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Discussion of the  nature and role of education
(A search for the essence of sustainable education)

                 First draft and incomplete/ Dec 2007


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Link here
 to a list of 
sustainable uses of key symbols - including

energy energy efficiency


Let us start with the big question: What is education?

Education as the communication of knowledge within the state of compassion.

What do you mean by “a state of compassion”?

I define compassion as a state of being. It is associated with empathy, acknowledging suffering, respect, information, inquiry, communication, patience, reflection, connection and sharing.

And what is its link with knowledge?

To quote wiki on the meaning of knowledge:

"Philosophical debates in general start with Plato's formulation of knowledge as "justified true belief". There is however no single agreed definition of knowledge presently, nor any prospect of one, and there remain numerous competing theories.

Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, learning, communication, association and reasoning."

For me knowledge is a paradox in that it involves both the act of knowing and that which is known. It involves awareness, the power to reason and the expertise born of experience. It does not exist without sentience (some degree of consciousness). It is an active state of being in that the act of knowing and what is known changes in every moment as the universe(s) change.

And the link between knowledge and compassion?

With consciousness comes the awareness that we are mortal and distinct forms. We experience aloneness and death. We experience this as pain and suffering. 

Also with conscious knowledge comes the realisation that our every act is a moral act, a choice between perceived right and wrong plus awareness that as mortal beings we can never know the ultimate impact of any decision we make.

And as our knowledge grows we become more aware of how our very existence depends on the mortality and suffering of other sentient beings. The more we are able to acknowledge and accept this fact the more we able to minimise the suffering we cause.

As can be seen from its etymology, compassion is rooted in suffering and pain:

[Middle English compassioun, from Late Latin compassiō, compassiōn-, from compassus, past participle of compatī, to sympathize : Latin com-, com- + Latin patī, to suffer; see pē(i)- in Indo-European roots.]

Without compassion knowledge soon destroys us for we fail to be in accord or in sympathy or in harmony with the balances of the universe that sustain us. We experience fear, terror, war, starvation, poisoning, disease and our species becomes at risk of demise. Our technology becomes a means of destruction.

Compassion enables the state of being that is science to exist. When the state of science exists then language, art and all that we know as civilisation flourishes. Without compassion there is no science and thus there is no art or language, so civilisation ceases to exist.

Wait a minute - the New Zealand Education Curriculum states “Science is a way of investigating, understanding and explaining our natural physical world and the wider universe. It involves generating and testing ideas, gathering evidence – including making observations, carrying out investigations and modelling, and communicating and debating with others – in order to develop scientific knowledge, understanding and explanations. Scientific progress comes from logical systematic work and from creative insight, built on a foundation of respect for evidence..” Is not that saying the same thing?

No. If you look at the overall framework of the NZ Curriculum science is symbolised as just another learning area such as language, mathematics, technology and health. It is not seen as a requisite for them and as inherently containing the values enshrined in the document – innovation, inquiry, integrity, community and participation etc and the principles of inclusion and coherence

The NZ Curriculum vision states, “Young people will be confident, connected, actively involved, life long learners”. How can they be confident and connected when science is symbolised as just another learning area rather than the basis of learning?  There is an implicit denial of the state of science each child is born into. This framework inevitably leads to the current situation where science is portrayed as a distinct body of knowledge that is the exclusive reserve of a small group of people called “the community of scientists”. The remaining 98% of the population, the community of “non-scientists”, presumably have stopped making observations, carrying out investigations and modelling in their lives. We have to assume for the sake of coherence that they have ceased to be life long learners…

Well how would you frame the curriculum then?

I suggest a more helpful vision statement might read,  “Young people will know compassion, thus enabling them to enjoy the state of science so that language, art and all that is civilisation can exist.” This makes clear three things:

(1)            The need for young people to know compassion is central to the curriculum.

(2)            Science is a state of being, not just a subject or learning activity or way of thinking. It is integral to our actions.

(3)            Without science there is no language, art or civilisation.

This framework makes more sense of the Curriculum’s statement of what science is about. Think of the process by which we each develop language. “It involves generating and testing ideas, gathering evidence – including making observations, carrying out investigations and modelling, and communicating and debating with others.” Is not this what I am doing with you in this moment as we attempt to develop a shared meaning from a common set of symbols to promote certain learning activities in our schools?

