Little children do not need to be ‘critical thinkers’

I read this really interesting article this morning and it got me thinking about primary schools in the UK. You know that I have written before about feeling like I’ve landed in an alien world (when I enrolled on that SCITT course a few years ago); I still feel the same way sometimes and quite often my face is like this whenever someone mentions ‘creativity’ and ‘critical thinking’:

confused pirate

The article I link to repeats the great wisdom that in order to be a critical thinker you need to know a lot about that particular subject (likewise with creativity). Of course I agree, but in contrast to many educators, I think even the earliest years of education need to be about transmission of subject specific knowledge and vocabulary. I’m going to be bold and say that I think we actually need to be encouraging our youngest children to be ‘uncritical’ thinkers (ie, mostly in ‘receive’ mode) and for teachers to really know what they’re talking about.

Oh my God! She’s trying say that little children shouldn’t be allowed to think for themselves!

No, I didn’t say that, but I do think it’s a bit weird that you’re trying to treat my own offspring like they’re little professors – you can get them to be curious all you like, but they’re not going to magically come up with the theory of relativity all by themselves.

In the staff room, for example, I reckon I could venture a few critical thoughts about the sustainability of final salary pension schemes, but that’s because I know a lot about pensions including the rules, regulations, taxation (personal and corporate), investment, administration and the process of winding up (almost inevitable, unless underwritten by the State). Over the years, I have collected various jigsaw pieces of knowledge about a variety of subjects, but that’s just because I am older and a bit more experienced; I’m nothing special though. However, what seems to be different about the adults in the school staffroom compared to the average office is how educators with no knowledge whatsoever about a subject seem to think they can talk about it like they are an expert even though they are talking complete bollox (‘Yeah, well maybe if the bankers didn’t get paid squillions, we’d have more money for pensions’), so my face ends up looking like this:

What-are-you-talking-about

It could just be a unique experience to me, although there have been a number of occasions which has led me to think this is a ‘pattern’ and it’s hard not to take it personally because these situations are incredibly insulting, but I sometimes wonder whether this is symptomatic of a general attitude in education that you don’t need to be an expert in a subject in order to be a ‘critical thinker’ and have an opinion on everything because, according to many educators, ‘critical thinking’ can be taught and tiny little children can be ‘critical thinkers’ too, even when both child and adult in the situation know hardly anything about that subject. So, I get told by supremely confident people all sorts of wrong stuff about all sorts of subjects, and then when I come back with, say, some actual science (for example, no, there aren’t only 3 states of matter), I just get a ‘Well that’s what you think. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion’. I worry that this attitude where even if you don’t know the salient facts about a subject, you can still go ahead and think ‘critically’ about it, could transfer into the classroom with the following results:

a) children copy the same kind of behaviour – perhaps feeling entitled to rudely interrupt in order to spout opinion and ongoing commentary about anything and everything

b) children think they don’t need to know about a subject because they’ve been given tacit permission to comment or ‘think critically’ without having done the hard graft of background research (or been taught much about it), so they don’t try as hard to learn the facts or take that much of an interest in that subject

c) children are taught misconceptions, stereotypes or outright wrong’uns by teachers who are convinced of their own expertise, despite their not having learned enough enough about that subject themselves (the worst examples I have seen are in maths and science lessons, but music, history and RE can throw up a few clangers and I can’t be the only person who has winced at the ‘modelling’ of poor French pronunciation)

d) children grow up thinking that they do not need to listen to or respect experts/elders

But all that’s OK isn’t it? So long as they’re curious and asking lots of questions, that’s all that matters, right?

If I’m honest, this whole situation, especially the last point above because it potentially turns children against their own parents, makes me very sad. Perhaps this is the root cause of how our youngest generation arrived at the collective decision that we’re all, allegedly, now living in a ‘post-truth’ world – the reality is that no one knows very much and instead of finding out more, perhaps from those who do know about that particular subject or via going to the library and reading an actual book, they just make stuff up. This means that in the West we’ve potentially managed the unique feat of completely closing the minds of our youngest generation to any and all wisdom and expertise. This is in stark contrast to the almost universal commandment in the Far East that young people have a duty to listen to, learn from and respect their elders and their collective wisdom.

