15 April, 2021

I was reading an article about MI6 (the British foreign intelligence service). It was explaining how, when and why it had abandoned its archaic discriminatory practices against gay and transgender people. There was a sad and disturbing start to the story but it came good with a positive and optimistic ending. But then as a coda, the Chief Spymaster said: “My goal for MI6 is to make it a workplace where you can always bring your true self to work.” Now call me old fashioned but if there’s one occupation where you really don’t want to bring “your true self to work” it’s surely spying. If I were a spy I’d want the fun of being able to glance over my shoulder, on the lookout for people nonchalantly reading upside down newspapers on park benches or looking a little too intently into shop windows. Anyone in a long raincoat would be given an especially wide berth. When I say to a man called Carla that “The daffodils bloom early in Minsk this year,” I want to hear him say: “And the sparrows of London sleep soundly.” What I absolutely do not want is an old colleague introducing herself, explaining she was actually working for the enemy and had been for decades, and would I mind awfully if she followed around me for a bit before stabbing me with a poisoned umbrella and dumping my body in the weir. 

Of course it all comes down to what we mean by “Your true self.” MI6’s spymaster was following the zeitgeist and defining identity by gender (choosing race especially and religion maybe would also fit today’s criteria).

But the notion of true self has been on quite a journey recently, at least in terms of its casual application. In my youth, young people went travelling to discover themselves. The phrase implies one’s “nature” has much more to offer than any nurturing. It suggests there’s something already there that needs outing and in all likelihood traditional education has got in the way. A few months in a Thai bedsit listening to Neil Young would usually do the trick. On the other hand, there’s the idea that discovering oneself is just a beach bum’s way out of what’s really required which is creating oneself. At first glance, that takes rather more effort, but advocates would say the rewards are immense.

At Green School, our youngest learners (some aged only 5) experience nature days. They spend an extended period outside, getting dirty, wet and happy. They handle sticks; they control fire. For indiginous peoples, “nature” day might seem the appropriate terminology because our youngsters are doing what all of humankind did for thousands upon thousands of years. But do our true selves really belong in the rain and the soil and the forest? Have the great cognitive, agricultural, industrial and technological step changes actually rewired us? Is Green School trying to rekindle a sense of self long gone, like a lost language? Is it a rearguard action? A quaint nostalgia trip? Why is the word progressive applied to a school that is reconnecting with ancient ideas and atavistic impulses?

It seems to me imperative that education around reconnection must take place if regeneration is to follow. That regeneration – of self, community and planet – requires not  passively “discovering one’s true self” but creating and developing strategies borne of intellectual enquiry and stretch. Our five year olds work with leaves and fire; when sixteen they might study doughnut economics. But by then, to those Green School teenagers, doughnut economics will not be yet another abstract theory of sustainable development delivered by a death-by-pie-chart power-point show. For a Green School learner, it will be experiential: about real leaves, trees, rivers, mountains, seas, creatures and people. It will be about connections, the senses, memories, place, a direct experience of where and how and why resources exist. And what will happen when they don’t. 

Sorry to disagree with the eminent head of MI6, but the true self is of course scientifically unknowable. However at Green School, we connect with and try to understand the flowing sense of self in the context of the changes and cycles all around us. Experiencing our selves as a part of that cycle is an important step on our journey as agents of change in a world where change is our only hope.

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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9 April, 2021

 

“Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.” 

It’s actually the American comedian George Carlin speaking, but it could be the Buddha in a mischievous mood. The quest for certainty and security has never much interested me. Given the size and scope of the human brain (or at least my brain), I long ago decided to enjoy the ride instead of targeting a fixed destination with monomaniacal intensity. But enjoying the ride should not mean being buffeted willy-nilly in an amoral tempest of experience, but rather sitting on your flying carpet, woven of values, loves and core-beliefs, and mindfully engaging with each moment on the journey. Which ain’t always easy for people like me. 

Take this morning. I picked up a coffee on the way to school and spent thirty minutes sitting on the grass in the early morning light watching the waves lapping a small island that sits a few hundred metres from the coast. I wanted some quiet time. But the second I sat down, alone, with nature, and with the waters whispering below, the brain-imps came calling and the usual tumult began. So, Chris, is it a universe or a multiverse? Was there only one big bang or are infinite big bangs happening all the time? What is reality? Huh, Chris? Huh? How would you know it? But is anything really knowable anyway? Hey, wise guy? How come this keeps happening to you when you’re trying to empty your mind?

And so I ended up doing what I usually do when under attack and silently recited some poetry to myself. I try to learn one poem a week by heart. That tends to put the multiverse stuff to bed for a while, but it then leads me down post-Romantic musings on sleep and death and other dreamy morbidities that a 6.30am coffee break might reasonably be expected to do without. Ah well, as Allen Saunders said: Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. Wise words. Little wonder John Lennon nicked them and put them in a late song.

So it is that I embrace the wonder and hope that can come with change and the unknown. Even the unknowable. Yes we should be armed with those values and core-beliefs, but if you let them fester in stasis, they all too quickly congeal into dogma, ideology and self-righteousness. It’s a gloopy morass through which many teachers and politicians have to wade. And sometimes it’s just easier to flop about in the warm familiar quagmire of group-think than to get on that carpet and ride. Green School must always fly above the nationalism of desperate government, the equating of success with accumulation, the manipulative rhetoric of social division and, yes, even the antiquated high stakes exams beloved (not really) of national education systems. 

I happen to be moving both home (I’ll soon be living a mile nearer School) and office next week. Wonderful. I have happy memories of both and I’m content with keeping only those memories. No space belongs to me. Once I had probably the grandest Headmaster’s office in all of England to myself. At Green School, for eighteen months, I’ve been working from an upcycled, ever so slightly leaky, shipping container which I share with two other people. Also wonderful. The cause is noble: so the journey is all.

I write all this because Green School New Zealand welcomes its new Head of School on Monday. It is a historic moment. Caroline will earn her place in the story and doubtless share in and help generate new adventures on our School’s brave odyssey. I wish her all the happiness and fulfillment that I know can come of running a great school, but more than anything, I would want Caroline to revel in the magic and wonder of change. There’s a beautiful sky above us in Aotearoa New Zealand. May Caroline and Green School fly high and free, unafraid and unfettered. Welcome.

