Happy Fatherhood


"We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control." - Pink Floyd

Like most people (more than half, I imagine), my wife and I think of ourselves as above average intelligence. Our first born seemed to us to be very intelligent indeed. Before he even started school, I was imagining we might have to work on the school to make special provision for his formidable brain power.

Ha ha ha - how the fates mock me. It turns out I was worrying unduly.

The fact is, he refused to do anything at all at school, and after a year and a half of struggling, is now firmly behind most of his class. Granted, he goes to a rather pushy school - 3 weeks in, aged 4 years and 2 months, I was told his IT skills were not up to scratch, and he needed computer time at home. Shouldn't a 4 year old be kicking a football around at home? Apparently not.

Almost everything he has managed to learn, has been at home, with me. That may or may not be normal (comments please), but if it is, I do wonder why I send him to the inhumane, threatening, world that is school.

Some people argue that regardless of academic progress, school teaches kids to socialise. I suppose it does, but it is a bizarre form of sociability. To begin with at least, the kids with birthdays towards the beginning of the school year are significantly bigger, stronger and mentally more developed . These kids rule the roost. The younger kids follow their lead and learn annoying behaviours and their place at the bottom of the pile. I had a pretty miserable time at school and it's only since leaving the fetid institution that I learned to be happy.

Looking at what he brings home from school, it seems it is a lot of colouring in. which he does by a token scribble in each area. Whatever new topic they learn, colouring in is the way it's taught - he was supposed to have coloured in pictures of food, pictures of clothes, landscapes, portraits, etc., but instead gave each piece a cursory scribble and went back to staring out of the window. What he was thinking about then, nobody knows.

When children at school are asked to draw, it always to some sort of formula, rather than from life In Byzantine art baby jesus looks like a deformed, shrunken man, and Mary's breasts look like over developed pectorals, there's an implicit prescribed method for drawing everything, come the renaisance, art was copied from life and it got a lot more lifelike, and simply better. School doesn't help this by telling them to draw a car, when they can't see any cars. My son, as it turns out, can draw fine when he's looking at what he needs to be drawing, but doesn't get that opportunity at school.

I'm still vainly clinging to the belief that he is gifted, but I am coming to the realisation that the gifts he has are not measured at school, and this probably applies to most kids. He has an exceptional vocabulary - but he dumbs it down around other kids, and I'd be surprised if his teachers even know he can talk. He is also very gifted at logical thought, and has a lawyer-like (shudder) ability to construct a winning argument - a gift which can be frustrating for a teacher trying to explain why he needs to colour in a picture of a cat today - he's right it's pointless.

Since starting school, other talents have atrophied. His drawings were better at age 3 than they are now (at age 5). the difference is that before school, he chose what he wanted to draw, and now he is told what he has to draw, and a disdainful, perfunctory scribble is all he'll do unless it's his idea.

I had hoped he'd show prowess in school, but what he has shown is perhaps more interesting - he's shown me what education is.

What do we want from school?

The modern education system came into being to create fodder for the factories of the industrial revolution, and the way the units move through the system on a conveyor belt is certainly reminiscent of it's origins. A craftsman would nurture each unit, but craftsmen are too expensive, and not the way of the modern world.

The world has changed a lot since then, is changing still,and is about to change in ways we can't yet imagine. The education system has changed little, but for the increasing number of exams.

A five year old in education today is preparing to make a living in fifteen to twenty years time. I have no idea what skills will be required in 2025, but I'm pretty certain colouring in won't be a skill in high demand. Come to think of it, mental arithmetic and rote learning will not be needed either, as computers do both much quicker and more reliably. I'm not saying they shouldn't be taught, but it's likely that later success will not be as correlated to these skills as it is today.

Foreign languages are always useful on a personal level, but the level a typical British school leaver attains is not enough for a casual conversation, much less its use in the work place. Meanwhile scandinavian school children manage to learn 3 or 4 languages to a good conversational level before leaving school.

We're often told that more kids should choose science for their careers, but even the best and the brightest, with a PhD in a science, can get a job earning about the national average wage - i.e. no more than if they left school at 16 and learned a trade. Clearly the market does not value their skills as highly as we're led to believe. Science needs to be taught at school, as everybody needs to know how scientists work: they copy each other and fudge their results to fit what's expected. However, contrary to the protestations of the Dear Leaders, it is not important to your child's success to be good at science.

Art - everybody knows that an art degree, much less an art GCSE is not a route to employment.

Computers - now there's a skill for 2025. A computer in 15 years time will be about 1,000 times more powerful than today's machines, and therefore capable of tasks we can't yet imagine - fifteen years ago, who would have predicted we'd be using computers to store photographs, edit videos - much less the rise of the Internet and the communication and business models this opened up.

However, the school computer syllabus is so far behind the skills really in demand that it is totally pointless. I did a computer Studies A/S level in 1991 and learned about punched card readers, some 20 years after they 'd fallen from use (keyboards are just easier, aren't they?). THe GCSE syllabus is all about teaching kids to copy and paste, and drag and drop, and how to update their antivirus software because you can only learn Windows. THey learn how to set the margins nicely in Word too - but not how to Google for how to set the margins nicely. Kids still learn about logic gates, as if they're going to go home and make a silicon chip. Programming is what ought to be taught, as most jobs people do in frontt of computers have some scope to be automated, so that bored employees can go home early without the boss noticing. The official syllabus, touches on Assembly Language, which nobody uses any more (how many people ever did?), but of course not enough to actually be able to do anything useful.

So, Britain in 2025 will be a nation of youths with skills made redundant by technology; and yet they won't really have a command of that technology. All the information in the world will be at their fingertips, but they won't know what to do with it.

So my son still goes to school to learn how to colour in dinosaurs properly, but, when he comes home, he gets his homework (yes, 5 year olds have homework) out of the way so that he's allowed to make 3D graphics on my computer. 3D graphics programs are difficult to use, and already he's beyond the level where my meagre knowledge can help him, but he's learning how to learn it, and if he does that, he'll have something to offer his Chinese overlords in 2025

The important thing is that for the moment, he has an interest in something, and is encouraged by the progress he's making. I'm not expecting his interest will last long before he's on to something else, but like stepping stones, these interests will provide him with a meandering path to a valuable skill set, perhaps very different from the skills his peers have, and in that knowledge, I can rest easy.

Posted on 2011-02-20 06:51:54

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>Education 2011-02-20 06:51:54