A fish’s ability to climb a tree…

Do you know what a Definite Participle is? I certainly didn’t until a colleague brought it up the other day. She was telling me about some of the things they may be required to teach ten and eleven year olds. It was enough to make me utterly depressed. I think we go backwards, not forwards, in matters of curriculum.

The problem is that ministers responsible for writing language curriculum are as far removed from what real children in real schools need as I am from training elephants. They sit in their concrete towers trying to make themselves look good by blinding folks with pointless academics the rest of us don’t understand, thinking it’s the answer to children’s literacy and that it’ll make our kids more intelligent and educated.

But it won’t. Because what really makes our kids intelligent and educated – if indeed you can ‘make’ them so – is not so much about what they learn as the experience of learning it. The irrelevance of learning this type of grammar too young is making our children switch off to the experience of learning altogether.

You continue to learn throughout your life. The more you learn the more you grow. Growth and development keeps our lives fresh and fulfilling. That’s if you’re not put off by thinking learning is something dull and difficult and hard to do because of idiots forcing you to learn stuff like this and calling it education. Children would be far better just being engaged with the value and beauty of language and the experience of using it in their daily lives than dissecting it till they’re numb. I use language daily – I do not need to know the names of its parts in order to use it well.

But this happens continuously in schools. The whole schooling/teaching experience focuses far too intensely on learning far too many ridiculous and unnecessary facts, when it is the experience of learning – the nurture and development of a desire to learn – that is valuable.

Young children already have an innate desire to learn. But being subjected to this mind numbing content destroys that desire, often to the point where they turn their back on learning completely.

Of course, kids aside, there is a political agenda here. The more complicated the stuff they push on kids, the more it will ‘seem’ that ministers are making the right policies about educating them. The more they push for more grades, the more parents will be pleased and the more votes politicians will win.

But the fallout from this is that, apart from a lucky minority, the majority of kids’ educative experience is totally wasted. Worse than wasted because it puts some of them off learning forever after. They leave school disenchanted with learning instead of understanding that learning is something that enhances your life. And worse still, many of them end their education (when in reality there is no end) without the skills to lead a life. For example, they’ve been so busy trying to get their heads round parts of language, they don’t understand language well enough to even write a letter of application.

And the worst of it all is that so many of them leave school thinking education is not for them; they’re not up to it, and they’re not worth it.

There’s a quote I keep coming across by Einstein; ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid’.

He may not be right in saying we are all geniuses. But he is certainly right about the danger of making kids feel they are stupid.

Few kids – if any – are really stupid. Most can learn with the right learning experience. Most have the potential to succeed, develop and move into a productive life.

I don’t think I’m stupid, but I have lived my life not knowing what a Definite Participle is. For the sake of the experience I have now found out what it is. I don’t think it’s going to make one bit of difference to my writing or my life knowing that.

What possible value could it, and other subjects like it, be to a kid of ten? Except to make him feel stupid of course.

Whilst ministers are mind boggling kids with their curriculum obsessions they are prostituting the quality of children’s experience of education. And wasting children’s lives.

If ever there was a reason to seriously consider home education it is this; to prevent your child from becoming one the kids whose lives are wasted and who leave feeling they are stupid.

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