16 October 2020 – Entry Twenty Four

 

 

So I had planned it to perfection. A Sunday walk along the coastal path followed by the only showing of The Prado Museum: A Collection of Wonders at the New Plymouth Arts Cinema. Now this might all sound rather Eurocentric for a Green School leader but I will confess in my immaculate nerd-strewn glory that the thought of a Valeria Parisi-directed tour of one of one of the world’s great art galleries, together with a narration from the honey-voiced Jeremy Irons is my idea of a great Sunday afternoon flick. I had bought my ticket in advance just in case the rest of New Plymouth felt as I did, and after my route march along the seaside I arrived at the cinema in good time. I presented my ticket with a cheery smile and considerable anticipation. 

But not since Luke Skywalker discovered Darth Vader was his dad have words cut quite as keenly as those that emanated from the young woman at the desk:

“But you’ve missed most of it. It’s been on for fifty minutes already.”

Impossible. I pointed to the ticket in my hand which clearly said 2pm. I pointed to the watch on my wrist which just as clearly said 1.55pm. She pointed to the fact that the clocks had gone forward last night. 

Cold sweats. Self-loathing. A need to tear out my hair and rip my shirt while rocking helplessly in the corner of the foyer. But, being English, I said “thank you” and left the building in silent despair. It was raining. And so, still being English, I ran into the nearest pub. And there I was introduced to the world of Ultimate Fighting. So instead of Jeremy Irons telling me how the light fell around the vanishing point of an El Greco, I was instead witnessing adopted Kiwi, Israel Adesanya, beat the living daylights out of some hapless Brazilian while the pub crowd roared at the TV with unabated bloodlust. Such, I mused despondently into my Pale Ale, are the vicissitudes of the human condition.

But time tames almost everything. The fact is that the Prado, for all its accumulated veneer of good taste, contains scenes of violence that make Ultimate Fighting look like crochet class. Citizens being gunned down by firing squad, two men cudgelling each other to death; even a child being eaten alive. It’s all ok though because the artist responsible for these pictures, Francisco Goya, has become part of the revered western canon. This is now high art and the response from many people will not be visceral but intellectual. Just as the response to Ultimate Fighting will, from most viewers, be precisely the opposite.

I mention all this not as an act of catharsis but because I’ve had the privilege of standing in front of the original Goyas and when I say time tames “almost” everything, the Goya’s are, for me, an exception. I do not appraise these pictures with the cool eye of a connoisseur; on the contrary, looking at them is like having your guts ripped out. The images are the result of Goya looking his vicious age in the eye and communicating the hopelessness, madness and despair he saw within. To use one of education’s longer standing buzz words, the scenes are “authentic”. Horribly, unforgettably authentic. “Can’t you all see?” he’s asking us: “can’t you all see what’s actually happening here?”

The next show on at the New Plymouth Art Cinema was David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet. It’s polite Goya: utterly authentic, compelling and asking exactly the same question. Unlike Goya however, Sir David is not at the absolute bottom of despair’s grim pit: there remains some hope. That’s encouraging given a 94 year old might easily have signed off with a world-weary, doom-laden farewell. We have to nurture Sir David’s hope: horror did indeed come to Spain again on more than one occasion after Goya’s death, but so did joy and delight. And joy and delight are central to Green School. I believe we are staring the truth in the eye just like Goya, and we are acknowledging that the issues our children must face are potentially cataclysmic. But only potentially. Despair can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And “follow the science” is a less precise phrase than some might like (as covid has shown). We must also be led by a belief that things can and will change if we who are fortunate enough to be able to make a difference do just that. Not by virtue signalling, which has become a middle-class blight, but by putting our backs into being positive and happy changemakers. Sure, we can’t all live off rainbows, bandanas and campfire songs, but we must give our young people access to the domain of happiness. That is not turning your back on our planet’s reality; it is remembering that a smile is more helpful and powerful than a rant. 

So let our young people reclaim some joy from this increasingly fractured and gloomy world. Joy is as real as the darkness of Goya, as honest as Sir David’s hope-tinged elegy, and as overwhelming as a spinning heel kick from Israel Adesanya. 

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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22 September 2020 – Entry Twenty Three

 

Aside from recording the many pieces of music I’ve written over the years, the activity that is likely to dominate my dotage is writing. And there is one play, or perhaps a screenplay, that I am especially keen to crack on with. I mention this because it chimes congruently with Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, or Māori Language Week, which is happening right now in New Zealand – Aotearoa. 

Let’s assume this work is a screenplay. My opening shot would be one of a chisel lying on the floor of a porch of an 18th century house in Shropshire, England. The hand of a young man – perhaps he’s whistling – picks it up, but as the camera swings to show the surrounding countryside it is not  Shropshire but rather the forests of Aotearoa with near deafening bird song resonating through the high trees, and a proud Māori warrior standing beneath them, his tattooed face alien and beautiful to western eyes  We’ll come back to all this in a minute… I hope you’d keep watching. Anyway, let’s  have a little history before we return to my low budget, rather wordy art house movie….

Te reo (‘the language”) is an eastern Polynesian language that developed in isolation following the Māori arrival in Aoteoroa in the 13th century. By the middle of the 20th century, there were concerns that te reo was dying out. A concentrated effort of revival kicked in in the 1980s and by the early 21st century, about 125,000 people of Māori ethnicity could speak and understand te reo, which became an official language alongside English and New Zealand Sign Language. By 2013 that number of speakers stood at nearly 150,000 people, which is over 3% of the population. While we don’t have time here to navigate the ethics and complexities of decolonisation, it is fair to say the future of te reo is brighter than at any point in recent history.

But one of the “problems” faced by the language was significant: te reo had no script. The first non-Māori to arrive in New Zealand wrote the histories because they could. The Māori were suddenly confronted by the Latin alphabet and people who could wield the power of the written word – especially the printed written word – to devastating effect. Indeed, by 1860, te reo had become a minority language in Aoteoroa. And the history of oral-only languages once they are confronted by an alphabet is not a happy one. (To this day, for example, we have no real idea what the people of Britain were speaking when Julias Caesar turned up with his Latin declensions and conjugations).

Let me introduce the first of our three leading characters: Tītore (sometimes known as Tītore Tākiri). Born in 1775, he was a Rangatira (chief) of the Ngāpuhi iwi (tribe). He was a war leader of the Ngāpuhi who led his tribe in wars against other tribes, most famously at East Cape in 1820 and 1821 and Tauranga and Maketu in 1832 and 1833. Secondly we have Hongi Hika, another war leader, born in 1772, also of the Ngāpuhi iwi and famous, or infamous, for his use of European weapons against rival tribes. But my movie is not about war. It is much more weird and wonderful. Because, in 1820, these two seemingly fearsome men sailed to England where they met with the most unwarrior-like Professor Samuel Lee of Cambridge University.

This is where the chisel comes into play. Professor Lee was not some stuffy, high born colonial overlord but a former charity school boy from the sparsely populated county of Shropshire who became a carpenter at the age of 12. But when he wasn’t working with wood, this particular carpenter was a voracious reader and when, one fortuitous day, he lost his tools, he took up teaching. That was when his extraordinary talent for languages was recognised by the Church Missionary Society. So remarkable were his skills that he was soon ensconced at Queen’s College, Cambridge University. And it was to this former carpenter that our two warriors presented themselves. And from their talks and work together came the first Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand. Oh to have been in those sessions. Lovely details survive. For example, because Hongi Hika spoke with a soft, aspirated northern dialect, professor Lee used not the letter “f” but the letters “wh” to represent the sound, and to this day written Māori retains that unusual feature (“Wh” is pronounced as an “F”) and has a northern feel. It all feels so unlikely and haphazard.

When Tītore and Hongi Hika returned to New Zealand they continued their lives in the warrior tradition while the onetime carpenter became Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge as well as a prison chaplain.

And there you have it. There’s no love interest in the Cambridge section, but if the movie covers the lives of Tītore and Hongi Hika before and after their visit tio Professor Lee there could be, sadly, plenty of bloodshed. Books and movies enjoy the convenience of startings and endings, but life is all journey. Te reo, at this point of its story, thrives anew. And as we celebrate, let’s give a moment’s thought to that unlikely trio, The Warriors and the Carpenter.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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28 August 2020 – Entry Twenty Two

 

In a galaxy far far away, when I was a youngish Headmaster, I had an encounter with prospective parents – it’s a seemingly minor moment which I’ve recounted before elsewhere – that still makes me want to hide under my bed in the foetal position whenever it comes to mind.

 

I had walked into my wood panelled office from watching school fixtures on a blustery day, and I was wearing a big padded sports coat. The parents were seated in the office, and as I entered they immediately stood up. This pleased me: they obviously regarded the new leader before them as an important man of substance who exuded authority and charisma. I extended my hand, offered a resonant “How do you do?” and was about to bid them sit down when I saw something red peeking out of my left sleeve. Unable to resist, I gave a quick tug at the red object, expecting a large piece of fluff to emerge. But that’s not what happened.  A bit more red stuff came out, but there was clearly more within. I smiled at the parents and tugged harder. The parents watched intently. More red stuff. Quite heavy. A good six inches had now emerged from my sleeve. More smiling from me and no little bewilderment from them. I kept at it, and soon a good foot’s worth of material was on view. My grinning was becoming increasingly desperate because I was beginning to realise the awful truth, and their look of confusion was clearly morphing into one of incredulity. One last mighty pull and out it all came in a flurry of crimson. A pair of track suit trousers. I held them triumphantly before the now frightened parents who presumably thought this was how I started every conversation. “Look: trousers,” I said. Terrified, they headed swiftly for the door.