Take learning to speak a language. Children are born with a sense of inquiry and the capacity to make all the sounds required to speak all human languages. By the process of experimentation, modelling and analysing feedback data from their use of symbols they learn the language that sustains their culture. They can share meaning using sounds.

Similarly with art children experiment, model and test ideas about the nature of existence and attempt to express and convey their sense of meaning of the world using symbols. 

The process is the same whether it be a person experimenting with paint pigments or with bacteria cultures in a test tube or with electric currents through a neuron. Each involves a spirit of inquiry, integrity, observation and reflection if they are to find and express meaning.

The key point I am making is that every child capable of learning a language or creating “a work of art” enjoys science and is a scientist to some degree.

You are saying we are all scientists?

Yes – surely as you can comprehend this discussion. In fact I will go as far as to say that any person who most truly enjoys the state of science would never talk of some people being “scientists” because they know that all people are scientists to some degree. In this state of science they enjoy humility and can understand that being hugely knowledgeable about a subject does not necessarily make a person a greater scientist than another. Indeed they know that a person who may not have great expertise in any subject can exhibit far greater science in their total lifestyle than the so-call ‘scientist” or expert. Science is a state of being.

What is an example of how this could be?

It is non uncommon for people who are renowned as “scientists” because of their knowledge of “energy” and Earth’s climate to drive cars and jet around the planet continually exhorting people to adopt carbon “trading/ offsetting/neutrality” so human-induced emissions of carbon are reduced. Their lifestyle means they are among our greatest carbon emitters and destroyers of our remaining reserves of precious mineral oil. Their activities are patently unsustainable. They enjoy esteem because of their knowledge of “energy” and climate processes and this makes them powerful role models for the activities they teach against. Where is the science in these people who call for change in others while they remain unchanged themselves?

Compare these people with people who have limited understanding of how the atmosphere works and accept the facts that human induced carbon emission alter climate balances and that our use of carbon can never be neutral because we cannot offset fossil fuels – once burned they are gone. These people, some of whom were deemed failures as “scientists” by our school curriculum, respond to their knowledge by refusing to fly or own cars and emit a fraction of the carbon emissions of the so-called “scientists”. They evidence the state of being that is science far more than does the “energy” or climate expert. 

I am still unclear what is meant by science is a state of being. Is there another way of describing what this means?

Yes, we can ask what are the requisites for science to exist. To the extent any of these requisites do not exist then there is a lack of science. The following list is not complete and the qualities overlap. A summary list of requisites includes:



Collegiality openness and sharing; 


Honesty and trust; 

Time and reflection 

I will elaborate on each of these requisites briefly.

Compassion. Compassion for ourselves, for other human and for all else. 

Without compassion for ourselves we cannot learn because fundamentally learning is about experimenting with perceived errors. Without compassion any perceived errors in our experiments with life are judged as unforgivable failures rather than as valuable learning opportunities. The spirit of fun in inquiry dies and thus humanity is diminished.

Without compassion for other humans we fail to appreciate that they have unique viewpoints through which we can reflect the greater reality of existence.

Without compassion for all else we fail to appreciate the role all living things have in sustaining the balances that enable our existence.

Time and reflection*

Time and reflection are intimately linked. As the NZ curriculum states, science involves creative insight. For creativity to exist it is helpful if open questions can be asked in a spirit of trust and great inquiry. This is because our consciousness is a trace element of our total being and we retain a great quantity of information at the subliminal level. Ideas and insights need time to ferment if optimal greatest linkages to be formed. This process is not to be measured in minutes but rather in a sense of timelessness and trust that greater truths can be revealed.

The reflections are both internal and external. The question stimulates possible responses from the individual’s relatively vast subliminal knowledge base. At the same time the individual becomes a more open receptor to knowledge in the greater world and more alert to ideas that might answer the questions. Patience is a requisite for these reflections as it takes time for new links to be forged and new paradigms to form.

*Note re reflection. Research this last decade has revealed the presence of “mirror neurons” and the suggestion is that their abundance enables us to communicate and form complex societies. More on this later when I discuss the power of symbols.

Time is also required if ideas are to be shared, debated and subject to rigorous scrutiny. Humans have a considerable capacity for self-deceit and denial of change/stewardship. We can develop very sophisticated rationales to justify unsustainable activities. It is common for strategy to not find the time"" to explore inconvenient truths. For instance when I have asked our climate, “energy” and education experts what science underpins their use of key symbols they often dismiss the question by saying they “do not have time” to address my questions and to research the issues I raise. So when they knowingly continue to use poorly researched or disproven uses of the key symbols their communication is framed by a lack of science.

