The Cookie Cutter vs. The Nurturer
I have a very poor opinion of State education in the UK. The formation of that opinion started at a very early age, and over the years I have not experienced anything to change it.
Forcing kids through a cookie-cutter because they are not the right “shape” breaks those kids. Doing so with force breaks them harder.
What follows is a story from 1976 and my first encounter with the ‘cookie cutter’. It also, happily, includes my first encounter with being allowed to grow.
The Cookie Cutter and Enforcer
Mrs Bun was one of those teachers who disliked children, particularly bright ones with imaginations.
I had the misfortune of being in her class at primary school, and her dislike of me was immediate.
At six years old, I had been reading since the age of three.
But in my first class, I’m forced to read books that are mostly pictures, with even some of the words themselves replaced with pictures.
That’s pretty standard for a child just beginning to read, but I finish each book after a minute or so and take it back to Mrs Bun’s desk and ask for another.
Frowning at me disapprovingly, she tells me I could not have possibly finished the book.
“Go back to your seat and read it properly!” she says.
Back I go, to read it again, just a little more slowly this time, and in a state of confusion.
Am I doing something wrong? There must be more to this book…
Doing The Same Thing, And Expecting A Different Result
But no. The book is as boring as the first time I read it. I go back to her desk to ask for another.
I get the same response from her. Back I go to read it even slower, then back to her desk again.
Eventually, I give up.
After finishing the book for the umpteenth time, I sit at my desk and daydream. What else can I do? I am bored silly!
At home I am reading encyclopaedias and poetry!
Here I am being forced to read such things as this:
Dreams Are Punished
Mrs Bun eventually notices me daydreaming and shouts my name.
“Christopher Sumner, come here!”
I walk to her desk, with the whole class now looking at me.
She puts me over her knee and spanks me six times, telling me something along the lines of “You are not here to dream. You are here to work. Now go back to your desk and do as you are told”.
My feelings towards Mrs Bun then was hate.
Today, it is pity.
The Nurturer and Facilitator
However, my teacher afterwards, when I left Mrs Bun’s class was my idol. I adored her.
Her name was Mrs Hook, and she was the kind of teacher that wanted to nurture the children she was teaching. The very second I attended her first class, she took me to one side before I even had a chance to sit down.
I don’t recall exactly what she said to me, but she let me know that she knew my ability. I was immediately given “Library Choice” – something that was only given to kids years older than me.
Freedom To Grow And Learn
“Library Choice” meant that I could go to the school library anytime I pleased during breaks and pick any book I wanted to read.
She assessed me properly and discovered I had a reading age of 16 at that time.
She was an exemplary teacher, and I am grateful to her to this day.
But guess who, out of these two teachers, became Headmistress many years later, a long time after I had left school?
Sadly, it was not Mrs Hook…
We Are Souls and Minds, not Cogs and Components
To this day, I have nothing but disdain for the “conveyor belt” of education in the UK. My story is from 1976, but in general, not a great deal has changed. But at least corporal punishment is no longer allowed.
In reality, the actual standard of education itself has become lower – I saw this for myself by reading my step-daughter’s coursework and ‘reference’ material when she was still at school.
The sheer simplicity of it took my breath away. In spite of the fact that my step-daughter was in the “Gifted and Talented” cohort at school, the subject material was hollowed out. There was little of any depth or breadth remaining.
Do Not Think, Just Accept – Do Not Create, Just Follow
Kids today are all being ‘taught the test’. And this is all Teacher’s seem to be allowed or have time to teach.
And now schools in the UK are being forced to cut back on lesson time for all creative subjects.
Art, Music, Drama, Dance, Photography, Design – all are being squeezed due to lack of state funding.
Even Technology subjects are feeling the squeeze.
This sends an appalling message to all kids, that says,
“Your creative ambitions and dreams are worthless”
“We do not value creativity”
“Your ability to express yourself in a creative way is pointless – it will be ignored”
Leader-boards vs. Individuality
I know that there are kids in this country getting A* grades in their GCSE’s today, who would barely get a ‘C’ pass grade at the old ‘O’-Level’s I went through.
And there are plenty who are getting ‘C’ pass GCSE’s who would likely have been ‘Unclassified’ at ‘O’-Level.
And crucially, the kids who would easily have got A grade at ‘O’-Level are absolutely bored out of their minds, because they are not being challenged or stretched.
My nephew is one of these kids. He’s having major problems at school because he is so far advanced. And there is simply no place at all for someone like him within state education. Many of his teachers are not as bright as he is.
That is a failure of the State, not the teachers.
Society Is Failing Kids Across The Spectrum
Some kids leaving school with low grades struggle hugely with life in general, and are given little to no help to figure it out, until they become a problem.
Even kids coming out of school with “Pass” or “A*” grades are struggling with real life. Despite “passing”, they’ve not been given the tools to make a decent life for themselves.
Then there are the highly intelligent gifted kids. The ones in the top percentile who would have excelled at the old exams with ease. They leave school with A* grades too – and find it difficult to discover exactly where they fit in to society.
How do those kids find their place in society? A society that rewards mediocrity and conformity? One that represses critical thinking, creativity, innovation and uniqueness?
Lights In The Dark
I believe that the push to conform and become a productive “cog in the machine” has remained unchanged since my day.
And I know that the Mrs Bun’s of today are out there still, imposing their shrivelled, hollow souls on young minds.
And if that were the whole picture, I could easily become despondent.
Thankfully, out there too are the Mr & Mrs Hooks of this world.
Working hard, from within a restrictive framework imposed from on high, doing the best they can to nurture the young minds that pass through their lives.
So, blessed be the Mrs.Hooks, whose love, light and dedication shine brightly in the darkness.
Our kids need you more than ever.
*Some people’s names have been changed to protect their identity.
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