 

When to keep going and when to stop? At what point do you realise you’re actually making matters worse? Well, the segue from conjuring up trousers from your sleeve to phasing out school examinations may not be the neatest in literary history, but like millions of others and a vast body of research, I would suggest we’ve tugged long enough at the hope that continuous high stakes examinations are the best way to ensure the happiness, wellbeing and effectiveness of our young people. 

 

Examinations are actually relatively new in the West. In medieval times, for example, you were awarded a degree not by what you could remember in a three hour test, but rather on the quality of your lectures and debating skills. Heaven forbid I should ever sound like President Trump, but I’m holding China responsible for our examination fetish. And a Jesuit priest. Matteo Ricci visited China in the 16th century and took a liking to the 1500 year old tradition of competitive, meritocratic examinations. He was thrilled and wrote home to tell the gang. Soon the Jesuits went exam crazy, then the civil services and then the universities that fed the civil services. And here we all are today, teaching to the test and setting certain kinds of tests to ensure the wrong sort of people don’t get into your establishment. (Even into the 20th century century, some IVY leagues universities pulled stunts like insisting on an Ancient Greek examination while knowing full well the subject was not taught in American public schools). 

 

With all respect to the highly intelligent Matteo Ricci and the genius of the Ancient Chinese, Green School New Zealand is committed to an examination free environment. The memorising, listing, identifying and describing that played so large a part in my schooling can be assisted by technology and should serve more significant masters such as creative thinking and evaluation of concepts. I’m sure exams still have a part to play in certain contexts but with ever increasing passion I believe School is not one of them. As Green School joins the Mastery Transcript Consortium, we side with like minded institutions in North America, and seek to recognize skills acquired in and out of school during a learning journey fuelled by passion and curiosity, not fear of failure and all its attendant miseries. 

 

And no, I never found out how the trousers got inside the jacket. They were dry so it is unlikely it happened in the washing machine. And how could I have possibly spent an entire afternoon not knowing they were up my sleeve and wrapped around my neck? Again I struggle to answer that one. And no high stakes Monday morning test is ever going to help me out.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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21 August 2020 – Entry Twenty One

 

So when it comes to classic rock and pop  bands, we all have to accept the facade. We know the deal. Big names from the seventies and even the sixties are still touring, but often, on closer inspection, one discovers that the band you knew as Buffalo Flashlood (yes, I’ve just made that up) has only one septuagenarian original member. He is often the drummer and he will now be supported by four much younger session musicians masquerading shamelessly under the original name. 

 

In truth, the outfit might as well be known as Creaky Old Bob and the Striplings. The original member – and it’s usually a him – will have dyed his hair bright black (a colour that exists only on old male rock stars), the internet interviews will be phoney and painful, and any new material will be over-produced, derivative fluff lacking all the excitement of the early days and trying vainly to appeal to a market our poor old drummer could not possibly hope to understand. Oh, and there’ll be something about the band “having unfinished business” or some such tosh.

 

The fact is, most pop and rock music is designed to die young. It is nostalgia from the second it is written. That’s its genius. A genre very deliberately created by American adults for American teenagers, grew to become the “soundtrack to our lives”, but with very few exceptions we can see already that the music will fade with the lives that created and first listened to it. 

 

We used to have to work hard for that soundtrack too. As a youngster who got into “album bands” as opposed to singles artists, I had to journey into the centre of Liverpool and trawl second hand record shops in order to add to my modest stash of hard rock LPs. I had to rely on somebody else in Liverpool –  which was not a hard rock city – trading in an old album, and I recall the sense of expectation and excitement as I searched through the ranks of lurid and beguiling album covers to see if somebody had deposited the record that would complete my collection. The huge disappointment of not finding what you wanted was exceeded by that moment of heart stopping bliss when Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra beamed at you from the rack, having been incorrectly put back by a fellow collector, not under “D” but rather between Jethro Tull’s “Minstrel in the Gallery” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”. Indeed, finding what you wanted in the wrong place brought perhaps the greatest joy of all. I’d get back onto my homebound train clutching my treasure, flushed with anticipation, and ready to play my vinyl to shreds over the following months.

 

Earlier this month, Deep Purple released their twenty-first studio album. I pressed one button on my phone. Spotify appeared. The album was there. I walked New Plymouth’s coastal pathway one hour in each direction. Through fancy earphones, I played the album in its entirety twice. And as I listened, I thought back to the time and effort I would have had to invest over forty years earlier in order to hear that music. Here indeed, for better or worse, was instant, immaculate gratification.

 

Last Sunday, Green School New Zealand had a planting day. Parents and children came to our wetland area and we spent the morning planting trees under a golden winter sun, watched over by our snowy volcano and a soft blue sky. Now the internet’s greatest speciality is miscrediting quotations, so I really have no idea who came up with the first version of “society grows great when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit”, but whether it was Socrates, a Chinese sage or any of the other people honoured for it online, it remains a tidy and wise observation. To see some of our youngest out with their trowels, and some of our not so young with their spades, bringing new life and diversity to the wetland gave me reason to pause and give thanks. And it’s not because we will not see the fruits of our labour: we can all see those fruits. They are the moments of planting itself, feeling the soil around your fingers and placing the tiny saplings in the earth. Until time itself ends, nobody will know how things will finish up, and maybe not then. The meaning is the moment. The journey is all we will ever know.

 

So very many people want Spotify lives: we’d press that button and everything from forests to happiness would appear at once, creating an immediate, paradisiacal endpoint. May Green School always reject that crass sense of entitlement and affirm otherwise. We all have to save our pocket money, get on the train, visit the different stores, search each and every rack and accept there will be big disappointments. But when it comes right …… oh the rapture.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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14 August 2020 – Entry Twenty

 

There will be serious celebratory drinks at a certain lodge of beavers this week. You might say they’ll be enjoying a wee dam. (Or you might not if your  sense of humour is more developed than mine. Once, when one of my American friends bought a well known German brand of car I greeted him with “Audi, partner” which I thought was the funniest thing since Oscar Wilde, but which subsequently led to a period of coolness between us while he considered the possible reputational damage of his being seen with me).

 

Back to the beavers. Fifteen families of beavers have been given a legal “right to remain” in the river Otter (and that’s not a joke.. it really is called the river Otter) in South West England. Now the reason this is earth shattering news is because there’s a whiff of Jurassic Park about it. It’s the first time an extinct native mammal has been given government backing to be reintroduced in England. Beavers were hunted to extinction in England four hundred years ago, and people thought that was that. If you wanted a dead rodent on your head you’d have to emigrate to Canada and become a lumberjack. But then, in 2013, a beaver with young was spotted on the river Otter: and it was most definitely a Eurasian or European beaver, so trans-Atlantic skulduggery could be ruled out. How the beavers got there remains a mystery (they were probably reintroduced by wildlife activists), but now, seven years later, they have won their case and can remain.

 

There isn’t much good news coming out of my home country at present but I’m relaying this story not because it is in the click-bait league of bringing back a T-Rex, a Moa or even releasing bears in the Pyrenees, but rather because Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, stated that the project, “was so important because it is informing how we think in the future”, describing beavers as a “natural management tool”. I am aware not everyone is happy about the decision, but what is significant here is the way this debate was conducted and the manner in which the Environment Minister framed the discussion. This kind of language would have been unimaginable government circles a few years ago.

 

We all know humans have a deleterious effect on biodiversity. And we all know a collective effort of will can help turn that around. We also know that for billions of people around the globe, the quotidien demands of life mean it is not, quite understandably, a priority. The echo chamber of the world’s middle class is of little importance to them. Nobody’s going to crack open the Bollinger over a few beavers in an English river when they don’t have clean water, or shelter or laws protecting them from exploitation and abuse.

 

And yet, each tiny victory, each starfish thrown back into the sea warrants at least a nod from those who are fortunate enough to be able to acknowledge the event. Some of the plans to reverse the damage we have perpetrated upon this planet appear so overwhelmingly difficult that solutions seem unattainable. And so people go to the darkest place, wrapping themselves in a blanket of doom and waiting for the end. Green School is a place for optimism, not fatalism. Hurray for the little victories. The first faltering steps. The beavers in an English river. Treasure them. As the African proverb has it: “The sun does not forget a village just because it is small.” 

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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31 July 2020 – Entry Nineteen

 

The request earlier this week was simple enough. Could we please start our Green School promotional videos with the Maori word for New Zealand – “Aotearoa” – appearing first on the screen and then show the words “New Zealand” afterwards? I hesitated. Of course anybody in charge of a Green School should want that, shouldn’t they? We rail against the injustices – both historical and historic – perpetrated upon indigenous populations. We try very hard to present perspectives on the past that have been ignored for over two centuries since the arrival of white settlers. We accept there had been a near eradication of culture and language that needs addressing. So why on earth wouldn’t you lead with “Aotearoa”? 

 

Well, that would be because I knew full well that the vast majority of people around the world who chance upon a Green School video will not know what Aotearoa means, and unless they see the words “New Zealand” pretty darn quick they might stop watching, thinking we were situated on a tiny island nobody had heard of. And believe me, the fact that thought came into my head first is not something I am proud of.

 

I write this on the UN Day of Friendship, when division, confusion and chaos stride imperiously across much of the globe. The sense of disconnect as one looks on from a covid and riot free New Zealand increases day by day. But the legacy of prejudice and injustice here is strong, and today of all days it might be apt to consider the story of Parihaka.

 

In 1954, a historian and journalist, Dick Scott, wrote “The Story of Parihaka” which he enlarged and revised in his 1975 book “Ask That Mountain”. Dick Scott was a white man of European descent  – a Pakeha -, and apparently at the time he wrote the second book, few white people in New Zealand had heard of Parihaka. Many still haven’t. 

