19th Century solutions to 21st Century living

‘If my enemy was greater than my apathy…I would have won’ – Mumford & sons

The competing demands of first world living are at the expense of the health and well-being of our children, families and communities. This message is not new nor is it particularly surprising to the majority of the population it concerns. The real concern in this is how and why we are still allowing the self-destruct accelerator button in this regard, to still be our overriding response.

The reality underpinning this behaviour stems from a perfect storm of ignorance, apathy and systemic inertia to the reality of what our education, health provision and cultural modelling is perpetuating in our expectations, aspirations and behaviours.

There are a number of fundamental, system wide questions that I am unable to reconcile with the urgency of action required to protect Generation next from the sins of their fathers and mothers.

With reduced daily energy expenditure, so vital to the success of our ancestors, we are asking too much from our physiology to make the adaptations of 40 000 years of movement based survival. The impact of the last 50 years on the daily lives and lifestyle choices of a growing majority of developed world citizens do not and in current guise, cannot provide our bodies with the level of activity required to thrive. In this case if we continue to do what we have always done we won’t just get what we have had previously, we will end up with a worse version – one with a lower, less productive life expectancy for the first time in our evolutionary journey from cell to cell phone!

How have we ended up allowing the vested influence of interested corporate sugar daddies to put the cart in front of the horse – stymying the enforcement of healthy food related legislation? If our governments exist to protect their citizens from harm, then they need to act to address the choices made by its populous! The uncomfortable truth is, I fear more for the ticking bomb of hidden saturates, culturally endorsed inactivity and the power of supported media to end the lives of my children than any terrorist or military action.

This systemic failure to break the cycle of tradition and routine is constantly asking for 19th Century solutions for 21st Century challenges. How can this be acceptable? The speed of change in the global landscape means our daily diet of information and habitual activity is almost unrecognisable from even 20 years ago.

We know the physiological harm and cognitive handicapping that is directly linked to sitting – so why do we line up rows of chairs in every office, conference centre and most alarmingly schools? We are conditioned to accept that we sit to learn – that movement is a distraction and that quiet is an indicator of engagement. Whilst i acknowledge that there are benefits in controlling our classrooms the landscape and design of lesson content and learning

environments should be to maximise rather than restrict learning. Dialogue is a core aspect to learning – a conversation (whether internal or external) essential in referencing understanding, modelling successful response and generating new ideas. Movement is an accelerator of learning. If a “movement is a thought confined to the brain” the active classroom improves physiological function, promotes more talk and social interaction and increases the processing workload – training the brain to make greater, more significant more meaningful connections.

There is growing evidence to highlight the challenges facing school to connect their curricula to the aspirations and motivations of young people. The trend being that for those in the 11-16 age group the longer young people are involved in the education system the less relevant their perception and less engaged they are.

For many the narrow lens which defines ‘success’ is exclusive rather than inclusive leaving a significant disenfranchised and devalued. Frequently this perception of worth translates into negative choices in lifestyle and puts a ceiling on aspirations post-education. The teachers and school leaders do an incredible job inspite of this system and through their skill and empathy are able to give over and above to their students.

How can it be right then that we are generating inappropriate stress for all – educators and learners alike – through an outdated model of what an education should be? It should equip our young with a core set of skills and experience to inspire them through and to learn – a sense of ownership that they can follow the most relevant personal pathway that will grow their strengths and support their weaknesses and expose them to a breadth and depth of what success could look like that they might recognise the worth in their application.

A classroom, habitually and frequently characterised  by purposeful noise, liberated movement and ownership of outcome might just be a version of an education that will equip future generations with the grounding knowledge, confidence, skills and expectation to reboot the system and make it fit for purpose.