I think this process of ‘closing of minds’ starts in EYFS school reception year (where they are immersed in themselves as it were) and continues all the way to the end of year 6.

By the time the children arrive at year 7, they have had many years of ‘What would you like to find out about the Tudors?’ and ‘What do you think causes earthquakes?’ Even if teachers then go on to properly teach any particular subject complete with all the juicy facts, the children are still introduced to every lesson and lesson sequence with questions like this, causing them to think they they can go ahead and make up any old crud in their heads while believing that they’re being incredibly insightful, with the most disadvantaged children being disadvantaged even further by their limited background knowledge and experience (‘I’d like to find out if the children in the Tudor times played football or had video games!’). Many primary educators would read this and feel offended by these accusations, but believe me when I say that many, many parents up and down this country have had to correct misconceptions, stereotypes and untruths that their children have been taught at school:

  • Kind Henry VIII was some kind of mad, fat, woman-hating tyrant (actually, it is notable that as a young man he taught himself to dance, read and write music, speak many languages, understand the structure and military capabilities of all the surrounding countries, write poetry and worked hard to become excellent at sport – the guy was tall, fit, clearly incredibly intelligent, had charisma)
  • All children in Africa live in mud huts, wear masks and hunt with spears (actually, no, Africa is a continent and most of it is really quite developed)
  • The Victorians hated children and beat them constantly (actually, no, they were deeply concerned about the welfare and education of children – by the end of Victoria’s reign, the welfare of children had improved and almost all children were in school till the age of 12)
  • Grid method is how you do multiplication (actually, no, let me show you this whizzy method called long multiplication that takes a fraction of the time and is also way easier)
  • Butter is bad for you (actually, no, real butter helps you to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and you can’t really get everything you need just from vegetables and fruits)
  • If you believe, you can achieve (actually, no, you need to have a goal and consistently work hard towards it)

Does the profession not find this embarrassing? Do educators assume that every parent is an idiot who will glibly accept whatever the child has been ‘taught’ at school when in fact most parents have some kind of relative expertise somewhere – whether it be general knowledge (because parents are typically older and more worldly experienced that the average primary teacher), knowledge honed through progressing through academia or having a specialist interest as a hobby, knowledge gleaned from reading lots of books and newspapers, or knowledge honed via the workplace (IT or financial services, working in foreign countries and having a better understanding of different cultures, knowing that only hard work and not ‘luck’ leads to rewards).

So, there we have it: children who are being encouraged to think critically even though they don’t know enough (because the teachers don’t know enough) when in fact younger children need to be encouraged to think uncritically (ie, just listen and learn) and be taught by experts.

What’s the answer?

Thankfully, the tied is turning and many primary schools are getting on board with the whole knowledge thing, working together to ensure that the children are receiving a great immersion in fascinating, linked-up facts in all their lessons. Knowledge organisers are being shared, experts are helping teachers with their resources, planning and teaching, and children are being given those wonderful opportunities to feel successful and like they’re really learning whenever they are tested. Although this isn’t the reason why knowledge is at the forefront of curriculum planning in many schools, children will experience a subtle shift in their mindset such that they will understand that the main job of a teacher is to teach and that their task is to listen and to learn. I think this is a good thing because little children need to be uncritical thinkers until they are old enough and wise enough (ie have learned lots about that subject).

There is much more that can be done though: textbooks written by experts and with ‘background information’ for teachers to bone up on, national/state tests of knowledge (start with science in year 6, please) for each year group; this will also cause parents to take an interest and to want their children to do well. Larger schools and academy trusts have the advantage that human resources can be pooled in order to provide expert-led lessons for children. The people at the DfE are talking about knowledge and the ‘substance’ of what is taught, but much of what they say is directed at secondary schools when we (those of us who have read our ED Hirsch) know that attention needs to be paid to what goes on behind the closed doors of the primary school down the road.

