I watched Jamie Oliver’s Dream School last night.
I thought it was going to be another painful exploitation of people’s failings that some of these documentaries are becoming. But it wasn’t. In fact, I am moved by Jamie’s passion to raise awareness of the awful failure of the educational system to engage our young people.
It’s not till you come away from the system as we did by home educating that you realise how unnecessary much of what goes on in schools has become. You view things in a completely different light, most particularly the way children are treated.
The kids in the programme were right; they are often treated by arrogant teachers as if they are little more than muck on the bottom of their feet. Most particularly those who fail to get the grades. Is it any wonder the balk against that – they should; I would.
But if there is any failure here, it is in the way in which we as adults still stick to outdated methods of teaching, in outdated formats, maintaining an outdated view of what contemporary children need as education.
Children are raised to know their rights these days. Their right to be listened to, to have their wishes and preferences respected, to not accept at face value that adults are better – as indeed in some cases they are not. But then we expect them to adopt a powerless position where education is concerned. A position where they have no control, where what they already know is considered insignificant, where they have little voice, and sometimes not even decent courtesy.
I think the disgusting way children are treated is one of the things that came across in the programme the most. Dream School with Dream Teachers it may be but one of them in particular hasn’t even got the intelligence to treat young people with the respect he thinks he deserves from them.
Respect is a two way street. You don’t get it for nothing. You can’t expect it from your position, or your knowledge, without earning it as a person. That’s why so many teachers get it wrong. And a first class degree, as the government want every teacher to have, is not going to make any difference.
The young people of today need listening to. They don’t need shutting up to be taught at. Actually, maybe they don’t even need to be taught – as in knowledge – they can get it off the internet. They can get grades outside school these days. So what do we need schools for? What do young people need?
They need champions like Jamie who they can look up to. They need people who will listen. They need mentors. They need inspiration. They need people who understand their world, who will care for them and give them a model to look up to where their parenting is lacking. They need to understand that the world is a marvellous place for them to be involved with, and understand what they can get from it and give to it in return. They need to learn how to build self respect and self fulfilment, particularly through work.
Do they get that in school? No. They get a view that they are nothing without grades.
I’ve written to Jamie in hope he’ll keep championing this cause. I said to him, grades alone do not make successful lives. He’s proof of that. And people can build successful lives without grades. So he and all of us need to think really hard about what we actually need schools for. Then he might succeed in producing a Dream School.