War OR Peace

Readers and writers each have their preferred genre and their own way of experiencing the world and two people with opposing personalities seldom take the same viewpoint. Consequently, readers and writers must be somewhat compatible to get a message across and to appreciate a book. Of course, the beauty of fiction is that by using different characters, the writer can represent more than one point of view.

Like in real life, so subliminal interactions between characters and interpersonal relationships tend to be very complex and multi-layered in my books, and I do not use stereotypes or ‘a bad guy’, but rather a multitude of well-intended people getting into conflict.

Like all my books, In the Real World is likely to anger or frustrate some people, especially those who tend to take their moral values from their environment, and who might not see the relationships presented or the behaviour of certain characters as appropriate. Others might accept the story, even if they do not agree with all the characters.

 

cover-RealWorld

Originally written in 2005 and first published in 2008 – second edit 2012 – the book is not meant for young readers only, despite the protagonists being 16 years old. It is written for any person above that age; any person who can think about ethical values, about parenting and about war, and it is not in any way simplistic.

Nor is it a ‘nice’ book with heroes and big win; it is not a fantasy story where the only danger comes from some evil overlord. This story is set in “the real world” and the conflicts are between people’s beliefs and the accepted norms that keep them apart. Through the eyes of the two protagonists, the reader is shown many other characters – grandparents, parents, teachers and students – of whom some agree and others disagree with these norms.

War is the main topic, but the story is not set in a time of war; it is set today, in an Australian high school. It begins during a family reunion on Anzac Day – the Australian memorial day – when a group of cousins are having a boy-girl prank ‘war’ that gets totally out of hand. It is the emotions that are evoked during that exchange that are responsible for all the actions that follow and it is those actions and emotions that reflect conflict on an international scale in the real world, and in the history lessons and family stories that relate what happens with the kids to the events of the two world wars.

Apart from that, there are complex and very real interpersonal relationships evolving between characters, some of which touch the line of what is considered decent in our western society. For example, the question of how friendly teachers and students are allowed to be with each other and whether parents should stand behind their kids or behind the school when conflict arises.

The book does not glance over those moral boundaries, but addresses them, with the characters being very aware, and, like the readers, some are more accepting of those than others. But the reader does not have to worry about In the Real World, for all interactions are between personalities and there is no implicit or explicit sex between students or between students and teachers, and no scenes that are not suitable for young adult readers. In short, showing the emotions of war in a time of peace, the issue is human nature and our ability to solve conflicts.

The book is currently on sale. The eBook is available from meBooks (both Epub and Kindle) and printed copies can be bought via The Copy Press or my website.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

Advertisements

Lohland needs an Uplift

 

It was 2004 when I wrote my first book. Although I had been writing stories my entire life, Lohland was the first completed novel. But I didn’t publish it until 2009, after having written and published two other books.

Lohland - cover

I recently reread the book and decided it needs a new edit. Apart from some grammatical errors I missed then, it is clearly written by an inexperienced writer. Nevertheless, apart from wanting to write a stronger start, I still like the story in general.

Of course, since 2004, certain things have changed, especially in the way people communicate. The idea of teens with mobile phones was only just emerging, for example, and following directions on Google during a trip was less common. Today’s young readers – only just over a decade later – might wonder why Kaie does not use his mobile more often, but those are changes I cannot make, since the story revolves around celestial and calendar events that are correct for 2006, and so are the factual aspects of the story: the engineering projects that specifically deal with global warming.

Written with a young adult protagonist, Lohland was created less for the sake of the story than for the sake of presenting an alternative view of social life and education. That might not be the best approach to writing a story, but at that point, I had my design ready and that was my motivation.

However, I was also already aware that what one personality type considers a utopia, may be the complete opposite for another type of person. Being only thirteen years old at the start of the story, the protagonist, Kaie, has no say in the decision to move away from his home – the location of which could be most any Australian or New Zealand town – where he and his siblings each have their own bedroom with plenty of space to play loud music, a big garden, a swimming pool and many other luxuries. He resents the idea of exchanging all that for Lohland, not only because its non-traditional lifestyle does not suit his personality, but he questions the sanity of moving to a country that lies below sea level in a time when “global warming is real”.

Lohland is a fictional city state, but set in the real environment of the “low lands” of Western Europe, in an area that has significance, both historically and climatologically. The family’s emigration back to this part of Europe is set against a visit to the highlands of Scotland, as well as against the original discovery of New Zealand during The Golden Age of the Dutch Republic – Zeeland being the Dutch province New Zealand derived its name from – and the way each country remembers the significance of these events differently.

