I’ve done it again. I’ve gone and riled myself up, which is increasingly easy to do these days, what with Putin and the Russians leading the free world under the guise of that wig-wearing orangutan Trump, who, as it turns out, can rather impressively speak three different languages, although these languages are sexism, bigotry and choppy-English, which isn’t quite as impressive. Anyway, it isn’t Trump who has got under my skin this time around. No, this week’s culprit it the education system (again).
Okay, so my Phoebe isn’t at the schooling age yet (in all honesty, I don’t actually know what age my Phoebe start schooling, but that’s because I’m totally useless at all of this parenting shit, except from when it comes to making Phoebe laugh, that I can do, but that is because I am moron). Anyway, I digress. So, yeah, while Phoebe isn’t old enough to be formally schooled yet, I still take a huge interest in the education-slash-schooling part of life because, well, I’m a parent. Actually, I’m a terrified parent; a parent who believes that the current education system is monumentally and unapologetically fucking shit (if it was for the fact my grandparents may well read this, and the fact Google doesn’t like swearing, I can assure you that my criticism would have been much harsher and I would have used way more fucking swear words to emphasise my point).
Why do I believe this, though? Well, because that same education system failed me. No, this is not me trying to point the finger elsewhere or use rose coloured paint to paint over my past. I mean, I got okay grades. I made it through school and through sixth-form and then to university (where I got a degree in History and Politics and a rather vicious drug addiction). But those accolades don’t mean shit - nor does the certificate that hangs on the wall at my Mum’s house - because the education system failed me in the same way it fails so many incredibly talented, incredibly social and incredibly creative kids with impossibly untapped genius.
I remember so clearly the first time it failed me. I was in Year 8 and was sat in some beige english classroom. However, instead of being tossed into a barrel of facts and told to remember them, we were given the unbelievably exciting task of writing a one-page short story. I had never done this before. I didn’t know how to do it or where to start, but as soon as my pen hit the paper, and drew that first letter in black ink, that was it. I was whooshed away to a new world, an imaginary world, a world of colour and endless possibility, a world that I owned and governed. I ended up writing thirteen pages. I was twelve years old and I ended up writing thirteen pages, and the only reason I stopped was because I time ran out.
That was the very moment I first embarked on my writing career… but it only lasted a day. I was given a C minus. It was there in thick red ink, like a horrible spot ruining a body of perfect skin, and next to it was a red-ink note that stated, you were instructed to write one page. Stick to the instructions’. I had found a passion for something, for writing, and it had been ignored by my whiskey-drinking English teacher, Mr Edwards, who would frequently smoke fags in class and just ask not to say anything. This may have been normal once, but I’m only 28, and this was only in 2001.
Unfortunately this happened again in upper-sixth. I decided to take General Studies as an extra subject (whatever the fuck General Studies is). There were no lessons, it was just an exam, one I was told could improve my chances of getting into to University. I don’t remember what the hell the exam was on, only that there were three, and that one of them was a creative writing exam. I hadn’t done any creative writing since Mr Edwards crushed my dreams and passions with red ink and one-sentence. But as soon as I saw the question, which was something like, “describe a dream or a nightmare,” I think , my mind whooshed back to that exciting world again, that place where I could create anything I wanted. Oh, I loved that exam. However, I got given a U. I didn’t dispute it or anything, I just accepted that, while I loved writing, perhaps it wasn’t for me. I just thought, maybe they were right. But maybe they weren’t. I mean, since leaving education I have a had a Number One Best Seller on Amazon and signed a contract to write a trilogy of YA novels set in 1880 South Africa, so my guess is they were fucking wrong, too fucking caught up in their own bureaucracies and too fucking antiquated to see or encourage a child’s passion. (Thank God I had a headmistress that believed in me, and told me I would one-day be a success).
[The gorgeous madre to my bambino has just walked in and asked me why I am typing so heavy-handedly and staring at my laptop screen in the same way I would look at a child-beater, which is perhaps the perfect segue.]
About 5 years ago, I watched a TED Talk. It was with Sir Ken Robinson. I’d never heard of him before, nor have I gone out of my way to research him since, but what he spoke about in his talk has been firmly lodged in the frontal lobes of my brain since I first watched it. In short, he questioned the mantras of schools and then highlighted the fact that they did very little by way of educating and did a lot to kill creativity.