Perhaps many primary teachers need to accept that the joy of having a truly intellectual conversation with a young person that spurs them onto further interest in a subject is a joy reserved for the secondary teacher, and that in order for that conversation to take place someday in the future (when the child has long forgotten our names and faces), it is our job to lay the foundations of knowledge and vocabulary to enable it otherwise that conversation many never take place. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had conversations with children about how much dark matter there is in the universe, but at the back of my mind I’m thinking about making sure they are damn good at maths, can write a decent report and have the basic science knowledge so that one day they can tell the world about dark matter, but it will be their physics teacher and the subject itself that they will cite as being their inspiration and that is absolutely the right thing.

But what if these little ‘uncritical’ thinkers are taught a lie and just accept it?

They shouldn’t be taught lies though, should they? As adults, it’s our job to make sure that we know enough and are teaching them the facts. Further, is it appropriate to be treating little children like they’re mini-professors, constantly asking them to think critically about a subject they know little about, just as we try to get them to pretend to be expert scientists by doing lots of experiments, hoping that by pretending to be experts they will, de facto, become experts?

So, let’s expect the little children to be uncritical thinkers and let’s make sure we’re giving them lots of knowledge.

Who’s with me?

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Why I continue to take part in and promote The Debate

This is another riposte to the ‘Oh the trad/prog thing isn’t even real; it’s all about teaching methods that work’ type tweets that keep flashing up whenever I open the twitter app on my phone. Here are some of the reasons why I refuse to cower in submission:

  1. I believe the trad-prog divide is real and that people need to properly understand it in order to take part

One of the most alarming ‘truths’ that goes around is that being trad or prog is all about teaching methods and this is why I continuously refer to this handy guide (I just like the table format) because whether you’re trad or prog comes down to philosophy of education – you cannot be in the middle or ‘both’ at the same time because the purposes are completely different and pretty much mutually exclusive. I really am quite astounded that people with BEds don’t seem to have a basic grounding in philosophy or history of education that would enable understanding of this, or am I missing something?

2. Ed-media newbies and new teachers in general need to be given straight-up information

I spent ages googling, after my ‘Something ain’t right here’ senses alerted me on SCITT course days, eventually understanding the two main philosophies and the methods usually associated with them. I wanted to feel like I had purpose myself and a sense of direction for my teaching career by sorting my ed-head out on this matter, rather than blindly follow all those missives to make lessons fun, highly differentiated, noisy, child-centred, knowledge-lite, textbook-free etc. Now I want to reach as many people as possible and say ‘Hey, here are the facts, yes there is a very important difference and you have a right to know this and make your own choices.’ I get messages of thanks from previously befuddled teachers, people who were being guilted into towing the prog party line while at the same time being told ‘There is no such thing as trad or prog because it’s all about teaching methods that work, so you might as well just stop engaging with all that edu-twitter debate nonsense’. What are these big-guns deniers so afraid of? Why are they so insistent on stopping new teachers in particular from getting involved?

3. Some teaching methods actually inhibit other teaching methods

Alongside the ‘there is no such thing as trad/prog’ missives, also runs a ‘just choose which way works best based on the needs of your class’ command. I think this is rather devious because the very people who are ‘advising’ this know full well that beginning teachers with all their youthful energy, zeal for social justice and complete absence of worldly wisdom are more likely to have been taught to use methods associated with the progressive philosophy, including the advice that implies good behaviour comes from planning ‘engaging’ lessons with high levels of differentiation. However, once these newbs follow the prog party line, not only does prog style teaching become a habit, but the very children they teach would have become used to a prog classroom as well. The latter consequence is the most serious, especially at primary school where children only have one or two teachers for an entire year. This is because children are highly suggestible and if they are taught to expect fun activities and personalised worksheets, to always be able to choose from an educational buffet, to not have to concentrate or listen to one adult’s voice for any length of time, to view the teacher as an entertainer rather than a font of knowledge, deserving of respect and to view the purpose of lessons as a series of activities rather than the transmission and retention of little jigsaw pieces of subject-specific knowledge, then this embedded attitude potentially inhibits them not only from learning, but also from accessing the lessons taught in a future trad classroom. I think this is one of the key reasons why behaviour is worse in secondary schools – the children have effectively been indoctrinated to rate their teacher based on fun-ness rather than intelligence, knowledge or clarity of voice and thought; they feel entitled to switch off if lessons aren’t to their liking, or they simply don’t understand the purpose of a lesson, you see. Such habits of thought and demeanour, this sense of entitlement, is very hard to change once it is an entrenched mindset – future teachers are then forced to continue with the whole progressive charade until they leave teaching feeling exhausted, frustrated and having internalised that they are utter failures. How convenient for the Debate Deniers, eh? I don’t want this situation to happen to any child or any young teacher, hence my persistence.

