Sunday, 7 February 2010

Over-parenting in school

Report in today’s paper about an American books arguing that happy children are the result not of relentlesssly attentive parenting but of living with parents whose relationship is good. I don’t know about the relationship part but might there be an equivalent in schools?

I.e. perhaps schools can be too caring. I think one of the schools I worked in, or certain departments in it, may have been so and we may have worried more about the kids’ ‘adjustment’ and happiness than about their intellectual development. In my own schooling I think I benefitted from the impersonal relationship we had with most of our teachers. The school then was just an institution we could manage in pragmatic and instrumental ways, and certainly we never felt it was intrusive; it made huge demands on our time but otherwise didn’t interfere with our freedom and autonomy. Your personal life was right outside their concern. One could have a relationship with knowledge and the disciplines that was disinterested and compartmentalised: they gave you the tools and material and left you to it, partly because the teaching was often ineffective but also because that was the way: the stuff was presented, more or less conscientiously, and it was for you to get to work on it. There were tests and assignments, of course, loads of them, but except when one was terrified of a teacher they were just impersonally there: doing what you had to to pass them was often interesting and enjoyable, and despite the load there was usually time to develop one’s own interests.

I'm grateful, too, for a childhood that wasn’t over-protected or over-provided-for at home. It seems to me that, until I went to grammar schools (with homework and Saturday morning school) I played out most of the time, on the magical Moor Fields [see labels down side] or taking a meandering couple of hours exploring our world on the way home from school. My parents weren’t irresponsible but they didn’t worry.

I was lucky in growing up on the rurban fringe of a city, with the best of both worlds available, endlessly stimulating and affording unlimited possibilities for exploration and activity. Schools should provide the intellectual equivalent, through curriculum and resources, with the teachers taking a rather detached responsibility for avoiding harm and ensuring kids enjoy a large zone in which they’re not at the mercy of peer culture.

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