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laying the foundations
for sound education


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laying the foundations for sound education is part of a group of documents on general, basic education
how to teach a person number, arithmetic, mathematics laying the foundations for sound education
how to teach a child to read using phonics citizenship curriculum


Hello stone
The young child
Who or what are you?
What can you know?
Another person

Theory and reality
End notes

Learn to keep your body still, do not act impulsively.

Note: the ‘exercises’, marked in red, are to be taken for guidance and adapted to your own instincts, needs and comfort. They are not presented as instructions! To follow them as instructions, unless you are happier that way, will lose part of the point and understanding. Make up exercises that help you understand, do not just rely upon those given – unless you wish . Some ‘emotional’ blocks to learning are discussed in paranoia, prediction and prejudice.


Hello stone

I sit upon a rock allowing the pounding sea to watch me and speak to me, thus does my body learn its place in nature. But there is no place for I am one with the sea and the land. I have come from the universe, I am the universe.

As I sit on the rock I fondle an ovoid pebble. My eyes look at it and I speak to it with my hands.

I have spoken with many who have ‘meditated’ and who claim to teach ‘meditation’, I have never taken up their practices or their words. But I am often told that what I teach is close to Zen; as I don’t study Zen by courses, I cannot know. I cannot be the pebble but the pebble and I and the sea are one.

Zen is where there are no words. To attempt to teach Zen through words will in my view fail. Zen is my stone pebble. To use rituals like repeating babble called a mantra is not for me, it seems to be attractive to some others. My intent is to enable people to quiet their minds: to refuse the words, to refuse to let the words tumble around their heads. Most people tell me their heads are full of words, once mine was.

Words do not let you think, they stop you from thinking freely. If you think in words your mind will travel down pre-constructed tramlines, you will not talk to the pebbles or to the trees. You will fail to see what is.

For some, chanting babble may be a stage toward removing the babble of words; for myself I doubt it. To stop a habit, it is necessary to stop the happening and to allow the habit to die over time, while constantly ensuring that any time you feel any inclination to indulge the habit, you resist the impulse. When I was a child, I found myself knowing great numbers of unnecessary facts. I knew the scores of every cricketer in every England–Australia test match and the colour and denomination of every British postage stamp from their beginnings.

In my child mind, I decided that if I carried on in like manner that I would fill my head up with useless clutter. So I decided to forget, to stop going over such things. I learnt how not to remember; this had the side effect of adding to my intent not to listen to the endless disembodied dates and vocabularies in other languages that idiots attempted to bully into my tiny mind. In time, I used my skills in order to forget the ‘prayers’ and mantras (they called them litanies and the like) that my torturers attempted to use to pattern and control my mind. My memory remained empty and available for watching the sky and the rain on the windows. It left me free to watch what people did, and not concern myself much with what they said. After all, most of what they said had no bearing on what they did or on anything else that I could see or understand.

So you may see that I have no motive to fill my head with om mani padme hummmmm, nor any such related nonsense. Words are there for communicating with others as a means to co-operation. To attempt to ‘think’ in words does not encourage you to look out at the real world. It is the real world that has prime data. Words are but a pale shadow of the second-hand experiences of others.


 The great preponderance of what is called education in the West comprises these muddy second-hand sources, they are useful as an adjunct but they are a very poor substitute for your eyes and the sky. To run theory too far ahead of experience of the real world is as foolish as to refuse to learn from the experiences of others.

 Now, stones are friendly and interesting people, one may even watch them talking to each other. But others prefer teddy bears or a friendly spoon. Some who claim to teach ‘meditation’ incline to encouraging clients to take up strange physical positions, or to spend time breathing in various manners. Again, I have never been much impressed or attracted; but doubtless it suits some, just as some prefer teddy to my interesting and friendly stones.

It is valuable to cultivate calm in your life, and learn to ride and mitigate stress. Stress not only interferes with thinking effectively but also endangers health and happiness. Gandhi apparently said that every man owed his country a year in jail; he spent six years in such a state. To face misfortune with calm and equanimity is a common teaching of the wise.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free;
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.
          Lovelace, To Althea, From Prison, 1649

Marker at

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
         Kipling, If, 1910

If you have recurring fears of death or prison which haunt your dreams, there is a way to free yourself, imagine the worst until you are reconciled to it, realise you can cope or survive and carry on living wherever you may be.

The philosophy of Biggles

When you are flying, everything is all right or it is not all right.
If it is all right there is no need to worry.

If it is not all right one of two things will happen.
Either you will crash or you will not crash.
If you do not crash there is no need to worry.