4. Shaming people into silent compliance just doesn’t feel right

It is alarming when educators who are aligned with trad philosophy publicly declare that the words progressive and traditional shouldn’t be used because they are not ‘nice’ words (the same people like a quiet classroom, but never an occasional silent classroom – they need to go out of their way to constantly prove to the progs that they are not dictators). Perhaps it is because these same people have their own brands, books and consultancies to run and they don’t want to risk putting the punters off since the ‘trad’ label has, in their view, been sullied so much. This is a very sad situation because it means that the new teacher is less likely to hear/see these words and then ask questions; he will instead infer that these are dirty words never to be spoken or mentioned – how will they ever find out about the two philosophies if we never mention their names? Surely it would be better for new teachers to have the courage to ask questions, rather than hesitate or feel frightened? The very first thing we all need to do is to openly debate, use the correct words (not obfuscate like cowards) and let those new teachers join in.

Who’s with me?

 

 

The eduhackers – a select subgroup of lifehackers?

I am a big-time fan of the whole lifehacking scene right now. If you’re not aware of this movement it’s because you probably think that the current zeitgeist is all about hipsters and eating avocado-based food off of roof tiles. Lifehackers don’t have a uniform look nor do they congregate in particular places, but they do recognise each other because they all believe in making themselves better people and having better, happier lives as a result – there are certain tell tale signs or ‘life hacks’ that are instantly recognisable such as:

  • Dabbling in the paleo diet – reduces inflammation and improves clarity of mind through bouts of ketosis (which is different from ketoacidosis – get your biochemistry knowledge right, people!)
  • Doing HIIT instead of hours of running – better for reducing fat, looking good and improving general health markers including mental health
  • Deliberate attempts to break bad habits – so as not to be a sort of slave or just weak 
  • Deliberate attempts to form good habits, knowing that the process involves hard work – aiming to become more efficient, productive, socially aware, knowledgeable, happy and intelligent
  • Continuously seeking new knowledge because it is interesting and it also helps you become a better person (also, the pursuit of knowledge is good for you too)
  • Experimenting with various forms of minimalist lifestyle – freeing up working memory for the bigger things in life like spending time with your family (example: only having 3 pairs of shoes so as to avoid cluttering the mind with having to make silly choices)

Lifehackers like to use the wisdom of science to inform their purposeful life choices and everything they do is about being a better person. Much of what they do I think is actually ancient wisdom (like a modern form of science-backed Confucianism), but repackaged with a bit of modern technology and sometimes pharmacology, verified by the scientific process. Lifehackers seem to be intelligent, curious, read a lot, open to judicious use of technology and also seem to be more likely to work in some kind of STEM field although it seems quite a few are architects (maybe they like ‘redesigning’ themselves?). They’re not too keen on Western ‘therapy’ which get its patients to question every relationship and analyse everything anyone has ever said or done to them (constantly looking for problems in everyone else), believing that it leads to dependence, self-obsession, blaming others. For lifehackers, it is better to make changes to lifestyle, habits and diets to subtly change brain chemistry as well as feel a sense of purpose and connection to the wider world. Lifehackers also, most importantly, know and live deferred gratification in their every day lives in order to make themselves mentally stronger, more resilient and because of this mindset, every trial and tribulation becomes an opportunity rather than something to feel sorry about oneself for. If you’re intrigued about this positive and empowering lifestyle, try these websites:

But be prepared to realise much of your bumbling twenties spent trying to ‘find yourself’ was not only a waste of time, but possibly seriously detrimental to your health and well-being.