 

Parihaka is a short drive down the coast from Green School. It was a settlement founded in the 1860s to which dispossessed Maori moved in sizeable numbers. In May 1879 the colonial government started to occupy local fertile land that had been declared confiscated in the 1860s. Passive resistance was met with gaol terms for several hundred ploughmen. There were no trials. Although an enquiry was held into the confiscations, development continued, and the government insisted that the people of Parihaka be moved to reserves.

 

On 5th November, 1881, 1600 volunteers and Constabulary Field Force troops arrived in Parihaka. They were met not with violence but by singing children and silent passive resistance on the part of the  adults. Despite this, much of the settlement was destroyed and the people dispersed, many to  the South Islands. Maori leaders Te Whiti and Tohu were detained without trial for 16 months. The story of suffering and injustice was, conveniently for some, almost lost to history, even though there is some evidence (not wholly conclusive yet) that Gandhi knew of Te Whiti’s methods. Whatever the case, the acts of passive resistance in Parihaka preceded campaigns by the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. 

 

A few months ago I was jet washing the paving stones outside the marae (the communal and sacred meeting place) in Parihaka. At first it seemed bizarre and almost disrespectful to perform such an everyday activity in a place of intense historical and spiritual significance (even though I was doing it at  the request of the community). But as I blasted away at the stone, I thought of the symbolic significance of my actions and, somewhat fancifully perhaps, compared my humble act of cleansing to the restoration of the historical lens through which we now look at Parihaka. The grime of convenience has been removed, and the truth is there for anybody who wants to look. But even today, not everybody does. From North America to New Zealand, descendants of European settlers expect indigenous peoples to adapt to and walk effortlessly in our world; very seldom do we make an effort to walk even for a day in theirs.

 

I said from North America to New Zealand. I meant Aotearoa. On this UN Day of Friendship, of all days, I meant Aotearoa.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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22 July 2020 – Entry Eighteen

 

Most of the time, I feel entirely familiar with the ways and conversations of New Zealand. But most of the time isn’t always.

 

Back home, for example, “Asymmetry” is a lack of equality or equivalence between parts or aspects of something. Here, it’s a place where people are buried.  If in England somebody said they felt “fear here”, you might be alarmed. Whereas feeling fear here in Taranaki means you’re simply stroking your blonde locks. And if in a London pub somebody said “Guess”, you’d assume they’d just asked you to hazard a go at answering a tricky question. In Wellington, however, after hearing a cry of “Guess”, you’d evacuate the pub immediately for fear of a dangerous build up of carbon monoxide.  (Indeed, you’d be grateful to be outside in the fresh ear).

 

This is a family blog but if anybody wants to stand me a few beers (furry, dangerous mammals that live in the forest) I’ll happily share more dubious examples.

 

And then there are those moments that are not superficially but profoundly different. Having come here from Singapore, where huge structures proclaimed the glory of man (and often mammon), I now find myself reflecting on my recent few days on the South Island where I felt humbled, small and glorious all at once.  There is little in the way of man made wonder – not much in the way  of “look what I can do” – but there is a deep silence at night when an unpolluted canopy of darkness, pricked by glimmering lights, drapes itself over the firmament. By day, peaks of sawtooth rock and ice challenge brilliant blue skies. Woods and forests flow down mountains like rivers, and everywhere there is water: skipping, cascading, thundering or still. And when I returned to our campus on the North Island, there was our mountain with its white halo, blessed alternately by sun and storms, looking down over Green School and the ocean beyond.

 

And the point of the preceding overwritten passage is simply to state that while I believe it is very important that Green School learners understand such things as the carbon cycle, systems thinking and, crucially, our IRESPECT values, it is also imperative that they feel awe in the presence of nature. Skyscrapers make you want to pat your species on the back and build bigger: New Zealand’s peace, wildness and numinosity foster a realization of transience, humility and exhilaration. How tiny and temporal we are. 

 

On a roll, I started reading some articles published by the American Psychological Association in which they examine and hypothesise about awe in the presence of nature. The link between awe and humility is established, and then this lovely sentence appeared: Humility is a foundational virtue that counters selfish inclinations such as entitlement, arrogance, and narcissism (Tangney, 2000). If anybody has President Trump’s email, do be a dear and send that on. Anyway, awe-prone (as opposed to the increasingly meaningless awesome) individuals were rated more humble, balanced and ready to acknowledge external forces when talking of their own achievements. Very specifically: “a naturalistic induction of awe in which participants stood in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior and decreased entitlement compared to participants in a control condition.And so the articles go on. They certainly chime congruently with my own experience.

 

So the Green School journey should never be one solely of scientific and empirical thought. Whether we exist alone in a single universe or are one of an infinite number of species in a multiverse containing the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, information, and the physical laws and constants that describe them, we really should remain respectful, thankful and unpresuming. 

I for one will assume nothing and remain continually open to surprise. After all, this is a country where people hang out their washing with pigs, sleep on beards and peck suitcases. On the other hand, this is also a country where enemy and inner me are homophones. And that sounds spookily apposite.  (Are you listening Mr. Trump?).

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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29 June 2020 – Entry Seventeen

 

This week, the largest private rewilding project in New Zealand (that would be us – yaaay!) advertised for a “Gardener”. I considered the ridiculous inadequacy of that job title as I pondered the immensity, complexity and significance of the task ahead. Not to mention the intergenerational aspect. We’re already thinking about how this wonderful campus might be regenerating centuries from now. But separating the essential from the fashionable might be more difficult than we think. 

 

I’m not a “French formal garden” person. I can appreciate and admire geometrical masterpieces like the  gardens of the Palace of Versailles, but I’ll never love them.  If I had a “garden”, you’d most likely find old lawn mowers rusting away in the tall grass where they had been left and  lost. Wild flowers would nod in the breeze amid the haphazard glories of chance and chaos. Perhaps, at some atavistic level, this is one of the reasons I am at Green School: regeneration rather than control. But Versailles and similar gardens exist because we humans are hard-wired to look for, create and cling to patterns. The oldest known art is not a cave painting of bison but rather a repeated sequence of zig zags. The moment humankind could impose some kind of order on the unknown, we did. And so it continues today. From seeing the face of your favourite footballer in a piece of toast to watching a cloud formation take on the shape of a glowering monster, we turn seeming randomness into something comprehensible (even if we might scare ourselves half to death by doing so).

 

The landscape gardens of 18th century England attempted to trick the visitor into thinking the environment was natural. Gone were the straight lines and clipped hedges of French formality. Instead we had grazing animals, sweeping vistas and crumbling, romantic ruins. But it was all artifice: the animals were kept from the gardens by invisible ha-ha walls, the vistas were created by moving entire villages out of the way, and the “ruins” were brand new. The result was as man-made as anything in France. I suppose it’s rather like those make-up companies who urge customers to achieve that “natural look” by slapping masses of goodness-knows-what all over their faces. Few, it seems, are willing to embrace the wrinkle. And we also clip and pluck furiously to keep our facial garden tidy. We don’t want to grow older with small forests emerging from ears and nostrils. Chop chop.

 

Even at Green School we are threading a needle. Like it or not, human beings have to get by with our ape brains, and there’s no escaping pattern and control. Is Versailles any less “natural” than a bird’s nest? And is it positively unnatural to force ourselves to go against human impulse when faced with nature “untamed”? The longest I have ever sat still, awake and without a book, was not staring at the Himalaya or South American jungle but rather in a Japanese garden so manicured, balanced and exquisite that even my own breathing seemed alien. What does that say about my relationship with nature? Well, as always I come back to the point that we have been endowed with brains big enough not only to learn from mistakes but to change the course down which our impulses might have taken us. Balancing an ancient aesthetic urge against the catastrophic consequences of untrammelled indulgence is no easy ask, but it is a massive question for our times. Indeed, sometimes I think morphing our rabid desire for growth into a sustainable economic model  (a dominant news story of our times) will prove easier.

 

Anyway, once appointed and on the job, the Green School “gardener” can start to think about all this. It may seem a lot to take on, but of course it won’t matter who we appoint because there’s an old Chinese proverb that says “All gardeners know better than other gardeners”. Maybe, but so long as we are prepared to plant trees under whose shade we will never ourselves sit, there will be hope for our world yet.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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19 June 2020 – Entry Sixteen

 

My home country’s speciality is declaring war. We’re good at it and we usually set about invasion with great efficiency soon after. There are only twenty two countries on earth that have not at some time been invaded by the British. So congratulations to Andorra, Liechtenstein, Chad and nineteen other plucky states. Good on you.

 

It came as no surprise then to hear a petition was being signed in the UK last week demanding that Britain declare war on New Zealand. Signatures came flying in as one might expect. What was unusual, however, was the second part of the petition which insisted Britain then surrender immediately after declaring war. I raised a Churchillian eyebrow. But it seemed the thinking behind this unusual manoeuvre was that under international law, an aggressive nation defeated in war is governed by the victorious leader until such time as the United Nations can sort everything out. Therefore, Jacinda Ardern would become the de facto Prime Minister of the UK, and thus she would sort out not only the Covid debacle but a host of other issues facing my benighted homeland. So, it was all a ruse to get Jacinda into 10 Downing Street whether she wanted it or not.

