) Gandhi was able to ‘win’ India back from the British who at the time had the world’s largest empire.

        What is my point? Questions of will should not be confused with questions of cost/feasibility. Many times the narrative of pragmatism/cost/feasibility is cover, an effective cover, for the lack of will and courage.

        As for your benevolent listening to those in power I draw your attention to those who sail against the wind of the powerful. Go and read Bertrand Russell’s and see how as an advocate for women’s liberation (right to vote) and a conscientious objector to WWII he nearly lost his life. Go and look at how the USA/UK governments are gunning for Julian Assange. What is his crime – unearthing and sharing that which the powerful wish to keep secret? The difference between what they say and would have you/I believe and what is really so. Or look at the treatment meted out to Bradley Manning who made visible the ‘truth’ and compare that with how the captains of industry/finance who have brought ‘austerity’ to us have been treated by USA/UK. Finally, look into history and find me ONE example of a prosperous tribe/nation/empire that whilst at/near the top embraced/encouraged free thinking, free action, creativity, innovation. If after that your doubt in the benevolence / trustworthiness of the powerful/elite is not even a little bit shaken then I can only say that you have great faith in those who rule/shape your life.

        At your service and with my love
        maz

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    • Hello Joe
      Hope you are well. I have been grappling with your questions and this is what has showed up for me.

      1) Would the free school system allow for Montessori Schools to be established…?

      Several Montessori schools were ‘established’ back in the 1930’s. Despite the results – from the passionate teachers especially the head teachers, Montessori education did not move into the mainstream.

      People vested in the existing system will fight fiercely to protect their vested interests. And many types of ‘organisational change’ suggest that a small portion (say 20%) of the existing members are up for the new rules of the game. The majority resist – the more powerful/privileged they are, the more they resist. Which means that whoever chose to take on the challenge of shifting the existing system to Montessori education would have a ‘fight of his life’ on his hands.

      In a large measure this would depend on generating support from parents. My experience is that only a tiny percentage of parents are in tune with and up for living the Montessori philosophy at home and in their lives. What is clear is that you cannot have Montessori during the classroom and the traditional parenting method at home – it just does not work.

      To sum up: highly unlikely that the free school system would allow Montessori to be established as the norm.

      2) Is Montessori Education the preserve of the wealthy?

      Yes, it is only those parents who are in the middle and upper classes in terms of income/wealth that can afford to pay for Montessori education especially if they have more than one child.

      How can it be made accessible? By say giving parents a choice. Choice A – your children go to a state school and you pay so much tax. Choice B – your children go to Montessori Education and you pay extra tax. And by subsidising Montessori education like university education used to be subsidised.

      Before you cry, that the Government does not have the money I draw your attention to colossal waste in Govt, NHS, Defense….. You would not believe what goes on and I have seen it with my own eyes. It goes on because it is invisible. Before you think I am exaggerating I ask you to think of the MPs expense scandal or the collusion of the UK government in rendition/torture even though this was denied by the Govt.

      3) What role can technology play in creating greater freedom?

      Technology can revolutionise the current school/education system. Amazon has no stores. Banks, have less and less branches as people do more and more online. Apply this to education system and what do you have?

      No schools in their current guise. How/why? Pretty much all the learning as is episteme (theoretical knowledge) can be learned via an iPad. And this learning can be one to one. Look I am following Dreyfus’s course on Heidegger via iTunes. Why? Because someone bothered to record and make it accessible via the internet. Furthermore, through the application of gamification learning can be made to show up as interactive/fun. Now ask your self why this has not been done? If you don’t have a clear answer then go and read The Prince.

      That leaves a second, and the most crucial realm of knowledge: techne – know how. Whilst technology can make some impact here, it is limited. Yes, you can use a simulator to build know-how in flying a plane. And at some point you have to get the ‘pilot’ into a real plane and fly it. Furthermore, technology disables/disfigures a key form of know-how: listening, talking with, discussing, empathising, connecting, getting along with fellow human beings.

      So episteme centred education via technology would have to be complemented by techne centred education involving intimate contact between children and other children/adults and the real world as opposed to the virtual world. This is kind of what happens in the ‘home schooling’ circle. The home schoolers arrange get togethers where the children talk/work/play together at certain times of the week.

      So schools would become centres for say art, crafts, music, sports, drama/theatre. And as centres for discussion/debate for specific subjects/topics where the students that are interested can drop in and take part. Which is to say these services would be pulled by the students and their parents as opposed to pushed by the system.

      I hope that this does justice to the question you have asked. I thank you for inviting me into this conversation; I am delighted that education interests you.