Anyway, what’s all this got to do with education? Well, I think* that a sub-group of educators is gradually coming together and it seems that their collective thought processes are very similar to that of the lifehackers – I’m going to call this group of people the eduhackers because every decision they make is informed by cognitive science, statistically significant evidence and rational thought. Like the lifehackers, they not only want to be better, more efficient, productive and happier educators, but they also want children to learn as much as possible in the most efficient, productive way as well as develop good habits of thought and action that lead to happier lives as a result. Granted, ‘eduhacking’ doesn’t have the nicest ring to it, but the ultimate eduhacking establishment (hope they don’t mind my saying so) has got to be, hands down, Michaela Community School – they even eduhacked lunchtime just like the Japanese do in primary schools (I recommend you watch the video – they even think about the music they listen to).

hackathon_logo_horizontal

Non-eduhackers perhaps don’t understand what’s going on because they view everything, in various shades, through the prism of Western thought: everything comes naturally if you just wait for it, you must pursue happiness for happiness’ sake, your problems exist because of other people or ‘society’, everyone must be nice to you (even though you are not nice) and the world also owes you a living and a good time. This means that children educated by the non-eduhackers could potentially end up waiting forever to discover how to read or do maths, constantly expect ‘fun’ lessons, are allowed to be quite rude and inflict misery on others at the same time as being asked their opinion on the ‘effectiveness’ of their teacher.

For [an extreme] example of a non-eduhackers, he or she would see the whole ‘Get kids to serve each other lunch and say nice things to each other’ as being like a form of slavery, demeaning even, or that ‘forcing’ children to form certain habits such being able to queue in an orderly, quiet fashion is against children’s rights to ‘naturally’ form their own opinions and habits. Discipline? That’s violence, apparently, not a way to help children form good habits in order to be able to participate in society. Eduhackers know, because science has informed them, that little children aren’t always capable of making choices that lead to good habits, happiness or more knowledge and that they need to be, essentially, told what to do and given lots of facts by the adults (training the mind and habits) until they are old, sensible and wise enough to make well-informed decisions themselves.

So, I guess I’m an eduhacker.

Who’s with me?

*This means that I’m mulling it over in my head

You cannot ask a question if you don’t have the right words

I’m seeing lots of the ‘What’s the point of teaching knowledge, why bother filling their heads up with lots of facts and surely it’s better to be helping children to develop curiosity and ability to ask questions anyway?’ type comments and articles floating about the edu-net at the moment.

To those people, aside from pulling a face, I have one great example that should hopefully highlight how silly it is to think that we should only teach ‘skills’ like ‘questioning’ over and above good-quality knowledge (and the vocab to go with it):

Car showrooms.

worldsworstcar
‘Slight dent at the front’ ‘I’ll take it!’

This morning, I’m off to look at a Japanese import MPV or two and I’ve already done my homework. Here are some of my questions that I have prepped:

  1. Are there later models on route through the import scheme that include 2.4l engine rather than 3.0 V6?
  2. What is the fuel consumption rate, MPG, roughly speaking?
  3. Do the vehicles have rust-proof treatment administered when they arrive in the UK?
  4. How easy is it to get insurance and is the insurance reasonable/pretty average for an MPV?
  5. What is the torque and can you tow a small caravan, for example?
  6. How long an MOT has it got?
  7. What’s the servicing interval?
  8. How easy is it to get replacement parts?
  9. I see the doors have an electric sliding mechanism, is there a manual override? What happens if there is a fault somewhere in the circuitry – is it easily fixed?
  10. Is there a cup holder?

OK the last one was a silly question.

