I read an excerpt of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s David Fickling lecture in the guardian yesterday, and it stuck with me all day.
I have to say I think he’s completely wrong.
Schools aren’t destroying the power of stories. It’s far far worse than that.
The particular bit of his lecture echoing round my brain is this:
A few months ago, however, a lovely young NQT stepped between me and that crowd and said: “Now we are very lucky to have Frank with us today. We’re going to use our Listening Skills (she touched her ears) to try and spot his Wow Words (what?) and his Connectives so that we can appreciate how he builds the story.”
Listening Skills. Wow Words. Way to go to pull a story to pieces and break up the magic. But that isn’t half of what is going on throughout our education system today.
Tigerboy has been attending what was presented to me originally as a communication group. I’ve only recently discovered that actually it’s a portage group, and on those grounds, I don’t think he should have been there at all. He had a mild speech delay, which is pretty much completely gone now. In fact, I suspect if we ever get a speech therapist call back (we’ve now been waiting since June, early intervention anyone?) and he’s tested, I’ll be told he’s well above average in both receptive and expressive language.
That’s by the by. The group *isn’t* about building communication skills. It’s about preparing children to fit in with childcare. Except, at the age of 2, in my opinion the only childcare they should be fitting in with is family shaped. (I do accept that some people for a variety of reasons need to use childcare. I did myself. And I put Big into a nursery because I couldn’t face the idea of her bonding with one other adult, and that was totally and utterly selfish and wrong of me. The nursery she was in was very very lovely. It was still the wrong sort of place for a very little baby).
In a family environment, families don’t break their days up into 15 minute slots, or require people to sit on coloured squares of carpet, sing greetings and do Good Looking. (Do you do that? Do you congratulate your child on every little glance, every time they meet your eye, interact with you pleasantly and so on? Why do so many early years staff seem to feel that children need that kind of constant praise – have none of them ever read *any* Alfie Kohn, such as Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes?) We don’t, when we read our children bedtime stories, exhort them to use their Listening Skills, and look out for wow words. We curl up around a good book, and enjoy it. And it works – children enjoy books, want to read books, and gradually, learn to read books.
Childcare though, has become pre processing for education. Education, instead of being a way of giving people skills, knowledge and understanding, has become a way to process, test, punish, demoralise and control.
Big is looking into GCSEs at the moment, and we’ve started working on maths together. I’m quite skilled at Maths. Long time readers (are any of you still out there?) may recall me doing my Certificate in Maths, the first year of a maths degree with the OU, just 5 years ago. Meaning that I should be equipped to teach her to GCSE without any difficulty at all. Except I keep having to look up what the questions mean. What the terminology is all about. I keep having to explain that it isn’t enough to understand the topics, you’ve got to present it properly too.
There were some aspects of that in O level. But not these odd terminologies that seem designed to trip you up. And if your working was clear, even if it wasn’t conventional, you got the marks. By the time I sat my O level maths, I could do a paper in 45 minutes (there were 3 hours allowed for it) and get around 95%. I was good at this stuff. GCSE is just confusing.
So much of education has become like that. What happened to expanding the subjects for the brighter children, instead of expanding the marking system? What happened to stretch targets that we knew hardly anyone could achieve, so we were happy to try, and not heartbroken to fail?
What is going on with a system that promotes Good Looking, and Listening Skills before enjoyment? If you enjoy something, you’ll get something out of it. If you enjoy it first, you might well go back and get more from it the next time. And we don’t all have to enjoy the same things, or look the same way, or at the same time, to be acceptable, do we?
I’m beginning to realise, actually, that we do. I’m reading more and more about how what people are trying to do with their autistic children is make them *look* normal. (See my review of the lego therapy book for some examples.) Not be normal, just be able to pass for normal. At the wrong end of 40+ years of living like that, I’m here to say that’s wrong. What is important is tolerance for diversity. Realising that it is in our individuality that we are beautiful. Celebrating difference, instead of stamping it out.
That’s what education should be all about.