Useful Education

Grrrrr Nicky Morgan.

This week Nicky Morgan our incumbent secretary of state for Education announced that children doing arts and humanities at GCSE and A level  “are making choices age 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives”. What bollocks.

What an assumption that any one decision can hold us back.  We put so much pressure on school kids today to make their options choices in year 9 (age 13) which then lead to their GCSE options and they are sold the myth that they have to make the right decision so that they can get the rest of their life right.

Really? Is life that simple?

Not one person in the real world believes that, so why do we stress our kids out by expecting them to know at 13 or 15 what they will be doing for the next 30/40/50 possibly 60 years of their lives?  And of course all this rhetoric is focused on their working lives, because that clearly is all that matters; that we are little cogs of the economic treadmill….grrrrrr

I am one 0f  the people who did what Morgan said, in the olden days (ie when you and I were kids) ‘“If you didn’t know what you wanted to do… then the arts and the humanities were what you chose because they were useful, we were told, for all kinds of jobs’.  I had no idea what I wanted to do for a job or a life when I was 13, or 15 or 17 but I did know that I liked English and art and dance and cookery.

I had to drop Art at year 9 (or 3rd year as it was then) because it didn’t fit in with the options blocks.  I had to drop the GCSE dance that I started at another local school in the evening because of the A levels I was doing.  I was allowed to do English and cookery.

For A levels I was ‘guided’ to do languages as it would make a ‘good combination’. Which it would have done had I been any good at them.   Don’t get me wrong, I loved the literature in French and German; Maupassant, Brecht, Cheri, Ibsen…I just couldn’t get my head around the grammar and so got a D for German and an E for French…the perfect combination.

Over and over again I have seen pupils faced with having to opt for subjects they are no good at and drop subjects they love and excel at.  How often as a drama teacher did I have students bereft in year 9 because they couldn’t do dance, drama, art and music, all of which they were good at, but they could only do one and then a whole litany of misery for the rest of their courses, as that’s what ‘fitted in’.

I was educated pre national curriculum and came into teaching the same year that it did, so I know that schools are constrained by governmental policy and have to do the best that they can within that.

The policy is wrong.

Yes all kids need to learn to read and write, speak and listen and do the basic maths of adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, areas and percentages if they can, but why make everyone do a science?  A language? A humanity?

I went to school with C who at the age of 12 was way ahead of all of us with his knowledge of and understanding of physics particularly, but science in general.  He wasn’t just good at it, he loved it, no surprise then that he works in the sciences now.  P was an amazing linguist, he could speak and write in 2 languages fluently, it just seemed to come easily to him and he loved it and yes, you’ve guessed it, he has used languages in his work life.

Because the policy makers miss the self-evident truths that not all people are good at or enjoy the same things and that when we enjoy something we get better at it because we enjoy doing it.  Trying to make people do what they are no good at doesn’t make for a great nation of scientists and engineers, it leads to a nation of kids who are wasting their talents and skills trying to be something they don’t want to be.  Just as we are losing our Mozarts and our Fonteyns, we are losing our future scientists and engineers by making them do drama and history when they loath it. Bonkers.

Why do we have this one size fits all curriculum which then makes people do things they are bad at, which they fail at, which makes them feel bad?  Why not let them do what they are good at and do lots of it so they get better and better at it and want to do more of it as they know they are a success in it?

Ms Morgan continues that ‘That the subjects to keep young people’s options open are STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths’, but she neglects to mention that this is only true if you are good at them and if you like them.  if you are no good at them no one is going to employ you and if you are good at them but don’t like them, do you really want to live the next decades doing something you didn’t like at school and tried to bunk off?  Surely that way depressions and stress lie?

And so to the arts….lots of people want to do them but they are not very useful so we don’t want that then do we?  No of course not because we want people to be useful don’t we???

Because the band playing as the Titanic sank were just a useless distraction as the ship went down (clearly the engineers hadn’t done their STEM subjects well enough).  The music, poetry and plays which gave people some beauty in the horror of the concentration camps were pointless as they were going to die anyway.  So too were the slave songs which helped the underground railway of the deep south get slaves to freedom. And Mozart, what was he messing about on the piano for anyway… all this middle class rubbish about playing Mozart to our unborn babies so they are more intelligent ( and so they can do STEM subjects which clearly is what uber- intelligence do).

And now, lets ban Strictly (even though it brought a friend’s little girl out of a coma for long enough to smile. Oh and forget  the millions of families it makes  happy on a Saturday night; having something cheerful and graceful to watch instead of violence and sex and drugs and war).  As for X factor – well let’s get rid of that too because we don’t want kids believing that they could have talent do we?

I’ll tell Youngest Son that his second place in the village talent contest playing the piano was pointless and that he should stop right now even though he plays for hours each day and he says it cheers him up when he’s sad (after all, if he can cheer himself up by playing piano when he’s sad he might not need anti-depressants when he’s older and then where will all the chemists be?)  And as for the drummer who got first place, well let’s crush his dreams of playing in a band (oh and he and Eldest Son can cut out football too because that’s never going to earn them any money and it would be much better if they sat at a computer and stared at a screen rather than running around keeping fit and playing as a team or composing music which people will enjoy but which isn’t really very useful is it?????

So Ms Morgan, how right you are…let’s make everyone into little boxes (I love this song, have a listen..but of course, it is just a song, so therefore ultimately not that useful) because then they will either be useful economic units of production or they will eventually get obese or depressed or stressed which will be great for the pharmaceutical industry (but of course will cost the health service and business millions in time off work and  we run the risk of  even more disenfranchised kids running amok with guns).

Angry.

You bet I am.

Rant over.

Food for thought:

  • What would you have studied at school if there had been no constraints?
  • How would that have made a difference to your adult life?
  • What is education for?
  • How much can you influence it?
  • What do you want most for your children?
  • What do they want from themselves?
  • How will you work with them to give them the life they deserve?

Thanks for thinking.

Julie

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