Recently I met up with some teacher friends and, as always happens with teachers, the discussion turned to school, teaching and children. There was talk about the crowdedness and inappropriateness of many aspects of the curriculum, of resources that were ambiguous and poorly written, of time spent practising and preparing for tests, of (other) teachers who were ill-equipped to teach and not interested in professional learning.
It made me sad. It has always made me sad. Sad and frustrated with the inappropriateness of so much that happens in schools and the effect it has on diminishing our most precious resource: the ability to think, learn, innovate and create.
The fact that I am unable to do anything about this situation at times overwhelms me and I just want to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. That I have spent almost my entire adult life swimming against the tide trying, through a variety of means, to make a positive difference through education with an effect as insignificant as a grain of salt in the ocean, makes my efforts seem futile and worthless. A waste of time and energy. I should just give up.
But, foolishly maybe, I haven’t and don’t. Here I am writing a blog about education. One more way to try; with a website on the way as well. What effect will they have? Probably very little, but at least I am doing something that is important to me; something that gives my life meaning; even if it has no real value beyond that.
I have been out of the classroom now for three years. I escaped before the introduction of new programs which I would have found philosophically and pedagogically impossible to implement. It had always been a balancing act, doing what my employer expected of me and what I believed to be best for the children and their learning. (Of course there is no saying that what I thought was better. The value of my thinking may well have been just in my head!)
Five times before I had left the classroom, only twice for reasons unrelated to dissatisfaction (the birth of children). But I could never shake off my belief that education delivery could be improved. I read widely, seeking alternative ways of making a positive difference but, although I had vowed at each departure to never return, something always drew me back.
Rather than allowing the situation to overwhelm me by accepting that there was nothing I could do; rather than throwing my hands in the air, walking away and admitting that it’s all too hard, I didn’t let go. Perhaps it was foolhardy. Maybe I should. Maybe one day I will. But not yet.
Instead I choose to focus on the good things I see happening; the parents, teachers, nannies and child care workers who strive to make a positive difference. We know we can’t change the whole world. We can’t rid it of all the injustices, inequalities, violence and other wrongdoings against humanity and the Earth. But we can make a difference in our own little corner; and my own little corner has always been my focus. If I can make a difference with something as simple as a smile or sharing a positive thought then I will do it. If I can do more than that then I will, but I will focus on what I can rather than what I can’t.
So for my little bit of positivity today, I am sharing some of what I think are great things that are happening, making a positive contribution to education and children’s lives; some things that make my heart sing and confirm my belief that if we want to, we can make a difference.
I have previously shared some thoughts that stimulated great discussion about the famous Marshmallow Test conducted by Professor Walter Mischel.
On All Our Words I recently read a report of an address made by Mischel to the team at All Our Kin.
In that address, Mischel is quoted as saying,
“When a child grows up in a high-poverty, extremely unpredictable environment – in which anything can happen, in which danger is constantly present, in which chaos is always possible – it affects him at a biological level. Those experiences turn into chronic stress, or toxic stress, and they actually change his brain. They limit the potential of the cool system to make long-term plans and be patient and work for a distant goal.”
The author of the article, Christina Nelson writes
“Fighting against the biology of disadvantage requires a sustained effort that begins at birth, or even earlier, which is why creating high quality early care and education is so important for vulnerable children.”
Mischel’s address further supports that view and congratulates the team at All our Kin for their work, saying
“By providing a sense of trust, a sense that the rewards are attainable, that promises will be kept, that life doesn’t have to be chaotic and unpredictable, you folks are providing exactly the basis for the development of the cool system, and for the regulation of the hot system. The kids who have that when they are two years old are the same kids who are successful at the marshmallow test at five.”
The praise from Mischel would not have been given lightly. I’m impressed with what I have read about All Our Kin, including this from their mission statement:
“. . . children, regardless of where they live, their racial or ethnic background, or how much money their parents earn, will begin their lives with all the advantages, tools, and experiences that we, as a society, are capable of giving them.”
The Talking is Teaching program, which was launched by Hillary Clinton as part of the Too Small to Fail initiative, in Oakland aims to reduce educational (and life) disadvantages by teaching parents the importance of talking to their children from birth.
Thanks to my friend Anne Goodwin and daughter Bec I was also alerted to an article in the New Yorker The Talking Cure which described a program in Providence that also encourages low-income parents to talk more with their children.
The author of the article, Margaret Talbot says that “The way you converse with your child is one of the most intimate aspects of parenting, shaped both by your personality and by cultural habits so deep that they can feel automatic. Changing how low-income parents interact with their children is a delicate matter”. The aim of the program is to support parents in non-threatening ways to support their children.
I have previously mentioned a recent publication by Michael Rosen entitled Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher. This book provides wonderful support for parents of children of any age. In very readable, accessible language, Rosen’s book is packed full of simple, inexpensive, fun and powerful ways for parents to support their children’s learning, effectively but unobtrusively, in their everyday lives. I think this book should be supplied to all parents on the birth of their children.
Closer to home here in Australia are Community Hubs and other programs such as Learning for Life run by the Smith Family and Acting Early, Changing Lives by the Benevolent Society.
These are but a few of the good things that are happening. I have focussed on community programs rather than individuals (except for Michael Rosen’s book) in this post. I know there are many more great programs, and individual teachers doing amazing work. I’d love to hear about some that you admire.
Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.