 

Now I know Jacinda Ardern plays very well to overseas onlookers, and I’ve had cause this week to discuss women in power on a number of occasions. The petition was just another example of people looking for a different kind of leadership. I appreciate there are multiple volumes and doubtless numerous PhD’s on the subject of women in power, and I’m also aware that in the current maelstrom surrounding gender what I’m about to say  may seem crassly simplistic, but Jacinda Ardern’s appeal is surely, in part at least, that she doesn’t appear to be playing the game as a man might. She is not a warrior queen behaving as men would expect other men to behave, with macho swagger and nationalistic bravado. From Boadicea (an ancient British leader who gave the  Romans a temporary bloody nose) to Margaret Thatcher, we’ve had strong women in power, but in order to achieve and keep that power they have, I would suggest, had to conform to behaviours that would reassure and not unduly threaten the majority of the men around them. Even Elizabeth 1st, who could probably have stared down a cruise missile, effectively apologised more than once for not being a man.

 

It’s an old issue. The second female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut, came to power in Egypt 3,500 years ago and has been described by one eminent historian as “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.” Despite her many and often remarkable successes there was an attempt to remove her from the historical record, and in those images of her that have not been defaced we see male attributes right down to the Pharaonic beard. Egyptian artists had no problem painting sensuous dancing girls, but what to do with a female Pharaoh? Answer: give her a hairy chin. There’s still a lot of work to be done on uncovering the real Hatshepsut but if girls want a role model, they might want to consider her before they turn to the Kardashians. But she clearly threw the blokes into confusion, and therefore I can’t help but wonder if she might have been a precursor of Jacinda Ardern and stepped out of the male paradigm. Perhaps we’ll never know.

 

When I visited for a month, I found Green School Bali was a superb example not merely of  “empowering young women” but of dismantling the battlements of masculine sanctuary. It was, to mix my metaphors, not just a question of “to succeed you need to play like this” but rather “to succeed you don’t have to play that game at all”. Green School Bali was a genuine revelation in that regard, smashing taboos and nurturing new future-focussed perspectives that gave me hope for deep change. We aspire to that in our own Green School. And, regardless of your politics, we have a model close to home. A compelling degree of empathy, a reassuring clarity of communication and a sense of genuine connection have all emanated effortlessly from New Zealand’s leader. Faced with the brutish boasting, aggressive posturing and thuggish language from the other side of the world, I hope a great many girls and young women look to Jacinda Ardern, and maybe Hatshepsut, and decide that they too can step off the dying grass of the old playing surface onto greener fields.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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12 June 2020 – Entry Fifteen

 

Today at Green School I was engaged with some of our older learners looking at, amongst other things, how and why the remarkable but heavily stylised art of ancient Egypt and other ancient civilizations gradually morphed into the classical art and architecture of Greece whose influence remains visible in every western town and city. (You see, we’re really not just tie-dye wearing, hog-raising Grateful Dead fans). And I pointed out, in passing, that the statues and buildings of Greece and Rome were not white: the marble was painted, and if we were to visit those civilisations we might be taken aback by just how vivid, and maybe even gaudy, some of these colours were. Yes indeed, the most iconic structures and artworks in the western world looked very different back in the day.

 

After the exchange of ideas with the learners, I had to go to the dentist and be brave. While in the dentist’s chair, to keep my mind off the imminent drill-on-molar action, I reflected on the reality of a brightly coloured classical world and wondered how different the modern world might be if we did not have the pure pentelic, lilywhite inheritance of antiquity. For many years, the thinking of Greece and the deeds of Rome have been set against a shimmering white backdrop. In popular imagination, the origin of modern western aesthetics, logic, ethics, metaphysics and more was the thinking of white men with white beards in white togas in white buildings. The person most responsible for this is Johann Joachim Winckelmann, an eighteenth century scholar who wrote a massively influential two volume work on classical art in which he basically said the Greeks were too sophisticated to use colour and that coloured art was produced by barbarians. Forget the art of ancient China and India. Ideal beauty was white beauty. Ok, I simplify but perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. 

 

Let’s take a country at random .. the USA (ok, not really random). When Americans build in the Greek style, look what colour the buildings are. If we pick a city out of the hat .. let’s say Washington (ok, I know, I know …)  we find the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, The White House. With the last one, the clue is definitely in the name. My point is, if these were true classical (as opposed to neo-classical) buildings, they’d make a Pink Floyd light show look tame. But thanks to Winckelmann it has to be white. Pure white. That’s what big decisions need: stacks of whiteness.

 

I rushed home from the dentist, my mouth raging with indescribable agony, yet I heroically checked the internet to see if my thinking was original and whether I could immediately embark on an epoch defining PhD and thus change the world forever. But, as usual, I discovered my train had already left the station. Well maybe not so far as white buildings are concerned, but discussions about colour prejudice in the ancient world have certainly been underway for some time. Interestingly, the overwhelming (but not unanimous) view is that the construct of biological racism was not prevalent two thousand years ago. Indeed, Emeritus Howard University classicist Frank Snowden has pointed out, “nothing comparable to the virulent color prejudice of modern times existed in the ancient world.” It happens that the Romans used a great variety of skin tones in their art (you can still see some of these on Romano-Egyptian mummy portraits). There is no evidence of a black/white divide. Now don’t get me wrong, there was enough prejudice in the ancient world to fill an amphitheatre – these were slave owners after all – but the slaves were often the same colour as the masters. Colour was, seemingly, not the issue.

So I’m left wondering what might have happened if our inheritance from ancient Greece and Rome had been as bright and varied as the reality. What if the “purity” of Washington’s classical buildings, for example, was manifest in gold and ochre and red and umber and burnt sienna and yellow and ebony? Maybe I’m being fanciful, or maybe it’s just what men with toothache do, but the symbolism of these iconic structures is compelling. It is also based on a false premise. I can’t help but think the history of big white took a significant wrong turn.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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5 June 2020 – Entry Fourteen

 

If one were to say The USA was founded on genocide, slavery and racism, one could make a compelling case. And after the killing of George Floyd it would be both easy and entirely understandable if the manifest fury born of centuries of prejudice, violence and hypocrisy, often  condoned at the highest level, were to strengthen that case to the point of indestructibility. 

 

In an earlier blog, I quoted President Trump’s most recent State of the Nation address: “The American nation was carved out of the vast frontier by the toughest, strongest, fiercest and most determined men and women to walk on the face of the earth. Well of course Putin could say the same about those Russians who defended Stalingrad, as could almost any national leader about a point in their nation’s history, but the remark’s veracity is not the point. The fact is, it is some of those same “toughest, strongest, fiercest, most determined men and women” (and their ancestors) who, many would argue, committed the genocide, prospered off the back of slavery and insitutionalised the racism. But we all know there’s no such thing as a definitive history. Even if your “facts” happen to be correct, you still have to choose the prism which filters your gloopy mass of preconditioning and prejudice into narrower, linear versions, of the same. Then you select your perspectives; what to include or leave out; where you start and stop and a host more things besides. It’s as if you are creating a fairy story even before you pick up your pen. Every modern word you use to analyse the past actions or states or thoughts of dead human beings can take you further and further from their quotidien lived reality, and the realities of those they lived amongst. The President, as does everyone, has to make choices in that regard.

 

Bill Clinton came at it another way: “There’s nothing wrong in America that cannot be cured by what is right in America”. I‘ve no idea if Mr. Clinton or a speechwriter came up with that simple, neatly balanced observation but it immediately moves us away from the current obsession with  binary positioning over which I’ve despaired before and which is the darker side of identity politics and intersectionality. Clinton’s words acknowledge that from our worst moments can grow our best. They suggest we reject the voguish notion that if you don’t agree with me you’re not just wrong: you’re evil, and it asks that we engage with ourselves and our communities. The depth of our thinking and the care we take with our language is important.  So is our starting point. 

 

We  hold these truths to be self evident.” That starting point in the Declaration of Independence introduces a revealed truth “that all men are created equal”: it comes not from logic, or memory, or sensory perception, or higher human authority like a President: it is a revelation. Accepting a revelation as an axiom for a nation might raise a smile in certain circles, but right now it remains modern America’s genesis and, whatever its epistemological fragility, sounds as noble today as it did the hour it was written. That this self evident truth has not been honoured in the USA is a mighty sadness: but neither has it been honoured in any other nation.

 

There’s no utopian final paragraph about how a Green School in New Zealand is going  to change all this forever. But there is no better way to resolve conflict and prejudice than through a shared purpose, approached with a beginner’s growth mindset. That’s what we do here. But getting the world to see things that way is to change other fixed mindsets that have developed over millennia in multiple ages and cultures. Impossible? Well, as I write this, disease, race riots and economic depression hang over the world’s most powerful nation. If we are to thrive with purpose, the impossible road might be the only one

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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29 May 2020 – Entry Thirteen

 

The Earl of Southampton left my apartment and imagination for good last week. We parted amicably as he set off for Bali, blown on the winds of somebody else’s dream. By and large I have enjoyed having him around despite his aristocratic demeanour which, along with his stockings and twiddly moustache, were a tad incongruous at Peggy’s Bar. Especially when he entertained the hoi polloi by twerking to the madrigals he kept putting on the jukebox. But he was, in his own words, a kind and goodly Lord who quaffed a flagon of frothy mead with as much relish as the average yeoman. Yes, I’ll miss him.

 

After I waved him off and watched him disappear into a cloud shaped like an old thought, I returned home to find he’d left a note. Now previously, I’ve passed his words on to you exactly as he wrote them, but this Elizabethan prose is even denser than the poetry. Frankly, it’s a little trying with all its verily’s, forsooth’s and i’faiths. Where you or I might write “Hi” to start an email, he kicks off with “Right Worshipful, My humble duty remembered, hoping in the Almighty of your health and prosperity which on my knees I beseech him to long continue…” etc. etc.  So I’ve taken the liberty of summarising his random impressions and questions. His four hundred and fifty years of time travelling have given him a curious perspective. Anyway, this is what I found …

 

********************

 

Sir, I am perplexed by your world. Help me understand. 