Sharing and collegiality 

Without these requisites information becomes locked up so that it cannot be shared, peer reviewed and reflected upon by the greater community.  Hence the restriction of information flows for reasons of “commercial sensitivity” and copyright work to destroy science. Societies based on this information become a risk to themselves and others as their foundation increasingly lacks science. Their use of technology works to destroy all the systems that support human life. 

For instance the USA, less than five percent of the world's population, is responsible for about one quarter of human carbon emissions, thus putting at risk our vital thermal balances of the atmosphere. 

Japan followed the US example in the 1890s and became another nation bound by copyright. It has since used technology to destroy the viability of most fish in Earth’s oceans that are over a foot long. 

New Zealand, my country, is at the forefront in promoting carbon trading and is hostile to carbon taxes. Our carbon dioxide emissions have risen 39% since 1990.  

Research and information critical to the sustaining of atmosphere and ocean balances is suppressed, putting all of humanity at risk. Arguably this lack of science has resulted in the precarious position humanity is now in - our global civilisation now being close to catastrophic collapse.


Honesty enables us to confront and accept the results of our experiments and acknowledge errors in our perception of the reality of the universe. Without honesty science ceases to exist because information sharing is not transparent and open. 

For instance, a pharmaceutical company develops a new drug and omits to tell regulatory authorities of potential side effects. As a result citizens die needlessly. Their premature deaths are caused by a lack of science. The moment the pharmacists involved knew the full knowledge of the drug’s potential impacts was not public they ceased to be scientists.

Examples – Trasyloll, Vioxx, Accutane


In the above example the pharmaceutical companies are exclusive in that they fail to include relevant information. 

An “energy” expert is exclusive when they say energy= oil for energy is manifest in myriad forms. Such lack of inclusion is a denial of the Conservation Principle of Energy. 

A climate expert fails to be inclusive when they say climate change = human-induced changes to the climate. This is a denial that there are many drivers of climate change. 

In all the above cases when the individual decides to make an exclusive use of a symbol (information) science ceases to exist. They cease to enjoy the state of science. They may still enjoy some degree of science in other aspects of their lives – no one is ever completely bereft of science – but their every exclusive act works to diminish science.

And so it is when any of the requisites mentioned are not present in the moment. The state of science a person is experiencing is diminished and ceases to be.

The New Zealand Curriculum states, “scientific progress comes from logical, systematic work and from creative insight, built on a foundation of respect for evidence.” What do you think the curriculum authors mean by creative insight and how does it happen?

I do not know what the NZ Curriculum authors mean. I suspect that they are aware that that quantum leaps or sudden paradigm changes occur in our understanding of the world. A whole raft of insights will occur in a rush and what was previously unimaginable become so imaginable it is view as obvious and the “natural order”.

However I can see no evidence in the curriculum that the authors understand the process.

I think they are aware this process happens but they provide no framework or evidence to show they understand the process. Thus our schools are given no insight into how they can structure their activities so “creative insight” is fostered. The authors seem to assume there is something magical that happens and the “creative insights” just somehow occur. 

Indeed many teachers must find it doubly confusing when the Curriculum states: “scientific progress comes from logical, systematic work and from creative insight, built on a foundation of respect for evidence.”

I venture that many thoughtful teachers are puzzled by a niggling sense that logical, systematic work and creative insight are very different processes – the former involving evolutionary processes and the other involving quantum leaps. So they sort of blindly teach that science is a system involving the conscious systematic application of logic, an intellectual practice and they just sort of hope that it will generate “creative insight”. 

Of course this approach fails to generate it because the requisites for “creative insight’ tend not to exist in the school structures. Insights do still occur, but this is often despite the system rather than because of it. This new NZ Curriculum continues to form a major block to the process, which is unfortunate as it means our education system is producing some of the most unsustainable people on the planet.

So how do you reconcile these different processes and foster creative insight in our children?

It is helpful to promote an acceptance of paradox in our lives – just as we accept light can be both quantum and continuous waves of energy simultaneously or that light and dark is the same thing even as they seem opposites. Several things happen when we accept paradox. One is that we are saying its OK that we cannot understand life/death by logic alone.  We are also allowing ourselves, paradoxically, access to greater logic – logic we could not consciously imagine.

