Education For Life

As the tram passed the grand clock in the town square, Albert´s heart sank as he contemplated the tedium and difficulty of yet another day ahead at his menial desk job in the patent office. There must be more to life than this, he thought. It would be another four hours before he would be able to enjoy the lunch of sandwiches lovingly prepared by his wife: Mrs Einstein. If only there was a way to speed up the day! He looked again at the clock. What if this tram was travelling much faster? I mean really fast; at a speed approaching the velocity of light itself? Immediately, the cares of the day receded as his imagination swung into action; visualising the tram speeding away from the clock, visualising rays of light moving from the clock into his eye, visualising the amended movements of the clock hands that would now ensue...

The ability to visualise simultaneous complex multi-dimensional mind pictures, is just one of a number of special and unique abilities possessed by people with dyslexia, although it would be several years, and much angst, before this ability would establish Albert Einstein´s reputation as arguably the greatest scientist of the twentieth century; even though dyslexia is often regarded as a "disability". Surely, he stands as testimony to the efficacy of the education system. Well... actually... no.

The schools National Curriculum for Mathematics states that "These are the statutory programmes of study and attainment targets for mathematics at key stages 1 to 4. They are issued by law; you must follow them unless there´s a good reason not to. All schools maintained by the local authority in England must teach these programmes of study from September 2016". Let´s take some examples. For instance, at age 12, Key stage 4 determines that students understand and use place value for decimals, measures and integers of any size. Basic stuff. However, at this age, Einstein had taught himself Euclidean geometry in the school holiday, independently discovered his own original proof of Pythagoras´ Theorem and started learning differential calculus, which he had mastered by age 14. And that´s not all. In his spare time he became enamoured of Kant´s "Critique of Pure Reason"; a tome routinely described as incomprehensible to mere mortals (source). All this, and much more, occurred before he was expelled at age 16 for a "bad attitude" (source).

Would it not be more realistic to accuse the current school system of having a bad attitude towards children; enforcing a system that is totally contradictory to their natural impulses? Every entrant to the teaching profession, indeed any of the caring professions of teaching, health, social care, etc., is taught that the most important aspect in working with people is the person-centred principle: every situation involving the needs of people conforms to three basic truths. Firstly, every person is unique and different from everyone else. Secondly, every situation that every person experiences will also be unique and different from that facing anyone else. Finally, the path to resolution of individual challenges and opportunities will also be unique. Student professionals are taught that these principles should inform their interventions. The difficulty is that the employers of these professionals and the regulatory bodies governing the professions, governmental bureaucracies, operate according to entirely different principles. For the bureaucratic mindset, any situation that cannot be forced to conform to a one-size-fits-all regulation, edict or legally enforceable procedure is anathema. The aim is total control and the eradication of situational & human diversity, in a mistaken belief that it is only through conformity that well-being can be maintained and the system function efficiently. The current system was designed to create a population suitable for the industrial era, now coming to its end. The ideal product of this system is someone trained to "keep your mouth shut and do what you´re told"; in school and in life.

These issues are illustrated by the case of James Russell. While you may not know his name, you will certainly be familiar with his work. Within school, he was regarded as a slow learner. On several occasions, he was punished for messing about when he should have been "working"; in one instance being caught playing around with a magnet in one of the fire extinguishers. Indeed, rather than devoting himself to the preferred activities of the school curriculum, he was more interested in taking things apart to see how they worked. If he was a student in a current UK school, the possibility is that he would be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and labelled as problematic; needing to be subdued by special measures, if not powerful anti-psychotic drugs. Fortunately, around the age of 15, James came into contact with a science teacher who recognised that his penchant for playing around with things, rather than indicating a subversive and dangerous unwillingness to conform actually revealed a profound spirit of scientific and technological enquiry. Now, with his natural tendencies nurtured rather than being condemned, James rapidly progressed through his school studies, followed by higher education, to become one of America´s most notable inventors. With more than 60 US patents to his name, it was a desire to be able to play his collection of vinyl music LPs free from hisses and scratches that led to him inventing the Compact Disc (CD) system.

Surely education should be directed towards helping an individual to realise their own unique genius, rather than trying to make us all conform to the same narrow set of standards? To imply that a realisation of the problems engendered by a state-led system means that we should instead embrace a private system doesn't follow. Rather, we need to reconsider the guiding principles on which education is based.

Change Agents

West Rise Junior School

Documentary film (16.11) about an innovative junior school in Eastbourne with a visionary and gifted head teacher.

Prince Ea

US rap artist who sued the school system. Spoof courtroom scene (06.00) presenting the evidence and argument.