 

Malaria, preventable and curable, killed more people last year than Covid-19 has this year. But I see the deaths were, primarily, in sub-Saharan Africa. Your “developed” world did not close down at that news, but the same number of deaths from malaria will likely occur next year, and the year after that. Your “developed” world will not close down then either. Why?

 

Putin, Bolsanoro, Trump and Boris Johnson have had Covid run amok in their countries. Covid has not done that under Ardern and Merkel and Tsai Ing-wen and Sanna Mari. Yet the puffed up rhetoric of nationalism and its attendant swaggering, chest-beating masculinity goes on. Why? 

 

My studies show me that the concept of GDP was never meant to be an end in itself. It measures quantity not quality. But it has become a great God before which nations bow and by which they judge themselves. Why?

 

And for all that economic growth many of your people and many of your lands do not thrive. Suicide, depression, obesity, isolation. The disconnect is obvious. The response is not. Why?

 

The thing that really is a matter of life and death for humanity  – our relationship with the complex systems of this planet, its creatures, plants, soils, oceans and skies – is still being ignored by so many of your places of learning. Why?

 

And in many of those places of learning it is clear that all over the earth, talent and imagination are being crushed by a self-perpetuating, rigid and antiquated model of “education” that exists to measure and classify, not to value and nurture. Why?

 

Humans have always fallen victim to tsunamis, earthquakes, tempests, volcanos, pestilence, wild beasts. One far away day the sun will consume the earth. Nature can and always will take human life. No appeasement will stop that. Yet many in the closeted, indulged and self-as-victim worshipping corners of your developed world cannot – or refuse to – make an appropriate accommodation with this aspect of nature and the deaths it will always exact. Why?

 

And most importantly, it seems to me that most right thinking people know the answers to most or even all of the above, but still the status quo remains, dressed in its emperor’s clothes. People are in thrall to an old, weak and naked daemon. Why?

 

Oh and given all the above, there’s one more ….. I notice that people from “developed” nations who lose TV cookery competitions usually cry on camera and subsequently need comforting by the presenter. Why?

 

****************

 

Later that day, I watched the young Green School learners in the early autumn sun. Listening to the laughter in the garden, it would be so very easy – considering Green School’s stance on such things as gender, learning, community, sustainability and wellbeing – to congratulate ourselves on how far we have come. But after we cast our eyes wider, it soon becomes apparent we all need a goodly Lord on our shoulder reminding us how very, very far we have to go.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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8 May 2020 – Entry Twelve

 

The Kaitake range just beyond our campus received a dusting of snow yesterday. I haven’t seen that before. Our much taller maunga (mountain) behind the Kaitake was wrapped in white, and the sky was, as it often can be in Taranaki, the colour of sea round a tropical atoll. I sat outside in the cold, clear air, sipping peppermint tea, working on my computer at a gnarled wooden table. A pair of paradise shelducks called to one another, and every now and then a soaring swamp harrier appeared above the nearest ridge. And once in a while a soft gust of ocean wind would squeeze into the wooden window frames of the old barn beside me and whistle with ghostly delight when it did so.

 

Yes indeed, it’s a set-piece-paragraph-kind-of-day. We are picture postcard perfect, and if the New Zealand Tourism Board created heaven, it would look like this. So let’s defrost the sausages, crack open the Tia Maria and shout zippity-do-dah. 

 

And bugger. Because the bogey men are here. Weeds. Millions of them. They’re everywhere. Lockdown meant we couldn’t access the campus and so we’ve now got ourselves an awful lot of “plants in the wrong place”. And of course that is famously all weeds are. We humans have historically decided when, where and why, depending on context, something is or isn’t a weed. Even that word “weed” is utterly meaningless in botanical terms, and many of those plants we deem to be ugly and damaging intruders are themselves attracting insects, preventing erosion, reducing moisture loss, bringing up calcium and nitrogen, helping crops grow deeper root systems. But sometimes you’ve just got to look right, and if humankind has deemed orchids and roses to be the floral supermodels, then we’ve made weeds the murdering, scarfaced hunchbacks.

 

I recall a Victorian cartoon in the magazine Punch in which a vicar was admiring the tidy, well tended garden of a parishioner and the vicar says something like “It’s remarkable what man and the Good Lord can do together”. To which the parishioner replies “Yes vicar, but you should have seen it when the Good Lord had it to himself.”

 

So, to weed or not to weed? What should a Green School do?

 

Well, humans have been enclosing space for about 12,000 years, and the words “garden” and “yard” come from an Anglo-Saxon word not for plant or flower as you might expect, but for “enclosure”: geard. Who knew? (Me actually because – wait for it – I studied Anglo-Saxon at university. Just when you thought I couldn’t get any cooler …..). We also know that aesthetic as well as practical traditions grew up independently in the Old and New worlds. Even those heart-ripping Aztecs liked flowers, and I can’t believe the Hanging Gardens of Babylon would have made the cut as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world if they’d been riddled with a dose of Creeping Charlie. So I guess we’ve been weeding away across the globe for many thousands of years. Straight lines (think pyramids and ziggurats as well as neat orchards and trimmed garden edges) certainly feed into a control narrative, but they have also pleased the human eye for millenia. Can and should we return to a wild weedy state, or would doing so be denying what seems increasingly to be a case of evolutionary aesthetics?

This is really just the tip of an evolutionary iceberg that looms over us all today. For some time now I’ve been persuaded by the Ecological Dominance-Social Competition (EDSC) model of human evolutionary intelligence. Essentially this says that human domination of the habitat (of which weeding remains a residue) enabled our species to shift focus and prioritise human interactions which in turn led to a striving for domination within the social group. That focus evidently dominates today on many personal, social and national levels. In other words, our initial battle to survive in nature has now become a battle to outstrip one another with nature as neither friend nor foe but merely something to be exploited for advantage in the intra-species struggle.

 

The upside of all this is the highly developed social skills and advanced communicative faculties we enjoy as modern humans. The downside is the sometimes horrific ways in which we treat one another and this planet. A fatalist can argue evolution brought us here, but evolution has also endowed us with brains big enough to realise what is happening and put a stop to it. 

 

But I haven’t answered the question about what we do with plants in the wrong place. Well, I think we can acknowledge we are an evolving species, strike a balance and allow ourselves some judicious weeding from time to time. It would be even better, though, to recognise that the land in which those weeds take root is all we have, and that the Ecological Dominance-Social Competition model is, unless checked now, the antithesis of thriving with purpose. Indeed it is the road to oblivion.

 

I need to stop now because there’s a chap in a ruff collar waiting at home to say good-bye. I’ll tell you how that goes next week.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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1 May 2020 – Entry Eleven

 

The Earl of Southampton and I have fallen out since the announcement that New Zealand is now on Level 3. I can tell he’s agitated because he plays with his ruffled collar which is super-annoying when you’re locked up together. He is worried that because I am allowed back on campus and can meet, albeit at a distance, with some friends and colleagues, I will begin to think I had only ever imagined that he, the Earl, existed. 

 

“Maybe I’m a figment of your imagination because you’ve been alone in a flat for weeks on end”, he said accusingly. 

 

I told him what nonsense this was as I walked through him into the kitchen. Anyway, he went into a sulk and this morning I found him asleep at the writing desk with another poem finished in front of him. He knew Shakespeare of course, and I have previously shared with you his Green School sonnet in Shakespearian form. But in travelling through time he got to know quite a few other people as well and picked up a few tricks along the way. 

 

It seems he met and liked the Romantic poets of the late 18th and early 19th century. A few days ago, when he was in a better mood, the Earl told me these poets reacted to the mechanical Newtonian universe of the Enlightenment. (Duh? Like speak English, dude.). Some of these young poets saw nature not as something to dissect, but as a holy teacher to be revered and respected. It seems the Earl learnt from them and had a go at writing about Green School in the style of a Romantic poet who might have lived over 200 years ago. Green School and the Romantic movement had a lot in common it seems. He also told me that many of the great Romantic poets died young and that this was likely to be his fate if Level 2 is announced soon. What a whinger.  Anyway, this is what I found on the table and it looks a whole lot easier to understand than that Shakespeare stuff, even if the adjectives do come after the nouns:

 

From storm-blessed Taranaki’s face

Where snow and sun caress in cloud

His grey tears flow o’er rocks and stones,

Far from the crowd.

 

“Wherefore is my realm thus sullied?”

Weeps the haloed summit white.

“Wherefore are my forests dark

And cursed with blight?”

 

And to those tears come maid and youth

With roving loves no grief confines,

And in those tears they shine as gold

In elvish mines.

 

“We will heal you,” sing the maidens,

“We will heal you,” cry the boys.

Echo sings to fading echo:

Happy noise!

 

They weave a net of pluck and hope

And sift the calming salve from harm,

Then sprinkle on the hurting land

A sacred balm.

 

See holy flowers rejoice in valleys,

Streams sing pure in Sylvan glades,

Seasons roll in natural bliss:

All life cascades.

 

‘Tis no dream: I hear this music.

“Tis no whimsy: this can be.

Hear the lullaby to Gaia:

“Be free, be free.”

 

I promised I’d share it as he needs cheering up. If you see him around, buy him a drink.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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16 April 2020 – Entry Ten

 

Sane New World?

 

After the crash of 2008 there were many articles, scholarly and sensational, telling us the world would never be the same again. Lessons had to be learnt. Banks reigned in. There would be a new beginning where the greed of the few could never damage and even destroy the lives of the many. This is it, people said. Just you wait. It’s a new dawn.