How can this be so?

We are what I call “Trace Beings”. Each of our atoms is the manifestation of only one of countless possibilities. We are each one of several billion humans, each reflecting the universe in their unique way. Our planet is a trace element of the solar system and the solar system is a trace element of the universe. Similarly we are only conscious of a few thousands changes in any second while our subconscious is making maybe six billion responses to the world in that second. In other words we assimilate and respond to a vast array of stimuli in any moment while only being aware of a few of them consciously.

I am not saying anything that has not been know for thousands of years though modern technology such as fMRI enables us to present this reality more graphically now. It is just that the conscious element of us likes to deny the reality and we need ways of learning to transcend the limits of our consciousness and tap the wisdom of our greater being.

And it so happens that when the requisites for science to exist then we are enabled to do this. When enjoying the state of compassion, for instance, we are more able to accept paradox. It’s OK. We find by giving preconceptions away new insights occur with greater ease. When we know openness we are more able to ask open questions and to be receptive to unimagined answers. 

When we enjoy trust and time we are freed to ask all manner of questions, even questions we are not conscious that we are asking. We trust to the possibility that in the billions of neural connections we have accumulated in our brains over our lifetimes we will generate new patterns and arrangements of knowledge that provide us with “creative insight”. It is a fermentation process and just like making fine wine or cheese the process has its own time. 

And maybe we do not retain in our beings all the ingredients required initially. Again a sense of having plenty of time is helpful to the creative process. The mind at all levels becomes open to finding links to information perhaps not perceived before in the greater world.

Surely many people already know this. They will have experienced it in their lives. What is new in what you are saying?

I am saying nothing new. Many people reading this understand the value of time, trust, openness, inquiry, sharing, compassion etc. I am sure all our good teachers understand it. They may even understand the paradox that in accepting the limitations of conscious logic we can tap into the far greater logic of our subliminal beings and make “creative leaps” we could never have planned or strived for or consciously experimented for. They know we are often we are left in the position of forming an insight that contradicts orthodoxy, for which we have little evidence and seems to come from nowhere but that makes sense. They know history show it can take years of research and experimentation, even the creation of new technology, before the logic in the insight is revealed. 

It is these teachers that keep a degree of sustainability in our education system. They do this despite our curriculum. I suspect a very good question is this: Why does the new NZ Curriculum fail to acknowledge the need for compassion, time, trust etc and the universality of the scientific process?

Maybe such qualities are hard to define and are too “wishy washy?” After all it is a political, prescriptive and legal document and compassion, for instance, is very hard to define.

This is true. Every society has an element that is primarily driven by greed and fear. This element does not enjoy a great state of compassion and generosity. For this group of people education systems exist to shape societies to serve their short term needs.  Yes, certain politicians, merchant and media people would have a field day scorning and deriding a Curriculum overtly based on the promotion of compassion. 

And yes compassion is hard to define, being a state of being. The concept that science cannot exist in the absence of compassion is an anathema to them. They believe science is a particular amoral way of thinking, a particular body of inert knowledge, the prerogative of a select group of people called “scientists”. You will have noticed that this very articulate and powerful group of people have not protested much about the new NZ Curriculum.

So what will happen if the world adopts our national curriculum? After all New Zealand does provide an influential model for humanity?

The lack of compassion and hence the lack of science underpinning the curriculum means that New Zealanders will continue to destroy the remaining resources and balances that sustain humanity. We will continue to produce a nation of individuals who contribute more per capita to a possible global war and famine in which billions of people perish than almost any other nation on Earth. So perhaps more than any other nation we need an education curriculum founded in a clearly defined framework of compassion. Once this established science can flourish and instead of using technology to destroy the forests, rivers, lakes, fish stocks and atmospheric balances as we have done for the last century our children will use technology to conserve them and enjoy harmony.


Just why are symbols so important?

In brief, without symbols there is no civilisation. Indeed without symbols all the order and balance between sentient

living forms on Earth vanishes. Think of how flowers use colour and scent to communicate to bees, how spiders leave insect carcases in their webs to large creatures can see and avoid walking through them, how the skunk raises its tail to communicate it does not want another creature to come any closer to it etc. I do not know where the boundaries of sentience are and cannot imagine the extent that animals and plants perceive and feel what humans do. All I know is when I see film of an elephant stop in its tracks and step around a spiders web across the trail or when I see my bees return to the hive laden with pollen I know that symbols have worked and a meaningful communication has occurred.

