Why are politicians so keen on being in control of education? I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it is because they want to keep the general population as ignorant as possible and so hold on to their little piece of temporal power, blissfully unaware that by educating everyone to their highest achievable level, we all benefit from the creative energy that is set free.
All politicians care about is getting re-elected in five year’s time, and so that is as far ahead as they can think. They institute a few flashy programmes to produce statistics that can be massaged in their favour, all the while holding back the majority of our nation’s children.
You might think it sounds like a conspiracy, but I don’t think it is. It’s just a system and we are all players within in it.
So how do you gain an edge in this game? How can you ensure your children are not disadvantaged by the education system?
You do what everyone has always done before, throughout all history. You look after your own.
I know it’s not very egalitarian or comprehensive, it doesn’t chime with the socialist ethos of the last century, but you have to remember that the last century, and all the social experiments we had to put up with, are but a blip on the human timescale.
If you want the best for everyone, be the best for everyone. You cannot help the poor if you are poor yourself. You cannot help the poor in spirit if you too are poor in spirit.
And what is the simplest and possibly the greatest thing that you can do for your children, as a parent or teacher?
Read them stories and let them read books.
Lots and lots of them – again and again – never mind “Education. Education. Education”. The true secret of learning skills is Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
We think we are so clever in our twenty first century. We have forgotten just how hard it is to learn the skills of listening and reading. Forget about writing and arithmetic – they are add-ons that come later. The true core skills to teach for a modern life are listening, writing and drawing.
Children are genetically hard-wired to listen to stories. They are hard-wired to learn from stories. No amount of explaining or lecturing can affect the human brain like a story. Learning to listen and comprehend is like any other skill. It requires repetition to become good at it. The way we get good at it is by listening to stories, again and again, snuggled up at bedtime in the cosy warmth of family love. This you can do – everyday – and look after your own.
Once upon a time teachers knew this and took time to tell stories. It was the moment when the classroom went quiet and students really listened and engaged their creative faculties. There is nothing like telling a story to quieten down a class of children. It’s virtually fool-proof. Once teachers read and told stories everyday, like storytellers and village wise people of old. The story is a flickering flame that children – and adults – stare into. They enter a dream state where they inhabit the story and become the heroes and heroines, learning about the verities and treacheries of human existence, rehearsing the life they are going to lead. This you can do – everyday – and look after your own.
Once, we understood the power of a book, to teach to inspire, to entertain. To read a whole book is quite a feat. It requires perspicacity, energy, focus. I truly heard a mother tell a child once, “I’ll buy you a book when you learn to read.” That is the attitude education has sunk into. Politicians scream for better results and cut books and school library spending at the same time.
If the nation’s education was a business, we would invest heavily in books, which are the simple raw materials of learning, and those who can teach and inspire children to read, who are the plant that turn the raw material into high value product. Everything else follows from this point. Get the early years right, teach children to read and draw and play and the later years will follow along quite nicely. All those angry kids in year 9 are angry because no one taught them to read properly. They don’t have a clue what they are doing in class and no idea what that person at the front is going on about.
How can we let children leave primary school reading below their age level? Those are the statistics we should judge schools on. The rest of their lives are doomed. We are teaching our primary children incredibly complicated stuff these days and expect them to understand, but how can they, when they can’t read, or draw or write to express themselves?
We seem obsessed with writing levels these days. How are children supposed to learn to write if they never see sustained writing being done? Literacy focuses on short extracts. Literacy is what we used to call grammar. Grammar is important, it provides a universal way of interpreting writing and so allows us to understand the writer’s true intent. But it is the writer’s true intent that is important, not the nuts and bolts of how they get their message across!
Literacy is like saying, “Here is a magic carpet, Children. It can take us anywhere and teach us anything – so in this lesson we are going to pick it apart and roll up the threads into a ball so we can see just how it’s put together.” Or – “Here is a book of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Today we are going to tear out one page. Then tear that page up so every word is separated and then we will study each word and really get to the bottom of what makes Shakespeare so good.”
Do you want your children to do well? Then get them to read like there is no tomorrow. All they can ever learn is in those books and to be able to learn it all, they have to start by learning to read – a lot – again and again and again. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. But this is not a boring thing – children love stories and the wealth of stories available to them is astounding. But it’s no good, if you are closing down your library and cutting back your book budget. You can cut so much in a school before you ever touch the book budget. That should be one of the very last things to go.
Do you want to improve writing? Get them drawing. That’s what writing is. Drawing letters on paper. Drawing is the direct and shortest distance from idea to paper. Writing is drawing in words – a hand/eye/brain co-ordiation skill. Drawing is another inbuilt, genetically hard-wired human trait. The first books ever were the cave paintings. How can you write, if you can’t draw and make marks? Drawing is a learned skill. It needs repetition, repetition, repetition to get good at it, like any other skill. Give children paper and a pencil and they’ll go quiet again. It’s natural, it’s how humans express themselves. Writing comes from this, as a higher form of drawing. But if you’ve not done the groundwork, don’t expect miracles.
Let your children draw and paint and make and create – all the time – not as an optional extra on Friday afternoons. This you can do – everyday – and look after your own.
And let them play! Let them act out the fantasies in the books you let them read. Let them sing and run around and everything else that isn’t in the National Curriculum.
But most of all give them books and let them know how extraordinary they are. Get them to talk about books and stories, to share and tell them amongst themselves. Fluent reading opens the doors to everything modern life has to offer and the gift of fluent reading, through patience, repetition, repetition and more repetition is the greatest thing you can give a child today.
Fill your children’s bedrooms with books, paper and pencils. Fill your schools with books and paper and pencils, not just in the school library, every classroom should be stuffed with books and posters about books and their characters.
Books are like education bombs. Hand one to a child, light the fuse and stand well back.
This you can do – everyday – and look after your own.