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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1 April, 2021

La natura, la nature, la naturaleza and even gecynd. The first three examples won’t present any problems I’m sure, but the last one might. Gecynd comes from Old English and a time when nouns in the language were gendered. Like the first three, it is feminine. In a male dominated warrior society where real men drank from horns and then wore them on their heads, nature was still feminine. This will come as no surprise: birth, fertility, bounty, .. it is surely obvious that the female form would be chosen. And it wasn’t just Europe: Privthi (Hinduism), Papatuanuku (Maori), Spenta Armaivi (Persian), Asintmah (North American). 

Actually, there are some male representations of earth. For example, Geb, of Egypt. He is sometimes explained away as an anomaly by the fact that the desert is arid and unworthy of a female form, but in truth he’s not the only bloke on the list. However, there’s no denying female forms tend to dominate. But much has changed since Privthi and her counterparts emerged from ancient Indian thought, and I do wonder if this atavistic trait is not merely still with us but working with an increasingly pernicious effect. 

Essentially, the female inspired, but the actor, the agent, the poet was the male. Pygmalion is perhaps the most famous western example of this: a female statue comes to life and loves her infatuated male creator. However, even when science – albeit after a few false starts – began to establish what was really going on on this planet, the idealisation of woman and the adoring personification of Earth only intensified in a Romantic counter-revolution. As American professor Elizabth Fray wrote, the silent image of woman was still tied to her place as the bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning. That maker of meaning would be the man. Whether it was a flesh and blood woman or the earth goddess, she could be the recipient of poetic praise or appalling violence as the man so wished. Natural objects continue to be feminised, and nature continues to be brutalised.

And violence against women, often wrought with savagery and conducted with impunity, continues. I write this after protests against violence against women have taken place in my home country, and where seemingly heavy handed policing – mostly by men – drew much criticism. I’ve also just this moment signed off on a budget for the girls of Green School New Zealand to learn self defence. 

We have designed a curriculum at Green School that grows from and is continually nourished by values. Those values trump the league tables, graphs and pie charts that decide the standing and fate of so many schools. We live by them or we are nothing. So anything that smacks of woman as object, as merely the “bearer of meaning” has no place at Green School. Ever.

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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25 March, 2021

Avid readers of the blog (Hi, mum) will know I have frequently despaired over the internet falsely attributing quotations to famous and historic figures when the quotations themselves were actually made up last week, but it would appear the Dalai Lama really did say “Take time to be kind whenever possible: it is always possible.” I start with this ubiquitous and wonderful utterance because tomorrow Green School New Zealand hosts the local community for Taranaki Kindness Day (the School is in a region called Taranaki). This seems an excellent opportunity for heresy.

To some extent – but not completely and maybe things will kick off big time soon – New Zealand has escaped the polarisation and culture wars that are afflicting many countries and communities. Everyone knows the drill: you pick your tribe, see if you have a membership card, take on all the attributes of that tribe, identify wholly with that tribe, and hey presto you’re ready to go. So for many people, finishing the phrase “I identify as ….” is now a pretty straightforward business. But amid the multiple gender, race, political and religious terms that might currently finish that sentence in a world of identity politics, I bet very few people would “identify” as “kind”. “Why should they?” I can hear some of my friends say. “That’s a luxury a white, straight male working in New Zealand can afford but which vast swathes of the world’s population cannot. This is not your story. Keep out.”

And so, as I said last week, much debate and discussion is now silenced or takes place in echo chambers where everybody in the same tribe agrees with one another in a shouty kind of way (CNN and Fox News are the obvious American examples). 

I was thinking that in the context of progressive education, Green School has an opportunity here. An opportunity to offer people with views very different from our own to visit, speak, spend time with us and challenge the tribe. And what’s more, we should encourage our own tribe to engage in sophistry from time to time, researching and arguing cogently from positions they do not hold. Now I’ll be honest, I find it hard to imagine anybody being able to change my mind around, say, the value of rewilding or the deleterious effect of weekly testing on young children, but I’d love to hear somebody try. In a world of personal truths, emotionalism and safe spaces, Green School must also promote objectivity, scientific method, and challenging, sometimes dangerous – conversation. If we do not, we hear only our own voices, bouncing around the cave of complacency and self affirmation that is in reality no more than a convenient construct for our hand-wringing, privileged selves. 

Kindness involves understanding and giving time to people who do not think like you, or who do not take on all the characteristics of the tribe. It doesn’t mean we should start inviting thugs and murderers into schools to explain themselves – but it does mean we should listen to a gay man who doesn’t support gay marriage; a black or Hispanic voter who chose Trump; an educator who thinks regular and rigorous examinations do more good than harm. And yes – heresy of heresies – even a scientist who wants to share evidence that human emissions are less harmful to the atmosphere than we might think.

Kindness is not just about patting everyone like you (and therefore everyone you like) on the back. It’s also about recognising and listening to sincerely held positions from those who might increasingly feel marginalised by the tribe you have joined. On Taranaki Kindness Day, I will do my best to ensure I do not become too cozy with my own kind.

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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19 March, 2021

The Anthropocene. 

Say it slowly in that deep, hewn-from-rock voice beloved of American movie trailers, and you’ve got a cracking sci-fi or horror film title. Utter the words in a familial, matter of fact way and you might be reminding your partner to pack the insect repellant. If your pronunciation is breathy and mystical, you are perhaps describing an ancient tribe untouched by civilization who have lived inside a dormant volcano for millenia. How about an awe-struck archaeologist whispering “Anthropocene”  – and pronouncing the final “e” of  course – as he stumbles upon the smiling statue of a Greek goddess in a forgotten cave. Yes, there’s endless fun to be had with “Anthropocene”.

Sadly, the word means none of the above. Indeed, there are many who think Anthropocene shouldn’t be a word at all, because “Anthropocene” is a proposed  era of geological time during which human activity is considered to be the dominant influence on the environment, climate, and ecology of the earth. It first turned up in the Oxford English Dictionary 2014, although that particular dictionary is conservative about committing to a new word, and “Anthropocene” has actually been knocking around for over forty years.

My original plan for the blog was to use this word Anthropocene in conjunction with describing phase two of our build at Green School New Zealand and explain why this intervention on our landscape is – in our view – justified. One of the phrases I was going to use was “shovel-ready” and I suddenly thought to myself, I wonder if that’s in the Oxford Dictionary. Not only is it there, but it was put there in … 2014. Spooky. Yes even though the phrase has been around since at least 1995, the dictionary people didn’t feel confident to include it until seven years ago. So there I was, pondering this coincidence in my upcycled shipping container when … wait ….. “Upcycled”. We didn’t use that word a few years ago. Is “Upcycled” in the dictionary now? Well blow me down if I’m not living in a Stephen King novel: “Upcycled” entered the Oxford English Dictionary in  ….. 2014. I stopped at this point in case I was getting messages from beyond the grave.

Among users of the word Anthropocene there remains debate over when the era began: some say it started with the beginning of agriculture, others with the industrial revolution, and still more at various points in between. The term has now been joined by other newcomers of which Homogenocene is especially powerful. It describes biogeography and ecosystems becoming more and more similar to one another mainly due to invasive species that have been introduced around the globe either on purpose (crops, livestock) or inadvertently. I don’t doubt the scientific community will be creating many more words to describe the increasingly destructive impact of human kind upon its home. It will become a morbid industry.

So, I’m now looking down from that aforementioned upcycled shipping container at the developing groundworks of Green School New Zealand’s phase two. It’s not a pretty sight (or site). But it won’t be long before the supremely graceful curves of new learning spaces emerge. And in those learning spaces our young people will encounter Anthropocene and Homogenocene just as I encountered the dates of battles and lists of capital cities all those years ago. But unlike me, our learners will appreciate that the loss of biodiversity on this planet cannot be allowed to continue, and that we must arrest and reverse the trend through new science, priorities and behaviours. Their learning must, can and will look very different from mine.

And one more thing because I couldn’t resist: “Biodiversity” was first recorded as a word in ……. 1985. The spell is broken.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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11 March 2021 – Entry Thirty Three

I’m in the Shawshank Redemption. For the last ten days, at 11 am,  I’ve been walking in tiny circles, masked, for an hour, around the concrete perimeter of the yard of an Auckland quarantine hotel. Green School this ain’t.

But it is surreal, so I’ve of course chosen Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh album as the soundtrack to my steps. It was while listening to the bafflingly underrated “Dwarf Nebula Processional March”, that I thought back to my blog of a year ago, marking International Women’s Day. In some ways, it was the apotheosis of my time at Green School. Girls from our Primary School had been out in the sunshine, working the vegetable patch by a waka (a learning space), under the gaze of their female teacher and our muanga. And fifty-two weeks ago, that moment set me up on a flight of optimistic fancy which I recall sharing at the time with friend and colleague Lesley Medema, former Head of Green School Bali and one of the many powerful and talented women in the Green School movement. Life was good.

It’s almost incredible to think there was then no global awareness of covid, lockdowns, George Floyd: no storming of the Capitol in Washington, not even Oprah, Meghan and Harry. For those in the “developed world” who were not following the smallprint about the horrors of the Tigray Crisis or Yemeni wars, the news was still predominantly Trump and Greta. That was fifty-two weeks ago.

In the last twelve months, irresistible rhetorical force and immovable declamatory objects have nullified each other on no end of subjects: climate change, gender, critical race theory, identity politics etc. Thousands upon thousands of echo chambers fill television stations and internet channels, where the default position of all concerned is incredulity at the utter stupidity or – worse – evil of the other side.  On the most important issues of all, there is too often a rejection of any possibility that an answer might be codicillary, conditional or nuanced. Instead, screaming and finger pointing are increasingly the norm. Like many of my background and generation, I was taught that “Sticks and stones can break my bones,  but words will never hurt me.” Yet as a literature student I knew full well the power of words and how, as well as inspiring the likes of me, they could help diminish further those who were not empowered to respond.

I never vote for “Woman  of the Year” or whatever because I am always acutely aware of the millions who should be on such lists and aren’t. But when you come across a woman like Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the mayor of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, you have to pause. If she exerts on girls and young women just a fraction of the influence afforded to many screeching TV and social media experts, the world will be the better for it. Educated at the London School of Economics and a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (does that sound bathetic or is it just me?), Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is a doer. And a remarkable doer at that. She has thought deeply, she has sacrificed and she has achieved extraordinary things. If you want a story of  considered, focussed, meaningful  action and an explanation of the motivation behind it, watch Yvonne speak here. This is how to turn dissatisfaction not into vitriol but rather into action. She doesn’t raise her voice; she doesn’t call people imbeciles or nazis if they disagree with her; she doesn’t preach. But she does, and in that doing she teaches us all. 

So, when I get back to Green School next week, I will endeavour to turn some of the inspiration gleaned from Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr into practice. But not just yet, because soon it will be time for me to walk in tiny circles again, and so rather than Yvonne I’m back to Frank Zappa. And what do I learn from Frank? Well see what you think ….

Like my mother like makes me do the dishes

It’s like so gross…

Like all the stuff like sticks to the plates

And it’s like, it’s like somebody else’s food, y’know

It’s like grody…

Grody to the max I’m sure

It’s like really nauseating

Like barf out

Gag me with a spoon

If it’s not working for you, try listening while walking in tiny circles.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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5 March 2021 – Entry Thirty Three

As Perseverance touched down on the surface of Mars, there was – from some quarters at least – the usual clamour around what else the money could have been spent on. Given my role  with The Green School organization you might expect me to be joining with the naysayers.

Far from it. While absolutely accepting space junk and other forms of extraterrestrial pollution must be eradicated, I could list multiple initiatives and ventures I’d wish to see defunded and the money used elsewhere before we raided the coffers of space exploration. This may because, while fully appreciating this is a scientific mission,  I can’t help but see Perseverance from a Romantic point of view. 

Until the Romantic period, Europeans didn’t, for example, climb mountains. They traded and plundered and invaded like crazy, and that eventually took them all over the globe, but to do something or go somewhere when there was no promise of gain would have made no sense. Interestingly this seems to have been true of most other peoples: amazing voyages and migrations have taken place throughout history, but with a few exceptions it appears such things occurred because of the promise of better land or gold or security. Sometimes religious beliefs played a part. But by and large, if you had told somebody before the 18th century that you were climbing a mountain just because it was there, you would likely have been carted off to the madhouse. (Even people genetically adapted to living at high altitudes – like the  Sherpa people – seemingly saw no point in conquering a summit for its own sake, and initially thought the Europeans very strange for wanting to do so).

Anyway, with Perseverance sat on Mars I feel a vicarious thrill and a sense of awe even though I know deep down that although there are Romantic antecedents to this mission, there are very serious experiments going on. So here’s a thought. If this landing craft photographs an earwig (I know it won’t but hang on in there), the moment will go down as possibly the greatest discovery in human history. “WE ARE NOT ALONE” the headlines will read, and speculation will be rife that if the planet next door has life, then the universe must be teeming with it. That Martian earwig would become the most famous creature ever to have existed and media outlets would be aflame with debate and wonder.

