30th December 2017

The title of this post is not intended to be “click bait” or sarcastic or controversial. Too often we don’t question things that are well established or considered obvious and this is a perfect example of why it is so important to question everything.

It is foolish to disregard established facts but even more so not to question them.

When we genuinely ask ourselves why we teach our children what we have to consider is what do we want them to learn and why. I would relish the opportunity to explore this in more depth with someone who believes that every single child must understand trigonometry and read a Shakespeare play and those people must exist because that is exactly what our children are being made to do.

Who are the beneficiaries?

There are children who love to read and will find the particular Shakespeare play they are compelled to read interesting and enjoyable, however, they will be in a very small minority. So what of the millions who hate reading Shakespeare? Might some children prefer Enid Blyton or J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien? These authors too will capture the hearts and minds of other small minorities so why not allow children to read the literature they find interesting? The simple answer is that doesn’t fit with how the system has been set up to teach and assess literature i.e. it is far more important that the system is efficient to administer.

What are the results?

In statistical terms, the latest GCSE results (August 2017) in the UK reported that 72.5% achieved a grade 4 or above which it is claimed is equivalent to the previous grade C or above. It is unclear precisely which children are included in this figure as not all schools in the UK had adopted the new GCSEs and nowhere could I find information on how many children did not sit an examination.

What does this mean for the children?

72.5% may sound impressive to some and may not be good enough for others but what actual differences does the qualification make in the lives of our children? Over 20 years ago I took GCSE English Literature and achieved a C grade but nobody has ever asked me to evidence that.

However, as a direct result of my secondary education I was completely turned off the idea of reading stories and now only enjoy them through the medium of film. That’s a shame, and it was exactly the same for my eldest son who, by the age of ten, had read all the Chronicles of Narnia and several Harry Potter books. At the other end of the scale I recently heard someone who loves reading pour scorn on E.L. James’ best seller 50 Shades of Grey due to a perceived lack of literary quality. That too is a shame, for a book that has given the pleasure of reading to countless millions to be derided by others because it didn’t fit with how they had been dogmatically taught literature.

What does football have to do with it?

It occurred to me that nobody taught David Beckham how to play football but he became a Manchester United legend and England captain. He was clearly taught many valuable skills that contributed to his career but the level of his success was fundamentally down to his talent. He watched others playing football and developed a passion to do the same, famously practising for hours.

From my own experience and having observed my own and many other children it is clear to me that all children are interested in something. In fact, all children develop a curiosity, an interest, a passion in something, often many things.

Why do we teach our children?

So why do we completely ignore what our children want to learn about and, instead, force them all to learn exactly the same things which are irrelevant, abstract concepts that will never serve them for the whole of the rest of their lives?

  1. That’s the way it’s always been done.
  2. It’s how the system was set up and changing it would be too difficult and expensive.
  3. How else can you measure what a child has learned?
  4. Everyone else has had to do it so why should children today be any different?
  5. It’s free, we should think ourselves lucky!

Just a selection of responses I’ve had when discussing my thoughts on our beloved education system.

I think the answer to the question “why do we teach our children” should simply be; to fill in the gaps. I believe that qualifications should be optional and that league tables should be scrapped with immediate effect.

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