Tuesday, 9 August 2011

England needs another opinion about this

Ah, England proves it can smash up its own furniture. Not like we've ever done that before. Still, let's hope the Summer Riots 2011 move the nation on to better.

When my kids smash up stuff I take it as a sign that something's not being said, but articulated instead via gross motor activity.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger don't always know what it is, or even what triggered the final attack. When I get them in lock down and rip out an explanation, I listen to an incoherent stream of grudges, snarled resentments, self-pitying garbage, puny evasions, hollow justifications and frankly laughable moments that would suggest to any rational listener that my daughters are half-wits.

In 2004 Shark moved my toothbrush. This is why today I called her an annoying baby, slammed the door in her face, opened it again to launch a book at her head, then bash her around the face with my otter.

My fantastic parent response (comes after drink / put my head in my hands and groan) is perversely to spend more time with the alien bat monsters, listening to yet more litany of complaint.

I am sure to weasel out the following:
anxieties (e.g. the house burning down, dogs, burglars stealing the unicorns);
grudges and injustices (e.g. invasion of intellectual property rights, attack on territory, theft of objects);
feelings of not being listened to (if only);
sundry terrors of vulnerability, mortification at recent public humiliation, fears of exposure or discovery for some hidden evil (Squirrel, I know already where you stash the wretched pebble collection);

fear of powerlessness, loss of control, sorrow, solitude, and general hurt about being excluded and alone while simultaneously made to feel stupid by your own family.
Etc. Etc.
    My first reaction is to remind the mini humanoids that these feelings are normal. Ten minutes in the company of our nearest and dearest can make even the most steely-hearted of us feel all of them.

    But then I say what we must do is talk these feelings fully and frankly; maybe to think how to respond better the next time we are in conflict situations, better than reach for the otter.

    All of that I include under the title of education. Okay, it rarely seems to work. However, I now have Miriam Stoppard (aka Tiger) who provides me with free therapy sessions.

    But wait, because this is my point on a national scale! (You come here for pronouncements upon the state of society, right?)

    The kids who rioted are, in part, the product of the education they have received. And what service is on offer?

    Parents are urged to remove their kids from the family home asap, then order their kids in uniform, herd them down the road 30+ in a classroom, have a teacher present them with a list of things to learn that didn't come from their own interests, while the institution systematically removes their autonomy, takes away their initiative, restricts their ability to control and order their own learning, denies them self-determination, tells them they have short attention spans, then timetables it and goes at them with messages about 'raising standards'. No wonder some of them bunk off. Who wouldn't?

    Meanwhile, parents are threatened with prison if they fail to support this service, punished if they take days out, and encouraged to examine their children at all times in work or play through the lens of success and failure.

    That sorts the 5-7 age group.

    What a miserable, unjoyful experience is on offer. A childhood where everyone is pushed about, managed, restricted, told what to do and how to do it, then tested within an inch of their lives to make sure they did it in the prescribed manner.

    In many ways, I'm not surprised that the rioting behaviour of the tweenagers to young adults suddenly allowed them to feel their own power at the expense of others.

    Children, especially little ones, should live in a culture where they and their parents can make choices without judgements - not the simplistic division of school or home - but in a landscape which is rich in educational scope.

    We should offer kids and parents a range of environments and structures suitable for different ages, talents, and interests. Kids who are not school-room ready should not be browbeaten into that place. Kids who need space to paint, play with mud, climb trees, should be supported to do that too. As they grow, they simply should have the time to explore preferences through play, encouraged to be creative, supported to follow through their ideas, and given the space and respect to argue their points of view. All adults should listen to what the mini alien bat monsters have to say because one day they are going to be big alien bat monsters who pack a mean punch.

    There, sorted. You see, in Grit's lovely world, there is a happy space for everyone (and free ice cream with vegan alternatives as required), where we all make up by talking and listening and acting on what we hear.

    Now, excuse me from my national concerns. I must go break up a fight with pointed sticks and otters to force everyone down the road for their annual dental check where the dentist is sure to tell them off.


    peapod said...

    I just love you.

    Dreamingaloudnet said...

    well said, as always!
    sorry must be more creative with fawning comments - will try harder in future!

    Kelly said...

    Best commentary I have read on this topic to date.

    RuralDiversity said...

    yay, we agree! Old Rudolf Steiner went on a bit about "education towards freedom" meaning freedom to be and do whatever whilst still being slightly socially responsible. That's the education I'm trying to provide space for my children to have. The school they go to helps out on some bits of it and hinders on others but I think my children might end up feeling free enough to be themselves so that they don't need to set fire to the village shop. I hope so anyway.

    Iota said...

    Very good analysis (though it's not JUST education, is it?)

    In conclusion, we should be arming our police forces with otters. Is that what you're trying to say?

    Euphie said...

    Great post! You put all this into words so well - about why separating kids from families and constant testing are bad ideas.
    I have put much passionate time into working with children (my own and many others) at Playcentre (a great NZ innovation in early childhood education), and agree with much of what you write.
    I found your blog via the lovely Belgian Waffle, and enjoy reading your stories.

    Grit said...

    aw, peapod, you sweet talker.

    you don't have to fawn round here, dreamingaloud, you can be as rude as you like!

    kelly, read some others. i accept that i may be outdone.

    hi ruraldiversity! confident people, at ease with themselves, others, and ideas (and who don't set fire to the village shop). i don't really care how they get there. the world needs them.

    iota, you are right. otters should be standard issue. and i hear that england now has loads of otters, so should be plenty to go round.

    hi, euphie, and welcome. the playcentres sound interesting; i see they position themselves as led by parent consensus. maybe we need a greater emphasis here in the uk on that angle. the surestart schemes here (an equivalent?) certainly drew some suspicion in some areas because of their close connection to government.