I was asked to write about education in the time of Covid 19.
This is probably because I have had the unusual privilege of having a daughter who thrives in mainstream education, and a son who loathed it so deeply we home-schooled him for the last 4 years. So, I have experienced both options intimately.
Since the Lockdown, I have received some pretty hysterical messages about the Online Home-schooling many schools have initiated: Hysterically funny ones, about how moms are drinking hard tack before breakfast just to cope with Grade 7 maths; and hysterically angry ones, as mothers recoil at the work their children are doing in supposedly “cutting edge” schools.
The work looks eerily similar to what we learnt 25 years ago and parents are seeing first hand now, as their online schooling starts generating tasks, what irrelevant chunks of facts our children are being given to parrot learn, with no relevance to living through a pandemic with the forecasted job market changes, climate challenges and psychological and political upheaval it will bring to these very children.
The mums are asking me how I even got my son to WANT to work, as their children simply have no interest in doing this work, much less their mums who haven’t done long division in 20 odd years – GnT please waiter!
These messages invited me to reflect on why home-schooling my son wasn’t such a horrendous chore as their experiences are, and two ideas surfaced.
Firstly, we saw how the traditional schooling system was pushing my beautifully original son into a cookie cutter shape, and how painful that fit was for him (baring in mind my daughter fitted in just fine). So we made the decision to consciously find a way of teaching him so that his unique strengths would shine.
I came upon the quote by William Butler Yeats “Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire” and it really encapsulates what we are experiencing now.
Our children are being treated like buckets that need to be filled with theories, facts and information. But why, when they can just ask Siri? Our children have grown up with any and every form of information within 3 seconds reach. So the act of trawling through their current school work seems justifiably unappealing, sorry mums.
But, anyone who has watched a baby stoically learning to walk, through falling, and climbing up again, time after time; or the amount of characters your teenager can describe to you from their latest video game, will know that children are sponges – wired to voraciously learn everything and anything that can hold their attention.
So, education’s job is no longer to fill these fertile young minds with stale information, but to light a fire in their imagination, then let them run with it, and lead us into the future – where they belong.
In the words of Ali Campbell, our children are being taught WHAT to think, not HOW to think. He suggests we think of their minds more as an internet browser (think Google – able to access any information as long as they asking the right questions) rather than a hard drive (where static information is loaded in and stored, to be accessed unchanged when required.)
If we acknowledge our children have access to all the information in the world, surely then our job as educators is to teach them about bias, sensationalism, propaganda, fake news and the booby traps within this huge resource of the internet. Hopefully the more our children become familiar with these concepts the less they will put up with them.
That done, the really juicy work starts.
In order to learn HOW to think, first, our children need to learn who they are.
How do they tick? What are their unique gifts? How can these be grown into work that can be shared with their planet? What are their biases, weaknesses, their cultural upbringing, and how can they embrace these healthily? Who is their community? Humans, animals, plants, their planet? How can they best relate to this ecosystem of beings in the most wholesome way? How much do they really need? Is growth sustainable? What would love do? Should there be borders? What is gender? Why did Covid 19 happen? Open questions, with myriad answers, not closed questions – that’s Googles job.
Light fires in these beautiful minds, then let them think, create, talk, debate, dance, listen, research, grapple and ultimately teach us what future they want to live into.
I had so much liberty home-schooling my son, I was able to turn a maths lesson into a debate on the unsustainability of consumer growth; an English lesson grew into a heart wrenching poem about his deepest angst. So it didn’t feel like a chore, but rather a precious journey towards knowing my son.
Not all of us have the luxury, or the inclination to home school, but my giddy hope is that Covid’s Lockdown showed enough parents the dull torture this old education system is for their children, and its ineptness in cultivating conscious citizens as we walk into the most unknown future this human race has ever known.
Let’s get the best minds on our planet to challenge our children through the internet; let people who love to teach be paid well to facilitate our children’s growth; let us as their parents take some of the responsibility to grapple with hard concepts in ourselves and with our children, so we not all sitting on different screens in the evening, but rather engaging meaningfully with each other.
In the future, with mechanisation becoming so intelligent, it is our children’s originality, uniqueness and self-awareness that will keep them employed and mentally whole.
Covid 19 is an invitation. The whole world has been made quiet. Quarantined from our consumerism, with only an abundance of time, we are called to reflect on the real quality of life we have chosen and how it has brought this planet to this place.
My prayer is that we have the courage to break down the old schooling factories our children are in, and open our minds to the fertile possibilities for education that our children are longing to show us.