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I have ONE question.
WHY is education political? Why is our education infrastructure devised by politicians, and not by teachers and educators? Why is a whole movement of skilled and dedicated professionals being dictated to by a bunch of LITERALLY clueless no-hopers??
OK, that was more than one question, I know. My maths is dodgy. Probably due to funding cuts when I was at school…
The news has been overwhelmed with stories about funding crises in schools – one local school’s head has written a letter to all the parents, informing them that the money to educate their children simply isn’t there, and that a 4-day week might have to be considered.
I’m not political. I can’t even vote, despite having lived here most of my life; despite paying taxes, bringing up my children here and working in the education sector for over 20 years. However, I don’t think you have to be well-versed in politics or ANY ‘ism’ to understand that EDUCATION underpins society.
The biggest enemy to civilisation is ignorance. That is surely evident.
Although in the big scheme of things, the human race has only existed for a mere moment, we have made some progress. Medicines have been discovered, technology allows us to achieve production on a mass scale, global travel is now possible, communication is instant…but these advancements are only as valuable as the intellect of the species that controls them. Without education, you might as well give the Hadron Collider to a chicken.
I believe we are in danger of that right now. Technology has made us lazy, as a species. Obviously I’m referring to people who live in developed, wealthy countries – people who have cars, computers, mobiles, fridge/freezers and wide-screen TVs. So many of us have lost basic skills. Millions and millions of people can’t cook, make a fire, sew, knit, grow food, build a house… Why bother learn these skills, when there’s a machine or an underpaid labourer to do it for you?
If there was a sustained power cut, over a period of months say, we’d soon realise how much learning we have lost. How would we keep our food from spoiling? How would we contact each other? How would we keep warm and dry? Wash our bodies/ clothes?
Life would swiftly become pretty apocalyptic.
The only thing standing between us and a catastrophic, regressive devolution is education – knowledge.
It’s heart-breaking that some of the major developments – achieved by years of hard work, tears, sacrifice and lost lives – are now being used for the most banal, embarrassingly pointless purposes. We have mobile phones that are many times more powerful than the computer that sent Armstrong to the moon, but vindictive humans with no personalities, huge inferiority complexes and vapid holes where their consciences should be, are using these miracles to send hurtful messages, viral videos and snapchat pictures of themselves as unicorns.
It’s pathetic and desperate. Have we lost our way? Our purpose?
So many of us don’t have the historical understanding to put our current lives in perspective.
I loved studying history at school, and I still study it. I believe that one must know what has gone before to truly have an insight into the NOW. Viewing history as a fusty, dusty obsolete subject is a huge mistake. It is so arrogant to believe that anything has changed much. Human nature never really progresses very far.
Our current situation is proof of that. We may gasp and shake our heads at gruesome medieval instruments of torture, sneer at the Flat Earth hypotheses, laugh smugly at antiquated superstitions and sugar toothpaste (which really was a thing!), but if we’re so clever and advanced, if we have so much technology at our disposal, why are there people still starving and suffering, countries warring, natural resources being exhausted and exploited, people dying pointless deaths?
Nothing changes. There are no new reasons for war – they are the same as they always were – territory, money, religion, fear.
People in first world countries might not die in their millions of plague, measles, small pox and infection… but how many people now die of diabetes, obesity-related diseases, alcohol/drug related complications and mental illness? The diagnoses may be different, but the general situation is the same. First we had too little. Now we have too much. Both are fatal.
If we don’t analyse history – which is basically a study of human nature and motive – we will always be doomed to make the same mistakes. We will be a society collectively experiencing a nightmare Groundhog Day, over and over again, waking up at dawn with our tiny memories wiped clean.
It’s a grim scenario.
The only light in this darkness is education. And by education, I most emphatically do NOT mean dragging children of all backgrounds and abilities through pointless, soul-crushing tests, delivered by teachers who have been driven to distraction by the constantly changing goal posts. No, I’m talking about sharing skills and knowledge; learning compassion and empathy; developing a moral conscience. I’m talking about exploring creativity, innovation and communicating ideas. Absorbing the principles of respect, cooperation and mutual support.
I was once shown around a very unusual school – one where all parents had to sign a contract to agree to support their stringent policies. The children were to be kept away from ALL digital media – TVs, mobiles, computers – even at home. A huge part of the curriculum was founded on the creative arts and physical education – the idea being that a child with a healthy body and healthy mind would be happy and be more likely to fulfil their potential.
There were no short cuts – no printing of info or pictures from the computer – everything was painstakingly drawn by hand into their books. It was old-fashioned, archaic, and utterly beautiful. In the couple of hours I spent there, I witnessed children making boxes from wood, knitting, weaving (using yarn the teacher had spun on her own spinning wheel), cooking soup for the whole school, playing instruments and singing, reciting their times tables through song and movement, doing gymnastics, and even making their own tactile clay counters for their maths lessons.
It seemed to me like a Utopian vision of how a school should be. The children were engaging, lively and sociable. The atmosphere was calm. The building, like an art gallery.
They even had an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED inspection report – although the headteacher seemed quite dismissive about THAT!
I know it would be nigh on impossible to globally transform our education systems to emulate a school like that, but I still wonder, wistfully, how it might change our world and our future. Surely the benefits of a nurturing, rounded, memorable education would be reaped forever. Isn't the situation urgent enough to rethink our priorities?
To short-change our learners is doing a disservice to the whole of humanity. Children are our future. To forget that is to forget our responsibilities.