These questions are all really specific and if I didn’t know about cars in general or Japanese import MPVs, then I wouldn’t be able to ask these really important questions. The odds are that some of those questions aren’t specific enough because even though I have spent some time researching and have quite a bit of general knowledge about automobiles, I am not an expert in Japanese import MPVs. But if I didn’t have the knowledge that I currently have, then I would be on route this morning to looking like an ignorant fool with just one question ready:

  1. Is it good?

As you can imagine, that particular question would make me very vulnerable indeed because it immediately exposes me as someone who cannot think critically about a car purchase (basic I don’t have any knowledge about it), and this is one reason why I advocate teaching children lots of knowledge – to let them go into the world without any subject specific knowledge is actually, in my view, tantamount to child abuse because it leaves them extremely vulnerable to persuasion by those with ulterior motives*.

Further, I have actually found my car knowledge journey to be quite interesting – but I would not be on this journey if I didn’t have those initial questions and the very particular vocabulary that is necessary for asking those questions. How did my car knowledge journey start? I was taught by my driving instructor, friends and family as I was growing up. Of course, I have done lots of reading since – but remember, I’m an adult who is capable of self-motivation, I am not a little child who would struggle to resist the urge to just go out and play instead.

If you are reading this thinking that I am advocating teaching children about cars and the car industry, you are completely wrong. My point is that to not have any knowledge completely inhibits the ability to ask questions or think critically about a particular subject. In the classroom, a child who cannot ask a question in Year 9 about a particular aspect of biology because he has not got the basic knowledge or vocabulary to think of that question, let alone ask it, will end up less curious, not more – how would he ever know about how amazing cell signalling is if he didn’t know enough about cells or even what a cell was?

So, the knowledge must come first if we want children to be able to ask questions and be more curious.

Who’s with me?

*History teaching (or lack, thereof) is a good example of this: many young people today are at risk of voting in regimes that have catastrophically failed in the past – regimes that cause economic disaster and lead to horrific consequences for ordinary people, particularly the poor

 

 

The Future is going to involve a lot of maths

I’ll begin by quoting myself. If a national crisis/apocalypse occurs, the Prime Minister is not going to pick up the phone and call a dancer or a poet; he’s going to call someone who is damn good at maths. Why a maths person? Maths people are special: they are rational, logical, calm, direct, love a quandary and do not clutter their brains with bandwidth-wasting concerns about fashion, frouff* or celebrity gossip. When I say ‘Maths people’, I include all the coders, hackers, number-crunchers, quants, techies, CFOs, scientists, engineers, actually I don’t know how to end this list so you’ll just have to get the general drift of the people-Venn I’m trying to construct here. This blog post is about how I think maths people need to pipe up and promote their subject’s central importance in every child’s education not least because maths and maths people will probably save the world one day. It’s also a post that is meant to be tongue-in-cheek and quite light-hearted, just in case you didn’t twig that.

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Just another day at the office

So, the first thing I read this morning on edu-media was another ‘Children aren’t studying enough art‘ type commentary. To be fair, I share similar concerns, but I don’t agree that there needs to be some kind of battle – all school leaders and educators want the children in their care to receive a well-balanced education and no parent is going to send their child to a secondary or a primary school that doesn’t do or promote music, sport, dance or drama. Further, the Ebacc covers 7-8 subjects which leaves space for another couple of subjects at least. However, what I am mostly concerned about in this case is the discourse that seems to imply that ‘The Future’ is going to be a place where ‘creative types’ will solve all the problems and in contrast all the ‘academic thinkers and number crunchers’ will be rendered redundant and generally looking a bit sheepish. Hey, I can play a mean violin, but even I know that being able to unleash an Irish Jig or The Four Seasons is not going to save the day and if push comes to shove in the most apocalyptic of situations my friends, those violin strings will be used for other purposes and those purposes will involves some serious maths. Also, just because someone can be creative with a minor pentatonic scale, doesn’t mean they can be creative with everything else in the universe like chemical engineering and whatnot.