Then yesterday, I read an article in The Guardian, one that hit the nail bang on the head. The system hasn’t changed for centuries. The way in which we teach has failed to adapt, and for that reason it is failing to attract good teachers and failing our children. Schools still teach in the same way and they still test in the same way that they did in the 1800s. They sit our children down in overflowing classroom, put them into rows (like you would an army) and then they just pump them full of facts, and by doing this they are simply teaching our kids one thing; to be and act like machines.
If we let this continue and grow and manifest even further then we are setting our kids for failure. By teaching them to be like machines we are setting them up to compete with machines; with computers and robots and all this fucking incredible technology that they can’t compete with, and that means my kid is going to grow up to be obsolete. She’ll be a sixteen year old antique. My Phoebe is so clever, so so wonderfully clever, but she will fail in a battle with a robot. She cannot compete with a robot. No one can. So before she has even begun she will be kaput. She will be a horse and cart in a world of supercars. And that is fucking bollocks. She deserves more than that. She deserves better than that. We are supposed to lead our kids into a bright future, yet our education system is hell-bent on making her redundant from the outset and that will only worsen under Terrible Trump and that dickhead DeVos (I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold out and hide my hatred for the new world order. Oh, and while I am at it, fuck you Piers Morgan!)
What my kid is incredible at is being a kid. She is so creative and smart and imaginative and social and curios, all of which computers cannot be. So why aren’t schools encouraging our kids to run with these traits, to dance across the skies like an amateur fireworks display in early November. Why the fuck are schools so determined to turn our kids into robots?
As adults we collaborate with each other, we work in teams to solve problems, to come up with new ideas, to encourage the betterment of society and science and humanity and everything that is great; so why the fuck is it called cheating when they collaborate in an exam. Why can’t they talk it through? Oh, because you can’t accurately grade them. Well then don’t fucking grade them. They are children. Encourage, motivate, inspire. They are the things you should be doing, and if you need to grade them, then find a different way to do it because, right now, schools only test for genius in one way, and one way doesn’t encapsulate all kids. Schools mould instead of encourage. They alienate instead of include. They fail the next generation instead of inspire. Character, creativity, inspiration, passion, love, curiosity, exuberance - all of these things are what we need more of; and so they should not be stifled or broken or punished.
The current system - the unhealthy dragooning of children, putting them in rows and demanding they remember fact after fact has been made redundant by computers - was designed to create a workforce that was desirable to factory owners in the nineteenth century; factory owners that needed to employ a workforce that wouldn’t think for itself, collaborate, think or get creative. They needed people that would simply sit down and produce the same work at the same rate and to the same standard as the people next to them; they needed to be fucking machines. Well those days are gone and the world needs more storytellers, more poets, more artists, more restorers, more healers and more lovers of every kind. We need more humans, not more machines.
Luckily, that is where me and mummy agree wholeheartedly. We are terrified that our Phoebe - and any future Phoebe’s - will be ruined by school. We’re wobbling about with worry that her creativity, curiosity and passion will be squeezed out of her like a frugal parent trying to squeeze the very last drops of toothpaste out of the tube. We often chat about home schooling, about taking a course and learning how to teach and then travelling the world so that we can teach Phoebe all about culture, history, languages and love, and teach her that there is only one race, a human race, because that seems far more beneficial to us than sending her to a school where they measure a fish’s genius by its ability to climb a tree, where they would punish her for not thinking in a particular way, where they would discourage her, ignore her passions in the same way they miss the passions of so many kids, and, I guess work against her instead of with her.
I am not aiming any blame at the teachers. No. I am aiming it all at those at the top. Those who increase the bureaucracy, those who take the teacher’s attention away from the kids and put it on the paperwork instead, those who refuse to get with the times, those who refuse to seek out a better system, those who would rather teach my kid how to use an antiquated machine like a spinning jenny or a pitchfork (or anything else that will make her utterly useless in the modern world) than to encourage her to explore who she is, because, after all, I would rather my Phoebe found out who she was than was told who she has to be.
There are other systems out there, other approaches, ones that develop interests rather than indoctrinate minds, and I given I would move mountains to ensure my Phoebe has the best, I would sure as hell move countries to ensure she has an education that educates her, instead of force-feeding her with lifeless, stolid and bromidic facts, and then tests her ability to remember them.