Reliving the past

Storm Doris blew in but the pall bearers managed the coffin well in the exposed consecrated ground of Quinton cemetery. We laid my mum to rest amidst tears but also with thanks for her life. It was a day of talking about the past. 

Born in the depression in the industrial Black Country, my mum’s life was not untypical for women of her generation in being at times very tough.  This blog is not about her (“I don’t want eulogies when I die”) but about her experience of education. 

She was taught in a large school room sectioned off for three age groups up to 14  year olds. Children sat in rows. The headteacher sat on a raised platform in the central sectioned so she could see across the whole room. Behaviour was good and children were drilled in a range of subjects. My mum was happy at school. As she got older she was given more responsibility and rose to it. On Fridays she would collect the dinner money for the week and walk to the bank on Oldbury High Street. Educationally she did not thrive at school because memorisation of the facts did not come as easily to her as other children. From school, she went on to the technical college to learn to type. Her experience left her not realising how intelligent she was, and she really was. She appreciated beauty and music (stolen from her when she became profoundly hard of hearing later in life) in remarkable ways; she understood meaning at a deep level; she found wonderful ways to support and nurture people within her wide circle of family and friends. But she grew up in the era of the 11 plus and the sheep being separated from the goats so she learned early  to think of herself as not academic. 

While the world changed at an astonishing rate during her life time, the educational direction of travel is now heading back to replicate much of what my mum experienced. Large classes with children in rows facing the front to memorise knowledge and then be tested in order to establish worthiness. I think direct instruction and rote learning are very important elements of teaching but pedagogy was extended because a proportion of children did not have their needs met or their intelligence recognised. My mum was fortunate to be brought up in a large family within a tight knit community that nurtured her as a child. The world has changed and fragmented communities no longer play the nurturing role. Far from being supported many young people are isolated by the technology they use to try and connect to the world. To simplify education in a way that mimics the distant past in order to cut costs is to deliberately fail to meet some children’s needs and to lessen humanity. 

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