Today’s post was my fairly spontaneous response to this headliner in my newsfeed today, which I suspect needed to be said. It set me to thinking: There must be, and as ever I look for them, some positives to this break in the continuum of schooling “as it was”.
My first instincts are this:
The left brain is getting a much needed breather.
The exam machine is getting a long-overdue hiatus.
For too long, and pushing harder each year, the schooling machine has been whipping our kids through an examination-driven system more like the Grand National than an academy of life, geared at expelling productive economic units more so than rounded or wise individuals poised to conduct lives that contribute to the health of humanity and the planet.
My daughter is no longer school age (though, like most modern parents, I feel like I deserve a medal for having so recently escorted her through its minefields) but, rather, limping through the disarray of higher education with all the structure of her highly hands-on course blown to smithereens. And there are no longer any teachers in my family…though there used to be several… but still a weary few amongst my friends.
Their exhaustion and deep despair at the ever-increasing pressures to toe the lines of bureaucracy over actually doing what they do best…bringing out the gifts of each individual child in a rounded way; now so often sacrificed though sheer lack of the time or energy to perform such a role, plus the relentless insistence upon treating the student cohort as a unit measured by the common denominator (a characteristic often no more exotic than “they are this age; this is what they are supposed to achieve by term-end”)…was and is palpable. Perhaps (economic and logistical hardships caused by covid aside; which is not to dismiss them) they are gaining a few extra moments of space to reconsider their priorities and all the once idealised reasons they joined the profession, not least at the leadership end of the school spectrum. There is so much that is good about the modern teaching approach…but the system is so out of whack. Perhaps kids themselves are learning things about humanity and life that will serve them far better, in the long run, than class lessons in geography or maths.
Perhaps the seed of awareness that survival is not ever something to be taken for granted; that consumerism as god comes with bitter consequences; that families, community, art, literature, feelings, diversity and nature can teach us important things, are thus precious and deserve respect (every bit as much as more goal-oriented mentors or fixations); that we are each responsible for our own actions and that what we do has ramifications far and wide; that there is an “outdoors” too and that contact with it can make us feel so much healthier; that there is life beyond “what we can get” and “getting one over the competition”; that “ecology” and “virology” are much more than just textbooks terms…and a whole lot more besides…is being planted deep within the biology of our best hope for the future; our kids.
Back in those school years, my daughter and I would put the world to rights in the car journey to get her there and she, as much as I, would articulate all her frustrations at this so-obviously broken system that exists to feed statistics, not to educate individuals. We watched those teaching staff that were most inspired, like unforgettable mentors in some old-style movie, going that extra yard to bring out the best, finding the gift in even those kids who were most lacking in confidence, get chewed up and swallowed by the system. Sooner or later, unless they toughened and assimilated, they would crack under the pressure, their faces suddenly ghostly; then they would disappear without goodbyes or through the teeth-clenched smiles of some unforeseen end-of-term send-off, their job offered to others more prepared to play the game of “the system”. We would have to fight every inch of the way to be seen as individuals with variable learning styles and diverse traits thus needs, both her as pupil and me as parent. The common sense of just so many situations defeated us as these youngsters…our future…were coached in how rules, however nonsensical, were their god over inspiration or innovation. So often, we would ponder aloud how this might evolve, what might it take to crack its unbreakable momentum and let in a shaft of light. We never imagined a pandemic.
Let’s face it, things will continue to be disrupted in the schooling system for quite some time…but when they settle down, please let it be that we have all learned something far more important in the interim.