But just a minute. Who is “We” in the sentence “WE ARE NOT ALONE”? If it’s humans, then we haven’t been alone from the moment we evolved among the abundant life of East Africa. And if “we” means all life on earth, then the pronoun suggests a sense of terrestrial esprit de corps that is hardly born out by our (ie human) treatment of other species. There are billions of earwigs on earth – and mosses and trees and fish and mammals – but there’s precious little evidence of “we”. So for a while perhaps, that one Martian earwig would be revered like an animal god of old, but how long I wonder before the novelty would fade? How long before “we” figure out how best to exploit the discovery for short term gain?

Of course I don’t know. But it is strange to me that we do not share the wonder for life on our own world that I know we will display, at least for a while, if we discover it even in the most humble form elsewhere. 

We are most certainly not alone and we never have been. We just behave like we are. And if we continue like that, we soon will be.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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19 February 2021 – Entry Thirty Two

 

Right, there’ll be no messing around this week. Let’s get straight to it. What is humanity’s greatest achievement? 

What do you reckon? The controlled use of fire? Use of tools? The wheel? Farming? Writing?  Or is it the intellectual and artistic achievement made possible by the leisure the previous list created? The Taj Mahal? Hamlet? Abbasid calligraphy? Calculus?

Well, according to Bill Gates it is none of the above. Even David Gilmour’s solo on Comfortably Numb has to give way. Mr. Gates’ has just said that achieving net zero would be “humanity’s greatest ever achievement.”

Now when I was at school, if “net zero” meant anything it would probably be a mobster’s instruction to a netballer to throw the game. Even by the time I got to university I don’t think anybody would have made sense of those words. I mean, we knew pollution was a bad thing, but it was a local bad thing. If the town was choked up, you could take a trip to the country. I don’t recall a single lecture, seminar or tutorial that even touched on climate change. Yet here we are in 2021 with one of the world’s richest men saying that net zero (cutting emissions to a level where any remaining greenhouse gas releases are balanced out by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere) would be our single greatest accomplishment as a species.

Mr. Gates says this in his new book: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. “Ahem,” sneer the naysayers while repotting their tall poppies; “this from a private jet user?” Well I haven’t even read the book yet – only extracts – but I say good on you Mr. Gates for taking this on and, if those extracts I’ve seen are typical, for offering hope through realism and courage. There is an acknowledgement, for example, that while wind and solar will help decarbonise electricity, that is still only dealing with less than a third of emissions. So when it comes to that flying problem, for example, Gates does not foresee any mileage in advocating for a world without aircraft, but he rather looks to technology to develop “a type of aviation fuel that doesn’t cost much extra and is zero emission and that’s got to be biofuels or electric fuels or perhaps using green hydrogen to power the plane”. Sure we’ve heard this before, but If anybody is in a position to speculate about how technological innovation can help get us out of this, it is surely Bill Gates. The investment in research and development needs to be titanic, but we mobilised against covid with extraordinary will and ingenuity. Climate change is bigger for sure, but Gates’ contention is that if governments lead and we commit to technological solutions, we can yet do this.

It won’t be easy. Just up the road from my UK house is Jaguar Land Rover. Two days ago they committed to making electric only cars within four years. But profit margins are currently small on these vehicles and Jaguar Land Rover is not a giant company that might more easily absorb the hit while technology catches up and helps settle the market. Livelihoods are at stake if the gamble does not pay off. This story will be repeated a thousand times over in numerous industries. But in truth this is a necessary reality and in some cases there will be pain.

So testing times ahead. But in a recent interview Bill Gates spoke of the “moral conviction” of the young, and if that can be imported into both our politics and the innovative technology we need to navigate this potentially treacherous epoch, there is hope. It will be a wonderful day indeed when we can once again discuss humanity’s greatest achievement without having to include the survival of the species.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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12 February 2021 – Entry Thirty One

 

Here’s a question I used to ask scholarship students when I was Head at my last UK school:

I put you in a time machine. You are whisked back to ancient Rome wearing only a toga. No watch or phone. You speak Latin and you are standing in the marketplace with a curious, uneasy crowd around you. They’ve just seen you materialise out of thin air like Captain Kirk and they want an explanation. You have thirty minutes to convince them you come from thousands of years in the future or they do whatever terrible things Romans might have done to time travellers. What do you do to demonstrate how far we’ve come in 2,000 years? Impress them. There must be hundreds of things you could do in thirty minutes to save your life, right? Start listing them now.

(And it’s no good saying “I’d tell them about computers” or whatever because if you can’t prove what it is you are saying and make one there and then, your words would have no more impact on the crowd than those of a Roman augur would on you).

I pondered this question long and hard myself and the only thing that came to my mind readily was that in thirty minutes I might be able to persuade the baying citizens of Rome that their number system was cumbersome and that a quick demo of the efficiency of Arabic numerals might win the day. Other than that I think I’d be lion fodder.

Now some of you practical folk might be able to knock up a primitive battery from what you find around town, but I wouldn’t mind betting I wouldn’t be the only one struggling to convince the people in the Forum that I came from an age of medical marvels, space travel, talking watches and TikTok. How come?

Concordia Parvae Res Crescunt. That’s how come. That’s the motto of the School I attended as a boy and it comes from the Roman Historian Sallust. “In harmony, small things grow”. Stood in that marketplace, Steve Jobs couldn’t have knocked up a computer in thirty minutes; Elon Musk could not build a rocket; the CEOs of Pfizer and AstraZeneca would not be able to manufacture medicine. It would be words, words, words and the tigers under the Colosseum would be licking their lips. We need community for small things to grow. And yet …

Cover your work. Hide your writing from the boy next to you. Set your desks six feet apart. No talking. Don’t turn around. You have three hours, in silence, starting now. Sound familiar to anyone? 

It’s nothing short of criminal that the skills we rightly iterate at Green School and elsewhere as being vital for the 21st century and beyond (communication, collaboration etc) continue in many other places to be countermanded by the education system purporting to advance them. So when you eventually escape from this system that frequently demands you do everything outside of sport “by yourself or else”, is it any wonder some people then struggle when confronted with expectations of the workplace, never mind global citizenship?

And so it was good to hear the world’s most powerful man say recently that “America is back.” I know that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways – not all good – but engagement and cooperation is the key. Welcome back to the Paris climate agreement. From Green School to the United Nations, let’s think together, talk together and act together.  Concordia Parvae Res Crescunt. 