Wiki suggests: Symbols are objects, characters, figures, sounds or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. A symbol, in its basic sense, is a conventional representation of a concept; i.e., an idea, object, quality, quantity, etc.

How useful is this definition?

It is helpful in that it communicates that symbols can be in any sensory form. It says a symbol is a conventional representation of a concept. I would elaborate to suggest the convention can be shared between all manner of sentient living forms, not just humans. The origins of the symbol symbol are interesting. To quote Wiki:

The word "symbol" came to the English language by way of Middle English, from Old French, from Latin, from the Greek σύμβολον (sýmbolon) from the root words συν- (syn-) meaning "together" and βολή (bolē) "a throw", having the approximate meaning of "to throw together", literally a "co-incidence" (zu-fall), also "sign, ticket, or contract".

The meaning of the insect carcase in web coincides for the spider and the elephant. The elephant can easily walk through the web, demolishing the spider’s store of protein and source of food. It does not, for whatever reason. Conceivably flies less bother it because the web exists? 

Similarly a contract between the skunk and others is maintained – it agrees to not fill the air with a sulphur compound called N-bulymercaptan if others respect its space. 

The bee and the flower share meaning in that the flower is pollinated and the bee returns with food for the hive. Thus symbols work to sustain life on Earth. And that is why we need value them and constantly work to conserve their fullest potential.

What is meant by the “fullest potential of symbols”? How do we know what the full potential of a symbol is?

We can never know the fullest potential of a symbol use, just as we as mortal beings cannot know the full meaning of life. When our use of symbols expresses our acceptance of our state of mortality, of the fact we are transient manifestations of energy, we are opened to greater possibilities and are better able to reflect the greater reality. When we can do this we enjoy greater meaning in our lives. We can enjoy greater harmony with the universe…

Surely that is a huge leap of faith? 

Look at it this way. Our lives are journey in search of meaning. We are at greatest risk when our lives lack meaning and we feel hopeless. The will to live founders fast. This can happen to individuals. It can happen to societies. When this happens you will notice the great symbols such as love, life, energy and power lack meaning.  These great symbols enable meaning to be experienced because they enable us to reflect the reality of existence, which is that the universe is subject to constant change and we are part of that change. When our use of these symbols works to promote acceptance of that reality within us we are more able to resonate in accord with the universe and enjoy a greater sense of harmony. At such times we enjoy a sense of greater meaning in life.

But if the universe is subject to constant change how can we know what is the most sustainable use of a symbol?

We cannot know with certainty. However we can be guided by great principles that science has revealed to us – the Conservation Principle of Energy, the Uncertainty Principle of Energy and perhaps by what I am tentatively calling the Sustainability Principle of Energy. This suggests:

“When a symbol use works to deny change it will materially alter the potential of the universe (energy) in a way that results in a reduction in the capacity of the symbol user to mirror reality. When a symbol use works for the acceptance of change it will increase the capacity of the symbol user to mirror reality.”

This could easily be a pile of waffle.

Agreed. So I will give a concrete example using the energy symbol.

We have two societies and they both use the energy symbol.

In the first society a group of very powerful bankers have a conference and decide that the energy symbol shall be associated with the commodities that they own and control. In particular these are fossil fuels and Bulk-generated electricity. Things they cannot trade and make a profit from do not exist. And so it came to pass that the accountants, universities, politicians, media people and the children grew up knowing these few commodities are energy. The market of them was called the “energy sector” and one could buy and sell stocks things called “energy stocks” in “energy companies” that operated in this market. And they are promoted as being extremely bounteous.

In the second society people retained a different use of the energy symbol. They formed a consensus that the universe is of bounteous nature. They even allowed the possibility the parallel and multiple universities might exist. They accepted a reality in which their universe(s) are constantly transforming even though the potential for change was so huge it could be considered a constant. They decided to use the energy symbol to communicate this idea i.e. energy is conceived of as bounteous as all the potential of the universe(s) and is subject to constant transformation. You can see they put immense store in the “energy” symbol.

What happens to them?  