Even if the apocalypse doesn’t occur and all the violins are safe (for now; some Vegan, sandal-wearing lefty-communist future PM may yet ban them for offending a minority group or something), maths people are still going to be really important. Why? Because the sorts of problems that are going to occur (or are already occurring) will need some serious maths, techie-wizardry or logic to solve them:

  • Demographics: too many old, fat and sick people and not enough young, lithe and healthy people to support them**.
  • Finance: NHS alone could bankrupt the country, never mind pensions etc (see above bullet point)
  • Infrastructure: roads are clogged, the trains are late and too expensive
  • Buildings: not enough of them and many of them are falling down or too inflammable/explosive
  • People: many adults still cannot read, write or add up. People still think that winning X-Factor is a genuine career aspiration
  • Energy: not enough of it to go round
  • Water: not always in the right place at the right time
  • Weather: extreme (and that’s putting it mildly)

No offence, but I don’t see how crochet or tap-dance could help with any of the above situations other than take people’s minds of it for a while.

I absolutely believe that being good at maths is something that most if not all students need to be and this is not just because the future involves lots of maths, but because mathematics is a discipline that develops certain character traits that future generations are definitely going to need when the economic or ecological shit hits the fan.

Who’s with me?

*This is a new word that I and my partner have created. It’s a noun and it encompasses all pointless and pointlessly frilly things like curtain pelmets, toilet dolls, commemorative crockery and wall-mounted, talking fish. Please feel free to adopt this word into your everyday vernacular.

**Solution: robots, obviously – we can’t just import young, lithe and healthy people because that would leave their home countries without enough young, lithe and healthy people!

Everyone is passive

I was deeply concerned about this article centred around an epidemic of self-harm among girls at a boarding school; it made me wonder why children of wealthy parents who have nothing to worry about would be so mentally ill as to want to seriously injure or even kill themselves. This is not to say that their plight is nothing when it clearly is a big something – but, something’s not right here. Why is it that a family friend who had seen her own relatives set alight, burned alive and then had walked thousands of miles to try and get to Britain the most happy, positive and hard-working person I have ever known in so much better mental health than all these boarding school girls, for example?

Natasha is right that teachers cannot simply be chucked all the mental health hot potatoes simply because the taxpayer doesn’t deem CAMHS to be a worthwhile enough cause, but I don’t think there should be all these hot potatoes in the first place. I think part of the problem is that an underlying current of Western culture, this collective psychology that dominates, where everyone is waiting.

“I just want my child to be happy.”

How many times have we heard that one? Too many. But when you really think about it, it implies that happiness is something that comes to us if we just wait: let life take its course, let the opportunities come to us. For a lucky few (mainly the wealthy), those fulfilling opportunities will come. For the majority, happiness will never materialise the way it does in the movies. Many parents let their children choose the easy option in life of not working incredibly hard towards exams and in academic subjects (so many parents have told me that it’s more important their child is happy than becoming ‘mentally ill’ through having to work hard for exams); they are under the false impression that happiness is a fragile flower that, at any moment, could fall apart at a mere gust of wind, leaving the onlooker patiently waiting for the next flower to grow in its place.

flower

If happiness is something that just comes to us when we are waiting, then unhappiness is also something that just ‘happens’ to us too. The dangerous thinking here is that the unhappy person sees herself as a victim and never takes positive steps herself to brighten her own mood; one of the unintended consequences is that she never makes an effort to be a good friend to others (because, of course, it is her friends’ jobs to cheer her up, not the other way round) and then wonders why she ends up even more isolated, constantly thinking about how unhappy she is and how it is so unfair that everyone else seems to be happy. My friend whom I referred to earlier could’ve allowed herself to sink deep into a pit of despair, but she dug deep and chose to pursue a positive future for herself. Ah yes, it’s easy for her, isn’t it? She’s not a white Westerner and therefore must possess some kind of genetic advantage over us.