If you do crash one of two things is certain.
Either you will be injured or you will not be injured.
If you are not injured there is no need to worry.

If you are injured one of two things is certain.
Either you will recover or you will not recover.
If you recover there is no need to worry.

If you don't recover you can't worry.

W.E. Johns, Spitfire Parade, 1941

Worry not if you are faced with problems. Do not play continuing scenarios in your head. Refuse all words in your head and go about your business, sleep when it is meet. Your head will think without your help, just as you breathe and walk without constant attention or fuss to your lungs and legs. In due course, your mind will resolve any dilemma for you. Your mind will seek, by instinct, what it needs to solve difficulties. Let your instincts guide you. The right book or conversation or flying bird will show you the answer, or where to look.

The world is far stranger than we know or understand. I don’t understand why it works, but my experience is that it does work—if you let it; if you trust it. But this is still not enough, you must review what you find, you must analyse, you must learn. If you are to seriously advance, you must not trust blindly. To trust blindly is a good way to walk off a precipice. You must balance between too much concern and unconscious, blind unconcern. Balance is at the heart of wisdom.

All extremes are foolish.

I was told as a child, “I bet you can’t stop thinking of a tree for the next minute”; I found that I could. Practice this for yourself. To teach a child never to become trapped by words, the child must have room to be quiet. The child must learn to look. It is harder to learn a quiet mind once you have been conditioned to imagine that thinking is just responding to strings of words with more strings of words, with no habit of silence between. Much schooling is such mindless word-reaction. (see feedback and crowding, especially consciousness, part 2).return to the index


The young child

Teach the child to attend to reality. Children and adults—there is no real difference, the separation is false. (See franchise by examination) Reality is what can be seen, heard, touched etc; from Aristotle, the wise have known that knowledge is first in the senses, it is not first in books. To train a person to reality, therefore, it is important to train their senses. Some French schools wisely teach the young to appreciate perfumes and wines and food; unsurprisingly it is far harder to sell poor quality food in France. It is foolish to wait until a child is 5 or 6 years old and hope that school will then teach them. The most basic learning is the earliest learning.

This can be taken further by reference to the first three pages of how to teach a person number, arithmetic, mathematics: introduction, addition, and subtraction.

It is important that this early learning is sound. I would never introduce a young child to any fictions, without making very clear to the child that it was a game and checking to make sure the child understood the difference between fiction and reality. That means that I would never teach a child that Father Christmas is a real entity who was likely to intrude on their bedroom, down a chimney! If you teach the young falsehoods about the world, how will you expect them to think clearly? If you teach them falsehoods in among facts, as if there is no difference, how do you imagine they will not be confused? It has been known clearly since at least 1930 [1] that ‘fairy tales’ form a part of most children’s fears. Yet the casual foolishness continues; even Plato suggested not teaching fictions.

The earlier the senses are trained, the more intelligence will develop. It is not too early to give the newborn access to a variety of smells and tastes. Include visual and sound experiences widely, experiences of movement and of tactile materials. In fact, there is no reason not too keep the sound system higher during later pregnancy, to move in a variety of ways, or even shine light at the area of the womb wall and to move around the lights. I am not suggesting the one month old is to be bombarded with sensation to the point of exhaustion, a few minutes a couple of times a day is my inclination. Though ‘mobiles’ and coloured blocks [2] can make the environment more interesting for even the youngest child, for these things allow the child to look or not as they will.

Touch the child’s tongue with salt and vinegar and sugar and lemon (don’t forget hygiene). A range of basic perfumes is easy to obtain. Move objects past the child’s vision while watching their eye movement, slowing down if they cannot keep up. Vary the type of music and the loudness (remember not to damage their ears (see hearing damage and loud music). Use a range of colour, but be aware that they will be most sensitive to basic colours at first (see orange is tertiary: the theory of colour).

Remember, people also need time to be quiet, to think, to absorb their experiences, and to sleep! Do not trap the child in some small confined space, vary the child’s position, lay it on its front on the (reasonably warm) floor, sometimes put your hand behind its feet to give it something to push against. Don’t overtire the thing, and don’t let its head swing around while you carry it when it is very young. Baby-proof the area. Blank off electric plugs if you don’t want fried baby. They will be able to reach far more than you expect! They do not know not to eat the soap powder or suck the fly killer. They do not know things fall on you if you push against them, nor that fires burn, nor that shoes on the visiting neighbour can crush their fingers. They do not know they can drown in a small puddle of water, or fall from a table. They do not understand that the pet dog may have instincts to attack them if they fall [3]. Big sister does not know that stuffing cake down little bro’s throat is not merely an expression of helpful affection. Be alert, your children need lerts! This is no ‘complete’ list, baby will always find something you have missed, they are good at that.