After all, even the President of the USA might struggle, alone, in that ancient Roman marketplace.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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4 February 2021 – Entry Thirty

 

Growing up in England, I picked up at a reasonably young age that white people in wealthy countries mattered more than anybody else. The evidence was clear even to a Primary school child. All I had to do was watch the television at 6pm for affirmation.

If a tragic crash – aeroplane, bus, train, whatever – occured in Western Europe or North America, it would dominate the headlines. Even if it happened in Australia or New Zealand on the other side of the world, the same would be the case. White people – distant relatives or ancestors perhaps – had suffered usually at the hands of their own technologies, and every detail would be poured over for days and weeks. People who died in First World countries lived lives we would recognise in towns and cities like our own, and our emotional allegiance was to them. That could happen to me.

As I grew older I wondered if there was an algorithm used by TV bulletins and newspapers to help them with the question of where to place a catastrophe in a distant, poor nation in relation to a relatively small tragedy at home. It turned out to be pretty simple. The death of a single celebrity in such circumstances would trump the annihilation of thousands by floods in China, plagues in Africa, massacres in South America.

Now things have changed somewhat. My mum’s insistence that, as a child, I finish my dinner because “there are people in China who would be glad of that” sounds increasingly quaint in an age when Xi Jinping will soon be leading the world’s biggest economy. “We” are interested in, indeed reliant upon China now, and if something goes awry there it is very likely to figure on the BBC or CNN in a position of some prominence. Rather like celebrities marrying celebrities, so countries and trading blocks are judged by the company they keep.

Covid reporting has, more or less, kept to the old algorithm. Toppling the towers of national pride and clearing the tedious fog of alleged “exceptionalism”, covid’s grim toll has given the news outlets of the “developed world” enough material for years of introspection. But there will come a time for celebration and new claims of “exceptionalism” I’m sure. The covid vaccine was developed in less than a year and by anybody’s standards that is a remarkable achievement. 

Would it have happened, though if the “developed” world had not been affected?

I think we know the answer. In 2019, according to the WHO, there were 229 million people with the treatable disease, malaria. That’s up one million on the year before. Of the nearly half million people who died, 67% were under 5 years old. And of all malaria deaths, half took place in only six countries: Niger, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, United Republic of Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria. 

There’s no need to state the obvious any further. But there is a need for anyone purporting to offer a global education, to acknowledge our common humanity in ways that will lead to change in thought and deed. Some of us can afford to go green, source ethically, drive electric. (Remember that old joke when the Toyota Prius first came out? ….. Question: How many hands does it take to drive a Prius? ……… Answer: Two. One to hold the steering wheel and one to pat yourself on the back.) Some of us can afford to wring our hands and say how awful, but many can’t. 

Some of these blogs start with Green School, some finish with it, and others are shot through with the events of a particular day or week on campus. But as mass vaccination for covid picks up pace, and as we descry at least some light glimmering beyond the long tunnel’s exit, I think the time is right to ask hard questions about what Green Schools mean by “local to global”. When you are young you generally only have and understand “local”. But the welcome miracle of the covid vaccines alongside the fatal persistence of a long-treatable disease reminds us that once we are adults, preaching from the safety of our organic plots should impress nobody.

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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The final blog of 2020

 

Ten months ago, Green School New Zealand opened with song, dance and bright celebration. 

Honouring Green School Bali, we became the country’s first international destination school, united in our belief that we needed a new, joyous paradigm for educating our young people. Our mission was the most significant, most authentic and most urgent imaginable. Nature based, examination-free, and as relevant as oxygen. A few families had already crossed oceans to join us; others had changed their lives within New Zealand to be a part of this community. Ten months ago we gathered to celebrate and I remember well the rainbow coloured stilt walkers who entertained us during our opening party, in brilliant relief against a cobalt blue sky. Our land received a solemn Maori blessing, and we opened with a deeply moving pōwhiri  – or Maori welcoming ceremony – that left nobody unaffected. Mount Taranaki looked over us in what seemed like cloudless benevolence. Ten months ago it felt as if the earth, sky and sea were united in wishing us well in our sacred duty.

One month later, lockdown began, the New Zealand borders closed and they haven’t opened since. 

New Zealand has, unarguably, been among the safest places on earth to have lived during 2020, and for that we will be forever grateful. The death toll and attendant misery that has benighted so many countries has, for the most part, passed us by. And so what follows is as nothing when taken in that most important context. But for a new international school looking to create a community of pioneer adults and bold learners, closed borders are about as bad as it gets. We could have felt sorry for ourselves. We could have shivered and cried like a baby left on a mountain top. Parents might justifiably have said c’est la vie and headed home while they could. But none of that happened.

Instead, for all the deep weirdness that has been 2020, we finish the year with a strange and beautiful optimism. We should feel as if we are cycling through a valley of mud, but the handlebars are morphing into reins as I write, and the rickety bicycle is growing wings: a flying horse emerges from the chrysalis, and it will soar sunwards. There is no stopping Green School, because the world cannot afford to stop dreams like Green School. Our young people, our planet are too precious.

A new Head of School will arrive towards the end of the first term to a flowering values-based culture, a unique curriculum, a trailblazing diploma and a mission-aligned community going about its business amidst incomparable natural and architectural beauty. Phase two of our build will be underway. And yes, while we are all hoping the borders open soon, we are not staring idly at the horizon: we are working hard with our eyes on the task in hand. One day we will look up from that work and find the sea full of incoming ships: our new friends will join us. 

It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others. 

We should surely take note of the Dalai Lama’s typically perceptive words. He’s seldom wrong. And he laughs a lot. 

Ten months ago we rejoiced. And so should we now. 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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3 December 2020 – Entry Twenty Nine

 

“If you’re not willing to risk the unusual, you’ll have to settle for the ordinary.” 

My natural inclination when citing the wisdom of others is to quote old, even ancient texts, possibly as a reaction to my being so underwhelmed by the arrogant exaltation of the present. This tendency is stronger than ever given the recent penchant for haughtily forcing current, transient mores upon past times. However the quotation above comes from a relatively recent source: American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, who died eleven years ago. It’s a neat encapsulation of Green School, and especially the journey on which our parents and their children have embarked.

