Back in 1967 – the Observer newspaper in the UK organized an opportunity for children to write on the subject: “The school that I’d like”.
The results became a Penguin book edited by Edward Blishen and a collection of opinions that provided a trenchant critique of school and school life. The students wrote with freshness, passion and insight and their words provide a sustained attack on the status quo as perceived by the children actually in the schools.
One girl wrote in her essay: “I don’t think I would get on very well in my ideal school because I am too used to being told what to do.”–Frances, 15.
Here are some other extracts:
“I am not preparing for life. I am alive now,” Melanie, 14
“The pupils should be given more chance to speak and the teachers should be given a chance to listen,’ – Susan, 13
In editorial Blishen wrote, “Standing out above everything else is the children’s desire to teach themselves, rather than be the passive targets of teaching…they long to be excited, to be amazed by learning, since amazement seems to be a proper response to life…They want to learn to govern themselves. They want to take risks – lord, how anxious they are to be at risk, intellectually and emotionally, and how shameful it is that so many of them should find their teachers, the whole system of education, lacking in every kind of courage! They want to break down the walls of the school, to admit the wider world”.
Children spend years of their lives in school. How is it that they are so rarely consulted about how things and how they could be improved? Young people are much to offer about how their worlds can be structured for learning and for creating an ethical and safe community. These are high priorities for children and they have a great deal to tell us about how to create effective school environments that promote and expect these values. When we fail to engage students as active participants in their own education we are missing a great opportunity to teach, and learn.
Here’s Edward Blishen back in 1967 again, “From all the quarters of the educational scene it comes, this expression of children’s longing to take upon themselves some of the burden of deciding what should be learned, how it should be learned.”
Thirty plus years on the newspaper repeated the experiment. More on that next time.