Want to learn about the world? Ask a ten-year-old.

Posted on March 18, 2019

Climate changeThanks to UCU Left for this photo

How we need a ray of light in this unrelenting gloom – and, thank goodness, we have one. On Friday, as we reeled from the news from Christchurch and slumped wearily at our own politicians’ ineptitude, our children gave us something to smile about. Thousands of them walked out of school in an attempt to get people to understand that they were just a touch concerned about the scorched earth they will inherit.

Yes, yes. Of course some of them jumped on a bandwagon and fancied a bit of time off, but it’s a good bet that even the skivers learnt as much on their afternoon on the streets as they would have done in a Friday afternoon classroom. Trust me; I’ve been in a few.

Somehow, on such a grim morning, even the reporting of the forthcoming demonstrations prompted some amusement. On Today on BBC radio, the presenter, Mishal Husain interviewed ten-year-old (yes, you read that correctly) Lilly Platt from the Netherlands. For the last 29 weeks, Lilly has taken an hour or so out of school on Fridays (she goes back, by the way) to make her protest. She has been inspired to do so by that grizzled veteran, 16 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who has now established an international reputation for her tenacious campaigning. Husain’s conversation with Lilly was wonderfully hilarious – albeit not intentionally so.

Don’t you think, asked Husain of the ten-year-old speaking in her second – possibly even her third -language, that you might be harming your education? With unaffected stoicism – she’d clearly been here before – the child patiently and lucidly explained the reasons for her actions. To her credit, Husain recognised that she wasn’t addressing a fool and listened courteously, prompting Lilly to elaborate on her ideas and develop her argument.

Later in the same programme, Rachel Warwick, who represents school leaders, was asked to provide the perspective of headteachers. By contrast with Lilly’s clarity and certainty, her comments were clumsy, rehearsed and unconvincing. Of course she was concerned that her students (that’s what schoolkids are now, by the way) were fearful for the future and had a degree of sympathy with them, but schools, too, were worried about ensuring that these students ‘maximised their learning time’. Oh, please. Just talk in plain English. Like Lilly. Who’s ten. And from Holland.

Ms Warwick then went on to explain that those students from her own school who had been on previous climate change demonstrations had not been punished but had been firmly spoken to about the damage they were doing to their exam chances. It will be of  great comfort to those young people that when they’re 35 and basking in 40 degrees in May, at least they’ve got that GCSE in Geography with which to fan themselves.

The truth is that what irks too many adults, some of whom scribble for the right-wing press, is that they don’t want young people to get into the habit of getting on to the streets to act in collective protest. That way they may learn that their suspicions that the world is run for profit, not for need, is shared by millions of others. Some of them may have even got their first taste of how a militarised police force,  thirty-five years after it cut its teeth in the miners’ strike, doesn’t consider the escorting of old ladies across the street as its prime raison d’etre.

Maybe these young people could have been better inducted into how politics works by watching any one of the interminable parliamentary ‘debates’ of the past few weeks. How reassured they would have been by the braying, preening, bloatedness from which they should have shielded their eyes. What role models. What sagacity and selflessness. Yes – that would have served them so much better.

We might expect certain newspapers and pundits to shudder at the sight of kids on the street. It’s not entirely unexpected that headteachers feel as though they have to toe the line about obeying rules and conforming to norms. That’s what they’re paid for – and very handsomely too in most cases. But let’s not pretend that what these children are doing is damaging their education: if you’re a headteacher, at least make an attempt to demonstrate some understanding of basic pedagogy.

There is a great fiction about how young people learn that has now become normalised.  It posits the notion that every school lesson is so valuable that to miss one is to invite a life of poverty and destitution. For teachers, the ‘delivery’ (heaven help us!) of a poor lesson is the equivalent of the slip of the surgeon’s knife.

To believe such windy nonsense is to ignore what decades of study about teaching and learning has revealed: people learn in different ways, at different rates, in different environments and, as a consequence, they develop all sorts of different knowledge. Some of that knowledge can be gleaned from acting with others in a common cause. On the streets and on a school-day. So keep at it, kids; you’re our only hope.

Thanks to those of you who have been reading, following, sharing and liking this blog.  Knowing that I’m not writing into thin air is all I’m after, so please take a few moments to let me know you’re out there – and what you think of what you’ve read.        Jon Berry

4 responses to “Want to learn about the world? Ask a ten-year-old.”

  1. oshopirates says:

    Thanks for this.

    I first dumped alternative education books on my schoolmasters desk at age 17, after being suspended for insubordination.

    It was John Holt, How children Learn and Fail, and Illich The Deschooling Society. and the wisely titled Teaching as a Subversive Activity… .amongst others that inspired back then.

    I ended up teaching in a libertarian democratic school much much much larer ( not Summerhill).

    I once read about 12 years ago John Taylor Gatto”s tomic The Underground history of American Education now available free as an audiobook.

    He died last year leaving behind a huge amount of free resources and you tube themed interviews.

    Education is now fully irrelevant as the emotive intelligence needed to both soften and democratise and revolutionise the systemic fears of functioning as an independent adult in an apocalyptic planet,do not exist nor broadcast.
    Its that bad. As bad as the rise of the first and 2nd world wars and as pernicious in its failures. We are so fluent in our observations that remind us of the globality of the need from which a remission of sins does not exist , as there is no compensation for a complete failure of rationality and matter to create an afterlife, in this our here and now.

    Children do not inhabit childhood as childhood. Parents pass on urgency and the adult mind without indulging the psychic sensitivity that retains and embodies the presence of childhood. There is not expansion, time is not experiential but functional and subservient to the mass incoherence.
    Our hopes and fears are always repetitive, except that now not even the planet can allow for time where neurology has stopped evolving.

    The current generations do not even have the consensual control over their own childhood outcomes or the practice of developing autonomy of experience. Democracy does not psychologically inform or democratise the learning process, and education is merely knowledge store. We are left to validate progress through self reliance, whilst the exit door is neither real nor visionary.

    Schools are orphanages run by those who are still substituting Dewey and the civic code whilst Question Time is the only form of a ritual synthetic mass safety valve for response. Or a right wing phone in radio programme on ten second delay.

    Gatto says how we got here. The various participatory forms of education in pockets around the globe are the only examples of what westernised childhood could look like when underscored by abundance. Try Finland, Denmark, the Hampton and Surrey schools in the USA for examples of non homework based , choice laden, nature loving individuals , interacting as they grow.

    80 per cent of the Swiss population work in offices, which is an indication of how westerners actually pass their days after twelve years of submitting to a theological belief in the iconography of work. The Office of Ricky Gervais reflects the unsaid, unloved and unwanted dislocation of a wasted childhood.

    Saving the planet for the so called informed means radicalising the work place relations , freed from the implosion of a truncated childhood. Meanwhile children remind us of all that really is and could be by a simple act of beauty in truth. Like an American Beauty or a Cuckoo that Flies over the Nest…

    I really enjoyed the documentary by Adam Curtis on how we got to this point since Freud.
    The Policeman inside our heads

  2. oshopirates says:

    Hudson sudbury schools
    ( to replace Hampton surrey school error in above text )

  3. Nickoi says:

    well done mate…though I think we may have to start fund-raising to help pay the fines of parents who sanction their child’s participation in future Friday frolics

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