When I started working with young people who required specialist education <before I started Fusion>, I was tasked with cooking nutritious meals with the students, from a 100% Organic and Biodynamic supply list. Something I truly beleive in as a good idea <based on self-science and artistic experiences of my work>.
My first challenge, apart from trying to engage them in the work, was to try and find their enthusiasm – I knew from my own adolescent sense of self-rightness, if I did not, any noble goals of feeding them nutritious food would fall down into ‘I’m not eating this s***.’
What was interesting, was at the time there was a nutritionist advising a strictly 100% wholegrain vegetarian diet, who presented a whole ream of sound evidence, that such a diet would have a positive effect on the student’s conditions.
In my mind was ‘what’s the point, if they aren’t going to eat it’. So in order to assert my beliefs in balance to these nutritional ideas, I called upon a theoretical model, that has had profound influence on my thinking, and work, for the last decade – Ken Wilber’s ‘AQAL Integral Model‘ (as well as Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics Integral).
Without wanting to spend to much time explaining the philosophy behind it, what I can say, is that the AQAL model was and is an invaluable dialectic toolset for integrating worldviews and ideologies (the foundational ontological and epistemological meaning making systems that all philosophies, views, opinions and people have) – as tools, enacted from embodied feelings, these (and other) theories are mind-tools to gain insight, par extraordinaire. They can either lock you into falso knowing, or they can shine light on areas of a given context involving ourselves, that we simply can’t see beforehand. The trick is to be able to choose the right tool for the right contextual nuance – that’s where the heart, and the art and mastery come in – as service to truth that emerges, rather than to hidden false ‘knowing.
What I was then able to express, was a valid rationale for my natural urge to want to get to know them, and just get on with it, without the constraints of restricted ingredients.
Within a fairly short space of time, I had them clocking for seconds of dahl rice and salads:)
What I can add 8 years later, is that if one wants to achieve much progress, it is necessary to approach young people without too many preconceived ideas about who they are, and what you’re trying to do.
This is I think as important, if not more so, than what one brings with personal and professional knowledge and experience. Does one view the students as less developed and needing assistance in finding society’s best path, or do we see them as people, just like us, who are looking for what motivates them, gives them self-expression, and ultimately help them towards finding meaning for themselves?
By engaging with the enthusiasm in those we wish to teach, we can progress rapidly – this takes laying aside our adult agenda’s in the moment, whilst keeping aware of the wisdom we have been lucky enough to glean from our own lives, so that we can bring it at the right time
If we try to teach from a more knowledgeable perspective, the students who need us most will recoil.
Young people have a keen sense for authenticity!
The youthful age carries both intense energy to get things done, and rebellious lethargy to anything that seems in-authentic/authoritarian. I think for teenagers especially (and arguably for all people), there is an abhorrence of ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’, which is I think healthy, but also extremely dangerous if allowed to get carried away – the need for youthful enthusiasm to be tempered by wisdom, given with humility – which seems to work best from embodied role modelling of integrity, honour, humility – which is surely the essence of what we’re trying to teach them.
A tall order perhaps, that requires more than just emotional intelligence – but it really is all there in the students, in us, and if this informs our approach, what could be a slog, becomes a fun and mysterious journey – very hard work that is truly satisfying..
Boundaries are important, respect is important, theoretical or philosophical insights are important, but most important of all in my view are integrity and humility. Without them, mutual respect, and willing progress (which is much more effective than forced) are hard to grasp. Less talk, more action.
References – these are the key books and articles that have either influenced me, or have helped me make sense of my experiences from 2 years working as a catering tutor with students of Freeman College <which is when all of the above photographs were taken>, and subsequently as founder/manager of Fusion Organic Café – whilst not all strictly relevant to this article, these are chosen from my degree readings as my top influences in thoughts on these topics (people and work).
I run workshops in healthy eating, for children, teenagers or adults. I can be contacted professionally though LinkedIn.