It feels like, finally, the end has begun. Schools are reopening in under two weeks, the vaccine is doing its job, and yesterday the sun shone and it was warm enough to sit out in the garden. Not quite time for celebration, but time to breathe perhaps – and to reflect on what it is we’ve been through. And with reflection in mind I’d like to ask, what have you learnt from lockdown?
From this one, and the last two – which simultaneously feel like yesterday and a million years ago.
What did these lockdowns teach you?
I’m particularly interested in what you have learnt if you’ve been thrust into homeschooling your kids, juggling online lessons with tasks and worksheets. I don’t need you to tell me, but I would love it if you’d think about it – really think about it.
What have you learnt about how they spend their days at school? About the way their teachers talk to them? About how much respect and kindness they are shown? About how much autonomy they have – over their bodies and their minds?
What have you learnt about what they get taught at school? Have their lessons been interesting? Have they seemed relevant? Have they covered knowledge and skills that you can see a place for in the world outside the classroom? That you use, in your world, outside the classroom?
What have you learnt about how they feel about their learning? Do they enjoy it? Look forward to it? Do they find it easy or hard? Motivating or dull?
What have you learnt about how they’re assessed? What is it about them that is recognised, valued? What qualities or skills go unnoticed?
Some of these questions might seem unfair – to both teachers and children. There is nothing natural about the ways in which they have been forced to teach and learn whilst schools have been closed to the majority. But setting all that aside you have been given an insight into what your children do all day. An insight that – and this seems increasingly peculiar to me – parents are very rarely gifted.
Perhaps you have loved what you have seen. Or perhaps (like many parents I’ve spoken to) you’ve found the whole experience frustrating and pointless, a never ending barrage of tasks which are too hard or irrelevant, devoid of individuality or creativity.
It’s not the teachers’ fault if that’s been the case – not really. They’ve been delivering a curriculum that they would never have designed themselves, under pressure to cover the material that will be needed for the assessments (the endless assessments) that they would rather see the back of. They will have been monitored and assessed themselves – for attendance, for rates of work completed, for students’ attitudes to learning. They may, despite the extraordinary circumstances, have been following strict protocols of lesson design and behaviour management, uniform policies and target setting.
So if what you have learnt in lockdown has not been great, I’m not suggesting you blame the teachers.
The system though – the system which seeks to standardise and coerce and numb. The system which quashes creativity and fills children’s minds with facts that they will never need. The system that values compliance over personal growth, uniformity over mental health.
If you’re seeking to blame something I’d recommend starting there. And then – perhaps – you could seek to change it.
You might be wondering what on earth that system has to do with you, or at least what on earth you could possibly do to make it better. It is shaping your children though – their minds, their hearts, their futures. And if you’re looking for how to improve it then you would do far worse than to look to them.
What have your children taught you, in lockdown?
When did you see a spark in their eyes? What did they turn to when given the choice? What did they want to tell you about when you found space in your days to chat? What questions burned in them when you were too tired to listen?
What are their strengths, their values? What makes them laugh? What makes them cry? Who are their heroes?
Do they get to be that person in school, do you think? Do they get to ask the questions that really matter to them? Practice the skills that make them glow? Get recognised and validated for the wonderfully unique person that they are?
I hope so.
I don’t know the answers to these questions – they’ll be different for every one of you. But I’ve been motivated to ask them by stories I’ve heard, conversations I’ve had, articles I’ve read, that suggest that our schools are not the places they should be for our children.
Of course right now schools seem like idylls – places where actual human contact is encouraged, where we don’t have to bear the weight of our children’s education all alone, where we can have a delicious taste of the normality of screen-free adult conversation and our children can run with their friends in raucous playgrounds. But in your gratitude for these most basic of social expectations don’t be afraid to ask for more.
Don’t be afraid, once the dust has settled, to question some of the things you learnt during lockdown. To express your doubts about the content of the curriculum, or the policies that dictate how your child must behave. To ask for more opportunities for creativity and autonomy, to seek recognition for your child’s strengths and interests, to stand up for them when they are misunderstood or misaligned.
So many of us were indoctrinated by the school system ourselves, afraid to challenge or question, convinced that it is our perception of things that must be skewed rather than the system that is broken. And even if we know that the education on offer in this country leaves a lot to be desired we’re more likely to persuade our children (and ourselves) to just knuckle down and get on with it.
They deserve better than that, though. We all do.
So as the end begins, how can you use your lockdown learning? There’s another chapter coming. It’s up to us to write it.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can change our education system for the better you might find the links below helpful. There is so much fantastic work going on already – the more parents that get behind it the more chance it has to succeed.