And Rohn’s words also encompass the appointment and achievements of our departing Principal Stuart MacAlpine. Again, I break with tradition here because I wouldn’t usually write about colleagues in blogs that are read by strangers. But in Stuart’s case I’m making an exception. That’s because when we appointed Stuart from the world’s largest international school we knew we had an educational thinker and curriculum designer of extraordinary talent, as well as somebody who worked long into the night for no financial reward so that young refugees around the world might have a curriculum and Diploma programme that would enable them to make headway in a strange new world. When you appoint somebody like that, there is always the chance a large organisation will come knocking, as Lego Global Programmes has done for Stuart. But a fire that burns only for a short time can still light a million candles.

What Stuart will leave us is the foundation stone of a Diploma programme that has the potential to change mindsets, practice and lived experience. No exams, no counting of hours, no standardised this, that and the other. Instead, four strands: Earth Care; People Care: Fair  Share; Passion and Play. Done well – and the execution must equal the quality of thinking – our learning will launch from the Sustainable Development Goals and head to the stars. Competencies will trump one off high-stakes testing, and the Mastery Transcript Consortium will curate our learning journeys. This will be learning that is deep and rich and relevant. The imagination can still soar; the poetry and the music still sounds; the great texts still resonate. But our context is not a square school room in which tired old exams are administered only to foster thinking to match; our context is this fragile world and the terrifying dangers and beautiful possibilities it affords. 

The great exam-bestowing behemoths bestride this world still. Many have given good and honourable service, and after a very shaky start I myself benefitted from their largesse. But I dare to hope that our field in Taranaki is at the vanguard of a new and necessary age. Stuart has earned his place in that story, and even when he is in Denmark (as he will be from next week) Stuart will share his wisdom both as trustee and consultant at Green School.

To Stuart, Francesca and the boys we extend our sincere thanks and best wishes. Travel well, enjoy your new life and keep raging against the machine of orthodoxy, no matter how compelling its comforts. Astra inclinant, sed non obligant: the stars incline us; they do not bind us.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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27 November 2020 – Entry Twenty Eight

 

Before it has discovered writing, a people is described in terms of pre-history: after it starts writing, the people have history. That’s not me being controversial, that’s a traditional view that has been knocking around for a long time.

Now there are some who would rip that well-worn assertion apart and use a sloosh of arguments from different buckets of thought. As an example, post colonial revisionists might be one of those groups: the Maori in New Zealand had no writing until the arrival of Europeans and a subsequent trip by two Maori leaders to Cambridge University described in an earlier blog. What are we saying about the status of everything that happened among the Maori before that time? (And significantly, who is “we”?). But let’s park that for now. For many people it remains prehistory if there’s no writing, it’s proto-history if you’d discovered writing but had nobody even approximating a historian amongst you (or if your culture couldn’t write but others wrote about you), and it’s history if you were scribbling happily away telling the world how the Pharaoh would smite you and your people good and proper if you looked at him funny. 

So far as we know, libraries began – as so many foundation stones of modern global culture did – in the fertile crescent that runs between the Nile and ancient Mesopotamia. Two thousand years later, around 700 B.C., there’s evidence of a library classification system. Give it another two hundred years and there were libraries of considerable size and significance from Greece to China and many places in between. Not long after that the library at Alexandria had achieved legendary status even in its own time. If I could go back to any vanished building in the ancient world, it would not be to one of the six lost wonders but rather that library. And so, when I see the mobile library come onto the Green School campus and share its treasures with our younger learners, I do offer a thank you to the inscribers of cuneiform in Sumer and hieroglyphs in Egypt: they surely could not have guessed at the joy their creations are now engendering beneath the green Kaitake hills.

And then this week we saw a new library open on campus. It doesn’t match the scale of Alexandria: in fact it’s in an old, broken fridge. Nor does it carry a grand title like “The Imperial Library of Constantinople”. It’s name could be a Pink Floyd album track: The Little Free Green Library. But the wonder of this small free exchange library is that it was thought up, planned and delivered by a learner in Year 7. In the presence of a Senior Librarian, colleagues and learners (many in the costume of the favourite book characters) the library’s young founder cut the ribbon and spoke eloquently of why this initiative was important. From the moment I had asked her for a business plan, the learner had not looked back: execution of the project had been swift, thoughtful and entirely mission-aligned.

As Green School teaches the importance both of an entrepreneurial mindset and the triple bottom line – people, profit and planet – this early project will earn its place in our story as our version of cuneiform or hieroglyphs. Bigger things and more sophisticated ventures will surely follow as learner numbers grow and projects become increasingly collaborative, but without the Little Free Green Library they would have nothing on which to stand. 

We should mark the milestones. No matter how long the journey, no progress can be made until you walk past the first one.

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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20 November 2020 – Entry Twenty Seven

 

When I was a schoolboy, I dreamt of being the youngest player ever to play for my football team, Everton. Then, on becoming 17 and therefore too old to break the record, I changed that thought and imagined instead that I would become the youngest captain of the same side. That milestone also passed. Fine .. now the new goal was to be the youngest professional manager of a football team. The summons never came. Not to worry …. as my thirties sped by, I thought I might get the call to be the youngest James Bond. No luck. This was disappointing as I was now running out of meaningful roles where I might be the youngest. It got worse: when Daniel Craig got the part I realised I was now actually older than James Bond. How in the name of all that’s sacred did that happen? After being hit by time’s cruel upper-cut, I was then sucker-punched by the appointment of a Prime Minister who was also younger than me. On it went. If I were to meet an old school friend I hadn’t seen for years, I would still look out expectantly for a raven haired twenty-something, but invariably the long lost buddy would either hobble into view with a bizarre age-related injury and wispy grey down on his head, or he’d be obliged to explain who he was because the fresh and shiny face I used to know now looked like a pickled knee-cap. No, I’m not much impressed with this ageing malarkey.

Or rather I wasn’t. But now I’ve found new friends and I’m feeling much better about things. Meet the lichens. However you choose to pronounce their name, lichens are my chums. Why might this be? 

First, lichens make me feel young. Most scientists agree that the oldest living things are lichens, and one specimen is believed to date back 8,500 years – so next to that I’m in my rippling prime. (There is a very readable science fiction novel by John Wyndham called “The Trouble With Lichen” which sees strains of lichen being used to slow down the ageing process in humans). And there’s a real thing called lichenometry whereby ancient happenings can be dated by studying the lichen around at the time. Second, lichens are two organisms growing together: fungi and algae. I don’t normally anthropomorphise composite organisms but it’s pretty cute to think of a mutualistic relationship stretching back to before the pyramids. Even cooler than that, it turns out lichens cover between 6% to 8% of the earth’s surface. Who knew? And these guys can hang out at sea level or alpine elevations, growing on almost any surface. To my mind, this infers serious credibility. Oh, and there are at least 15,000 different species.

