Are we witnessing the murder of young minds through education?

Each week I oversee hundreds of children as they learn to swim.
As the years have passed I have learned to see more than just a young swimmer.

I see the quiet child, who struggles in the busy pool.
The exuberant child, who bounds out with the biggest smile.
The child who likes their own world, and spends longer under the water than credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc
The hyperactive child who struggles to wait their turn.
The nervous child, who fears water, noise, and everything new.
The dyspraxic child who struggles to move arms and legs separately.

As the weeks, months and years pass, we become very well aquantainted.
We know when they lose teeth, fall off bikes and have birthdays.
Often we are privy to events that happen at home also,
as they compete to tell us their “news”.

However one part of teaching swimming I really enjoy
is when I ask my young swimmers to use their imagination for a swim drill.
As they become carried away with my story, the fun begins.

This is often how it goes.

I line the group of seven to ten year olds up, and say we are going to do some jumping in.
This is always greeted with great delight.

Then I line them up at the wall and explain the task.
I want them to look straight ahead, walk off the edge and fall into the water.
As they get all excited I usually say,
Imagine this as you are walking.
You are staying in a hotel. Its the middle of the night.
It’s pitch black and you decide you are going for a walk.
But you do not know that the hotel is up on a cliff.
As you walk forward, you do not know where you are going,
and you walk over the cliff and into the sea miles below”.

Many of them get very excited with the idea of this game.
But occasionally one of them needs more.
“Is the hotel in Ireland?”.
“Where is my family?”,
“Why am I walking so late at night?”.
“Are there sharks in the water?”.

When the other children hear these imaginings they too become inspired.
They often then join in, “Is my brother with me?”.
“Am I sleep walking?”, “Where’s my mom and dad?”

When I hear these questions, I often think, what is ahead for these children?
Such vibrant, brilliant imaginations.

Will the world that is education in our country allow this imagination to thrive?
Or will it insist they learn “the right answers” and leave no place for credit: One Laptop per Child via photopin cc

I do not know what education is like in other countries,
but I do see a worrying trend in my own.

Lessons are now learned not taught.
Poetry is not explored, but instead the answers to questions are pre learned.
English and Irish essays which were barely written by the students,
are also learned by heart, to be regurgitated for an exam.

As I teach my many little ones every day, and listen to their wonderful open minds,
I wonder just what will be left by the time our “education system” is finished with them.

I ask myself “Can an  imagination that is never fed really survive?”

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: One Laptop per Child via photopin cc

36 thoughts on “Are we witnessing the murder of young minds through education?

  1. As an educator in Early Childhood I focus heavily upon the imagination and creativity of the child. I foster a love of learning through creative measures and techniques. I quite honestly could not teach to a test as I do not find that to be effective or beneficial the child as a whole. I am fortunate that the Early Childhood standards have room for interpretation and creativity.

    1. Yes I agree, and I think that early childhood teaching really does focus on imagination and learning. However it is once the children become older and the focus is shifted from education to exams that I have seen it all change.

  2. Brilliant post.

    The Irish educational system lurches from bad to worse. A good example is the College I attend, they have had to introduce mandatory Foundation courses in essay writing, IT and other essential subjects for doing well at third level for students walking in the door from Secondary school.

    It turns out that Secondary school students show up in the College every year with no idea how to write an academic essay or use Microsoft Word. These students look for the ‘answer’ rather than read the material and form their opinion before arguing and supporting that opinion in an essay or paper, they inevitable struggle, get bad grades and drop out thinking they were not smart enough for College when the truth was they were just never taught properly.

    So now we have a situation where the College has to re-educate the first year students and put extra work on their timetable so they know basic computer skills and know the correct format for an essay. All that should be taught in secondary schools instead of hammering pre-made answers into their heads and telling them ; ‘Say that and you’ll get the points you need for College’

    The points are no good if you drop out because you don’t have computer literacy and your essay bombs because you cannot copy a few paragraphs from a poetry book like you have done all your life.

    1. Ah I detect blood boiling in you too!
      As a parent who has to send their children into this nonsense it is so upsetting.
      Because I do not agree in hot housing and over educating for exams, in a way I am hindering my childrens chances of good points in the leaving cert.
      Also because I see my children “learning” I also see them questioning less, and accepting more, which goes very much against the grain.
      Your description of college is exactly what I imagined would happen.
      Thanks for the insight J.D. Hope the course is going well. If only i’d not had four poxy kids who knows what I could have done! 🙂

  3. My children are no longer in school. But their children are just starting. I too boil at children having to learn answers instead of skills, and strengthening their abilities is not a priority. It’s a sad state of education. All of the great minds we know from history? They come from backgrounds of one room school houses. Educations that included learning how to think.

    1. Agreed. As a previous commetor said there is plenty of emphasis on thinking and imagination in early childhood and then it is just discarded. Maybe in time they will see sense.