Thus, the somewhat utopian aspect of the story comes with the organization of its fictional city state, its calendar, living communities, celebrations and education system, but the environmental aspects, the engineering projects that are described and the architectural and historical information, is non-fiction.

The book was written to give teens and young adults an alternative to the doom and gloom they have to grow up with today, and the message reflected in the story is that there is more than one way to live a rich and rewarding life, that freedom is not about the space one lives in, but about not being judged or imposed on by others, and that global warming is not the end of the world; that young people can get involved in building a new future.

Until I have the time and money to publish a new edition, I have dropped the price of the eBook. Printed copies are still available via the printer’s website and my own, but they reflect the cost of shipping from New Zealand, which lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is therefore far away from everything.

Thank you for reading.

According to the Dictionary: Schooling or Education

Although I have many times mentioned it as part of other discussions, I would once more like to come back to the role of the school with regard raising children and educating them, because this remains a topic of confusion.

I recently came across two articles in which upset or criticism was expressed about what schools tell children. One of those discussions was about “sexual education” and specifically the idea that the school allowed guest speaker to inform children that there was a good chance they might be homosexual. A second discussion was about dress codes and whether religious head wear should be banned to avoid inequality. The objection was that the child with the religious head wear was given special privileges if head wear for non-religious reasons was not allowed.

The point of both discussions was that the parents did not agree with what the school was telling the children about the topic. In the first case, the parents didn’t actually have anything against homosexuality, but they didn’t want their child told that certain superficial behaviour (such as playing with dolls) indicated that they might be – quite right. The second was about cultural diversity versus diversity of opinion.

These objections are equivalent to objections and discussions about schools making children stand up and salute a flag, schools teaching evolution theory (which religious parents don’t accept) and schools telling war stories with the message that soldiers are heroes (which pacifist parents disagree with), as well as those issues I have mentioned before, such as when schools tell children they have mental disorders if they can’t behave like their peers, or when schools criticize what children eat or tell them what their parents are supposed to feed them.

In short, the (public) school is instilling messages into the children’s minds, which some parents object to. And although I understand the sentiment of the writers of those articles, I believe they may have overlooked the difference between schooling and education.

Today, terminology such as “education” and “life-long learning” are considered positives. The vast majority of parents, teachers and politicians will tell you that they think children should go to school, because they need an education. The UN has made a moral law that ‘guarantees’ children “the right to an education”, which is made compulsory and equated with going to school. (see my article on this topic: Education and Human Rights). Thus, we talk about “the education system” when we mean schools.

Using these two words interchangeably results from  adults internalizing what they are told as children and then never questioning it again. I call this “The Santa Claus effect”. If you raise children with the belief that Santa Claus exists, they will not question it unless somebody starts hinting at the possibility that it may not be true. Usually, at a certain age, kids start informing each other or parents tell them, but if this was not the case – like it is when an entire culture is immersed in a view and schools and the media keep repeating it – they would grow up believing that Santa Claus is real.

And so parents, teachers and the media all repeat that going to school means getting an education and if the children never hear anything else, they will pass on this same message to their own children or students when they grow up.

Most teachers, no doubt, go into teaching, because they want to help children learn – they want to educate them, and most parents will send their kids to school, because they want them to learn. But it is exactly that confusion that lies at the basis of these disagreements between schools and parents.

So, let us literally quote the dictionary  – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and I have used both the Ninth (1989) and the Tenth (2001) edition – and with apologies for any repeat from previous articles and in my young adult novel In the Real World.

The dictionary starts by listing the following synonyms, which are regularly used in relation to schools:

“teach, instruct, educate, train, discipline and school all mean to cause to acquire knowledge or skill”

Then it separates them:

to teach  is the most general and refers to “any manner of imparting information or skill so others may learn”

to instruct is “methodical or formal teaching”

to educate is “attempting to bring out latent capabilities”  In the 2001 edition, this is modified to “the development of the mind”

to train “stresses instruction and drill with a specific end in view”

to discipline is “subordinating to a master for the sake of controlling”  In the 2001 version this is modified to “training in habits of order and precision”

to school is “training or disciplining, esp. in what is hard to master or to bear” In the 2001 editions “or to bear” has been omitted. And the first entry definition given for the verb “school” is “to teach or drill a specific knowledge or skill”

Just to confirm, for those who object to my choice of dictionary, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) says about “to school”:

  1. To educate or train (a person, the mind, etc.); to make wise, skilful, or tractable by training or discipline; to be educated in a particular belief, habit, outlook; to educate (a child) at a school; to provide (a person) with a formal education, typically at a school, college, or university.

