Roger Dickinson


Are we searching for Silver Bullets or Having Tea?

Posted by Roger Dickinson on 13 July 2023, 08:45 SAST
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I often hear (and use) the phrase: "Well its not a silver bullet". This is often said in reference to a quick fix or easy pathway for some complex or difficult problem. In particular I hear it used in regard to the education system in which I spend most of my time. The unspoken belief however, is that there actually is a silver bullet to be found. And once we find it all our problems will go away.

I wonder now if the metaphor actually gives us more clues to our problem, and a way forward, than we may think?

Of Silver Bullets and Werewolves

The term "silver bullet" is often used metaphorically to refer to a simple,

straightforward solution that can effectively and quickly solve a complex problem. The phrase originates from the folkloric belief that a silver bullet is the only weapon capable of killing a werewolf, a creature of folklore and myth. The idea is that just as a single silver bullet can eliminate a werewolf, a silver bullet solution can provide an effective and definitive resolution to a difficult problem.

In a broader sense, a silver bullet is a metaphor for any solution that is perceived as powerful, efficient, and capable of solving a problem in one stroke, without the need for further actions or interventions.

The key words for me here are 'werewolf', 'bullet' and 'kill'.

A werewolf is a mythical creature often depicted in folklore and popular culture as a human who can transform into a wolf or a hybrid creature that combines human and wolf characteristics. They are commonly depicted as dangerous and ferocious creatures, capable of attacking and killing humans or other animals.

The transformation into a werewolf is said to occur during a full moon, with the individual undergoing a physical metamorphosis into a wolf-like creature. This transformation is often accompanied by increased strength, heightened senses, and uncontrollable bloodlust. The person-werewolf has no control over this situation.

The first question then is that given all that, are education systems 'werewolves"? Primal, uncontrollable systems that are out to destroy our children? Maybe they are?

Some would point to our public education systems across the world are outdated and increasingly ineffective in producing employable young people for our modern economies. In South Africa, as an example, after 12 years of schooling, tens of thousands are left out of the mainstream education and employment systems, resulting in currently a little over 3.5 million (34.3% of all youth) not being in education, employment or training (NEET) (Statistics South Africa, 2022)

In addition the much publicised recent PIRLS report showed that 80% of the Grade 4s in South Africa could not read for understanding.

Efforts to change this over the last, close to 30 years, have been myriad, costly and dramatic. And yet the real outcomes continue to range from average to disappointing to tragic.

Maybe this is an uncontrollable beast that only deserves to be shot and killed.

And that's what bullets, silver or otherwise do - they kill!

But what if we changed the guiding metaphor or myth to something else?

Inviting Mara to Tea

In Buddist mythology, the Budda is attacked by Mara, the god of Shadows. Although he overcomes Mara and reaches enlightenment, Mara would often appear bringing doubts, distractions and difficulties.

Instead of resisting or ignoring the threat, the Budda’s reaction to Mara always remained this warm, compassionate awareness. “Hello Mara, I see you there. Let’s have tea.”

The idea of inviting Mara to tea can be interpreted metaphorically as a way to acknowledge and face one's inner obstacles or challenges. It represents an act of mindfulness and acceptance. This is useful both at a personal and corporate level.

I think the Mara metaphor works better than shooting werewolves for the following reasons:

Firstly, tea is cheaper than silver bullets!

Secondly, we need to accept that the challenges we have in education are lifelong problems to try to solve. The challenges with public education across the world are complex, generational, highly contextual and political. We simply will not find a quick win solution that takes away all our problems, gives us a world class education system and leaves us to live happily ever after. That silver bullet does not exist.

Accepting this will do away with crisis meetings, political grandstanding, finger pointing and useless summits. Well, we hope so anyway!

Thirdly, relationships are the road. We only solve these kind of challenges together in constructive, time consuming relationships. This road is created only as it is walked.

The best relationship-building usually also involves eating and drinking together.

With regard to building these kind of relationships, “collaboration” has been the go-to cliché for the last few years.

Having been involved in, and initiated, a number of collaboration efforts over the last 10 years, I realise that they are more art than science and what takes months and years to build can be destroyed by one remark or slight!

I've also seen their incredible, transformative power when they work!

So what to do?

Maybe we should all be saying: "I see you there. Let’s have tea.”

education, literacy, mara, neet, pirls, reading, silver bullet, werewolf

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