Would you rather be clever or capable?
Traditional education models focus on knowledge and intellectual superiority, but how useful is it to be brainy anyway?
I’m yet to be persuaded that the sciences should be any more worthy educationally than PE and would happily debate the issue until the true numerical value of infinity was calculated.
Most of us withstand somewhere near 11 compulsory years of maths where theorems and laws and principles are drummed into us to a point where we can regurgitate Pythagoras’ Rule at the briefest of glimpses of an isosceles triangle. What a waste therefore, that since graduating, I haven’t ever had the need to apply this rule in any personal or professional situation – except perhaps to answer a particularly pointless pub quiz question where the quiz master himself got a little tongue tied over terms that hadn’t passed his lips in decades.
I knew how to set up and analyse the dots produced by a ticker tape timer machine during my physics lessons and eventually got my head round algebra and differentiation through sheer repetition and bully tactics employed by various teachers keen to raise their student grade statistics. It seems pointless to have spent such a huge chunk of my childhood learning lessons that have rarely been useful in any capacity in my adulthood.
My PE lessons were different. I can still vividly remember my brilliant Scottish PE teacher who had super long, perfectly manicured, red polished finger nails and an accent that the whole school loved to mock. She was harsh but very fair and instilled in every child in every lesson the principle of teamwork. She would push the talented to extend their skills and encourage and support those who were less gifted to be proud of always achieving the best that they could. She would sometimes pair the sportos up together so they could go into battle for top dog supremacy, but more often she would pair up a more accomplished pupil up with a less accomplished pupil. Her brief was consistent in that she would expect the more accomplished pupil to give feedback, encouragement, support and praise. The less accomplished pupil had to listen and show improvements. Little did we know at the time that we were being taught more than how to execute a perfect forehand or backward roll. We were learning how to give and receive constructive criticism, to show patience and solidarity and I know how useful those skills have been for me subsequently in both a personal and professional setting.
During one PE
lesson we were learning the technicalities of the 4x100m relay. We were on a
special athletics track that was a small coach trip away from my school. It had
a 400m tartan eight lane running track, with white lines denoting start and
finish areas for set distances and the infamous ’box’ within which the baton
change over must occur. We had had about 20 minutes of walk through, talk
through, before we launched into the real deal. Six relay teams of four runners
representing various degrees of fitness, ability and apathy all took up their
positions. The clapper board sounded (vaguely representing the Olympic starter gun
if you were hard of hearing) and the race was underway. Changeovers were smooth,
the cheering was loud and by half way, it was clear who the top three teams
were going to be. They crossed the line in quick succession leaving the
remaining three teams to grunt it out. There was a clear losing team and by the
final change over the fourth runner was so far behind she was watched by
everybody along every inch of that final back straight. For her it must have been
the longest 100m of her life. Her legs filled up with pointlessness,
embarrassment and public humiliation and she stopped running. She cursed and
sulked all the way to the finish where she met a pretty fierce Scots woman. “Don’t
you dare give up. Don’t you dare let your team down, they are depending on you
and they need you to do your very best for them and if you can’t do that for
them, then have some pride and self respect and do the very best for yourself”.
Our teacher spent the next 15 minutes turning our athletics lesson into a
lecture on self respect and self worth and teamwork and responsibility and
co-operation and forgiveness and resilience, qualities that I don’t see being
taught often enough. Qualities that permeate through every strand of the life
long tapestry that we weave as adults. Qualities that help shape us as people
and citizens and friends and employees and spouses and parents. The longevity
and impact these lessons have are so profound, a piece of paper in the form of a 'qualification' to
recognize them seems insulting and massively insufficient. Yet, if I could send
every child to a school where the emphasis was on these sorts of lessons, I would
gladly flush the academic examinations process down the toilet and replace it
with: English lessons that are used as vehicles to teach respect and self expression;
Maths lessons that help to show the value of sharing and equality; Religious
education that develops self belief and humility; PE lessons that give students
a sense of belonging and an understanding of how their efforts affect the
outcome for the entire team. Wouldn’t
that be more meaningful and useful than understanding Algorithms? and what a bunch of capable people we would have helped to shape.