      At your service and with my love
      Maz

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  6. I don’t deny that the powerful abuse their power. However, there is usually a motive. I do not see a legitimate motive for deliberately holding back education, so I do not believe that this is taking place. The powerful fear direct threats to their power. This is what is happening with Assange. He leaked US secrets and he is being punished for this disloyalty. You can definitely make a case that what he did was right and that the USA should applaud him, but his actions are a threat to American military operations, and the leaders of that country are motivated to protect their actions and their reputations. They don’t want to suffer losses in war. They don’t want everyone to start leaking documents, the press picking them up and then suffering the embarrassment of having all their secrets discussed in public.

    Education is different. What would a more successful education system do? It would improve the economy for a start, and leaders love that. It could plausibly narrow the gap between rich and poor (though it could do quite the opposite). You could argue that certain elites don’t want this, but the middle-aged men in power don’t have to worry about that threatening them personally. And it’s not as if suddenly we’ll be in a paradise of complete equality of opportunity. For me to believe that anything like you suggest is going on, I would have to understand the motivation or see good evidence of the actions.

    I would also say that you are wrong to imply that I am unwilling to question the powerful, or that I am too trusting, or that I assume that they mean well by default. I am a very sceptical person. I am sceptical about the intentions of the powerful, but I am also sceptical of your explanations, and I am afraid that you are yet to convince me.

    I agree with you about institutional resistance to new teaching methods. Teachers have jobs that they want to protect. Wildly new methods are a threat to their jobs. I also think you’re probably right about parents too. These methods sound to me like the children would have to be used to them for them to work. I imagine a combination of these two factors contributed to your children’s school resisting your suggestions to adopt Montessori methods.

    You can get around the first problem though. I think the free schools present an opportunity. There is a lot of publicity and people are expecting new schools to be set up, and they are likely to be more willing to consider new schools at this time. Perhaps parents could be won over by gradual introduction of these methods through the school years. Either way, I think it would be a shame if this opportunity were not taken to introduce some more Montessori schools, just to give it a shot.

    I fear that government waste is a red herring. Everyone wants to remove waste (most of it anyway). People abusing their expenses aside (not a big cost for the government), there is every incentive for those at the top to remove waste. However, it must be extremely hard – you describe it as invisible. The right and the left have their own ideas about how to solve waste. One wants more state control to ensure that things are being performed by the book. The other wants to delegate power to those for whom the waste is not invisible, so that they can solve it. The former cost money, the latter doesn’t ensure success and often rests on dangerous incentives like competition that create damage in other ways.

    I don’t think the issue of taxes is about waste. Nobody gets elected by increasing taxes much. Politicians will avoid increasing taxes for as long as the public will vote against them for doing it.

    On to technology. I can’t say that I’ve had the chance to read The Prince. However, some of these things are being done already. They cost money and they involve changing teachers’ jobs, so progress is slow. However, the School of One, which I mentioned earlier, is a good example from the USA.

    Your vision for the future of schools is interesting. You sort of came to the same point I did – my final point: what if we could save lots of money by using technology to avoid unnecessary repetition in education, and then use that money to use Montessori methods in the interactions with pupils? This is my hope (though I wouldn’t have cited the Montessori system before reading your post, because I wasn’t aware of it). It’s like the iTunes lectures you mentioned (or Coursera or Codecademy or Udacity) – these can teach millions of people all at the same time. It’s not as good as a live teacher, but it can free up teachers’ time to focus on interactions when they’re needed most.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to reply to me in so much detail. I really appreciate being able to read your opinions. I think that if we can overlook our differences on the subject of why these changes haven’t happened yet, we have a similar vision for what could be in the future.

    I think it would be a shame if someone as passionate as you clearly are were put off by a belief that the establishment will never allow something good to happen. I think positive changes in education can and will happen. I also think that these Montessori ideas could be a very good complement to the technology ideas with which I am more familiar. I will look into the Montessori system in more depth.

    Thanks again for your time.

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    • Hello Joseph
      I thank you for inviting me into a conversation, it has been interesting one for me and I hope it has been the same for you.

      For my part, I do what I do because I get joy/meaning out of it. I do not do it for an end outcome. For example, I write that which I write because it is means of self-expression and a vehicle to live my stand. I do not do it to make an impact, to attract so many readers etc. Why? Because that is the path of attachment and with attachment comes ego, pain, disappointment, work…..

      The Montessori philosophy speaks to me. And it is because it spoke to me to strongly that I used up pretty much all of my money to put my three children into Montessori school. Am I up for transforming the existing system along Montessori lines? The honest answer is No. Am I up for living/embodying/sharing the Montessori philosophy? Yes.

      All the best to you. And many thanks for the contribution that you have made to my living. I wish you well. And that will make no difference. It is who you are that will make all the difference to you and all those who encounter you. So I ask that you be great. And be an awesome contribution to education – I can see that it calls you and you hear it.

      At your service and with my love
      Maz

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