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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

Cultivating Social Change Through Education: DAY 80

Yesterday while I was at the tire shop waiting to get the tires of my car changed, I came across an article in Science Daily about children’s innate mathematical sense. As odd a place to gain profound insight into human nature as the tire shop was, this article sparked within me a curious questioning towards the basic elements of education that we take for granted. Later in the day a friend shared an article with me on social change by Michael Johnson, an editor with Grassroots Economic Organizing from Truth-Out, an online magazine that focuses on exposing the injustice and lies of the current world system.

I am here going to discuss these two articles that at first glance may appear as though they are in no way related and I am going to show how they have to with the same core issues: Education and Social Change.

Now – the article titled The unexpected power of baby math: Adults still think about numbers like kids about children’s innate mathematical sense is based on a study by Dror Dotan, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University‘s School of Education and Sagol School of Neuroscience and Prof. Stanislas Dehaene of the Collège de France, a leader in the field of numerical cognition. What these researchers found in their study was that children innately look at numbers logarithmically. What this means is that for a small child there is a much bigger ‘distance’ between the numbers 1 and 2 than there is between 101 and 102. Why? Because 2 is twice as much as 1. And as such they progressively see numbers becoming closer and closer, viewing them in their percentage in relation to each other. What the scientists then also found was that as adults we actually preserve some of this innate mathematical sense, but it lessens the older we get because the math we are taught in school is based on a linear understanding of numbers.

“”We were surprised when we saw that people never completely stop thinking about numbers as they did when they were children,” said Dotan. “The innate human number sense has an impact, even on thinking about double-digit numbers.” The findings, a significant step forward in understanding how people process numbers, could contribute to the development of methods to more effectively educate or treat children with learning disabilities and people with brain injuries.” (Source:

The reason why I am bringing this study up is not to discuss which of the two methods are more valid, but to show that 1) even when children are systematically inculcated into a certain system of thought, they as adults actually do not loose their innate sense of for example math and 2) if we accept the premise that there is a validity in a logarithmic view of numbers, the education system is doing children a great disservice by teaching them to integrate a linear approach to numbers. This could for example explain (in part) why some children struggle with math because the way math is being taught linearly does not depart from the child’s innate sense of mathematics, but instead enforces a counter-intuitive conceptualization.

So what does a study on children’s innate sense of mathematics have to do with social change? I will get to that in a moment.

In his article Social Change: We Are the Problem We Are Seeking to Solve Michael Johnson discusses the incongruity between social change theories and actual social change. He takes an interesting point of departure in looking at social change as being either nurtured or prohibited by the culture created by human beings.

Think of society as a garden, full of a rich diversity of productive plants in beneficial relationships with each other. Think of culture as the soil they are embedded in, from which they draw essential nutrients, and to which they contribute their own stuff for its enrichment. Social change movements, at their best, want to fix a world dominated by exploitive relationships. Most social change theory, in my opinion, is aimed at fixing particular systems, practices, toolkits, etc. Theory that works from the ground up focuses on the soil itself, since this is what creates and sustains the dominant relationships. After all, culture shapes the very ways we see, hear, feel, taste, smell, breathe and think in the most mundane and transcendent ways we live our lives. That is, how we experience. In social life, everything flows from that.” (Source:

Johnson highlights several examples of how ideas and initiatives of social change have not been possible to implement into practical reality. The most prominent examples are from Argentinian factories where the workers had taken over the factories with the purpose of implementing a new democratic and unified way of managing the business, but where eventually all the same forms of ‘alienation’ resurfaced even though the hierarchical power structure was gone. Ultimately Johnson says, it comes down to ‘deep culture’.

“…what we are dealing with here is a conflict of deep culture. Deep culture involves the basic assumptions about life that we receive from the culture that has raised us. It is embedded in us. It is the ground of our biocultural being. These Argentine workers were attempting a radical transformation of their lives and the world around them, and they hit a wall. That wall wasn’t “out there,” but inside themselves. They had run full force into their own passivity, the very passivity that had been an integral part of the hierarchic system they were working to transform. They had come square against the fact that they were the problem as much as the oppressive owners were.” (Source:

