Is your child getting educated, or are they learning?

Something dawned on me today in a seminar on play. We were discussing why play was important and it became clear to me that there is a big difference between learning, something we all want for our children, and education, or should I say Education, the structure supposed to support learning. In this case nothing was proved about whether structured play is more of less beneficial to the child than natural play. What is apparent that even without this key piece of evidence, structured play does support the teacher and the school. The more we spoke around the subject of education, the more it became suggested that actually education is just a structure to place learning within and to make it more.. effective(?) and easier to judge that effectiveness, but like any structure, its strength is also its weakness.

As an aside, one of the younger students decided that there was nothing to learn from playing computer games, because “you can’t learn anything from shooting zombies” and Panorama had said gaming was bad. While I will agree that excessive gaming is a bad thing, and computer gaming is something that can easily be of harm to obsessive types, I couldn’t get her to see that this was a social issue, one of balance, and that to blame computer games is as about as effective as blaming the knife when it cuts you. There is education in computer games, far more than is apparent, realising it is for the individual and their community.

So, another aspect of education we discussed recently is S.E.A.L.. Derived from an American psychologist, Daniel Goleman, the original research was based on Goleman’s observations of US managers at work, comparing successful leaders with unsuccessful ones. This then became the basis for countless Leadership programmes in corporate training. Developed into S.E.A.L. this correctly identifies that children are more open to learning if the are socially and emotionally competent. Yet there is a disconnect between this and the work done by Goleman. Adults, especially in places of management, can often become changed by the systems they work with, the pressures of continual success and work/life balance. Why do children need this? Surely they should be mostly screened from this kind of pressure and behaviour modification?

Not necessarily. When you look at S.E.A.L. and ask questions you realise two things. The first is shocking but our own fault. Modern Britain is said to be a place of social and work mobility. Families and individuals are encouraged to feel confident about moving for that promotion or job opportunity, safe in the knowledge that the family are only a car or train journey away.  Yet this has led to a splintering of local communities and family networks, and children now spend more time with a non-familial person in care than ever before. When you look at the details about what makes an emotionally and socially competent child, these things are learnt by children as a matter of course in their normal everyday interactions with their peers and family members. Take or reduce the number of peers and family members, reduce the amount of time they spend together, increase the stress and time pressure on the adults and maybe we can begin to see why such education could be necessary. In essence, we are not sending our children to school ready to learn.

The second aspect that worries me is I believe that emotions and social skills are two of the most powerful things that makes us human, along with imagination. The social skills and strategies we have evolved over time have allowed us to thrive and survive. Our emotions are the raw energy which propel us through our own individual evolutionary paths. What is essential is that we learn to harness these two for our own needs – we will not always be successful and if you are like me, that lack of success can affect you for life; but we do adapt to cope with such things. Now we have brought these aspects out of “learning” and into education, giving them a structure, goals and evaluations. In essence we have given someone else the ability to control the development of our own emotions and social skills. Is that right? I know many teachers who would argue vehemently that they are not “programming” children’s development, but they do already in other ways, so why would S.E.A.L. be any different? Sadly though, as a society, we need this as we are not sending our kids to school ready to learn. As such have we just given away to the state another aspect of our individuality to be assessed, redefined and controlled?

There are so many examples of how education in this country can be seen as a social engineering exercise, producing the next generations already prepared for their place in society, and with little or no ability to move on, just down. Funnily enough, I am a kind of traditionalist at heart with education, but what I am beginning to see more and more is we are using education to prop up society, so that society can be pushed and shoved any which way the politicians feel we need to be pushed.  For me it’s not up to society to demand from education that it creates a steady flow of pre-formed ideal members, but the relationship between education and society is one where society funds education because of the benefits it brings and it promotes these benefits to the children; education helps children learn about themselves, their environment, their society and how to be both critical and inspired of the society they are about to join as adults. How much better would this country be if every child left school knowing who they were and how they could best use those talents?

To summarise, there are many aspects of our children’s education which has now been studied, categorised, structured, assessed, put into a training session and turned into a professional performance grade. So many of these aspects do not need this, but do need society to let families act like families, communities to be communities and, most importantly, just need children the freedom and space to be children. That is when they learn best.

So when you are getting ready to drop your child off, or pick then up, or if you don’t have kids but might work with them today; ask yourself were you a part of their learning today, have they learnt anything today about themselves and their world and was it useful? Or did they just get told something to memorise and regurgitate in a happy smiley way, fact or feeling, liked a faithful, trained animal? The difference could be profound and life changing.

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