We’re all guilty of it. This passivity. We’re all waiting for everything: the perfect relationship, love, general happiness, a job that finally makes us feel worthwhile, a career path, to ‘find’ ourselves, the perfect lipstick, a mysterious affinity with an academic subject so that we don’t have to work so hard, readiness to settle down, the ‘right’ time to have a child. And if all these things that we are waiting for don’t arrive, then it’s everyone else’s fault, or perhaps just the fault of The Universe. Parents encourage their children to think like this right from day 1 by patiently waiting for their children to be ‘ready’ to behave, go to the toilet, use a knife and fork, read, write, develop good study habits, form a sleep routine, take in interest in others, choose to work hard, find the perfect extra curricular activity, choose to be kind and then if these things don’t happen naturally then that’s just the way it is, clearly some kind of SEN and therefore the responsibility of others to adjust their own lives to accommodate yet more people who are not ready to fully take part or be responsible adults in society.

Ask yourself this. What are you waiting for? I’ve long since realised that career, happiness, relationships are down to hard work and being proactive, but you know what? I’m still waiting for my wine habit to suddenly disappear, or for my body to suddenly want to go for a run. It’s never going to happen, but this whole waiting thing is so ingrained in my psyche that I am still having to root it out like the knotweed of my life that it is.

So, I recommend we all think about what we are waiting for and then we seriously need to think about how we are encouraging young and vulnerable people to wait for things that they absolutely could have control over and could choose to have. And that includes, sorry to burst a bubble here, happiness.

Who’s with me?

How about a completely different primary science SCITT training?

I should probably have blogged about what I’d do with maths first, but I got into a thing with this morning’s post about how children end up not really knowing much science at the end of KS2, so here are my thoughts on how SCITT science days for primary teachers should be run.

  1. Challenge misconceptions

I think the very first thing that should be done is to educate new teachers on how exactly a scientist is made. To get them to understand that scientists don’t go into their field of research because they really like doing things with micropipettes and liquid nitrogen in labs is the main order of the day. Teachers need to know that scientists are keen to research (which happens to involve experiments) because they want to KNOW more about that particular aspect of science, not because they want to blow stuff up. Then, of course, we need to let new teachers know that a child has no chance of becoming a scientist if he leaves primary school unable to access his secondary science lessons.

Any SCITT tutor would need to be very diplomatic because in letting teachers know how a scientist is made, they are also letting them know that, actually, the primary science teacher is really setting the child up to have that spark of interest well after they have forgotten who their primary science teacher was. I think this aspect should be on any primary teaching course because we should not have huge egos – it is better to be prepared to step back knowing that every child has a chance to really love that subject but it will and should be the secondary science teacher whom the child remembers as the one who made them feel like they want to become scientists.

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Mr Smith was ready to get those kids doing science

2.  Teach teachers how the world of science works.

This would make teachers realise that the experiment is but a mere part of the collective evolution of science knowledge. Through this, teachers also need to end up fully understanding that it is science knowledge and vocabulary that children need, like a scaffold, not endless experiments.

3. Initiate new teachers into the best of current research in how children learn and retain what they have learned. This is where teachers are given no-nonsense information about how to put knowledge at the centre of planning and teaching, how to make sure that children receive the information (ie they are paying attention) and then how to make sure that children are given opportunities to remember such as with regular quizzes and tests. Of course, a plethora of experiments that help to consolidate knowledge should form part of this training too.

4. Ensure that the new teachers know the new curriculum inside and out

This would be a test/exam and it would show that teachers know what they need to teach.

5. Let them see some real science teaching.

And I mean real, not the whizz-bang lessons teachers are shown on video. If they could just watch about ten science lessons then they would really feel like they had an idea about what they were doing! They would also understand that even when no experiment is done, science lessons can still be fascinating for children. Further, this should be proper fly-on-the-wall experiences. What is it with SCITT training that requires new teachers to constantly work with a group or with the children with SEN during input such that they never get to see the bigger picture of a lesson? This really does my head in: they’re not TAs! Let them watch the teacher and see how the children react!

6. Let them know that they have a responsibility to work with the literacy coordinator to ensure that the children they teach are fluent readers and have access to a plethora of interesting science books.

And that’s it really.

Who’s with me?