And finally .. lichen are extraordinary biomonitors because each has a preference for how clean the air needs to be. Amazingly, when a scientist inspects certain lichen samples, she can analyse the air we breathe on a molecular level, right down to a single element. I’m still struggling to comprehend that. Lichen can offer all this while providing food for numerous creatures including humans and reindeer.

Have I known all the above for years and been keeping this back for decades? Sadly, no. This blog exists because a few days ago, as I walked down the magical path to Green School early in the morning, I saw some lichen on a gatepost and realised that beyond thinking it was some kind of “moss” I knew next to nothing about it. And now I realise the world as we know it would not exist without the oldest living organisms on the planet. The poet Wordsworth was more prescient than he could possibly have imagined when he said: “We murder to dissect.” Everything – absolutely everything – is connected: and this ancient life form deserves our deep respect and admiration. 

So …fired up by the knowledge I am not, relatively, nearly as old as I thought I was, I am now looking for casting directors to offer me a new part: the youngest ever lichen. Genius. I’ll shred some lettuce and grapefruit, smear it over myself, lie still on a rock for a few hundred years and wait for the next Scorcese to discover me. What could possibly go wrong this time? 

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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13 November 2020 – Entry Twenty Seven

 

I stood in front of the parking space where my car should have been and, with whispered curses, took my phone from my pocket to report the theft. Of course there was the loss of the car to worry about; I was also going to be late for an interview with local media; and there was the tedious possibility of somebody on the other end of the line wisecracking about a Green School employee driving a car at all, hybrid or no hybrid. But my status as a functioning human being was about to be saved because as I was beginning to dial the police I experienced a few rare seconds of lucidity. It all came back to me: the parking spaces outside my apartment block had, uniquely in my time here, been full last night. Of course .. I had not parked outside as I have always done but rather I parked the car in the garage under the apartment. Joyously, I skipped back into the building and down the stairs to the garages. There indeed was the car. Oh rapture! And in the back of the car, hanging on the coat hook, was the jacket I needed to wear for the interview. I took the jacket out of the car, locked the door, and went back upstairs and outside to put it on the coat hook in my car. No car. The outside parking space was empty. That sinking feeling struck again. I reached for my phone. And then another belated dose of sanity …. it took fully five seconds to realise what I had done. Furtively, I put the phone back in my pocket, crept back inside, downstairs to the garages and replaced the jacket in the car before driving nonchalantly to the interview. I wore shades and probably whistled all the way.

Habit is a dangerous thing. Habits form quickly but often die over decades or centuries. A “tradition” can be created almost overnight, but try dismantling the monolith once time, treasure and identity have been invested in it. Habits and traditions disorientate. People disbelieve truths because stories and images are more compelling than historical fact. We are all inspired by the “timeless” image of the proud Sioux or Apache riding a dappled stallion on the American plains: so we find it hard to process there were no horses in what is now the USA until the Spanish brought them in 1540. What could be more quintessentially Indian than a delicious hot curry? What is more unlikely than the fact there were no chillies in India until the 16th century and that they were taken there by the Portuguese? In Ireland the potato is a staple and symbol of deep historical significance, but there were no potatoes in Ireland until an Englishman brought them from the Americas in 1549. And on it goes.

A distorting and dangerous fallacy that has been held by too many people for too long is that education is a preparation for life. I bought into it for a long time. My school days were perfectly happy: I spent them in square rooms, with people exactly my age being examined in exactly the same thing at exactly the same time regardless of ability or inclination. Everything I learnt was independent of lived reality, and virtually any good I was to do, any impact I was to have, was deferred to adulthood.  There was a presumed endpoint when I would become a “success” and a “credit to the school”. 

As I watched some of our Green School learners getting their hands dirty in the earth near our Tropical House, the words of the great American educational reformer John Dewey resonated with especial power: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Without wishing to be morbid, we should learn as if today was our last. We are not preparing for anything; there is no endpoint. It is our journey that matters, and each step should be taken with mindful engagement regardless of whether you are nine or ninety. Nobody is learned, as Socrates pointed out so long ago: we should all be learning. But for a long time now in the Western tradition we seem to have lost sight of that. 

No more. Education is life itself. And life is an unpredictable journey that demands we respond to its uncertainties with authentic learning experiences and that we flex like flax as we go. And that means unlearning is every bit as important as learning. Some truths are not truths at all: they are just habits on an industrial scale. And if we bear that in mind, maybe one day even idiots like me will realise that just because the car isn’t where it’s supposed to be does not mean it has been stolen. There might just be another explanation.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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6 November 2020 – Entry Twenty Six

 

When I was a young boy I remember staring in wonder at the illustrations in those picture books that showed me people and places from around the world. They were magical times. I believed that everywhere was more exotic and wonderful than home. I thought: it must feel so very different to be in those countries with lustrous flora and fauna, happy women, men and children going about their unimaginably exciting lives in dreamlike landscapes. And I longed to be in those places which I couldn’t even point to on a map but whose names spoke poetry: Zanzibar, Marrakech, Val Paraiso. Life must feel so very different there, and I had little doubt that the beautiful people living in those paradises must have felt very sorry for anyone stuck in the grey and rainy North West of England. There was one illustration I recall – a coloured drawing – of a tall, smiling African woman with a pitcher on her head bringing water back from a well. Her robe was vermilion and her jar a pale blue. This was the personification of elegance: what an incredible life she must have.

The book didn’t say how far she had to walk, how clean the water was, which insects might feed on her during her journey. No mention of hungry children, filthy living conditions, a country ridden with violence. No, she was going to stand there for eternity – or at least as long as the paper lasted – smiling at us from the page. I’ve no idea what happened to the book, but I can still see her face. A proud, happy African woman as drawn for children in England almost certainly by somebody who had never been to Africa. I couldn’t possibly have known or understood that the image was created and subsequently looked upon from a post colonial perspective.

I’m writing before the election results from the USA are confirmed, but it seems Joe Biden will most likely shade it. Whether he does or doesn’t, the political maps show that the middle of the USA is red and the coastlines are blue. That’s why I started with my African woman: the colours of the USA’s political divide actually put me in mind of that childhood picture. But this time I’m not looking through a lens of innocence. I see division at a deep and unsettling level, and I think I may be seeing the beginning of the end of American global leadership. I’m not sure America wants the role much anyway, but the alternatives are hardly comforting.