While very young, the child will be driven by curiosity to poke and pry and bang and eat anything and everything it can reach. On its own, it can get easily bored and you will be regarded as a prime entertainment centre; this can easily start to run you ragged. You will need patience and know when to take time off for yourself. You must learn to curb impulsiveness, while not flattening curiosity. A second edition is a good, if expensive, way of keeping it occupied. Be aware that bringing up a child for 15 or 20 years is a very expensive undertaking or investment. But after all, who else is going to push your wheelchair or pay for a nurse to do it for you?

Raising children to the modern world does not come ready-made in your instincts; neither in much of the present society is the experience of earlier generations with large families usually available. You must study and learn if you are to be effective. Your local school should become a centre for teaching such skills. Someone should be organising such activities, perhaps you. Remember to get experienced older generations involved, they may be out of date regarding current psychological studies, but they often have practical experience and skills which newly qualified parents and teachers lack. Learn from each other. Dogmatism and set ways will help no-one.return to the index


Who or what are you?

Returning to sitting on my rock, talking to my pebble. The pebble weighs about a pound, that’s half a kilogram to you moderns. It is silky and solid with some texture from its past adventures, it is coloured and cool. I can heft it and turn it in my hands and watch it. I can remain silent and hear it calling to me down the ages. From matter such as this comes life, and in due course the stones re-absorb life as molecules and as fossil. I can lightly tap the stone against a neighbour and watch the ‘two’ converse. I can imagine my neighbour, Galileo dropping a couple of the stone’s friends from the stone tower of Pisa; and remember another neighbour, Newton who thought on how stones and planets move about their business.

Above all, one must be silent to speak with stones. The stones are the real world.

What is this object, which sits upon a rock talking silently to stones? This object finds some position in reality by watching the stones and looking at the stars. Let me look down and see the hands that caress and speak to the stone. Those moving hands are me. If you would find reality, look at the stones and the hands and listen to who you are. Sit by the trees and smell the leaves, pick up the mud and watch it move. The child will even eat the mud and build sand castles.

To relate to reality, look upon your real body and get acquainted with who you are. Pick up your stone or teddy and move it through the world while watching how it moves. Watch your hands and feel the leaf rustling and talking to your hands. By constant reference to the real world ‘outside’ your body, you will get less distracted to the tumbling words and models implanted in your head. The young child has contact with the world; poor teaching detaches the child from that reality until they become lost in fictions and false consciousness. Teach the child to use and to listen to its own senses. And regain your own sense of reality by returning to what is so (see also consciousness, part 2 in feedback and crowding). Any time you find your centre slipping, pick up your teddy and understand the child.

Whenever you cannot understand what another says to you, pick up your silver coin and ask them to explain with reference to the coin. If interactions are concerned, simply pick up two coins and ask what the relatedness is in terms of objects outside your bodies.

Learn to speak silently to the child, and teach them to speak silently to you. This is fun, this is quiet. Your finger to your lips and point at stone or bird. Point your eyes. Teach the child to point at what your eyes point at. Teach them to put a hand quietly upon you, do not intrude, await response, then point. Teach them to point with eyes or turn of head. Walk quietly upon the earth, watch where your feet tread. Then shout, or else do not. Teach the child to stand and await response. Show the young how to look with their eyes, without a need to touch.return to the index

What can you know?

My eyes are positioned differently in space/time than yours; light rays take a finite time to travel. I can never see what you see, nor see it just when it is seen by you. I can show you to what I refer by showing you my spoon, and by moving the spoon around and by filling it with sugar. A young child also can watch your acts and more easily see your acts than understand the intent of your words.

As no person will ever occupy the ‘same’ space at the ‘same’ time that space is occupied by you, it is quite clear they will never see or hear just what it is that you see and hear. Each person gains a different internal meaning to every word. Each time a word is used, it is used anew: it is used to refer to other changing ‘things’. No person can ever understand just what it is you mean by any word right now and, likewise, you cannot be sure of the meanings of others. For sanity, you must be patient and cautious with others, and with yourself.

But the child can see what is shown, for it is before the child’s eyes (see also time 2 in Metalogic B: decision processes). Another person may ‘interpret’ and relate to the ‘thing’ differently from you, but it is reasonable to assume that they can see or feel the object [4]. The child is not you, it must learn its own road, it must learn to find for itself who it is; you cannot sensibly, or legitimately, do that for another. All you may do is teach useful skills, and ask the child which skills it needs to learn.

