How Schools Un-educate Children
Schools un-educate children.
By all but the most narrow definition of what constitutes learning, schools un-educate children.
When a child enters secondary school, by and large, she is curious, determined to succeed, resilient, confident in speaking in public, willing to give it a go, independent as a learner, willing to work with others who are not her friends, and willing to ask and answer questions.
She already possesses many of the character traits we hope our students will have when they leave school. And yet five years later, these are not the character traits you find in a typical Year 11 student. They have lost most of them, and (arguably) replaced them with just one; they know how to answer exam questions.
A few months ago we ran a project with our Year 7 students to investigate what’s going on in Syria. The project basically involved 3 steps:
- find out what’s happening in Syria by asking good questions;
- learn about the role of the United Nations through a mock UN debate on Syria;
- write to William Hague MP, the Foreign Secretary, with your views on Syria.
Over the past few weeks I’ve repeated the project with my most able Year 10 students. Have a look at the students’ work below, and try to guess which pieces were done by Year 7 students, and which by Year 10. The results are revealed below.
STEP 1 – Find out what’s happening in Syria by asking good questions:
This involves students writing down questions in response to stimulus pictures from Syria. Before they do this, I teach them about the difference between basic questions (what, where, when), and advanced questions (why, what happens next, who’s better of worse etc.). Click on the image to enlarge it.
STEP 2 – Learn about the role of the United Nations through a mock UN debate on Syria:
You can see some of the Year 7 debate in a previous blog post, but I didn’t video the Year 10 debate, partly because they were shy about being filmed, and partly because it was no contest. The Year 7s were more impressive debaters, hands down.
STEP 3 – Write to William Hague MP, the Foreign Secretary, with your views on Syria:
Below are four of the best letters – two from Year 7 students, and two from Year 10. Can you tell which are which?
In Step 1, the first photo was the sheet completed by Year 10 students, and the second was completed by Year 7 students.
Here are what I think are the three best Year 7 questions:
- what must they be thinking?
- how could the situation improve?
- why aren’t they doing anything about it?
- what does the world think about this?
- are they on the side of the government?
- why is it allowed to happen?
- the Year 10s are involved in a number of GCSEs exams this term and may be distracted by that
- the impact of adolescence may be a factor – particularly in their willingness to speak in a debate
- I may have not taught the lessons to the Year 10s as well – was I unconsciously hoping they wouldn’t do so well to prove my point?
- perhaps if I had stretched the Year 10s more, they would have demonstrated higher abilities