  4. Such wise words! I think we will discover in years to come that teaching to the test has been a true disservice to our children. The best thinkers and doers of our time ask questions, they don’t regurgitate pre-formed answers.

    1. You are at the coalface of this. It must be frustrating sometimes, as you have on many occasions spoken of. However I think it’s getting worse not better.

  5. i agree with this very much tric and it is clear that you are a natural teacher who understands what real teaching and learning mean. i will never teach in any way but to teach them to be open, curious, creative, kind and imaginative. any other way does them a great disservice, as they grow as people, and as we send them out into the world. great post –

    1. Thanks Beth It is the contrast I see in my own older children and their education, and the free thinking of these little ones I meet every day. You too are involved with smallies, before they are sent on into “the system”. You must sometimes feel the same.

      1. yes, of course i always worry that this will end somewhere along the way, i think all we can do is expose them to the possibilities and joys of learning and hope that they hold some of that with them as they journey through the system and a variety of teachers who each have their own ways, agendas or pressures from the system to get ‘results.’ it does worry me, but i am ever hopeful )

  6. I see this, not only in my son’s education, but also in many others. The answers are all black and white, with no room for gray. The answers are also handed to them, rather than them exploring for themselves. Imagination is what inspires inventions, creativity, architecture, paintings and the magnificent words we read in books. Without it, the world would look very dim and boring.

    1. I wonder what the effect will be in years to come. Will we continue to have writers, muscicians, entrepeneurs in the same numbers? Will we eventually evolve into less questioning people?

  7. Tric, beautifully articulated as always. This was one of the main (philosophical) reasons we decided to homeschool and the rewards are rich and varied. Not so much when they are small but when they step into their teens. It is an extraordinary thing to witness and honour: their imagination never waning, their dreams being built upon and most of all, their hopes and fears expressed without judgement. Your children and students are lucky to have you! X

    1. Aw thanks Emily. It is difficult for parents not to buy into the system. I remember my friend and I arguing over this and her point which struck a chord with me is she didn’t want them to do well so they would get good points, she wanted them to have choices. In a way I agree and would love that for my children, but I just can’t buy in 100%, and luckily so far the first two got exactly what they wanted.
      Big step to go homeschooling Emily. I am too selfish to do that and I could never educate them to a high enough level, as I’d want too many days off!

  8. I think one of the marks of a successful parent is a child who thinks. A caveat is appropriate here -not all criticism is thought. I know some individuals who where thought to be critical of everything. These individuals live some if the saddest lives I know of.
    Good thoughts – thought provoking.

    1. Yes I get exactly what you are saying on being a negative thinker. I suppose my post relates more to the questioning mind of children. I have seen by the time they are sixteen they have begun to wait to hear the answers at school instead of asking the questions.
      Education nowadays seems to be about knowing the answers to exam questions and not so much the subject.

  9. wow – so so true. imagination is being destroyed in some schools.
    In the UK there is Gove. he is doing a great job at destroying creativity and imagination

    1. It is sickening when so much is done for our young children to help them “grow” and then educators change tack when they are older and educate for exams.

  10. You’re so right to worry – our children are growing up in a “black or “white” world that gives less and less time to exercise of grey matter in the world of imagination. It’s right or it’s wrong. My daughter was asked to define a parent’s obligations towards their child for her homework last night. Here in France they learn about rules and regulations at school – we took a different spin on it. She listed all the expected stuff (lodging, food, health, education) then finished off saying that the most important role for a parent is to love their child. I have a feeling that we will get some red ink for stepping out of line – because that’s not written in the civil law book.

    1. Oh let me know how her homework went. Sometimes it is just not possible to do as expected, and it was a better homework lesson for your daughter too. Mad curious to know how it was received!

  11. Very interesting. I have it all ahead of me. My twins are at Montessori. Their teacher uses meditation, kinesiology, reflexology, child-to-child massage to help balance them and stimulate their creativity. I’m not sure about the crystal healing but they’re benefitting form everything else. They learn about treating each other with kindness and taking care of the planet. Next year, when they start junior infants will be very different I expect. I know the principle is very energetic and wants every child to do well but I do wonder how they will cope with the transition. I wish Montessori education was more widely available for kids as they grow older. It tends to the child’s emotional well-being as well as being educational.

    1. Yes I do think this countries attitude to education of young children is very good. There are many excellent pre schools, and I have loved my childrens national school experience in a wonderful Gaelscoil.
      It is secondary school which is a nightmare. It is 100% exam led. So sad to see such bright minds wasted. I chose a community school for the very reason I did not want an exam focused education, but I would say I am defiantly not in the majority.

  12. I would like to send my son-in-law to you….he swears he can’t swim because he has no body fat and just a bit of imagination. My grands are great with imagination, goofy Mom and goofier Grandmother.

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