Some skills are so basic that they are necessary in a complex civilisation: skills such a communicating through language, and learning how to negotiate and to co-operate (see relationship training in recommended reading). The more quickly a child learns to explore and research, the quicker can they tell you what they need to learn. It is important to teach a child to use dictionaries and encyclopedias, libraries and the web; to enable people to meet and talk with specialists whom have the understanding and information required. Teach people how to set about testing reality in order to discover more information. This has the added advantage that the other becomes increasingly self-directed. It leaves you avaialable to do the correct job of a guide: that is, to show the newcomer how to pilot their own craft.

Whenever something is not quickly grasped, look to feedback, repetition, going away and doing something else for a while. Remember, the brain needs time to absorb and adapt to new material. Remember, the mind will think all on its lonesome, without you having to constantly batter it. The brain will think as naturally as the lungs will breathe and the stomach will digest a meal. You do not frantically pummel the stomach to get it to work; the brain is not somehow different. Learn to be quiet and let the brain digest its food. Pick up your stone and take it for a walk and watch the wind and flowers. Trust your mind and trust the minds of others. Trust the world to work out and make friends with you, if you cooperate and make friends with it.return to the index

Another person

Place one hand against the other: Try to put one hand where the other hand is. Try to put both hands in the same place at the same time; naturally that is not possible. Pick up your stone, put the stone concurrently where your hand is; again it cannot be done.

Look at your neighbour, look at their face, look at their eyes. That person is not you, that person is a real-world ‘object’,[5] just as you are. They have a different life, they have different experiences and you have no way of knowing what they are thinking. They may tell you what they are thinking and you may have some notion of what they mean, assuming they are truth telling. While you are looking at them, remind yourself that they are seeing you. To you, they are ‘another person’; while to them, you are the other person! Be silent and reflect; reflect is another word for allowing your brain to think with a silent quietude.

You may look at your neighbour or partner in learning, and consider:
     Are you two separate people … or are you all part of the room or the park or the planet?

Learn to think of yourself as a separate object, and as part of all that is—as some say, ‘the universe’. It is important that you can think in both modes and that you learn to switch fluently between the modes. Learn to think without confusing ‘these’ modes and without believing that the modes are fixed or settled.

Consider that the world is as it is. The way you think about the world does not change the world, though of course the way in which you think about the world may well change your actions; those actions can change the world, as when you pick a flower or drink a beer.

Never intrude upon another person, without care and without watching the way they are behaving or reacting. Do not interrupt them noisily if you wish to speak to them, wait until they signal that they are ready—if they do.[6]

If you have a friend who is willing to work with you, and you are happy to work with them, press your hand against theirs and allow them to press their hand against yours. Each of you try to push your hand into the position where the other’s hand is, not as a competition, but just forcefully in order to convince yourselves that it cannot be done.

No ‘two’ objects can occupy the same space at the same time

All people are different; you have just proved that to yourselves; do it as often as you need in order to convince yourselves. Remember, the point is to teach your body the reality, not just to teach your mind to mouth a cliché such as “we are all different”. The point is to know that; and allow that knowledge to become part of you. Then go out and look at the stars and realise you are also an integral ‘part’ of that also. You are not alone, you are not ‘swallowed up’; you are both and you can move your awareness from state to state.

Always be calm and cautious, move quietly and smoothly. Out there, outside your body, outside who you are; there are other people. Watch them quietly, speak with them and ask them what they see and what they want. Compare their experiences with your own and come to realise they are different people from yourself. What they want and what they hear is not what you want and hear. Learn to negotiate with others, not seek to force or to bully them. Because you like running marathons and drinking milk, does not mean others will like it if only they will try it!

Your body is a rather large object; do not throw it around like an unguided missile! As your ancestors would irritatingly put it, “look before you leap”.[7] Look down at your body and watch it moving, see if you can move through a confined space without brushing things. Set up an obstacle course to test your skills. Expect people to move cautiously around you, it is your body. Learn to use it well and to protect it; spares are in short supply.

Theory and reality

Theory is crude encapsulation of what humans have learnt from past experience, theory is not set in stone certainty, nor some wholly reliable modern spell. All theory is just waiting to break down around the next corner. Reality is the arbiter of sanity, not theory.

However, we have ever increasing funds of useful methods and data. To ignore this is as foolish as relying on written and spoken data without thought or regular checking. What can go wrong will go wrong, you will know it is reality when it leaps up and surprises you.

