Saturday, 27 July 2013

Bright children

When I was small, I thought I could here
Do you think your child is bright? 

Or do you think they're not as bright as others? Less intelligent than a sibling, say.

Do you think this "quality" is fixed or elastic?

See, I think every child is hugely intelligent. Sure, I think my child is very bright. She astounds me every day.  But every child is full of curiosity and a huge thirst for learning and knowledge. 

And I don't think any one of those children is fixed in their potential. They have a dizzy-making enthusiasm for life and all it brings. 

But this potential is so fragile. It can be so easily damaged. 

And damaged it is, by a society that pits people against each other, by an education system that is based on the nasty education theory that some children have the potential to do better than others, but that they all have a fixed potential.

Study after study, and any good teacher, gives the lie to this.  Potential is endless, and development is varied and elastic.  Outcomes are not fixed.  They can be changed. As Professor Dorling in the article I've linked in the last paragraph says "An enlightened education secretary would aim "to help all children do well and learn without being restricted by our expectations"".

But I seem to be out of step in my view on children and their potential and natural abilities.  With peers.  With society.  With the government.  With the education system.

I feel anxious about the damage being caused. My stomach is clenched.  My heart races. I deeply resist the idea of sending my daughter into an education system with such limiting theories and practises.

Small children have no concept that they might be "above" or "below" any other child. And they are right. But this isn't what they are being told. The English government is now introducing national testing for 5 year olds. Add this to a system which already encourages children to compete in all sorts of ways. A teacher doesn't need a national test to tell them about their pupils. It doesn't add anything. It seems to take a lot away though. 

I think this is wrong in principle. And it doesn't benefit anyone in the system, despite any accolades received or any achievements.

For those who don't "succeed", they are told they are failures before they've even begun. When they still have so much more developing to do.  Their parents would surely suspect their child is limited in some way, or is simply not trying hard enough, or needs more coaching.   

Do you think this would fire up a child's natural enthusiasm to learn?  

And what about those who do "succeed"?  Is this good for them?  The pressure is now surely on.  Learn "to the test" so that you are always at the expected standard.  Here, bind your self-esteem up in being "better" than others.  Don't disappoint your parents - they boast about you to their friends you know. You're only lovable if you are better than others.

We have all read stories about the pressures high-achieving children put themselves under, and the problems it can cause.

And where is the incentive to experiment, to innovate?  To be creative?  Part of creativity and innovation is trying and failing.  

There's no room for failures in our system. 

I know that as a child who was always told she was "highly intelligent" I had no appetite to learn anything that I wasn't immediately good at. I remember teachers being disappointed because e.g. I wasn't immediately good at sewing or sport, and being turned off these for good. I never remember wanting to experiment, or try something new. I still struggle with the legacy of this today.

And are children going to  co-operate with others or help them to succeed, when the whole point is to rise above them?

And don't tell me that this is the Real World, that it is survival of the fittest and that competition is key to a healthy and thriving society.  

I don't think so. Co-operation is a crucial feature of evolutionary change. Symbiosis is arguably far more important to survival than competition.

Of course it has suited those with more than their fair share to push the theory of "survival of the fittest" all these years.  How convenient that it is "natural" that they should have more than they need, while others struggle.

I don't want my child to judge herself in relation to others.  I want her to be aware of her vast potential and to give things a go, regardless of whether she might fail or succeed along the way.  I don't want her to view the world as a nasty competitive environment, where cream rises to the top.

Could you be limiting your child with your expectations, whether these are high or low?

Little children already believe they can fly.

The task for us all is not to clip their wings. 

1 comment:

Amanda Riley said...

amen! I regularly check in with the language I use with Claire as I'm helping her learn this or that, or encouraging her inquisitive ways.... being careful not to burden her with mama's ideas on what she is capable of, etc. because yes, she can fly just fine and I don't want to hinder that~