years ago, I was told in Geometry class that the shortest distance between
two points was a straight line. My immediate gut reaction was one of
scepticism: somehow that felt all wrong. Years later, I felt vindicated
when I discovered that this axiom was only valid if we were operating
on a flat surface; in fact, any airline pilot flying from London to
Vancouver knew that the fastest way of doing that trip was to fly on
a curve over the Arctic Circle.
time I was in my teens, I had already grasped that I did better in exams
when I didn’t focus on the results so much that I got too nervous
to perform properly; I also realised that I was much more successful
with girls whom I didn’t care too much about. And all this made
perfect sense to me since my life was not a flat surface and, consequently,
no linear, rational strategy was ever going to get for me what I most
wanted. For example, walking up to a teenage girl and saying to her,
"I like you; do you like me?" was a sure fire recipe for disaster.
since the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century, the general
assumption has been that the brain works like a logical, rational and
predictable machine that progresses towards set objectives in a methodical,
step-by-step fashion. This model then goes on to assume that as long
as emotions and other messy, uncontrollable things are kept at bay and
prevented from clouding issues, the brain will always deliver –
provided enough will power is deployed.
development of this mechanistic vision of the brain, from the late 1700’s
on, was a great step forward: it helped free humanity from centuries
of superstition and passive acceptance of its fate. Getting a handle
on life and having some control over the future must have been a supremely
empowering experience – for toiling intellectuals, at least –
in the year 1800.Somewhat puzzling, however, is that 200 years down
the road, our universities, schools and – more worryingly –
our teacher training colleges are still operating on the basis of this
model and ignoring scientific research on the psychological dimensions
of learning that has shown conclusively that
Theory Behind Suggestopedia
is a teaching approach built on the above – and other related
– principles. It begins by creating as safe an emotional environment
as possible, where learners are unconditionally supported and are, therefore,
unafraid of taking chances. It presents learners with quick successions
of highly stimulating and artistic activities that appeal to all the
senses, thus teaching in a multi-modal, matrix-like way. The same knowledge,
coming to learners through a variety of different channels, "mutually"
sense, Suggestopedia is the pedagogical application of the latest discoveries
in brain research. All knowledge is woven into unforgettable chains
of association and courses are designed so that students are constantly
surprising themselves with their own newly discovered capacities.
change rarely comes through blind effort or mere willpower: it can result
from failure, but it is most happily embraced when it stems from success.
The Suggestopedic teacher’s first task, then, is to devise entertaining
and informative activities that lie within a learner’s capacities
and yet are beyond what learners believe they are capable of. In this
way, a teacher can prompt students to raise their expectations of themselves
and reassess who they really are.
learning activities are managed in a very special way. Much key information
is sneaked in through "the back door" of students’ consciousness
by an extremely simple ploy: the teacher specifically designs activities
that force learners to focus their conscious attention on less important,
extraneous input at the same time as they are obliged to unconsciously
make use of essential knowledge. This "sidetracking" process
ensures that key information is directed to the long-term memory, which
soaks up peripheral perceptions, stocks them as vaporous intuitive impressions
for four days and lets them seep into consciousness like a drip feed.
This process tries to replicate real life and allow the brain to do
what it does best: decode complex patterns in order to ensure survival.
An Overview of the SEAL Liverpool Workshop
workshop I offered at the 2005 SEAL Conference in Liverpool, I attempted
to cram into 90 minutes an overview of the Suggestopedic model for teaching
and learning and present a totally new form of communication in which
learners would always know they were safe.
the Suggestopedic model was easy enough: a multi-modal game appealing
to sight, hearing and touch (through rhythmic movement) got over 40
participants to learn each others’ names in a very short time.
