What follows is a piece of writing I did about 8 years ago.
I was looking out some of my scribblings and thoughts of an educational nature for a friend’s daughter who has just graduated as a teacher, and thought this piece might be of interest to others.
I still believe and stand by every word.
I taught him last year. I kept him in my classroom, most of the time. I found ways to get him back, when he couldn’t stay there, and ways to get myself back, when it got too much for me.
Jed is courageous – massively so. He takes on The Man. He doesn’t conform because it’s the line of least resistance. He stays true to himself, as he searches desperately for himself. And that search, in our education system, could well destroy him. I want to teach him and help him in his search.
Our system tells Jed he is ‘challenging’. What a world we’d have, if every child grew up challenging, testing, thinking, experimenting and learning from their experiences, rather than their textbooks.
Our system tells Jed his attitude is ‘wrong’. He should accept unfairness, bias, dreary lessons from exhausted teachers who are buffeted from one new initiative to the next; targets that are number-driven, not people driven; results that compare unlike to unlike. He should meekly bow down and cope with all these things, because life is like that. What if it wasn’t?
Jed is very unsure of himself. He swears and shouts loudly. He throws chairs and punches. He behaves in ways most people don’t. He’s constantly told he’s bad and wrong and unteachable and impossible and he wonders who is right and what is right and why his way of reacting causes so many problems to him and everyone else. He doubts himself. He doubts his ways of interpreting the world. He is deeply unhappy, but he doesn’t have a choice. What if there was another way?
As educators, policy-makers, law-givers and law-enforcers, we rely on the fact that adults know best. Children are young and know less, so we must teach them what we know, what we do and how we do it. They must listen and work hard and develop self-motivation, so that when they grow up, they can run the world the way we run it. What a recipe for progress!
A child who dares to say, “Hang on – I don’t think this is the right way; I don’t think this is the best you could do,” challenges us.
We left those feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt behind in childhood. We don’t want them back. We don’t want children moving us forward – challenging us. No wonder we call it ‘challenging behaviour’. No wonder we label them and exclude them.
Jed is excluded, again. He calls back to see me after school. He tells me what he did, what the teachers did and how much he wants to be back in school. He has to have a special meeting before they decide whether to take him back. He’s unhappy and unsure and he knows it will happen again and again until they finally wash their hands of him.
It goes without saying that Jed has massive strengths and a burning desire to learn. With courage and tenacity like his, he could be a massive asset to society. He could also be a suicide statistic or an inmate in a young offenders’ institution.
I want to teach Jed. I want to teach him that there is another way. I want to be able to tell him that our world desperately needs visionary young people like him who need to learn through experiencing and trying and testing; not through being told.
There are plenty of the other sort. That’s fine. Let them shine through the current system and come out with their clutch of A* passes and do the jobs suited to them.
Let the Jeds of this world learn in their way. Let them not take anything for granted. Let them learn philosophy and inter-personal skills and co-operative discovery and self-awareness from the moment they are discovered.
Imagine an education system where the infant school teacher announces,
“I think I’ve got a non-conformer here!”
She would say it with pride, like saying that Kirsty excels at literacy or Ahmed is amazing at sports.
They’d need a teacher who taught them how to learn, then let them try. If they found a better method, they’d tell the teacher, who would also learn. Targets and tests and results would be irrelevant, for the simple and excellent reason that anything worth being is, by its very nature, incapable of being tested and targeted. The results would speak for themselves. Society would be moved on by the people who dared to challenge our deeply imperfect system.
I want to teach Jed. I want Jed to teach me.