Now, ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward, too. This makes it quite easy for the ordinary people to live, just as it would be easy to join those five dots into a W if you were allowed to look at them forwards, instead of backwards and inside out. But I unfortunately was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind. Some people call it having second sight.
The quote above is from the stellar book, The Once and Future King, and is how Merlyn tries to explain how he knows what he knows. I used this quote about 18 months ago when writing about the passing of a very dear friend, I called my Merlyn. For 4-5 years I met with him at least once a week, the last two years or so, was for breakfast on Thursdays, and we discussed everything from education to mathematics to fractal equations. However, we would mostly discuss the philosophical aspects of education. The conversations were often generated by my friend to prompt me out of a cerebral view of my studies (I was completing my masters and had started my doctorate).
Quite often our conversations were, well, let’s say – spirited. We never got angry with each other, and we never truly argued, but there were times where my friend would challenge me to the point where I would be stuck for words. One of his favourite lines was, “you know that everything you say is wrong”. It took me a while to realise I wasn’t being scolded or rebuked, but issued a challenge to think about what I was saying.
This was a great challenge for me. I come from, and still work within, the law enforcement system where we deal with and present facts only. Fact should be presented, as far as possible, dispassionate, without imposition of the personal point of view, and without imposition of our morals. Indeed, I often describe the world of policing as amoral. This was how I tried to present my views on education – just the facts.
I know now that my friend wanted me to understand that education is not just about theory and the application of the theory. Education should not just be about achievements, measures, or outcomes. But rather, that education and the education system has significant impact on the individual and the development of the complete individual must be the primary goal of education. Or, as Sir Ken Robinson [who I also think is an education wizard] says, “education is not a mechanical system, it is a human system”. And it this point that I have taken away from my time very short time with my friend.
So who or what is a wizard? Well clearly I believe my friend was one, and not a day goes by that something does not remind me of him, and fondly recall parts of our conversations. I also believe that Sir Ken Robinson is one – go to YouTube and watch his videos. But wizards need not be formally educated as my friend and Sir Ken.
In hindsight, I see that my dad, who died some 20 + years ago was one, but it took me some time to realise he was one. My dad did not go to school past the age of 14. He left and took on labouring jobs, underwent national service and went to Malaya. As I was growing up, as we all tend to do, we clashed. I think because we were more alike than different. When I moved out and spent less time under his feet, and started having more adult conversations, I learnt a lot about life from him. He taught me the value of education, being your best (not necessarily the best – but your best) and the latter I have passed on to my children. My dad and my friend have prompted to recognise that wizards appear at times when we need them; even if we cannot recognise them. Early this year I attended university to undertake my doctoral confirmation seminar; this is where you defend your research proposal before a panel consisting of your supervisors and other academics. During this process I met another education wizard, at a time that I was truly in need of one.
They may not like me considering them as such, but for me wizards are those who come along to guide prompt and assist you in your journey because they have already lived it. They guide you as a person, and not your educational or academic journey. Their goal is to assist you in being the best you, you can be. They also encourage you to become a wizard for someone else. While I am not a wizard, I think I am an education wizard in training.
Recently, I had a conversation with two educators from the defence forces. The conversation was around developing educators. One of the questions I asked them was how do they think people learn, and what is the role of the educator. For me, my role is to assist people to achieve their dreams. Every day I, in my role as police educator, do all I can to help people achieve their dreams. As a prompter I use several poems, including:
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
While this is clearly a love poem, I believe it also reflects the journey of an adult learner, especially in my field. Almost everyone where I work dreams of being a police officer; and I need to be careful not to tread on their dreams. Thus begins my wizard journey.
What do think it takes to be a wizard in someone’s life? Are you one? Can you be one? Let me know in the comments section below.
 “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by William Butler Yeats – thanks to Sir Ken Robinson for quoting this is one of his talks.