The George Monbiot article in the Guardian today argues for a relevant curriculum to the 21st century that’s against routine tasks and favours exploration rather than indoctrination. It’s factual inaccuracies on the state of education and it’s solutions are something more articulate and knowledgeable minds can hash out more clearly, as the comments on it attest.
Has anyone actually had an education like it’s described there? All factory (eh?) and everyone getting the same thing? I certainly didn’t in the mid-noughties at school.
But I did at Taekwondo.
As a fat gobshite nerd, I definitely had no business being there. It was utterly irrelevant to me, my life and my background.
I began learning Taekwondo because our posh neighbours went and it meant I had to stop playing out three times in the week while they put on their white suits and hit things. I wanted to go because I thought I’d become a power ranger without the zords.
When I got there, it was walking up and down a room doing the same thing for a lot of the lessons. Literally marching up and down a hallway doing kick after kick. Make it better. Make it more precise. Make it faster. Make it sharper. You can’t learn that fancy spinning kick until the simple kick is perfect. Not good. Perfect.
I think about it a lot when I’m in the classroom. “They’ve got it move on.” No, that’s not enough. Have they got it well enough to underpin what comes next? “If they can do three they understand.” I don’t consider three a warm-up.
I did this for eight years, and passed my black belt exams at 18. I am fiercely proud of that, more so than any academic qualifications. The black belt was harder. Academic stuff? Well, I’d be reading anyway so I might as well get something out of it. The black belt? Discipline, focus and challenge.
If I were to spend my teenage years following my dreams I’d have still gone, but I would have stopped pretty quickly. If I had someone telling me repeated practice was damaging, or saying I ought to be learning something more relevant, I wouldn’t have stayed there.
Why does it have to be a traditional Korean martial art? What use is that? What situation in life calls for a perfectly executed ap chagi?
Did it lead to a crushing of my precious adolescent creativity? I don’t know. Every person I know seems to have a different understanding of what creativity actually is, but I managed to do alright in fights, even without my glasses on. When someone’s foot is launching itself at your head, you’re grateful for the practice. I’m not sure if not getting battered is seen as applying a set of techniques in a new context ‘creatively’ or not, but it was the most formative experience of my adolescence.
As a child, my curriculum would have been pogs and Pokemon cards if I’d have had anything to do with it. If I’d had a ‘relevant curriculum’ I might have agreed with my parents who said ‘people like us don’t go to university’, but I had teachers and instructors who were too busy teaching their subjects to worry about their relevance. We were taught about Balinese dance, why Hemingway’s short stories are so effective and universal truths about triangles. We were given cultural capital.
Students are in about five hours of lessons a day. The rest can be used to learn things that are relevant. For those five, students should be learning things they won’t get anywhere else.
Any call for a ‘relevant’ education that students can be ‘engaged’ with is a call for our kids to know their place and accept the limits of their worldview.