To learn effectively, shift back and forth between practice and theory. There is little more sad than a person with a degree in electronics who cannot wire a fuse box, or a person with a degree in bio-sciences who cannot do soil samples, or a person with a degree in glass sciences who cannot cut glass. It surprises me that a good number of such people cannot even tidy up a cupboard. Results like these come from feeding theory through words in classrooms, while not encouraging or enabling practical experience and skills.

People subject to a diet of sterile detached theory are often lacking in the simplest of social skills, finding it difficult to communicate with others or to build satisfactory relationships, and this despite more than 15 years of supposed education. Such people can end up entirely ‘in their heads’, hardly noticing the trees and the life in the hedgerows. Likewise, there are very large numbers of people, with more than adequate intelligence, who have learnt everything the hard way without any serious book learning.

Both groups are severely handicapped from meeting potential and developing effectively. It is essential to keep a balance and not to let theory run ahead of practice, nor let others get left behind theoretically because of some fear or block in their understanding. Each person must be individually monitored and guided to effective self-learning.

In Zen, a story is told of the civil servant who goes to the teacher asking to be shown enlightenment. The teacher gives the seeker a broom and tells them to sweep the yard for a year. A year later, the civil servant approaches the teacher again; “I still don’t get it, just how do I gain enlightenment?”, again the teacher says; “go and sweep the yard for another year”. That is the fate of those who only know theory. It is not a joke or a cruelty; it is the necessary process of re-introducing the individual to the real world.

Correctly understood, Zen is deeply practical: it is about the real world. So is Western science, the mode of empiricism; what works is what grows. Neither are based in isolated or ‘abstract’ theory, they are soundly based in experiences of reality. There is a half-serious, common story of the economics professor’s comment on the work of a student. “Ah yes, it may work in practice, but does it work in theory?”

Meanwhile, over the road, the person without theory may have lashings of experience and common sense but they are heavily constrained by the need to constantly re-invent the wheel. Neither theory nor practice is enough for a full education for the modern world. Sound education must proceed by constant interaction of them both. [8]

(There is much else that is relevant on my site, which is in greater theoretical detail.)

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End notes

  1. See, for instance, Florence Goodenough (reference not to hand).
  2. The child is more responsive to bright and primary colours at first (see orange is tertiary: the theory of colour), and the brain forms rows of cells to match edges. Therefore blocks with well-defined edges are advised at first, shapes such as squares, triangles and circles.
  3. More children are savaged by friendly family Labradors than are attacked by pit bulls.
  4. I do not intend to use constant qualification to allow for those who are sense impaired, but trust your own common sense to make any necessary adjustment.
  5. If you are involved in teaching this, it would be sensible to have at least read through Why Aristotelian logic does not work.
  6. When dealing with people who are emotionally confused with one another, it is useful that they sit at opposite ends of a table.(There is no need for them to face one another, let them sit as they will.) The intention is for them to be calm and reasonably still.
    Stage 1: Give them silent time to let their emotions subside (preferably, they will tell you when they are ready).
    Stage 2: Remember, you are there only as an observer and, perhaps, a helper. It is not necessary, or even entirely possible, that you will understand the meanings of what they say to one another. It it they that must discuss the means of negotiatng a workable settlement.
    The only rules are that they do not move from their place, and that they listen to what the other says – however idiotic they may think what the other is saying. For wider reading, see relationship training in recommended reading.
  7. Such sayings were common in folk wisdom until recently. They are called ‘proverbs’ and were constantly repeated to children as part of basic instruction. Now they are often regarded as irritating clichés, but sometimes ‘baby goes out with bathwater’ and the pedagogic content gets mislaid.
  8. A considerable associated problem is working through dull pre-set exercises, instead of allowing the student to decide upon their own interests and, thereby, to select the skills which meet their own ambitions and drives. There is little so foolish than the “let’s be creative with squeegy bottles and egg boxes” school of education—“oh that’s nice Johnny, take it home for mummy to drop in the bin”.

    That is a perfect way to teach the young that anything will do, their work is just to keep them distracted with mindless tasks and out of the way of adults, only to be thrown in the bin at the soonest opportunity. Such is hardly likely to give the young a sense of discrimination, or to encourage them to value their efforts. It is important that schools look to integrating with wider society and the home, rather than operating as a prison for the young and as a baby-sitting service.

    School is a part of the workplace of the young. It should be treated as such; motivation should come from the interests of the child, beyond the necessities of learning social and communication skills. Learning should not be primarily driven by external preconceptions. There will be plenty of variety in ambition; it only needs encouragement and facilitation by older members of society. Nor should schools tolerate the slightest bullying or disruption by the disturbed, any more than such behaviour would be acceptable in an adult company work place.
For further reading:  
‘cocksure young men’    

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