Well most people in the first society find it useful to believe energy is bounteous and so they use fossil fuels and other commodities as though they are energy. In so doing they confuse energy with the forms it takes. They do not understand that all forms are limited in size and ones like fossil fuels take eons of change to come into existence. 

Also, because they think, for instance fossil fuels are energy they forget that burning them use up the resource and the act of burning them alters the atmospheric balances sustaining the society. For them energy = fossil fuel.

Their symbol use is a manifestation of a denial of change in multiple ways.

The second society has a very different attitude to life in general. They believe fossil fuels and other commodities are simply transient forms. They also know they are mortal beings as were their parents and as will be their children. So they are mindful that forms like fossil fuels took eons to occur and there is a very limited amount of them. They believe any society that bases its well-being on such limited resources is doomed, for their children die with the disappearance of the resource. Hence they value the resource with their children’s lives and place high value on it. 

And if they do burn the fossil fuel resource they remain mindful that this act will in turn transform the atmosphere. For them energy = fossil fuel plus atmosphere.

Their symbol use reflects acceptance of a wide range of change.

History shows that all societies that have confused energy with one of the forms it takes whether it be trees or fish stocks or soil or other resource dwindle and die out in miserable circumstances of famine and warfare.  Such is the probable lot of the first society, which confuses energy with fossil fuels and Bulk-generated electricity. “Energy crises” become endemic and they wage war in the name of “energy security”.

By contrast the second society remains mindful of the bounteous nature of energy and so retains awareness of the fuller solar, carbon and atmospheric potential of Earth even as they know to conserve resources that took eons to form. They may experience energy use crises on occasion and have to review the limits of their population. However overall they tend to enjoy greater meaning and harmony because the conserved the fuller potential of the “energy” symbol. That is why and how, for instance, the Chinese civilisation flourished so well down the millennia and retained much of their forests and soils.

The newly revised New Zealand Curriculum identifies five key competencies, one of them being that “successful learners make use of… cultural tools (language, symbols and texts). Surely this indicates our educators understand the power of symbols?

It would be more helpful if it read “successful learners make use of cultural tools (symbols, including language and texts).

Wiki defines language thus:

"A language is a system of visual, auditory, or tactile symbols and the rules used to manipulate them. "

Most definitions of “text” articulate it as meaningful arrangements of visual symbols such as the written word (written text) and photos, illustrations etc (non-written text).

So language and texts are really subsets of the symbol symbol. They are systems of arranging symbols and yes, the systems can be understood as a symbol but they are not the same as symbols. 

A parallel can be seen with the “energy” symbol.  We know energy is constantly transformed and is manifest in myriad forms. While energy has enormous potential each form is only one small manifestation of that potential. Similarly we can assemble a collection of symbols such as texts (words, cartoons, photos and illustrations) into something we can describe with the magazine symbol. We may even refine the description to, for instance, the sports magazine symbol or the cooking magazine symbol.

So what? How could this small confusion of symbol with text and language affect our education system?

Profoundly. It promotes a fundamentally flawed psychology which we see manifest in our completely unsustainable lifestyles in New Zealand. Some estimate it would take the equivalent of seven planet Earths to sustain the average New Zealander. In this confusion we see an enormous denial of change and stewardship.

To reiterate briefly, a symbol can come in myriad forms and these may involve any of our visual, tactile, aural, olfactory involve any one of our senses, including our classical ones of sight hearing smell taste or touch. Our response to any symbol use equally involves every one of our senses. That is because even though the symbol may be, for instance, a word, our response to it involves billions of subliminal associations with it involving all our senses. 

Mention “string beans” to me and I immediately experience a sense of pain, dizziness, darkness and alienation. Nearly sixty years ago I recall falling to the floor choking on a particularly stringy bean and still recall my father’s distant puzzled voice saying “What’s he going on about now?” I can tell any examiner that string beans are good for us and are high in fibre and Vitamin A and are fair in Vitamin Cm Niacin, Riboflavins, Phosphorus, Potassium etc. I still rarely eat them unless I can see they have been boiled to bits.

My point is that the Curriculum fails to understand the full potential of symbols.  Thus it employs key symbols including the symbol symbol in limited and exclusive ways and thus puts our children at peril. It denies the vast changes that occur at the subconscious and primal levels of our being and the fact that the image we act on in response to a particular symbol use is the product of this vast subliminal process of transformation. Hence it the NZ education system measures the effectiveness of a symbol use by what a student says rather than what a student actually does. It might award me an A pass for being able to say why eating string beans is good for me and considers irrelevant the fact I do not eat them.