What can be seen through this example is that social change cannot happen through simply changing the structures and systems within which we as human beings are culturally embedded. Why is that? For some this might add fuel to the fire of the argument that it is because human nature cannot change and that we will always be creatures of greed and self-interest. But there is another way of looking at it, a way so subtle and so obvious that it is seldom described in textbooks on social change. The reason why we cannot simply remove the structures and systems that we see are detrimental to social change and expect change to happen over night, is because these structures and systems are created by us as human beings in accordance with our cultivated human nature. What this means is that the structures and systems are coming from within us and not (at least in this context) from for example observing nature and how it operates. When we create hierarchical structures where some workers are considered less valuable than others and therefore earn less, it is because that is how we have come to think and see each other as human beings in this world. This is why hierarchies and inequality re-emerges, even when the formal structure of hierarchy is removed from for example a business structure. And here we are not only talking about traits of human nature, like greed or inequality that are directly taught to us in our life time from parents and schools. We are talking about centuries of cultivation causing these traits to become embedded into our ‘biocultural’ nature, as Johnson put it. Human traits such as greed, self-interest and inequality are embedded into every aspect of human life, from our inner thought-processes to how we structure our physical environments. As such, it is not possible to simply remove one part of the equation and expect the rest to naturally change as well. Cultivating ourselves as human beings into what it is we exist as today has been a long process and changing that therefore obviously is going to take time and diligence. One of the most effective and imperative ways of eliciting social change is through Education.

This brings us back to the study on children’s innate sense of mathematics:

Even when children in the school system are systematically taught to think linearly when it comes to numbers, they retain a logarithmic sense of numbers as adults. Most small children also have an innate sense of social justice, of equality and compassion towards other life forms. Like with math, these senses are systematically corrupted as the children enter into the process of socialization and cultivation, the process where they become part of society. This happens on all levels of a child’s life, from observing parents to negotiating with other children to the formal schooling system and the media. However – as children grow up they do in fact preserve at least part of their innate sense of social justice, compassion and equality, some obviously more than others. But as was evident from the example with the Argentinian workers, it unfortunately is not as easy as flipping a switch and then the sense of social justice, compassion and equality will override any and all self-interest and greed on a practical level.

Human nature has been nurtured into the way that it currently exists by a process of cultivation and this means is that a process of re-cultivation through education must be implemented into our society for social change to become plausible. We cannot simply for example take money out of the equation of the current world system and then expect that everyone will return to a peaceful way of bartering. We have to change the parts and aspects of ourselves that we have come to take for granted as our ‘nature’ through which we are creating these systems of inequality and injustice in the first place. The good news is that most children have the potential to develop effective social skills, a sense of justice and compassion. These simply have to be nurtured and cultivated. The bad news is that we are not already doing it and that the people who are supposed to teach children how to live effectively in this world, themselves are a result of a corrupted culture. As Johnson says, we are the problem we are trying to solve. As such, we cannot simply ‘think out of the box’ because we are the very box.

So if we, based on this understanding are to formulate a recipe for social change it looks something like this:

The first step is that we as adults must nurture and cultivate our innate sense of social justice, compassion and equality through a process of deliberate self-education. To do that we have to come to grips with and disclose all the ways we have been educated and cultivated into greed and self-interest on an individual as well as a communal level.

This is important because we have come to take the culture of greed and self-interest for granted, even when we think and believe that this is something that exists outside of ourselves ‘in the system’ and that we as individuals are not actively participating in. To deconstruct such cultures and ways of thinking we thus have to educate ourselves on how we each have a responsibility and a part in making the world the way that it is. We also have to educate ourselves on how the system is influencing us to think and behave in certain ways, because without such an understanding we cannot change the way we think and behave on a practical level.

The second step is to change the very fabric of our societies, the culture and systems within which we live and within this also our educational systems where we teach and inoculate children. As we as adults change ourselves to embody compassion, social justice and equality as core principles of a new culture, through which we live our lives, we can begin to discontinue the forms of education that elicits greed and self-interest and to instead nurture children’s innate sense of compassion, social justice and equality.

Where the word nature refers to a biophysical entity that exists innately, the word culture refers to a deliberate process of forming and shaping nature with a specific purpose and with specific methods and tools. As such, we cannot blame our nature as human beings for the way we currently exist on earth, for how destructive we have become, for our greed and self-interest. Because nature in its essential structure functions based on principles of equality and sustainability with all parts of the eco-system supporting the whole to thrive. As such it becomes clear that is through the way we have cultivated our nature as human beings that we have become the way we are now. What this means is that we can change and that we have the tools to change how we live together on this planet. When a farmer’s crops die or when the harvest is unsuccessful, the farmer looks to his methods of cultivating the soil to see where the mistake happened. Perhaps he watered too much or too little, perhaps the mineral composition in the soil required different nutrients to support the plants to grow. This is the way we should think about social change, understanding that because we are the problem, we have a responsibility to become the solution.

For those ready to get involved and get moving I suggest investigating the Equal Life Foundation’s proposal of a Guaranteed Living Income System. This proposal suggests a groundbreaking change in political paradigms that doesn’t ‘take sides’ but instead presents a completely new approach to solving the problems we are currently facing in this world.

Educate yourself here:

The Ultimate History Lesson:


Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century

The Story of Your Enslavement

On Advertisement and the end of the world:

Third World America – Chris Hedges


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