 

Nothing changed.

 

And now we have another wake up call: a pandemic that is being described both in apocalyptic terms with the angry earth personified as of old (“mother nature’s final warning”, “Gaia’s revenge” etc), and also as the most mishandled and grossly exaggerated crisis in history. Wherever one is on the spectrum, loved ones are being lost around the world and livelihoods have taken a mighty battering. There is talk again of “everything” being about to change. Just like 2008.

 

Of course “everything” should not change: but education absolutely should. I suspect it won’t. Too much is already invested in the whole outmoded shebang, and in some countries implementing the ideas below (all have been around for some time) would be less like turning an oil tanker around than pinning a medal on a shadow. But I’ve always liked Atticus Finch’s definition of courage in Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird: “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” And maybe, just maybe, we can see it through. Here goes.

 

The word “kindergarten” originated in the 1840s from the ideologies of German educator Friedrich Froebel and literally translates to “children garden”. The clue, as they say, is in the name. 

 

Rousseau would have approved. Since then, our “conquest of nature” narrative has swept almost everything before it, and despite a few worthy subplots emerging now and then, the perverse outcome is of humans serving their cities, screens and, where wealth allows, their immediate and frothy gratification. 

 

We are the same species that dwelt in caves on on the dangerous plains just a few thousands years ago, and over the past 20,000 years, the average volume of the human male brain has actually decreased from 1,500 cubic centimeters to 1,350 cc (that’s a whole tennis ball gone), and maybe that explains why so many of our education systems continue to pour water over rocks. The research is clear and has been for a long time. Our speck of time on this beautiful, fragile planet is best served by an education (and way of living) which not only respects the earth’s finite resources but also acknowledges how our disownment of and dislocation from nature has damaged us. 

 

You see, I would argue that many children – even those that live in mansions – are homeless. A thousand sources could be shared now but here is a single sentence from Tonia Gray Associate Professor at the Centre for Educational Research, Western Sydney University (she provides all the links to evidence of course in her original): 

 

Contact with nature can enhance creativity, bolster mood, lower stress, improve mental acuity, well-being and productivity, cultivate social connectedness, and promote physical activity. It also has myriad educational benefits for teaching and learning.” 

 

We knew all this long ago, so at Green School we talk about “regeneration”, acknowledging our debt to the past. We are outdoors whenever we can be, growing, tending, collecting, listening. 

 

Only English, Maths and the Maori language are taught discretely (and outdoors whenever possible): other “subjects” exist purposefully and interwoven inside themed, ten week learning journeys that have real world application and encompass scientific method, the numinous and all stations in between. Whereas I had to rote learn all the names of England’s kings and queens in chronological sequence (honestly, it’s not even a great pub trick), we would ask that all our learners – from around the globe – understand the carbon cycle.  Oh, and there are no tests.

 

So, let us then acknowledge that the stress-drenched, antediluvian examination systems that wreak havoc with so many of our young, their teachers and schools, should be consigned to history. This does not mean jettisoning diligence, application, mastery or even true scholarship as reactionaries would have it. Nor does it mean reading, writing and maths become nice to haves. (Though some believe that time is coming and closer than we think). But it does mean abandoning the lockstep classroom and using emerging passions and interests as portals to exploration. That way, the learning is more likely to be infused with joy and will make the journey as significant as the vapid and fictional endpoints touted by so many systems. 

 

If you walked into a shoe shop with size eight feet and discovered the shoe shop only sold size five shoes, you’d be more than disappointed. But many of our education systems only sell size five. Good for you if you happen to fit this leaky old slipper, and tough luck if you don’t. There should be no Cinderella children lauding it over their ugly sisters. All children have gifts: let us create environments that allow those gifts to emerge and flourish.

 

How interesting that in my home county, the UK, there are no school examinations this year because of lockdown. People who know the pupils best – their teachers – are producing transcripts without examination scores (though, admittedly, they still have “predicted grades”). How wonderful if in future we took this process further and produced holistic transcripts for all young learners, telling the story of passions in and out the classroom, of unique journeys taken, of accomplishments in multiple and cross-disciplinary areas, not just the traditional discrete subjects. Yes, it would require a radical change at the receiving Tertiary institutions (assuming for the moment they will continue in current form), but Bali’s Green School Diploma has already won over some of the most distinguished universities, and Green School New Zealand will follow. And consider the work of the Mastery Transcript Consortium. Our armies are gathering.

 

We should put at the heart of our learning, the United Nations Sustainability Goals. 

 

UN Sustainable Development Goals

 

In exploring each goal at age appropriate levels and discovering not just where we are now but how we came to be in this position, you can be duly fired up by all the Maths, Social Sciences, History, Art, Psychology etc. you could ever possibly need. The learning pathways could take you to Sanskrit and Ancient Greek for that matter. But, wherever the individual journey led, you would become connected with the world as it is.  You would better understand why headlines like “The world is in lockdown” rings hollow when you are homeless (as millions are), or why “social distancing” assumes you are not in a Mumbai slum, a city with 77,000 people per square mile. 

 

And as you learn through the UNSG’S, you will surely start to ask questions such as why is air pollution – something we can control and, unlike Covid-19, kills millions each year – not afforded the same or greater respect and response as this wretched virus? The answers to that question are obvious to all but the most naive, but that doesn’t make those answers any less cynical or fatuous. (And we should learn that middle class self flagellation is all well and good for people who have the platforms, time and money, but much of the world’s population is trying to get by meal by meal and couldn’t give a smashed avocado for the hand-wringing pre-occupations of the weeping rich). 

 

Whenever I speak on these matters, I tell my audience how lucky I was to have enjoyed the education I received. I then say “What got me here won’t get them (today’s young people) there”.That is not ingratitude, nor is it just a recognition that technology has changed things. It is a plea for a values-based, relational, experiential, action-oriented education that helps us rediscover and redefine the new “there”. “There” is actually a continuum: it is discovering and redefining what happiness, success and respect should look and feel like on a planet that will soon disown us. 

 

I see I’ve just personified the earth. No bad thing. I’m all for scientific method but there’s still a place for Papatūānuku, Mat Zemlya, Prithvi, Demeter, Pachamama, Ceres, Houtu, Umay, Jörð or the Spider Grandmother in our imaginations. They remind us what this world meant to our ancestors. And they will be lost if we continue to career from guardrail to guardrail on the drab road of short-termism until we hit the inevitable brick wall at its end.  

 

It doesn’t have to be like this. There are wonderful teachers in this world who are compelled to feed the system with their young people. The system is broken.  It should be dismantled at once and rebuilt. That way there is hope. That way we can still thrive with purpose.

 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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3 April 2020 – Entry Nine

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

The Earl of Southampton and I are getting along famously. 

 

The Earl, regular readers will recall, is my only companion during lockdown in a 5th floor New Zealand apartment. He likes his full title: Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, best known as the 16th century nobleman to whom Shakespeare dedicated at least two of his poems (as Henry never ceases to remind me while I’m trying to watch repeats of darts matches). But more of that later.  For the last few days, I’ve been explaining to him the importance of the Green School way in a COVID-19 battered world and why, more than ever, what I have before termed “a ruthlessly relevant education” is increasingly an essential one. Relational, experiential, action-orientated, local to global: that kind of thing.

 

I’ll be honest, the Earl was initially unimpressed – he was brought up a rote learner and, as he likes to say, “it didn’t do me any harm”.  But eventually he came around. And then, to my surprise, he said he’d like to write a sonnet in the Shakespearean form about Green School. He tried to explain all the attendant rules for Shakespearian sonnets: weird stuff about rhythm, rhyme scheme, syllable counts and other thingamajigs that I can’t pretend to understand. I asked if he could write it in modern English but he said no: “Since I’ve had catch up on over 400 years worth of technology, your readers can look up a few words on Google.” He’s a bit touchy is Henry. He made one concession: if there was no Elizabethan word for something, he’d use a modern one. So, while I get a Hokey Pokey ice cream and go back to watching a 1993 amateur school rugby game played on a field by a shed, here’s “Green School” by my roommate:

 

Green School

 

Say not that autumn’s bounty wastes unknown,

Or Winter’s damp dispunge to nothingness;

Persephone will never watch her own

Bloom unrewarded for their loveliness.

For now, as Summer leaves her golden stage

Beneath old Taranaki’s weeping flanks,

Fair youth, our atomies of future age,

Bewray their ardour, sing full-throated thanks.

The urgent hour upon them strikes no fear,

Nor doth the hand of greed disrupt their stride,

Full mindful of the moment that is here,

They labour ‘til gray Gaia’s tears have dried.

Let this be writ on grim Kaitake’s stone:

They prized the flower above the mobile phone.

 

I told him the last line sounds odd, but what do I know?

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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26 March 2020 – Entry Eight

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

So here I am with my imaginary friend – the Earl of Southampton – whom I thought I should create early on in this lockdown while I know he’s imaginary, but who may have stopped being imaginary by the end of the self isolation period. Conversations between The Earl and myself will become increasingly important (and I will share them as the weeks go by) because I am alone, 12,000 miles from my wife, and living in a fifth floor flat without books or outside balcony. 

 

I am also the luckiest person on the planet. 

 

First, this will pass. Time is not linear: what seems long now will soon be otherwise. And then, aside from my newly created friend, I have the greatest gift my parents gave me beside love: the happy hunger born of an education. All the world’s great literature can be summoned to my Kindle; its finest music to Spotify; all the Art, politics, culture, science and news I can ever handle are on the internet; and – if I need to turn into a lamebrain for a while – there is always the much vaunted binge watch on Netflix, a feat I have proudly yet to perform. I have no piano (a disaster, I admit), but I can still write simpler songs on a guitar and a ukulele. Yes, compared to so many people on this earth for whom these weeks may deliver genuine loneliness and fear, I continue to be bent double under the weight of good fortune.