More modern dictionaries, like the New Zealand Oxford  (2008) and some online equivalents, say:

to teach is “to give systematic information to (a person) or about (a subject or skill)”

to instruct is to “teach, direct, command or inform”

to educate is to “give intellectual, moral or social instruction as a formal or prolonged process”  

to train is to “teach a specific skill by practice”

to discipline is “mental, moral or physical training” or “control or order exercised over people”

schooling refers to “training or discipline” or “education at school”

So the more modern the dictionary, the more there is a tendency to relate schooling to knowledge and the mind, and education to schools, which is evidence of  language being interpretable and subject to fashions, even within the era. With that in mind, I also looked at the word origins:

According to the OED, the origin of “to school” is to reprimand, scold, admonish (obs.). To tell (a person) he or she is wrong about something; to dictate to (a person); to criticize, correct, ‘lecture'”.

And the etymology dictionary (online) agrees with this. The origin (around the mid 15th century) of “school” as a verb meant “to educate; to reprimand, to discipline”
And to educate, this dictionary says, stems from the same period and means to “bring up (children), to train”. The root of this word, “educe” means to “bring out or develop from latent or potential existence, which is therefore in agreement with the Merriam-Webster.

So, even if the word meanings change a little, there is a clear focus difference. “Education” means bringing out latent capabilities in the learner or to develop and bring up; in other words, the focus is on the child. It wants to raise an individual who can develop their own natural talents and skills as good as possible and so be happy contributing to the greater whole (the society). “Education”, by its very definition, acknowledges that not every child is born with the same talents and its goal is to discover and nurture those inborn talents.

“Schooling” focuses on the skill or the outcome. The goal is to create an individual who can perform the end goal, who can benefit the needs of the society.

This is a subtle, but very important difference, and it is possible that the half of the population who are Js (who naturally equate the needs of the group with those of the individual) might protest and say that this difference is contrived.

Nevertheless, the role of schools is to create citizens that will fit in the society, that will not cause trouble and that will contribute to its needs. To allow too much individuality is in conflict with these needs. An established society does not want people questioning it, it wants them to endorse it.

As said before, societies cannot exist unless the majority of their members obey their rules. And how do you achieve that better than by instilling the beliefs in the members when they are too young to question it?

In principle, education doesn’t need schools and, possibly, schools don’t need to provide education, but an institution that does not teach any skills or values is more like a prison. So, schools (as state institutions) can provide education, but that does not mean that the words can be used interchangeably.

Schools, as said in Changing Beliefs, at times run ahead or behind the popular opinion, but it is their job to make children accept the beliefs of the society they represent, whether that society is a religious group or the state.

The views of the current rulers are instilled in children through schools, and in a democracy those are the beliefs of the mob – beliefs that change with fashions and depend for a great part on trends.

Thus, if the vast majority of people believe that evolution and homosexuality are wrong (as was the case less than a century ago), then that is what schools tell the children. If the majority suddenly goes overboard to the other extreme (and mob beliefs are seldom moderate), then schools will follow that trend.

Schooling can only happen in an institution; education is something parents can do just as well. So if you send your child to school, you have to understand that your own beliefs could be dismissed in favour of those the school holds. The alternative would be to educate your own children according to your own beliefs.

However, as said above, the “right to education” has been made into an obligation to send children to school – and some countries will threaten parents with prison if they are not willing to subject their kids to the beliefs of the state (through school).

In general, the more open-minded and tolerant a society is, the more it will allow its members a mind of their own. In doing so, each individual is likely to contribute to the collective in their own area of expertise, which, if all different talents are valued equally, means each can feel satisfied and respected.

A stable society tends to be lenient, but the moment a society starts weakening, it will try and enforce its own views – the weaker it feels, the more moralistic and dogmatic it becomes and individual needs and views are suppressed. This is true for any group (whether the society at large or a club or a school) and the less tolerant a society, the more it will enforce ‘education laws’.

