“May we raise children who love the unloved things“ Nicolette Sowder
Take a look at the two images. What do you see? These are both pictures by Outsider Artists; those who have had no formal artistic education. They are also both highly collectable artworks, not that this should matter. Yet it does, because what we place value on tells us who is valued, and which type of knowledge or education is seen as important. Until the 20th Century, Outsider Art or Art Brut as it was originally called, was seen as insignificant, demonic or even dangerous, the ramblings of insane minds and simple souls. It took artists from the Blue Rider group to start showing interest in this form of creativity. Now it is internationally recognised as an art genre in itself. Anyone who has watched Grayson Perry’s Artclub will have seen some examples of these works.
Education is, of course, hugely important. It enables people to understand the world we live in, to find fulfilment, to learn. However, we sometimes overlook those innate qualities which allow a different type of learning in our quest for academic achievement. Things like inquisitiveness, intuition, creativity.
On the continent, children do not go to school until they are about seven years old. Prior to this they attend kindergarten or a similar establishment, where they are encouraged to develop their powers of imagination, collaboration and practical skills through free play. The irony is that once they finally attend to academic studies, they generally learn quicker and achieve higher on average than UK children. Why? Because they have learnt much needed ‘soft skills’ that help them to master the ‘hard skills’ of writing, reading and arithmetic. In fact, we handicap our children by pushing them so hard towards academic learning so young. Boys especially have not got the fine motor skills to write at the age of four or five when they start reception class.
Over the past ten years or more there has been an increasing push towards results and exams at all UK school levels. This teaches children that the only point of education is to pass a test. I noticed the effect this was having on how subjects are taught at school when my daughter chose A Level English as an option. I had also studied this subject in 1980, but the skills of debate, critical thinking and enquiry which I learnt when reading Shakespeare et al bore no relation to the techniques she learnt in order to know how to answer specific questions in the required manner. There is nothing wrong with aiming at passing your exams, but this approach seemed to allow no room for open minded thinking.
This little rant is not without direction: I’m saying all of this because, although the prospect of a return to school is now on the horizon, many of us will have been in the midst of home schooling for quite some time. Even though the teachers have been instructing and guiding via online sessions, parents will have been feeling the pressure of responsibility for their children’s’ academic progress. There’s no avoiding the fact that this year or so has really messed with the normal processes of education for many young people, and for some this will be at a critical stage. I do not want to belittle this, it’s easier for me as my children are older. Having said that, my daughter graduated (without a ceremony) last summer and my son is in the final year of his degree.
However, I do want to take the pressure off us all too. Of course, we want our children to do well, I would be hypocritical if I said otherwise. But how do we measure this? What are we valuing? And what pressures are we putting on ourselves and our young people? Maybe we need to remember that there are other important things to learn in life, those kindergarten values of collaboration, creativity and inquiry. These are those innate gifts we are all given and can develop, also known as our ‘inner child’. I found this poem which I think expresses this better than I can.
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What do I feel pressurised by at the moment?
- What do I value?
- How can I find my inner child?
- How can I foster my sense of inquiry, wonder and creativity?
You will need your inner child and somewhere to go for a walk
- Take yourself for a walk alone
- Do something you remember doing out of sheer enjoyment as a child: splashing in a puddle, climbing a tree, touching a raindrop…
This meditation is commissioned by Leeds Methodist Mission