Except one. And in a world where the reinvigoration of the nation state, factionalism, intersectionality and identity politics is rife, it seems almost naive to suggest it. It is, of course, the United Nations. Loathed by many – especially on the American right – for its perceived cronyism and cosy, cabalistic ineffectiveness, the UN has frequently fallen well short of expectations. Yet acting in accordance with its Sustainable Development Goals (core to the Green Schools’ mission and curricula of course) is the very thing that would heighten understanding and start improving both the plight of the woman with the pitcher and a divided USA. I know of no more relevant and, let’s face it, screamingly necessary rallying cry in my lifetime. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether wealthy countries should build walls or turn back migrant boats, but if you start with the SDGs rather than tribalism, it seems to me you share common, stronger foundations.

At Green School we were lucky in that we could start with the SDG’s rather than bolt them on to some outworn creed, curriculum or manifesto. I understand why for some in a country such as the USA the SDG’s might seem like the words of a rather matter-of-fact, fun-crushing nanny. They don’t inspire nationalists in the same way as the glories of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence, for example. But in the Declaration, the famous words “self evident” mean something is a revealed truth which has to be instantly known, and I would argue that what follows in the Declaration doesn’t fit that category. Whereas, so far as I can see, it is pretty much self evident that failing to take heed of the SDG’s will lead, sooner or later, to oblivion.

So, assuming it is Joe Biden, I sincerely hope the world’s most powerful nation aligns with those countries who are taking this seriously. However flawed the UN may be, however much its structure represents a world long past, it has nonetheless laid out a set of goals that speak to improving the lot of women who walk to wells and, though some may not be able to see it for their anger, Americans who see only stark binary choices and threats to their concept of nationhood. 

My picture book of the world is now a less Utopian read than before, but it is not devoid of hope.

 

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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27 October 2020 – Entry Twenty Five

 

It strikes me that when older people recall ‘the good old days’, they invariably think back to a time when they were neither good nor old. Indeed, as Head or Principal I’ve always been wary of school reunions when former pupils now long retired turn up looking deceptively angelic on their sticks and zimmers. 

They may arrive in the guise of benevolent senior citizens, but after a few drinks the years fall away and before you know it, their butter-wouldn’t-melt mouths are sharing lurid stories of their school-time “pranks” whose impact would, under current legislation, carry a lengthy prison sentence. Yes, the gauzy veil of time seems to filter away the dark side of past episodes, or at least blur memories: there is much chortling over acts of violence and vandalism, and the phrase “You wouldn’t get away with that now” is bandied around with hearty glee. The boozy consensus at the end of lunch will usually be that political correctness is sapping all the joy from young people’s lives and that for all today’s technological advances, life was still a darn sight more fun back in the day. At that point one of the male ex-pupils will mistake the female Principal for a waitress and ask her for a double gin and tonic. Things will then turn ugly.

Currently, the most significant senior citizen reunion with the past is not taking place in a school though, but on screen: Sir David Attenborough’s testament – A Life on This Planet. I touched on it last week and I see the book is now prominent in New Plymouth bookshops: it will doubtless be a global bestseller. 

On one level, Sir David is simply beyond criticism, and not just because people tend to go easy on 93-year-olds. The depth and breadth of his work for the BBC has surpassed that of any wildlife broadcaster anywhere else on the planet, and as Netflix streams many of those old BBC shows to a new young global audience, Sir David appears to be undergoing a kind of secular beatification. Prime Ministers and Presidents want to be seen with him; he plays to packed houses at Davos yet still receives the biggest cheer at the Glastonbury rock festival; his hushed yet urgent tones almost define our take on the natural world. (Can anybody watch a cheetah pulling down a gazelle without hearing a whispering Sir David explaining how the cheetah’s tail works just as hard as its legs in these chases?). This man was making BBC documentaries long before I was born and, interestingly, commissioned “Civilisation” – still the best documentary series I’ve ever seen despite its anachronistic “great man approach” – in 1969 when he was controller of BBC 2. It’s quite a life.

But what I really liked about this reunion was that Sir David did not recall a halcyon past wrecked by the evils of today. Yes, for a moment we were obliged to see a soft focus recreation of a young schoolboy David, fossil hunting on a bike (a needless indulgence which I suspect and hope was more Netflix than BBC), but overall this was a level headed and, in the end, solution focussed programme which was all the more moving because of that. Sir David calmly assessed the awful significance of the lost expanses of wilderness that have disappeared since he began filming, and his analysis of the terrifying attendant collapse of biodiversity was no less chilling for being measured. But he acknowledged that the origins of our plight go back quite some way, even to when he was filming in a state of innocence: “The forests and seas were already emptying,” he reflects sadly. He then looked ahead to what is likely to happen if we do not change our ways: medieval images of hell have looked cosier. 

And then the final quarter of  the programme turned to what we should do in order to prevent the act of self destruction. Rather than walk around with placards in a city square before driving home, we should rewild, stop using fossil fuels, invest in renewables, eat less or no meat, create no fishing zones, use a changing population demographic to the planet’s advantage ….. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before but somehow, coming from this gifted communicator, the message carried more import than it ever could from a scientist at a seminar. And while I was not wholly convinced by the decision at one point to keep the camera on Sir David’s face as he became silently emotional, I understand the power of that image. I said last week a smile is more powerful than a rant: well I guess the nearly-tears of a 93 year old legend speak louder than any protest march.

Most powerful for me – spoiler alert – was the coda. The film had begun in the sterile, uninhabitable interiors near Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear accident. This was humankind reducing the world to a toxic wasteland. But to finish, the camera pulls back .. and we realise the wasteland has been reclaimed by nature. The nondescript tenements are now encircled by a green forest. Trees and flowers, even large mammals like deer, foxes and elk have returned. It is evidence that hope is justified. But hoping without changing is just a bubble popping on a day dream. 

Acting on Sir David’s words will mean our grandchildren will attend school reunions where the air is breathable and there is food for all. Ignoring those words will extend the death throes of extractive capitalism a little longer, but after that we will be staring at an extinction event. Nothing here is new, but the experience, authority and empathy behind the message in Sir David’s testament resonate across the decades, back to my earliest childhood memories and forward into the unknown. The gentle voice is telling us we have already lit our funeral pyre but that the water to douse it flows beside us still. Our call.

Written by Chris Edwards, CEO Green School New Zealand

 

 

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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