Who owns the space between our ears?

History is filled with examples of people who simply walk into other people’s spaces and presumptuously claim ownership. Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and other colonial powers once traveled the world claiming ownership of the lands they “discovered”, lands that already belonged to other people. More recently, on 25 September 1954 in fact, a Chilean lawyer named Jenaro Gajardo Vera declared himself owner of the Moon. He even succeeded in having his claim legally acknowledged by the Chilean authorities. In 1955, astronomer and former chairman of the Hayden Planetarium, Robert R. Coles, announced that the moon was his, formed the Interplanetary Development Corporation, and proceeded to sell thousands of moon acres to the American public for one dollar per acre.

In 2010, a 49 year old Spanish woman, Angeles Duran, succeeded in obtaining documentation from a notary office that “proves she is the legal owner of the sun”. Apparently she has plans to tax everyone who uses it. (Personally I’m very pleased about this. Living in sunny Australia, next time I get sunburn I’ll have someone to sue!)

Given humans’ penchant for claiming ownership of stuff that clearly isn’t theirs to claim, what about that space between your ears? Who owns that? I suppose that you think it’s you? Well, that’s what indigenous Australians thought about their living space as they watched Captain (actually a Lieutenant at the time) James Cook stroll up the beach at Botany Bay on April 29, 1770 and stick a British Red Ensign flag into the sand!

Lieutenant Cook claims Australia for England despite the protests of the locals!
(Picture in the Public Domain)

The truth is that much of what goes into that space between our ears is decided, not by you, not by me, but by others who feel they have the right to claim at least part ownership of our brain space. Parents and teachers, in particular, make such intrusions into the minds of the children in their care. Now don’t misunderstand me here. I am not saying that this is wrong. Obviously children need adult input to shape their knowledge and thinking appropriately. No one wants Lord of the Flies! To coexist successfully as a community, individuals must have some degree of like-mindedness. The question is though, how much like-mindedness? Also, who decides what knowledge and skills are to be prescribed? Just how readily should we yield to others occupancy of a portion of our brain space?

Teachers have a critical role in deciding what will go into the space between the ears of our young people. Educators who say that this is not so, that it is the National Curriculum that determines this, that teachers are merely the ones delivering it, are basically using a Nuremberg Defense. They are ignoring the fact that teachers are the ones who are looking directly into the eyes of children. We are the ones who know those children – personally. Should we passively allow politicians, driven by business and academics, to march into children’s minds and plant their flag? Again, don’t misunderstand me. I have already stated that living in a society requires some degree of consensus about what we need to know and what skills are essential to function. How would a child fare who was unable to read and write? My point is not that the National Curriculum is of itself some sort of evil political conspiracy. What I am saying is that teachers should think of themselves more as gatekeepers regarding what children are expected to learn. Don’t teach something just because it is included in the National Curriculum.

Politicians do not trust educators. Educators though should trust themselves. They should deeply respect their students. The vast majority of us do just that! Most of all, unlike Captain Cook when he marched up the beach intent on planting the flag, when we enter that space between our student’s ears, we should do so highly conscious that we are standing in a sacred place.


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