Are we training the next generation to be selfish?
The more I read, the more my own thoughts evolve about the purpose of education. I have always been convinced of the importance of teachers actually teaching, which is what I thought they did, until I started my SCITT course and found out that apparently this was a bad thing. I have also always been convinced of the importance of providing children with oodles of knowledge in every subject and then giving them opportunities to memorise, recall, apply and build on said knowledge regularly so that they can have choices in life, do well in their exams, be fascinated by subjects rather than activities and of course communicate and engage with the wider world (again, I thought this was what all teachers wanted until I started my SCITT course and found out that apparently this was a bad thing).
Thankfully, it turns out Hirsch and many other researchers have supplied and interpreted the evidence to back myself and other trads, so I know I’m not going mad after all. But then, not much is written in the world of educational research about the importance of whole-school behaviour and culture except in terms of how, by behaving, children are better able to learn. I think that perhaps somewhere along the line, vast swathes of the population have forgotten the true purpose of instilling and, if we’re frank and honest about this, enforcing good habits, respect for authority, focus and work ethic in the next generation; this is the other curriculum, the development of the scholar, and it goes way beyond the individual and it is important from the very first day a child, especially a disadvantaged child, attends school.
Seriously, have you thought about the other curriculum (and I’m not talking about PSHE here) in your school? I’m loathe to go all hippy and philosophical on you all, but I might have to go this way for the next couple of paragraphs. Don’t worry! It’ll come round to the usual pragmatic considerations…….
As you know, my reading journey has led me into the world of Confucianism and I must say I find it fascinating, especially when I find out that Confucius himself acknowledged the conflict of filial piety (duty to your immediate family) with the fact that many children’s family circumstances were pretty dire. Sure, I might be a few thousand years too late to the party, but I am happy to now know that Confucius considered his best students to be those that wanted to learn the most, regardless of their ‘status’ in society at the time (and many came from impoverished backgrounds, so now I feel right at home with the whole Confucian thing). Furthermore, I also loved reading about how the process of studying hard made you not just more intelligent and well-read, but a better person because you become more focused, able to work hard and for longer than others. This makes sense because, when you think about it, the self-discipline and focus needed to perform hundreds of complicated calculations, or spend a whole hour perfecting just one bar of a piece of music transfers to having the gumption and resilience to tackle tricky aspects of life without getting all flaky, shirking responsibilities or endlessly whinging. In fact, if you are brought up to be self-disciplined, you will also come to view all trials and tribulations in life in quite a positive way because all struggle, whether it be perfecting handwriting at the age of 7 or getting stressed over wallpapering the spare room at the age of 37, is character forming (if you take the right view, that is).
Anyway, let’s get onto this other curriculum. As Anthony Radice said to me recently, “We need to train the will as well as the reason.” Why? It’s not just good for the individual, it is good for society because when you are in control of yourself, you are better able to give yourself to others. How is this done? I’d like to use the most beautiful analogy I can think of: the musician and the orchestra.
The young musician spends many hours laboring over scales and arpeggios, and sometimes one piece of music will take weeks and weeks to master. For many years, a parent will share this responsibility and frustration because they must, come rain or shine, ensure that their child practices religiously until said child is wise enough to appreciate the value of discipline and practice and also has those good habits to continue the hard work alone. Non-musicians will never understand the frustration and pain (mental as well as sometimes physical) that a musician goes through in order to do the composer and themselves justice. They think that musicians are just somehow naturally ‘creative’ and have accidentally noodled their way to musical mastery.
A young musician also has another education and this comes through participation in attending music school in order to play in a youth ensemble or orchestra. Through being able to play in an orchestra (which only comes through being able to play an instrument and read music well; ‘communicating’ with other musicians), the musician learns among other things to discern two types of harmony: the first being that which sounds pleasant to the ear, and the second being that of harmony within a society. As the the will of the musician has been trained by his parent and teacher (and eventually by himself) through hours and hours of practice until he is in control of himself, he is then able to give himself to the orchestra under the leadership of the conductor and the guidance of the lead musician for their section. Out of this, comes beautiful music and happiness for all concerned. The musician can eventually go on to work in other orchestras, or even form their own ensembles or quartets………
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what I am getting at.
How on Earth can a young person participate in the great orchestra of life, if they are not in control of themselves and are therefore unable to give themselves to others? I believe we need to consider the other curriculum: training the will of young people. Sure, this already happens for advantaged children in the home, but for disadvantaged young people, the story is very different. This is part of the reason why I am so against the supreme dominance of child-centred education in primary schools and argue instead for traditional education. This whole idea of allowing children to ‘choose their challenge’, indulge in the odd chitchat at the expense of task focus, or follow their own interests actually encourages children to develop the ‘ability’ to flake out when the going gets tough. The requirement for teachers in primary schools to not talk more than a couple of minutes and to also make sure their lessons include lots of relevant and fun activities also trains children not to concentrate on any one person or tricky concept for a length of time. This is the opposite of training the will. This is training children to think only of themselves and what interests them and their feelings, to be selfish.
If young people cannot participate in the great orchestra of life because they lack the self-control and discipline that enables them to give themselves to others and experience the beautiful music that is produced, then how can they ever be truly happy? The answer and key to children’s happiness and achievement in life must surely come through training the will (in addition to training the reason through a great curriculum and teaching).
How can we train the will? Here are a few examples:
- Strict rules of conduct helping children to develop self-control
- Making sure that children are paying attention to the teacher and expected to listen and participate in questioning for increased lengths of time
- Practice, practice and more practice of knowledge and skills which helps with recall in lessons as well as self-discipline in life (this is also why I like Shanghai maths)
- Regular silent study/reading to focus the mind
- Memorisation of poems and Bible verses to help develop concentration
- Encouraging determination and focus through the use of competition
- Regular testing with direct feedback of results so that children know that hard work pays off
- Participation in ‘mini-societies’ such as orchestras, choirs and sports teams to develop an understanding of the importance of rules and hierarchy
At the end of the day, this is all about the development of scholarly disposition in children and the celebration of all things scholarship.
Who’s with me?