Last week my 12-year-old taught herself how to make slime; it was green, gooey and unfortunately it made a huge mess, but we both learned an enormous amount in that exercise. She went onto make another batch but what I learned was how very irrelevant modern schooling is becoming. I’m a teacher of 20 years’ experience across a variety of subject areas and levels and I find myself in classrooms in-front of bored teenagers wondering how they will ever use anything that I teach from the curriculum in their lives or if it is even relevant for them.
As my 12-year-old illustrated, with the use of YouTube, we can learn anything. But what about academic subjects like science, history and maths, or languages I hear you ask? Well Khan Academy has that covered and there is an abundance of language programmes online for people to learn. We are at a pivotal point in education and I feel that once we have foundational literacy, numeracy and technology skills we have the capacity to learn anything, if our curiosity arouses it. Of course, prior to the internet, you could do the same by getting a book, but in a visually rich world, why would young people choose a book over a video? They don’t know a world without it.
I have seen my other daughters teach themselves how to cook various recipes and when I asked my 17-year-old what she had learned from the Internet, she said: “Have you got all day?!” But when we narrowed it down she’s taught herself about local, national and world issues and politics, how to cook, how to sew, how to draw, hair care and make-up, banking and finance, quantum physics, philosophy, housing and real estate, how to articulate, the contributions of people lost in history and feudalism, privatisation and ritual as well as watching videos in countless languages to get exposure to those languages. And that’s not even an exhaustive list. Of course she needed critical thinking skills and online discernment of what is a credible source of information.
We have so much information at our fingertips and each of us has interests, skills and talents that we are capable of growing. I home-schooled my three girls when Miss 17 was seven and it still remains one of my favourite times in parenting. Yet, here I am sending my kids to school and I see how unhappy they are with the social dramas and being force-fed a curriculum that they see no point in. I understand that I’m doing myself out of a job here, but I think we need to look at what children and more-so teenagers are capable of teaching themselves on the Internet. One of the foundations of good teaching is to create interest and enthusiasm in the students and I try so hard to do that for them but as they all have their own interests, not one of their “curriculums” will be the same, we cannot get into their heads. No external influence will drive their curiosity as much as an inner drive to learn.
Of course the problem with online learning is that you cannot prove that you can do something, or that you have knowledge of something in a world that requires certificates and certification and qualifications. Of course there are short courses that you can do online that provide certificates. Online learning doesn’t teach us how to communicate with real people, but it does teach us about compassion and kindness of people via the abundance of good there is in our world. Online learning doesn’t introduce young people to fantastic teachers who are passionate about their subjects, or be around people who share interests but they can connect with like-minded people in the social media world. If you ask them, they will say that their role models aren’t teachers, but people in their technological sphere, yes, that includes celebrities, but for Miss 17, it includes Neil Degrasse Tyson and some of the TED talk speakers.
When we allow our children to follow their dreams and passions, they become their own person much earlier. Miss 17 tells me that my parenting style of using an extensive vocabulary around them from a young age, exposing them to quality literature and teaching them to question things has helped her to be an independent learner and she says that it was about year nine that she realised her capacity to teach herself. I suppose that when I was in school, I learned typing and in Social Studies we looked at Caucasians, Negros and Asians (yes, that language was used) and both of those things are now irrelevant. Typing programmes are freely available online and most children are familiar with the qwerty keyboard and manage to type sufficiently to be able to function in society. But who knows how long we will need a keyboard for, the new speech recognition technology is moving rapidly now. And don’t get me started on how racist those anthropological lessons in Social Studies were. So how much of what we are teaching them today will be irrelevant for the future?
My view of a National Curriculum varies, as a teacher, I see how comprehensive it is to give young people an excellent general knowledge to use as a platform into the world. I see its value, but young people aren’t automatons! They are all individually wonderful and diverse in 20 years of teaching I’ve only met three young people whom I could not find one redeeming quality in. I love young people and every day I see their faces, bored from a system that doesn’t value their individuality, their dreams and I see their curiosity is suppressed; they are just making their way through a system for a certificate at the end that shows that they finished it. Their passion for life is dulled to a point where they spend the next 20 years figuring out who they are and who they were before the system made it so. I want young people to feel inspired by learning. I want them to feel inspired by the difference that they can make in the world. I want them to feel inspired by learning for learning sake and not just to pass or get a certificate. And we cannot do it while the system remains fairly stagnant.
I hope that my contributions in my classrooms everyday inspire the young people in my care to be the very best that they can be, to be inspired, to be passionate and to follow their hearts and in some way, I hope that I can change the system from within.
©Alyssa Curtayne, 2017