Thursday, 12 December 2013

Burdened Children

'Burdened Children', Paul Klee
I was at the Tate Modern this time last week, visiting the Paul Klee ‘Making Visible’ retrospective exhibition with a group of 40 students (who seemed to disappointingly make their way through all 13 rooms at an incredible, I’m not looking at any of this, type speed. I was the last in, hoping to direct and guide them a bit as is my role as their teacher, only to step into the gallery to find they had all disappeared. It was a real tumbleweed moment). Still, it was their loss-this is one of the best exhibitions I’ve visited in recent years. There was so much wonderful, subtle, complex, playful, mystifying and inspiring works to enjoy, by the time I exited much, much later than the company I had tried to keep, I felt like I had completed an enormously, satisfying meal, but still had room for dessert. It was with great reluctance that I left the final room, wishing I could go round again.

Earlier I had found myself very moved by a rather raw charcoal drawing by Klee, titled ‘Burdened Children’, which had some reference to his wartime experiences, but I couldn’t help but find myself relating it to my five-year old son who has been having a difficult time making the transition from Reception to Year One at school, and the enormous expectations placed on him to suddenly act, meet targets, fit in to a model of behavior and learning that he is clearly not yet ready to cope with. To stop playing, and just sit down and get on with learning to read and write, learn mathematics, as well as complete a weekly homework  (and one in his holidays too!). 
Children actually playing outside! in a Swedish Forest School
He has been struggling with it, and has been clearly stressed with it. Him, and so many other children of his age too. It just makes you wonder why? And what are we doing this to our children for? Why can’t we just let them be children? This is the approach they take in the much feted schools of Sweden and Finland, where play is pretty much all they do, with nothing formal until 7 or 8yrs, and they are top of the so-called league tables in reading and writing, science and maths. This is because, in my view, by the time they do start learning more formally, they are ready to learn, and develop a much greater understanding of what they are being asked to learn. I’ve just seen my son, who is a lovely, funny, spirited little boy, over the last three months weighed down by it all, displaying increasing signs of anxiety and over-tiredness, worn out by the time he comes home.

I’m glad to report though that in the last week or so, he does seem to be coping better, and seems happier, regaining his playful and curious self, but it’s more to do with the tremendous resilience I think children have. Still, it’s been a stressful time that has had an inevitable impact on our family life. 
                                                                            Swedish Forest School  
(I found myself fighting his corner after his swimming lesson last week, which he does on Wednesdays after school, again tired. The teacher started complaining at the end, about his poor listening, and not ‘meeting performance targets’, trying to shame him really, which is just wrong, and I’d just had enough of it all. I think she was expecting me to agree, which I didn’t anyway, but I also thought- he’s bloody five! This is meant to be fun! He doesn’t want to come anymore, where he used to love swimming. I just picked him up, and said ‘well I thought you did your best, mate’, and ‘he seemed to be listening pretty well from where I was’, and walked him to the showers. A bit of ‘Egyptian Reggae’ by Jonathan Richman in the car on the way home cheered us both up). 

Here is a link to a film my wife showed me about the Swedish early years schooling, which totally depressed me. It is so much more progressive than things here (although recently the free schools made popular by Sweden have run into trouble with falling results, the only model willingly adopted by Gove. But you would have to question any place for for-profit organisations in public education) :

 Sir Ken Robinson

Yes, we are a much bigger and more complicated society, and so far removed from nature compared to our Scandie friends, but surely there is a lot to be learnt from some of this? I’m just left asking, ‘how can we get it so wrong in this country?’, and these other links, one to a great animation, by brilliant educationalist, Ken Robinson helps explain this. I love Ken’s passion for the arts and the importance of creativity, and in the second film he talks well about children in school. He could well be talking about my son, but really most kids, but he also talks brilliantly about how some of the Scandinavian model could be adapted here, and the terrible problems in the culture and policies currently being forced upon our children by the monster that is Michael Gove.

1 comment:

Hugh Marwood said...

I'm with you on this Shaun. Sadly the latest trend seems to be to want to ape countries like South Korea. By all accounts, their kids are so intensively hothoused in pursuit of exam grades that the government is now having to investigate the alarming rates of child suicide. Not surprisingly, our lords and masters now think this is something worth pursuing in the name of Global Competition.

I hope your lad can get a bit of R & R over the Christmas break and one day discover the joys of education rather than just the utilitarian grind.

Have a good break and I'll catch up with you at your exhibition in the New Year. Cheers.