The Rambles of Neil Monnery

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It is time for the Lib Dems to be truly radical on education

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Nick Clegg has spoken today about how too much teacher time is taken up with box ticking and paperwork, which is pretty fair but he doesn’t speak about just what is wrong with our education system but also about the mindset of far too many people.

This is something that has been building inside of me for a long time and I have written about it several times in recent weeks and months. The crux of the issue is I disagree with what the primary function of schooling seems to be – exams. I would love to know a breakdown of parents thoughts as to whether they would prefer their child to be as best prepared academically for the world to give them the best career options or whether they would prefer their children to be as best prepared to make their own decisions and be the person they want to be.

This falls under the whole envelope I think about regarding the future of society and I could draw inspiration from many places. Last night I flicked over and saw a bit of a TV show called, ‘Secret Life of Living Dolls’ and it was about guys that like to dressing up as latex dolls. Not a fetish I’ve ever dabbled in I must admit but I can see the appeal. A group of them went out in public and got a pretty positive response until some douche started hassling them and screaming at them for doing it. Were they harming him? No. He just didn’t think that people should be allowed to express themselves in a way that he wasn’t comfortable with.

It didn’t shock me but that one person will have undoubtedly caused them more distress than all the positive the other people did. As a race we are generally accepting of those who are different and we are making strides towards making it even better. Homosexuality is now much more, I want to say mainstream but that isn’t the word, it is generally more accepted although some people still can’t do so, many of these people look at religion for a reason to treat these people differently. Religion is the biggest problem that the human race faces but that is a story for another day.

Going back to the education point. A few weeks ago I saw a piece on the BBC News where a failing school had been ‘turned around’ and the headmaster was telling the reporter how he’d done it. The kids are literally not allowed to talk at any time except in break and lunch times unless told it was acceptable by a teacher. Walking between classes had to be done in silence. He had the children line up in register order on three separate occasions during the school day in the main hall to take a register to ensure no-one was truanting. Of course this was in silence. Add to that incredibly strict uniform rules and people wonder why children do not feel free to express themselves.

I am sure Middle England loved it but I wanted to throttle the guy. He is doing so much damage to these young minds yet he is there patting himself on the back because exam results are up. The fact he has robotic children who I suspect are scared to find out who they are seemingly means very little to him.

The young mind is one of the greatest things about our formative years. We all have dreams and aspirations and good schooling can help that. I know what I wanted to be all the way through my younger years and I dabbled in it but here we are at 31 and that part of my life is seemingly in my rear view mirror. You grow up and you have other priorities. Yet I think every adult at some point comes to the realisation that all they truly want is to be happy. Oh happiness. There is a blog post all in itself. Money is great and having a good career is great but that alone won’t make most of us happy.

We all find happiness in different ways and what makes us happy as a teenager may well not make us happy in our 20s, 30s, 40s etc. We continue to grow and evolve as adults but for many of us that involves going back to our teenage years and remembering what our dreams were then and trying again as adults to achieve them. Last week Byron, a 27 year-old contestant in Masterchef Australia was eliminated but said that he now knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, he wanted a career in food because it made him happy. He hadn’t got involved in food after school for a variety of reasons but many of the contestants are like that. They chose a career path that they were expected to do or just fell into instead of going for what they truly wanted. This is a flaw in education and in society. We do what is expected of us instead of what we think will make us happiest.

I am all for being realistic but also I am slowly coming around to the fact that we are often better than what we think we are. We are amazing creatures who can adapt and grow in ways many of us never thought possible. Personally I have only taken one big career gamble in my life. One leap of faith that was not to do with happiness but in fact the total opposite. I was so unhappy and frustrated in what I was doing I had to break free and try something different, even if it didn’t work out. Luckily for me it did work out but it did feel like a huge risk at the time and it was done with my mental health squarely in mind.

This is what I want to see in our education system, people daring to be who they want to be. Being brought up in a very tolerant environment where people don’t judge you based on what sex you are, what sexual orientation you are, what colour you are, what clothes you wear, what make-up you wear, what style your hair is, what your teeth look like, what you do in your spare time, whatever. This all sounds very Utopian I know but unless we dare to dream and have the guts to act then we’ll never create the society that would be a truly wonderful place to live.

I want to see an education system where children have a plethora of opportunities and are able to explore them to the best degree possible instead of being taught a regimented syllabus that gives them the best academic possibilities as defined by the government of the time. Another thing I want to throw in here is the why schools deal with social studies. It is laughable. Social studies are marginalised for more academic lessons. I had five lessons of maths a week but in Year 10 & 11 I had no social studies lessons at all, at all. I’m not even sure I had any in Years 7 & 8 so it was only Year 9 where I had any social studies lessons at all and that was a joke.

Social studies is more important than algebra. It is more important than history, more important than geography, more important than science, more important than foreign languages and I could go on, I think you get my drift. Young people need to learn about the world and being part of a positive and welcoming society. This encompasses sex education as well. The hardest part of growing up is not learning academic things but learning about being part of society. These are the skills that many young people struggle with but we shun it as to give more time to academic pursuits.

Putting the social aspect firmly at the heart of education policy would be a giant step forward both for the children of today and for society as a whole. Teach young people about tolerance and about how our differences are only on the surface. Teach them about how to treat one another. Teach them that just because they dress or act a certain act then you shouldn’t treat them any differently. I know it sounds obvious to many of us but we are seeing a lurch away from tolerance and it scares the living bejesus out of me. This is coming mainly from the elder generation but it filters down.

We need a generation of people who feel free to express themselves without fear of persecution in any way shape or form. It isn’t going to be easy but until we understand the whole journey of life starts how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, allowing us the freedoms to live our lives how we see fit and how how society dictates that we should then we’ll always have a problem. I don’t mind taking small steps but we need to know what the end goal is and find the best way to get to that end goal. Ridding society of intolerance should be that end goal at it starts with our education system. Letting young people discover who they are and letting them express themselves is the starting point as the more different people we are exposed to at the young age then the more accepting we are.

We are all different and until we understand that and embrace that then we’ll never get to where we want to be. So it is time to be radical. Put forward a plan to let our young people grow and if they grow outside of the perceived norms that society expects then so be it. A diverse future will lead to a happier place and isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day – to just be happy?

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Written by neilmonnery

October 22nd, 2014 at 12:06 pm

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