How often do we, as teachers, tell children that the experiences they encounter in school are designed to “prepare you for life/the real world?” We place rules, uniform, curriculum content into a box called “Future” and dole it out without really thinking if any of them are true. We conveniently ignore that their lives are already being lived and are quite real. We demand that they are future focused while we turn a blind eye to the present.
As a parent, I’ve done the same. “When you grow up…” “You’ll need this in the future…” and so on. We bring our neurosis to bear on their present every single day. But I made a fundamental mistake as a mother by spacing my children out seven to eight years apart. The eldest two are grown and the youngest one is sitting staring at me with an eyebrow raised. An eyebrow that says without vocalising it “you big, fat liar!”
He wears a shirt and tie to school every day. His brother works in an award winning advertising agency in London in jeans and a t-shirt.
He’s told that play comes after work. His brother has a ping pong table, darts board and pool table in his office. He’s encouraged to take play breaks to aid his thinking. His company thinks they get better productivity and creativity our of their employees that way. And they do.
He’s told not to swear. His brother’s company’s mission statement is “Give a Shit.”
Middle child is at art school. It’s been a sharp learning curve for him. No-one really seems to be that bothered about his technical skill – it’s something that they assume he has (or he wouldn’t have won his place or got his A Level grades I guess). They are interested in his capacity to make meaning, to make connections, to develop ideas in multiple ways, to experiment with the unfamiliar and make something of it. They even expect him to work and produce work in groups. There are tutorials and support sessions on skill and technique, or course. But what they want is a brain that thinks, interprets the world and creates.
Youngest child copies existing artists and their works of art at school.
I read on twitter that creativity, critical thinking, independence, time management and all the other skills that my older boys are expected to have in droves as they enter the adult world, come naturally from knowledge. But they don’t. They need to be practiced and experienced as much as maths, as much as reading. They need to be rooted in now. Otherwise, we are sending droves of children out into a world of work that they are not prepared for. For what is this world of work today? We have an endless number of jobs in which people can wear uniforms, follow orders, comply – but they tend to be the lowest paid jobs. The ones on minimum wage and zero hours contracts. The best jobs? They demand more than compliance and much more than knowledge. Perhaps that’s why some of the world’s leading companies are now taking blind applications in which there is no space for qualifications or the name of the candidate. Perhaps it is why many of them are bypassing degrees and looking to apprenticeships instead.
That’s not to say that learning and qualifications don’t matter. Of course they do. Eldest boy is an Oxbridge graduate. He didn’t get in there by playing pool. But he also didn’t get in there by simply having exam grades either. The interview was designed to make him reach and connect. It had nothing whatsoever to do with a single text he’d studied in school. Everything centred around his external reading, his thoughts, his interpretations, his ability to think on his feet and his ability to look another human being in the eye, connect and communicate.
My youngest child looks to the future and he sees that work can be fun. Hard, challenging, frustrating, tiring, but fun. He sees that people judge you on your outcomes not your appearance. He sees that his brothers cannot make their way in their chosen fields without getting on well with other people. He sees that uniforms are largely irrelevant in theirs and their friends’ lives. But that imagination, communication, interaction, empathy and graft matter a lot. What do we do in schools to make children experience that so that it is the norm and not the exception?