In the same way it can award a doctorate in science to a student whose life lacks science on scale compared to other citizens because their lifestyle would require twenty planet Earths to sustain it.

So is the NZ Curriculum completely unsustainable?

No. All teachers are scientists to some degree and there are teachers whose lives model science to a high degree. Their lives evidence many if not all the requisites I speak of – honesty, compassion, collegiality etc though most teachers in our system will freely admit that do not have the time or are able to reflect as freely as they would wish – despite all the preaching of our education gurus to be always reflecting on our teaching. Any teacher with the requisites sustains our students with science even though the overall framework of the curriculum is a recipe for war, famine and misery.

Put it this way, it would reduce the risk for us all and make the lives of those teachers who model science immeasurably easier if the curriculum supported them rather than oppressed them. How different it would be for the teacher of a learning area such as “the Arts” to be accorded the prestige of a physics teacher and to know they are equally communicating science. 

Similarly how much more meaningful the teacher of Technology would find teaching if the learning area was based in principles of compassion, honesty and sharing i.e. any technological use is founded in ethical considerations.

Similarly the physics teacher would be more able to draw on the science inherent in every human and make greater connections between the theory of physics and our daily actions, between our internal environment and our external environment.

And as the connections between our internal and external environment are enhanced we are better able to accept our roles as stewards in this flux of change we call the universe(s).

What are key symbols referred to earlier  and what is known of the “fullest potential of these symbols”?

Key symbols are ones that we use to reflect and communicate the most vital aspects of our existence. They are symbols of such importance that if we use them in flawed or limited ways we put humanity at risk.  They vary from time to time and with cultures. They have the potential to reveal maximal meaning, express bounteous vitality and provide us with the greatest harmony. Examples are love, life, change, death, energy, power, science, atmosphere, universe(s), Earth and God.

Take the God symbol which for many expresses the maximum meaning that humans are capable of experiencing. Sages down the ages have suggested it is unhelpful to define God in terms of a particular life form e.g.

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."

The Second Commandment instructs the faithful not to make "any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

“The person who is closes to God needs no religion.”

The suggestion is we reduce our ability to reflect the fuller potential of existence and exclude possibilities when we define God with a part of creation.

Or take the energy or the power symbol. When humans confuse a life form or a commodity with energy or power they immediately destroy science and put themselves at greater risk. Some societies have treated forests as though they are as bounteous as energy. Forests are but finite manifestations of energy and their destruction results in floods, desertification, loss of biological diversity and other high-risk events. Our own civilization of 6.7billion humans is at grave risk because we have defined energy as mineral fuels and power as Bulk-generated electricity.

Are there any general rules guiding our use of symbols?

I know it sounds trite. Care for our key symbols as though they are the most precious things in our lives. Conserve their fullest potential and new visions of the world will open up for us. We will greater able to enjoy the state of hope and harmony. Our children will enjoy options we could not imagine for them.

What does following this rule mean in practical terms?

Very simply: just say what you mean. If you mean mineral coal and Gas then say “mineral coal and Gas” Then our children can know the possibility that other useful and vital manifestations of energy exist e.g. biomass gas and atmospheric gas. They are sources of energy just as a spring or a river or a lake is a source of water. 

Our children can also know that coal is not a useful source of heat without the atmosphere. To say coal = energy is to deny the vital role of air in combustion and so put the climate balances that sustain us at risk.

In other words, treasure and conserve the energy symbol by reserving our use of it to describe all the potential of the universe(s). We cannot know what that full potential is but we can know it is so bounteous it can be considered a constant and that it is subject to constant transformations. An interesting byproduct of this care is that we know hope because we are filled with a sense of possibility. And surely hope is the heritage of every child. I will provide a draft of the known potential of some of our key symbols that we use to describe how the universe works in general and Earth’s life forms in particular.

Conserving symbol potential: Link here to a list of 
sustainable uses of key symbols - including 
atmosphere carbon electricity energy energy efficiency greenhouse love power science

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Requisites for science to exist:



Collegiality openness and sharing; 


Honesty and trust; 

Time and reflection 


Science and creativity


The power of symbols


Conserving the potential of our key symbols