How our kids get dumbed down

Little Freddie has a blank expression on his face. He’s sitting in Y4/5 classroom doing his best to get what the teacher’s on about and the teacher is doing his best to get across what is clearly irrelevant stuff to the children in his class.

“Are you listening Freddie because you’re going to have to write this down in a minute?” demands the teacher suddenly trying to harness Freddie’s focus as it drifts longingly to the equipment they’re going to be using in a minute.

Freddie jolts and his expression turns from blank to anxious. He stares back at the teacher and nods hoping that’s what he’s supposed to do and the teacher goes back to his Learning Objective.

He’s spent a painful ten minutes explaining this to the children. It’s the teacher’s duty to explain a complicated Learning Objective to the children even though he knows it’s not useful. Most of the children sit there dutifully knowing that they’ll have to copy it down even though they don’t understand why. They also know if they can get through this boring talking bit they’ll get to do the real learning soon.

They start writing. Little Freddie doesn’t understand what to write so he asks his mate his face flushed. His mate explains better than the teacher. Freddie gets it and scribbles furiously trying to please.

That done the teacher calls for their attention again and then starts asking them more stupid things the government requires him to ask like ‘What do we need to know?’ and talking about Learning Criteria – more stuff the kids don’t understand. And the children fumble about in their brains trying to concoct answers that will get this boring bit over so they can get their hands on the equipment. Another twenty minutes later after more talk and after they’ve written more stuff down they get their reward. They pick up the equipment and go outside.

Little Freddie comes alive. His face is animated. He’s actually smiling for the first time all morning. With his hands on the equipment he is discovering and learning, testing his hypotheses and finding out. He is engaged.

But it lasts only a few minutes before the teacher collects them up, herds them back into the classroom, anxious to get written down in their books ‘What we have learnt’ so that he won’t be judged to be a bad teacher who hasn’t paid attention to all these inappropriate practises the ministers think is valuable education.

And Freddie’s face loses its inspiration, his animated mind dulls down again, and he dutifully sits down and tries to understand. His expression shifts to blank. His brain switches off. And he waits hopefully for dinner time.

Freddie’s lesson was over sixty minutes. The amount of time he actually spent learning anything of value was probably six.

Little Freddie is really the description of the majority of our school children, I would say, and the majority of their days. And a picture of exactly how we’re dumbing our children down. And switching them off to education.


4 thoughts on “How our kids get dumbed down

  1. It’s the same with swimming lessons.

    A 45 minute lesson comprises: 5 mins changing, 5 mins sitting on the edge of the pool getting cold, listening to the same health & safety advice as last week, 5 mins listening to the learning objectives and watching teacher demonstrate breaststroke (badly since they are doing it standing up), 10 mins swimming (being shouted at from the side by exasperated teacher who can’t understand why you can’t follow ‘simple’ instructions), 10 mins getting cold again watching others swim (too many pupils for pool and teacher), 5 mins listening to ‘achievements’, 5 mins to get changed and leave pool (girls invariably leave with wringing wet hair even on coldest days).

    Result: many children, particularly girls, end up hating swimming – few actually learn to swim (they do that on holiday, playing in the pool at Centre Parks or similar).

  2. This is why home education works so well. A mere forty minutes of useful learning a day, including weekends and holidays, easily outstrips the thirty minutes per school day. Then there’s the rest of the time, which can be spent playing with friends or learning other stuff with no pressure, and the ability to follow interests. Much of the time the learning is disguised as fun, so the children even enjoy it.

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