The common belief (also instilled in most adults through schools and the media) is that these laws prevent child labour. But in most cases that was a convenient excuse that played on the emotions and guaranteed compliance without effort.

In short, education is not schooling; a law that makes going to school compulsory is not there for the sake of the children.

My advice to parents: If you have a choice, go talk to the schools and find out how open-minded they are. Do they really allow the individual child to have its own opinion without being penalized with lower grades or a scolding, or is it just a slogan the school has adopted, because the word “individual” is a popular hype word?

But one more word of caution. As I said before, whether somebody is inclined to accept the popular view or go against it, whether somebody is by nature an individual or not, depends on their personality type and there is no guarantee that your child is the same type as you are. So it is possible that if you, as a parent, object to schools and to uniformity of beliefs, that your child actually prefers that and feels safe in such an environment. If you make a fuss, you could be compromising your child.

Similarly, if you believe that making children fit in the society is a good thing, because they will later get a good job, make sure that you are not forcing a naturally individualistic child into something that stifles their inner self.

Because, regardless of what schools do, most parents aim to educate their children and that means allowing their natural personality type to develop according to their own needs.

Education and Human Rights

I have recently written a number of articles about home education for a variety of sources. Although my children have since grown up, I have fond memories of the time we engaged in learning as a family.

But we were lucky. I began home educating my children when we lived in the USA, restarted (after a few years of trying the local schools) in Australia and finished in New Zealand. In all these countries we were legally able to choose this option. Not every country allows that much freedom to its citizens.

Bringing young people together to teach them the knowledge and beliefs of their community, even at primary school age, is something that has existed at least since the classical Greek period, but probably much longer. In ancient Rome it was certainly customary for children to go to school. There are recordings of schools in the Byzantine Empire, with the Aztecs and in ancient China and India. During the last millennium, the Islam began systematically schooling children, in combination with religious teaching, and the Ottoman Empire made education available to even those who did not have the means, by providing free meals and accommodation along with it.

In Western Europe education was often a privilege for the well-off, while many poor children worked on the family farm or, during the industrial revolution, in factories. Aided by the “Age of Reason” and its reliance on science and knowledge, some countries made education compulsory in an effort to reduce illiteracy and raise the general standard of living for ordinary people, and slowly the focus of education shifted from the instruction of mores and values to imparting knowledge and basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. For most children this meant attending the local church (or public) school.

Despite most countries already having laws or provisions for childrens’ education, Article 26 of the 1948 Human Rights Act of the United Nations, made “education” a universal right across all democratic countries.

Article 26

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Now, let’s get picky.

The definition of “education” has changed throughout time, even within the last decades, but education comes from the Latin “educare” and has to do with rearing or upbringing. It has been defined as “to bring out latent capabilities” (Merriam Wester Collegiate Dictionary 1989), but is today generally accepted to deal with teaching factual knowledge, specific skills and the moral values of the community or state.

“Schooling” originated from a word that means a large number of people together (like a school of fish) and its connection with education thus only exists from the teaching or training of many children in one place.

Above I mentioned that the teaching of factual knowledge and basic skills went hand in hand with the teaching of religious or moral values. That is because it is impossible to educate or rear children without passing on your values. For example, if a parent says “you’re not allowed to hit another child”, they have expressed their ethical values. If teachers frown upon a child not sitting still or if they call the child who didn’t do his homework “lazy”, they are imparting social values; expecting patience, obedience, timeliness, responsibility, honesty, loyalty, competition and respect from its citizens means expecting moral values.

Thus, families have values, schools have values and nations have values, but these do not always agree. We are all aware that some nations have a basically Christian philosophy and others are known as “Buddhist countries” and we are all aware that not every family residing in these countries shares those beliefs.

The same with educational institutions. Most schools have some sort of philosophy: There are countless schools that uphold Christian values, each belonging to a different church. Other schools are based on other religious beliefs, like Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. There are alternative method schools, such as democratic “free” schools (Summerhill), Montessori schools and Waldorf schools, and schools that offer general education as a means to being able to train students in specific sports or arts (like ballet schools).

Yet each of these schools (like “public” or state schools) is obliged to follow the guidelines of the nation it is situated in with regard the aspects of general knowledge, basic skills and mores considered valuable by that state. – Today children are taught democratic values from early on: School books begin telling them stories with examples of brave soldiers fighting for “freedom”. “Equality” is emphasized in stories about gender and race differences and “brotherhood” is used to teach children to be team members and to sacrifice for the common good. None of these schools teach children the race-inequality values of the Nazis or Apartheid; none teach the retaliation values of the ancient Greeks, and all of them expect the children to internalize these values, regardless of the values of their home. Thus, family values are overruled by school values and school values are overruled by national values.

