The Cookie Cutter vs. The Nurturer
I have a very poor opinion of State education in the UK. The formation of that opinion started at a very early age, and over the years I have not experienced anything to change it.
Forcing kids through a cookie-cutter because they are not the right "shape" breaks those kids. And doing so with force breaks them harder.
What follows is a story from 1976 and my first encounter with the ‘cookie cutter’. It also, happily, includes my first encounter with being allowed to grow.
The Cookie Cutter and Enforcer
Mrs Bun was one of those teachers who disliked children, particularly bright ones with imaginations.
I had the misfortune of being in her class at primary school, and her dislike of me was immediate.
I was 6 years old.
I had been reading since the age of three but was being forced to read books that were mostly pictures, with even some of the words themselves replaced with pictures.
Pretty standard for a child just beginning to read, but I would finish each one after a couple of minutes or so and take my book back to Mrs Bun’s desk and ask for another one.
She would frown at me disapprovingly and tell me I could not have possibly finished the book.
“Go back to your seat and read it properly!” she said.
Back I went, to read it again, just a little more slowly and in a state of confusion. Was I doing something wrong? There must be more to this book…
But no. The book was as boring as the first time I read it. I went back to her desk to ask for another.
I got the same response from her. Back I went and read it even slower, then back to her desk again.
Eventually, I gave up and after finishing the book for the umpteenth time, sat at my desk and daydreamed. What else could I do? I was bored silly. At age 6 I was reading encyclopaedias and poetry!
Here I was being forced to read such things as this:
SO. Mrs Bun eventually noticed me daydreaming and shouted my name.
“Christopher Sumner, come here!”
I walked to her desk, with the whole class now looking at me.
She put me over her knee and spanked me six times, telling me something along the lines of “You are not here to dream. You are here to work. Now go back to your desk and do as you are told”.
My feelings towards Mrs Bun back then was hate. Today, it is pity.
The Nurturer and Facilitator
However, my teacher afterwards, when I left Mrs Bun's class was my idol. I adored her.
Her name was Mrs Hook, and she was the kind of teacher that wanted to nurture the children she was teaching. The very second I attended her first class, she took me to one side before I even had a chance to sit down.
I don’t recall exactly what she said to me, but she let me know that she knew my ability. I was immediately given “Library Choice” – something that was only given to kids years older than me.
"LIbrary Choice" meant that I could go to the school library anytime I pleased during breaks and pick any book I wanted to read.
She assessed me properly and discovered I had a reading age of 16 at that time.
She was an exemplary teacher, and I am grateful to her to this day.
And guess who, out of those two teachers, became Headmistress many years later, a long time after I had left school?
Sadly, it was not Mrs Hook...
We Are Souls and Minds, not Cogs and Components
To this day, I have nothing but contempt for the "conveyor belt of education" in the UK. My story is from 1976, but in general, not a great deal has changed. But at least corporal punishment is no longer allowed.
In fact, the actual education itself has got worse – I saw this for myself by reading my step-daughter’s coursework and ‘reference’ material when she was still at school.
The sheer simplicity of it took my breath away. And she was in the "Gifted and Talented" cohort at school.
Kids today are all being ‘taught the test’. And this is all Teacher's seem to be allowed or have time to teach.
I know that there are kids in this country getting A* grades in their GCSE’s today, who would barely get a C pass grade at the old ‘O’-Level’s I went through.
And there are plenty who are getting C pass GCSE’s who would likely have been ‘Unclassified’ at ‘O’-Level.
And crucially, the kids who would easily have got A grade at ‘O’-Level are absolutely bored out of their minds, because they are not being challenged or stretched.
My nephew is one of these kids. He’s having major problems at school because he is so far advanced. And there is simply no place at all for someone like him within state education. Many of his teachers are not as bright as he is.
That is a failure of the State, not the teachers - as a society, we are failing kids at both ends of the spectrum.
Kids coming out of school with "Pass" grades are struggling with real life once they leave school.
And kids coming out with A* grades, who would have excelled with the old exams too, are finding it difficult to find where they fit in.
How do those kids find their place in a society that rewards mediocrity and conformity; but represses critical thinking, creativity, innovation and uniqueness?
I would say that the push to conform and become a productive "cog in the machine" has increased since my day. And I know that the Mrs Bun's of today are out there still, imposing their shrivelled, hollow souls on young minds.
And if that were the whole picture, I could easily become despondent.
Thankfully, out there too are the Mr & Mrs Hooks of this world.
Working hard, from within a restrictive framework imposed from on high, doing the best they can to nurture the young minds that pass through their lives.
So, blessed be the Mrs.Hooks, whose love, light and dedication shine brightly in the darkness.
Our kids need you more than ever.
*Some people's names have been changed to protect their identity.
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