 

And I have silence. If your small stir-crazy children are stapling you to the curtains as I write, you may want to gloss over the rest of this, but for many hours a day I am privileged to hear only the sea if I open the windows. Almost nothing if I don’t. There was a time when being alone, especially alone in nature, was a rite of passage and, in different ways, a portal to an enhanced reality, from Jesus spending forty days and nights in the desert to Buddha meditating in solitude in the forest. Other major religions have numerous parallels which suggest spirituality often begins with an acknowledgement of our aloneless (not our loneliness). 

 

When I walked each day onto the Green School campus in the early morning (and this is a feeling I miss already), I was struck both by an amplified awareness of solitude and, paradoxically, a concentrated sense of connectivity. Those quiet moments, with the Kaitake Range in front of me, reinforce my infinitesimally small standing in the universe – or perhaps multiverse – and yet I am also alive to my being a part of something so temporally, spatially and unknowably vast that any attempts to capture the sensation in words is rendered crass. You can go to scientists, priests and poets for explanations – there’s wisdom and hokum a-plenty to share on these matters – but at this stage in human evolution it is a feeling that comes to many in the combined presence of immensity and silence. I’m not looking for what it “means” (what does Beethoven’s 7th symphony “mean” or the gaps between stars?): I’m just thankful that it is. For the next few weeks, many will have to look within for such moments, but when we are able to walk in the world again, let’s do so with fresh and grateful eyes.

 

Anyway, them’s me thoughts on silence and spirituality in unusual days. The Earl and I have to make supper now. We shall whisk our soufflé to Motörhead.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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20 March 2020 – Entry Seven

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

Ironically, the discovery of agriculture – seen by many throughout the ages as humankind working harmoniously with nature – is the genesis point of so much that ails us today. Once hunter gatherers discovered they could stay put, save energy and tend crops rather than hunt mammoths, they made the first walls to protect those crops from beasts and, perhaps, other groups of humans. Scale increased: walls became settlements; settlements spawned villages; villages morphed into towns; towns grew to cities; cities linked to form states. Because they did not have to hunt all day, people had leisure time in which new kinds of thinking and the written records of that thinking changed us as a species: the populations of these settlements became stratified and organised with aristocracies, priesthoods, defensive armies and labourers. Pretty much what we know today. Blame wheat.

 

The first state as we understand the concept was Egypt. The English poet Shelley imagined the words that might have been written on the colossal statue of the unassailable Pharaoh Ramses. They said: “Look on my works ye Mighty and despair”. In modern idiom: “..If you think you’re someone special, just take a look at what I can do and then give up on your own puny exploits: don’t ever – ever – mess with me and Egypt”. So said the most powerful man on earth.

 

Then it was Egypt. Now, many top dogs later, we have a new Ramses. Here’s a snippet from President Trump’s decidedly curious State of the Union address earlier this year.:

 

The American nation was carved out of the vast frontier by the toughest, strongest, fiercest and most determined men and women to walk on the face of the Earth.

 

Sound familiar? A nation “carved out” of the land like a giant statue. Now I know he’s the most powerful man on the planet, but I’m not sure how the President knew that the strength, ferocity and determination of the early American settlers (brave though many doubtless were) were unquestionably superior to that of the first nation peoples they encountered and sometimes exterminated. The President may not know that the latest research suggests the earlier colonization of the Americas had wiped out 56 million (mainly through disease) by the beginning of the 1600s . This makes it the biggest ever human mortality event in relation to global population ever. But we all know the winners get to tell the story. And now that same President calls our current pandemic, a “foreign virus” as if other viruses spoke English and are waved happily through border control at JFK. Nothing like a disease for whipping up Xenophobia.

 

It’s a pity that humility isn’t one of the RESPECT values that help define Green School. For Trump and Ramses, rulers of the mighty, it is an unknowable concept. Even COVID-19 is an anti American plot. This has been happening ever since the titanic straight lines of the pyramids, built long before Ramses, demanded you stare at them before you look at the sand. For five thousand years now, the “conquest of nature” has been the quest of many, as if through a series of wars we will one day defeat nature, tame it and have it acquiesce to our every whim. The phrase litters historical documents and, used carefully, can help in the war on foreigners too.

 

Let Green School teach us to humble in the presence of nature. Conquest? Oh please. It would only take a slightly bigger wobble than is usual for our planet’s orbit and all life would cease. President Trump could blame those evil foreigners all he wanted but it would do no good. All the bombs in the world would be as nothing. We would do well to remember that. All around us there is a barely imaginable beauty that transcends borders, and there are dangers too in nature that do the same. To assimilate either into a jingoistic world view is something we should leave to the thugs and bigots of our age, whether they are drunk in the pub or running huge countries. My Green School journey, short though it has been, is asking me to rejoice in and respect the exquisite, mesmeric, overwhelming  and – yes – sometimes terrible powers that this planet can unfurl or unleash. 

 

We have so many reasons to be thankful; so when we are reminded, as now, to respect the natural rhythms and forces at work around us, we should stop pointing fingers and start extending respect and compassion and humility. 

 

Ramses’ statue (he was also known as Ozymandias) has long since collapsed to rubble. And now when you read the inscription, thousands of years later in a wasteland of broken stone,  it means something else:

 

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

So as well as blaming wheat for the troubles and arrogance of modern humans ….. Let us all be kind while we are here.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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13 March 2020 – Entry Six

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

The  first International Women’s Day was held in 1911, though the United Nations did not adopt the idea until 1975. 

 

In many people’s eyes – whether they know me or not – any observation I make on this matter is just froth on a daydream because I am male, pale and stale, and privileged to the point of smug irrelevance because of my gender, ethnicity and nationality (though that last point is increasingly up for debate). I don’t doubt for one second there are some truths in those judgements and that I am in certain cases guilty as charged whether I acted wittingly or not but, as ever, I lament the fact that nuance and degree have been too often superseded by a binary paradigm and sledgehammer intersectionality. Anyhow, I shall avoid that cul-de-sac of diminishing returns and instead relay an account of a moment I experienced last week. While I’d love to say this happened on International Women’s Day, it was actually a few days before. Life is seldom as convenient as I’d like it to be.

 

I was in the second Waka (our beautiful learning space) which is due to open at the end of this month. Leslie Medema, former Head of Green School Bali and Head of Learning for Green School International was giving a Child Protection briefing to our remarkable team of builders, all of whom bar one were men. So, we had one woman in charge, but only one woman on the construction team (a traditionally male preserve) to whom she was talking. While Leslie was working, I was looking out the window. (When I was a schoolboy I was often told not to look out the window, so I’m going to tell our young learners do it as often as possible and dream like crazy while they’re at it). Like the waka itself, the windows undulate and dance with the landscape, and they have in my quieter moments given me cause to meditate on the Maori world view, in particular Papatūānuku, the mother figure who is the land from which all things emerge and to which they must return. I am of course a floundering novice in these matters, but I have read enough to know that Papatūānuku’s importance in Maori history and tradition is immense. 

 

And as I looked out I saw four of our youngest girls tending the garden beneath me with a female teacher watching over them. The sun was bright and high, the land looked strong and the air was clear. The girls were working purposefully among the vegetables, the teacher was smiling and encouraging them, and I could hear Leslie imparting her knowledge to the team. I don’t as a rule do epiphanies but this was the closest thing I’ve had to one since I arrived. It’s not that I couldn’t have witnessed something similar in a very few other schools, but there was a comforting storm in my head at that moment which could only have arisen in Green School New Zealand. At one and the same time I recalled the compelling words of Maata Wharehoka, matriarch from Parihaka – the Maori settlement where modern passive resistance was born – who presided over our School’s blessing and powhiri some five weeks ago and who reminded us of our mighty responsibility to the land; there was the knowledge that in Maori tribal history, individual women had authority over and sometimes even embodied certain areas of land; I was reminded of the fact that in Te Reo the word for land and placenta is one and the same; and then there’s  the strange paradox that above us all was our maunga (mountain) Taranaki, who is indeed male but is in fact silently brooding for his lost love, the female mountain Pihanga. So much power and gentleness and connectivity in one moment:  all arising from four girls and their teacher in a pumpkin garden. 

 

When Leslie had finished, I asked if anybody had a camera, but that was a bathetic and crassly mundane attempt to record something no one picture ever could. As tangata whenua (people of the land) we, the Green School community, must earn our place in the story. We haven’t yet, but in that instant just prior to International Women’s Day, I think I may have experienced the first sentence of Chapter One.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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6 March 2020 – Entry Five

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

So in order to look like a rugged Kiwi man of action, I’ve tried to rock the George-Clooney-with-stubble-vibe. Predictably, I’ve ended up looking like Uncle Remus. Or maybe Colonel Sanders. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Over the years, my attempts to become unfathomably gorgeous have invariably resulted in hideous failure. Nonetheless, I keep watering rocks in the hope that the bloom of earthly beauty will one day take route and flourish.

 

I should have learned my lesson: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result”. Einstein didn’t say that (the internet has a gift for misattributing quotations), but somebody obviously did, and the thinking applies both to my acts of beardy futility and many aspects of our global education systems. Economic historian Joel Mokyr says the modern education system is designed to produce people who are “punctual, docile and sober.” Now while I’m not advocating “late, violent and drunk” as the Green School response to traditional methodologies, we can point again and again to research that shows why so many systems are creaking and failing in the face of unprecedented change. 