A text on the theoretical tenets of Suggestopedia was read to Mozart,
with the teacher’s voice following the emotional development of
the music rather than commonly accepted everyday intonation. Non-threatening
games were played where no answer given could possibly be wrong and
where every contribution made would enrich the learning process. Everything
was highly theatrical, energetic and fast moving.
second part of the workshop showed the psychological skills and sensitivity
a Suggestopedic teacher was expected to develop and consisted of two
separate, but parallel, journeys. The first was an expansion of perception,
which would enable teachers to see beyond blocks, resistances, and behaviour
peculiarities and sense needs, quests and developmental pathways in
learners. The shift hoped for in teachers was much more than just reframing;
it involved actually seeing into deeper realities. To this end, a number
of games were presented.
second vital component (of this second part of the workshop) was an
initial taste of what is now known as "languaging". In this
phase of training, teachers are forced to hear – often for the
first time – what they are actually saying when they express themselves
"normally". For example when a teacher says, "What we
are going to do is…", that teacher is disempowering the learners,
since all that the subconscious mind of the learners can really hear
is that they have no control whatsoever over the course of events and
so they might as well just "lie back and think of England".
This formulation induces passiveness, resistance, boredom and resentment.
By far preferable is the alternative proposal, "What some of you
might find particularly interesting is…" because it invites
and challenges each individual to pay close attention, if only to see
whether he or she will belong to the group that finds something particularly
interesting or not.
a few examples were given in this workshop, although the workshop leader
had a plethora of other gems – and highly recommended reformulations!
– at his disposal.
quick comment on the languaging process itself: what we are looking
at here involves no less than a major shift in culture, the invention
of new ways of interpreting reality and a mode of communication that
helps others recognise in themselves attributes they have not yet taken
cognisance of. Much everyday interaction in the competitive world we
live in is based on maintaining power over others by keeping them in
their places and making sure they do not get "too big for their
boots". Tragically, our culture has incorporated these negative
utterances so successfully that users of everyday turns of phrase can
think they are being "neutral" and fair – and even polite
– while, in fact, they are really transmitting well-packaged abuse
and lethal venom.
Origins of Words and their Impact on the Unconscious
many of us English speakers are aware that every time we use the word
"work", we are using the anglicised version of the Germanic
"werk" whose origin is pain? Or, for that matter, how many
French speakers know that "travailler" has come to us through
the particularly unpalatable Roman practice of torturing prisoners by
putting their heads in a square vice and… well, never mind.)
be judicious, at this juncture, to point out that the term "Suggestopedia"
stems from the word "suggestion", and that suggestion is information
that comes to us at a subliminal level of consciousness. Suggestion
attempts to affect our attitudes and behaviour without our fully realising
it. Its Latin origin indicates that it is knowledge carried to us at
a lower level of intensity than normal transmissions. More simply, suggestion
is data sent to the unconscious mind.
The Unconscious Mind
unconscious mind is very much the "foundation of the entire building".
A skyscraper’s ability to withstand an earthquake will not depend
on how tastefully the 98th floor has been decorated: it relies on very
solid construction under the ground, an intricate web of support that
cannot be seen. From a Suggestopedic point of view – which, of
course, focuses on making the environment safe for the unconscious mind
to discover itself and allow its reserve capacities to be activated
– most traditional teaching never gets much deeper down than the
third and final segment of the workshop dealt with telepathy. In any
open and nurturing environment, the telepathic connections between people
are countless and to pretend they do not exist is silly and even irresponsible.
In the case of teachers, a belief that what happens in class is not
largely determined by the telepathic links within the group is either
a dereliction of duty or – far worse – an admission that
all form of human life has been successfully extinguished.
physics established long ago that people are inter-dependent and that,
at every moment in time, we are – at least partially – the
ones who create the other people around in the form that they exist.
Once that disconcerting idea has been internalised, it follows quite
simply that we are responsible for whether there is receptiveness or
resistance to our message, sympathy or antagonism to our person and
intelligence or stupidity in our presence. Teachers who bulldoze their
way through programmes in a climate of passive apathy are like farmers
who flood their lands with herbicides and pesticides, killing a great
deal of organic life in exchange for short-term yields.
The Philosophic Assumptions Behind Suggestopedia:
philosophic assumptions (and like it or not there are assumptions behind
everything we do, from the military formations of rows of chairs in
a classroom to the colours of the clothes worn by teachers to the presence
or absence of arts, music and other emotional stimuli in a teaching
environment!) behind Suggestopedia are straight-forward: