Education?

I would like to preface this post by paying my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present. I acknowledge the deep understanding of country held by the First Nations peoples of Australia and I am committed to working with them for a brighter future for my country.

Aboriginal Flags

When I was completing my teaching degree I remember a discussion about the difference between the terms syllabus and curriculum. According to my lecturer syllabus is the content that is delivered in a classroom. Be it Mathematics, Science, English, whatever. The curriculum is a more general term that refers to the collective things taught at a particular place of learning. This idea can be stretched to include things that are NOT on the syllabus such as how to behave, ways of treating each other, dealing with the system that is our world, etc.

I read a post by Mike at Marriage, Sex and More discussing the idea of teaching about marriage in schools. Mike had heard a podcaster indicating that it would be a good idea to introduce a class on marriage into schools. My first reaction to this idea is one shared by a lot of my colleagues “Really! Let’s just try and fit another life skill into the classroom.” I want to say that I fully support Mike’s rejection of this idea. In this modern world it seems that schools are expected to cover a lot of material that should be covered at home because parents are either incapable of or too lazy to parent their children properly.

In a previous post I described Steve Biddulph’s idea that we subliminally learn about parenting as we grow up. These lessons are not taught directly, they are lessons learned through watching someone over a long period of time and in line with other things that are happening. The teacher is unaware that they are teaching. The learner is unaware that they are learning but in the sponge that is a child’s brain, lessons are being implanted about how to speak to your children, what to do when your child is naughty, how to mould behavior.

The same subliminal process happens with relationships. The child’s sponge brain absorbs how spouses interact. If a woman treats her husband with contempt her daughters are likely to grow up and do the same thing. Of course as I explained, we can identify the behaviors we don’t like and consciously change them. We are not cookie cutter images of our parents. As we grow up other influences come in to play, parents of friends, relatives, other close friends, our ultimate spouses but the first influence of our parents can be hard to shake.

What does this have to do with the classroom? Well learning is not a linear process. We like to think that the education system is linear and like a factory. Put kid in at age 4 – 5 (depending on the country etc), go through a series of steps (various classes), and at the end we spit out an educated fully functioning adult. There are any number of anecdotal and more academic studies that show this is really NOT the way it works despite the billions of dollars spent on and worldwide adoption of this way of educating.

Anyone who has spent time with any Indigenous Elder discussing their culture will know that indigenous elders teach their young people by demonstration and talking. During 2020 and 2019 I had several opportunities to spend a few days with two different elders, a Bundjalung man and a Mununjali man. Both men have extensive knowledge about plants, stories, way of life, and respect for country. Both teach the same way; walking through the bush and discussing what comes along. Or sitting in a yarning circle and discussing whatever comes up.

Neither goes into a situation with a learning intention or a specific set of points to discuss and tick off. Both will talk about topics multiple times in multiple ways as they come across them in their daily activities. As I walked and yarned with these men I could see how generations of First Nations people were taught about their culture, the landscape they lived in, and how to care for it. I could see how this way of learning is gentle, but strong and effective.

This is the way humans learn to live, not in a classroom. Classrooms are for abstract, thought based things like Science, Mathematics and Literature. They can be adapted to teach specific skills like how to bake a cake or how to build a chair but they CANNOT be used to teach life skills like how to discuss money issues with your spouse or how to know a particular person is going to be a good life partner. These things can only be taught over time and with repetition, space to make real life errors and guidance when these early errors happen. This type of learning can only happen with a person who is constantly there, like a parent. Not a teacher who, at best, will be in close contact with a student for a couple of years.

First Nations people defer to Elders as the ‘Educational Authority’. One doesn’t become an Elder by reaching a certain age. They achieve this status by demonstrating an understanding of culture and a level of maturity that befits the status. In western society, probably as a result of our education system, we have lost this concept. Adulthood is conferred on us when we reach a specific age regardless of our maturity. We can have children when our bodies are ready, not when our souls and minds are. We can, and often do, educate our children while we are still children ourselves.

Perhaps the solution to the decline in life skills is not just shoving another class into the syllabus but changing our perspective on who is a good person to deliver the curriculum.

Picture
Source; Their Way of Life

Well Duh

In an insomniac Twitter scrolling session I came across an article published in Psychology Today about the strength of open relationships. The study outlined in the article described some research relating to communication, mutual consent and comfort in different types of relationships ranging from monogamous to open with a couple of categories in between.

The article went on to explain that monogamous and open relationships were high functioning if communication between partners was good. It defined a relationship as partially open or one-sided monogamy if one partner is engaging or wants to engage in extra curricular sex but the other doesn’t. Not surprisingly these relationships did not rate as high functioning. I can’t imagine why. The kicker that made myself and Mr Jones laugh out loud was the concluding paragraphs;

The bottom line of these findings, published in The Journal of Sex Research,

 appears to be that mutual consent, comfort, and communication are crucial ingredients—regardless of the type of open relationship. Lacking those, sex outside the relationship can be felt like a betrayal and can put an enormous strain on the couple. As lead author Rogge pointed out, “Secrecy surrounding sexual activity with others can all too easily become toxic and lead to feelings of neglect, insecurity, rejection, jealousy, and betrayal, even in nonmonogamous relationships.”

The research emphasizes that these are important considerations, not only for people engaging in open relationships but in any relationship that the couple hopes to be sustainable and rewarding, long-term.

Really? Someone needed a study to come to that conclusion? Really? Are people that bad at relationships that they need a psychologist to explain how toxic secrecy is to a relationship?

To be fair the regular Joe has a very limited understanding of how open relationships work. In fact anyone not in MY relationship doesn’t understand how MY open relationship works because they are not part of if. Every relationship is different with different norms, rules, boundaries etc. Being open doesn’t change that. There is an assumption amongst monogamists who make up the overwhelming, self-righteous majority of our culture, that open relationships = open slather. Meaning that if I give consent to non-monogamy then my partner and myself are out there fucking every thing that moves without any consideration for the other person’s safety or feelings.

The writer of this article seemed to plan their study from this perspective. The way the final paragraph is written seems to assume that they were thinking that consenting to sex outside the primary relationship means that these activities are not discussed and that there are no boundaries. Certainly there are non-monogamous relationships that do work this way but as the study pointed out they are not robust and lack of communication is going to ultimately bring everything undone.

Mr Jones and myself can’t understand why these findings are such a revelation to the researchers. If communication is the cornerstone of a conventional relationship why wouldn’t it be the cornerstone of an unconventional one? In my experience communication in non-monogamy is even more critical. There are more feelings being juggled, more than two sets of expectations, more than two sets of emotional needs. It is just more complicated so of course there needs to be more communication.

The mystery and urban myths that surround swinging and non-monogamy are sometimes so laughable. Indeed I think sometimes the members of the vanilla world deserves the somewhat derogatory label of “muggle” that I have heard used to refer to them. I hope that studies like this, however obvious the outcomes seem to be to Mr Jones and myself help to debunk some of these myths.

In this world of accepting the alphabet of sexual orientation we still have a long way to go before we start to accept the idea that monogamy is the vanilla of the relationship spectrum and there are so many other valid flavours to try.

Marraige

Hot on the heels of a TMI post from a couple of weeks back I had a conversation with a prospective play partner who I will refer to as “Army Guy” in this and future posts. I hope things pan out with this one (unlike some others in recent times) but I digress. Army Guy is in his own words “single and loving it” and “Couldn’t think of anything worse” than being married. Once I met him in person he went on to explain that his job requires him to deal with relationship issues of the people around him and that he had certain ambitions he wanted to fulfil in life. In his opinion having a relationship is simply going to hinder him achieving his goals.

I was a little saddened by his attitude and found it a bit a confronting. Afterwards I reflected on his words and I realised that he was, in some ways at least, right. I wouldn’t be lying to say that being married and having children certainly prevented me from achieving certain ambitions that I had earlier in my life. But failing to reach these ambitions has opened the door to a whole other range of possibilities that I would not have considered as a young single person.

Some of these possibilities are things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve as a single person. Between 2008 and now I have explored some of the most iconic parts of Australia with my family. I had experiences that will live with me forever and I learned through experience and first hand observation a lot of things that I find sharing with my students now.

Other achievements include amassing an investment portfolio that is not hugely impressive but certainly will allow Mr Jones and I to live comfortably for many years into our retirement. This is not something I would ever had a hope of achieving as a single person. It is also something that Mr Jones would not have been able to achieve as a single person either. Building our life together has been one of the great achievements of my life.

Of course my prospective fuckbuddy is a very independent kind of person. For him the idea of being reliant on someone else for his success is possibly quite foreign if not a little frightening. And of course that is fine for him. The thing that I find unacceptable is when people insist on achieving their goals their own way and still being in a marriage. In our world today people seem to forget that marraige is not the White wedding, perfect house and 2.3 perfectly behaved children. For me marriage is two people building their lives together. In the process they hold each other up and work as a team so that in the end the sum becomes much greater than any of the individual parts could ever be.

I think we don’t celebrate that enough in our culture. We have become so obsessed with self that we have forgotten that we are part of the world. One of the great strengths of the human race is the ability to network and form relationships. But the true value of these relationships is only realised when we forget what we can get out of the relationship but instead focus on what we can give to the other person.