 

The joys of developing biophilia through a sense of wonder (which can later be complemented by scientific study) and the extensively documented wellbeing benefits of education in nature have been presaged for centuries. As people in Europe flowed into the cities after the birth of the Industrial Revolution, the English poet William Wordsworth issued a warning from over 220 years ago:

 

One impulse from a vernal wood

May teach you more of man

Of moral evil and of good

Than all the sages can

 

This isn’t about the scientific study of nature, but a recognition that we are in and of it. At Green School we want to experience nature even before we try to understand. Watching the clouds pass across our mountain has as much value – albeit of a different kind – as any bookish theory. That sense of silent wonder will be rekindled: we will feel the impulses, and we will learn from them. Then we can start to become the changemakers we all wish to be.

 

But back to the facial hair to finish. A very young person back in the UK who I haven’t seen for sometime exclaimed during our recent Skype call: “Hey, you’ve grown a beard”. I told them no, I’d actually shaved all my old photographs. And apparently, off they went to check. I’m not sure whose sense of wonder was greater.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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28 February 2020 – Entry Four

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

If I were a film director I would know exactly the sequence of films I would make. The movies would be based on answers to a quiz I had set for students at a previous school. On one section of the quiz I had left out the last word of a famous film title and the students had to fill in the space. So, for example, West Side Story would appear as West Side *****.  Among the potentially unforgettable movies created by my young learners were: Lawrence of Manchester; The Good, the Bad and the Very Upsetting; Close Encounters of Rabbits; One Flew over the Truth; The Empire Strikes for More Money

 

There are two ways of looking at these responses. You can, on the one hand, say these are “wrong answers”, and in the context of the quiz that was indeed the case. But oh, what flights of fancy these gems presented to my imagination, and from that point of view they were inspirational. (One Flew Over the Truth, for example, is so obviously screaming out for black and white French surrealist treatment).

 

You can see then that I’m a fan of great mistakes. (To misquote Frank Sinatra, I’ve made a fair few un-great mistakes after all). I’m grateful for them. It’s very important that Green School celebrates them. Sometimes failure may mean taking the blame, but usually that should not be the case. Being wrong can be the catalyst for so many other people being right. “Failure” is all too often associated with, or even a synonym for, “fault”. For many children, this damaging trait is reinforced by the weekly test or termly class rankings which bring dread and fear into the lives of numerous young people. We must build intelligent failure into our culture so that we can codify and share what we learn. I remember reading a Harvard business review article in which Executives said they thought around 2 to 5% of failure in their organisation was blameworthy but 70 % to 90% of the time such failure were treated as blameworthy. I fear the same has been true of many education systems.

 

The list of people who got things seriously wrong but whose questions set others on wonderful, productive journeys includes some of history’s heaviest hitters. That will be the Green School way. We are in the business of discovery, not on the treadmill of received wisdom. Yes, there are some things you really should know because they help start learning journeys and allow communication and shared understandings with others  (and that’s why we have Proficiencies in our curriculum); but let’s elevate curiosity, creativity and risk taking above the status of the much venerated instant recall. 

 

I might try the film quiz with some of our own young people in the near future. Let’s see if we can have fun and come up with some Crazy Rich Learning.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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20 February 2020 – Entry Three

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

One day while at my last UK School, I was visiting the youngest children in their classrooms. As I spent most of my time with senior students, the five year olds had to be reminded that I was the “Headmaster”.  One young lad came up and said: “Are you the Headmaster because you are clever?” Always up for a challenge, I said “Try me”. I thought he might ask me which animal was fastest or which dinosaur was the heaviest. But he didn’t. He asked me if I knew his brother. I said I didn’t. His little face fell and he looked at me with disappointment, then anger and finally contempt: “Well I do,” he said, and turned away to play with his more knowledgeable friends who, doubtless, were all clever enough to know his brother as well.

 

I’ve been reflecting on that moment quite a bit recently as a few (a very few) people from the media and elsewhere have started asking questions which, in a perfect world, would be put in the “that’s not fair” bucket. Overwhelmingly, the response to GSNZ’s opening has been very positive, but the few less helpful leading questions tend to be variations on a well worn theme: if you go to Green School but you also fly or drive or eat meat etc. you’re a hypocrite. Now while the language is overly strident, such observations could conceivably come from a well intentioned place, but they assume we have made claims about ourselves which we have not. It is true that there is only so much mileage in replying rather airily  “we are all on a journey” or “we have to start somewhere”, but in response to any naysayers, I have also been tempted to ask a simple question in return: “Would you rather Green School did or did not exist?” 

 

You can laugh at a baby as it takes its first faltering steps, or you can encourage and help it on its way. Soon we will car-pool; then we will create our version of the Bali Bio Bus; we will grow our own food; we will produce Green Leaders worthy of our Bali heritage; and we may later innovate in radical, even revolutionary ways. First, though, we need to lay solid relational foundations and co-create a culture that can flourish. 

 

We will walk the walk. We have to. Our first steps, occasionally awkward though they may be, will presage greater journeys.  

 

Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

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2 February 2020 – Entry Two

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

Each morning, I wake up to the sight, sound, smell and, if the wind is blowing to order, taste of the Tasman Sea. And for five minutes after getting up I stand and watch the waves in the company of a peppermint tea

 

Blue School, I sometimes think to myself: we should have called ourselves Blue School (after all, there’s more water than trees). But then again, if I were back in England looking into a still February sky (and there’s more sky than water) it would have to be “Grey School”, and I reckon Marketing would have an issue or two with that. 

 

As we grow as a learning community we must be very clear to distinguish ideological from scientific battles and be honest with ourselves and students when the colours seem to blur. Blind allegiance to the zeitgeist, loudest voice or media fad is the road to chaos and even loathing of our own species. We have reached a point in so much of our political, ideological and even scientific discourse where one side is simply refusing to listen to what the other side is saying. To call someone a “Nazi” or “Fascist” because they happen to think differently is to demean oneself and one’s argument. (At my age, I’m even a little uneasy with having “OK Boomer” hurled at me, but I’ll roll with that). 

 

The point is, Green School must engage and not preach. We stand on no pedestal of dogma: each of us is on a different stage of a journey. Those who have ethically sourced every stitch of their clothing might be taking more aeroplane flights than those carrying Prada handbags. The well spoken, middle-class climate change warrior who calls for all people to  take a week off work in protest at lack of green government initiatives has clearly not given a smashed avocado’s worth of thought to the factory worker on minimum wages who is already relying on foodbanks to help feed her family. The finger pointing guru on the protest march does not know that the Ferrari driver he’s screaming at might have planted a million trees and employed a thousand people into the bargain. (Now is not the time to start discussing whether carbon offset is just a modern version of medieval indulgences where you effectively bought your way out of hell – but you get the idea).

 

Now I confess, I’ve seen neith Prada bags nor Ferraris during the setting up of Green School but if I did, I would not start ranting. We must respect those unknown backstories. We should be grateful for the curiosity that has brought people to us. If we model Green School values and behaviours authentically, we will succeed. A warm and gentle sun removes a coat more quickly than a howling gale. 

 

As  for what colour we are: I’ll leave that to the Lebanese/American poet Kahlil Gibran:

“Let me, O let me bathe my soul in colours; let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.”

Sounds about right to me.

Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

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27 January 2020 – Entry One

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

My only recurring dream is about being a character trapped in the wrong book. The dream usually crumbles under its own weirdness because nobody wants James Bond rocking up in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or Moby Dick splashing his way onto the dance floor in Pride and Prejudice. But recently I became trapped in the kookiest dream of all: I’m still in it and I have no desire to wake up.

 

In this dream, the huge, wonderful schools I have led in the UK and Singapore – and according to some of my bewildered friends, should never have left – have been replaced by a field. The roads and buildings that surrounded these schools have given way to a snow-capped volcano and a marginal sea, the Tasman, of the South Pacific Ocean. The pristine shirts I once wore have morphed into dusty singlets, and my snazzy ties have all joined up, turned the colour of volcanic ash and become a beard. I’ve lost my flashy car too. But the most grotesque thing of all – and this is how I know I’m in a dream and not the real world – is that in two weeks’ time, children will arrive on this land and become part of a learning community that prioritises happiness while addressing the essential issues of our age among the plants, animals and elements with whom we are necessarily bound. Free of external examinations, tables, pie-charts, and graphs, these precious young souls will leave their mobile phones at the threshold and become the pioneer generation of Green School New Zealand. And their parents are welcome on campus too: all day every day. Insanity, I know. And perhaps the ultimate madness is that this was all inspired by a community living without walls and under bamboo in the jungle of Bali. I even went there in my dream.

 

If I don’t wake up, I will have to unlearn things, and start some journeys again with our young people, shedding the old concepts of success and instead thinking entrepreneurially in terms of the value and values we offer. Systems thinking, wellbeing and sustainability must become lenses through which we discern what is important if we are to regenerate individuals, communities and planet. The near-forgotten wisdom of the Maori and their language will live among us as Latin and Greek never really could do when I was at school. And after all this our young people will be going to universities around the world to study Physics, Literature, Marine Biology, just like their Bali counterparts. But they’ll be bringing passions and solutions to the party that will blow people’s minds.

 

Maybe I’m really in a London club right now and about to come to in a snug leather armchair. Or maybe, on this piece of land in Taranaki New Zealand, we are embarking upon the most ruthlessly relevant phenomenon happening in education today: the vanguard of an essential new normal that will sweep up the young around the world and take them on a journey of hope, agency and joy.

 

Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand