I think it is important for me to begin this post with a disclaimer: I don’t work as a teacher and I have no children in school. Therefore, what I pose are ponderings and questions. I am particularly curious this week to receive your thoughts in the comments stream below…
Several of my good friends have sent some of my littler friends (their children) off to school for the first time last month. I had discussions about this with them and was possibly more on the alert to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations on the subject too. I heard people talking about their concerns that their child was not going to be “pushed” enough. I know others fear that their child will fall behind or struggle with what they are being taught. And so, of course, some people believe that classes should be streamed according to ability.
You can see the logic, but to be frank, this horrifies me. I see the classroom and the playground as the places where children really get the opportunity to build their own community and – to me – diversity is what makes community. I also think there is an opportunity here. Say we have one child in the classroom sitting bored, having finished the task they have been set within minutes; and another child, head in hands, staring at a problem with no idea where to begin. Could the first child be invited to coach the second? I am no expert in child development so I wonder how early that might be possible. Given my lovely 6 year old nephew has for several years been explaining to me how I should be playing certain games, it seems to me there would be scope for this pretty early on!
I am a strong believer in inclusive education. I think if we invested the money we spend on ‘special schools’ into additional support within the ‘mainstream’, we could have great success. Children seem to me to know how to adapt and inlcude; it tends to be the adults who can’t figure it out. I know this works in primary schools but often falls apart in high school. But perhaps if we created the space for more interdependence between students (coaching and helping one another for example) early on, a culture would emerge that would promote inclusion throughout school life. And it would stretch the more academic students too.
One of the most enriching learning experiences I had in high school was doing ‘paired reading’, where I sat with a younger boy a couple of lunchtimes a week and read a book with him. I learned important things about patience, empathy, and valuing the opportunity this young man had given me by accepting my help. And here’s a thing; I remember the book we read together and I even remember some of the characters and aspects of the plot. I have a terrible memory! I really don’t remember many other books I was reading at that time. But sitting with another young person and trying to help him get through that learning, things stuck for me.
The reason that I care about this so much, despite not working in a school or having children who go there, is this. If we created the space for children to teach us how to really, truly make this work, I believe in twenty years our communities would be more connected, inclusive, interdependent and hospitable. And that is a community I long to be a part of.