Most countries have made education laws based on article 26.1 of the Declaration, making it compulsory for all children between 6 and 16 to attend school, thereby forcing parents to subject their children to the moral values of the state. Yet, nowhere in the Declaration of Human Rights does it say that “education” has to be offered by schools.

Read again point two of this article. It says “Everyone has the right to education….Education shall be free… Elementary education shall be compulsory…”.

The first sentence is intended to stop children being denied an education and to prevent child labour, the second sentence refers to education being available for all children without them having to pay for it, but the third sentence makes it “compusory”, which is a contradiction to the first statement as well as the principles of the declaration itself, since “a right” is not the same as an obligation.

Besides, the Declaration was a moral law and not a legal one, so that it is used to turn into a crime for disobedience to the state that which was originally intended to guarantee people their freedom.

There is a reason that nearly every government interpreted the article this way:  Schools are institutions. It is much easier to influence groups of young minds directly than to rely on individual families to share the beliefs of the state and pass them on. Groups use competition and reward to encourage children to conform and they punish or outcast non-conformists. The aim of schooling children (always and everywhere despite any modern slogans about individuality, freedom and tolerance) is to ensure that they become obedient citizens.

But that is not all. Due to its use of abstract words that can be interpreted in any manner any nation chooses, the article causes confusion.

For example, under 26.1 it speaks about “merit”. But how do you measure merit? Is it grades given by teachers who may like or dislike a child? Do you go purely by the factual data of the hard sciences and mathematics or do you include those topics that include creative writing or art – and which cannot be objectively graded? Or do you consider as deserving merit those students that obediently repeat what they are told without thinking outside the box? So, if I am the ruler of a country that believes in teaching children how to use automatic weapons, I can claim that I educate my children according to the guidelines of the declaration, as I consider that a merit.

And under 26.2, the Declaration states that education shall include the UN values that are intended to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship for all racial and religious groups in the name of peace. Yet if education is about teaching mores and social skills and schools are state (or private) institutions that represent the culture (beliefs and customs) of the society they are in, they cannot simultaneously teach that everybody else’s beliefs are also valid.

Teaching the three Rs is pretty straight forward in the sense that there are certain rules to learning language or arithmetic and therefore they do not rely on the beliefs or customs of a culture, but once you talk more general knowledge this becomes controversial, as exemplified by the rise in arguments and law suits with regard the teaching of Christian beliefs versus teaching Darwinian evolution.

When we consider education as the teaching of the moral values of the state, we are accepting it as having preferences. You cannot teach one set of values as correct and simultaneously say that people who don’t believe that also deserve respect. This is something that happens, not just in schools and universities, but everywhere. People have adopted words like “equality” – which originated to mean equal rights, not “identical” – and “tolerance”, but they cannot put action to their words.

The writers if the declaration, having just come out of the Second World War, clearly promote a set of values intended to maintain peace with regard racial and religious beliefs, but without the realization that one’s personality type influences one’s ethical values, learning styles, manner of responding to the environment, level of conformity, individuality, scalability, as well as the way they interpret the abstract words the declaration is filled with.

My point is that “the human personality” (26.2) does not exist – unless you believe that all people are psychological clones of each other – so that each human being has its own ethical values (regardless of those of this family, school, culture or nation), which means that if those do not conform to those of the state (or school), they are not treated with tolerance, and “parents have the prior right to choose” (26.3) does not apply if the state promotes only one set of moral values, especially there where home education is prohibited or subject to limitations, or where home-education is not an option due to the need for the parent(s) to have a job for financial reasons.

My goal in life and with my writing is to alert people to the discrimination that occurs not based on external factors, such as religion, race or gender, but on the personality traits each person is born with and that cannot be changed.

The idealism of the declaration is in the number of abstract words that have no meaning other than that of the person reading and interpreting them according to his own beliefs, which allows schools to demand that individual children give up their inborn ethic for the morals of the group and nations to demand that families give up their beliefs for those of the state.

As a result, Article 26 of the Human Rights Act fails to respect inborn individual personality differences and thereby the human rights they say “everyone” is entitled to.