I was privileged today to have the most stimulating conversation about education that I’ve had in a while. It wasn’t with my principal or one of my colleagues. It wasn’t with one of the inspirational educators I interact with online. It was on the playground, with two former students from last year. Isabella and her friend Liat are 12 years old and two extremely intelligent young women.
Issy talked about how important it is for every child to have time to think in the classroom and to have their thinking accepted and validated. She talked about how frustrating it is to sit with your hand up and wait for a teacher to ask your opinion. She said it makes much more sense to jot down your thoughts first, to discuss your thinking in small groups and to have enough opportunities to express your opinions and ideas.
She wondered (with no prompting from me) what the purpose of schooling might be. She and her friend tossed some ideas back and forth. Was it to prepare you for life? Or was it to prepare you for a profession? If it was the latter, why do people have to learn maths if they don’t plan on being mathematicians? If it was to prepare you for life, why does school look so different from life?
Liat’s brother is doing his VCE (school leaving). She expressed her disdain for the fact that subjects like maths and physics attract bonus scores, while art and music are scaled down. She’s a musician, of course that’s how she feels. They both felt that creativity is under valued in the school sytem.
Issy raised the point that the student population of our school is homogeneous and talked about the importance of being able to learn from, about and with people who are different from you. She feels inter-cultural understanding is vital today. She would like to see school incorporate more opportunities for contact with different sorts of people. We talked about the importance of understanding your own culture and establishing your own identity. We talked about common universal values. Honestly. In these words. It was like talking to my peers.
Since I was having a discussion with passionate learners and critical thinkers, I tested out the idea of cross-age classes. Issy is a very talented writer and artist. I asked what it might be like to work on her art or writing in a class with older and younger students who share her passions and talents. I asked Liat if she’ d like to have opportunities to play guitar and sing with high school students. They thought this was cool. Liat talked about the fact that she likes learning Hebrew in a class with kids who are strong at it, but Maths in a smaller group, with other kids who need more time and attention. She thought extending this to cut across age and grade level made sense. For all their thinking and wondering they had never considered why kids learn in age cohorts till I raised it.
I told them about Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas and explained how schools were designed for the industrial age. They were fascinated. I promised to share his TED talks with them. I’ve suggested to Isabella that she start a blog of her own to share her wonderful writing and art. So far she hasn’t taken up the challenge, but I’m hoping she’ll start with a guest post for What Ed Said! Maybe reading this will give her the push she needs…
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Why don’t we listen more to what kids have to say about education?