• The new school way to work

    Parent and child holding hands
    A hard day’s work (Photo by Liv Bruce)

    This is outlandish. In fact, it’s so crazy you shouldn’t even countenance it. But I’m gonna say it anyway: kids love to help. Kids love to do. Kids love to be part of something bigger, more exciting, more grown up. Kids are really fast learners—faster than adults.

    Victorian Values 2.0

    What if we turned the notion of work, kids and learning upside down? What if there was no 9 to 5 and no childcare? What if we brought kids back to the workforce?

    Rewind a moment. Once, kids grew up working with mum and dad. Not working in a hangar full of other 4-year-olds on hammering a fluffy donkey into a Lego truck.

    I don’t mean slave labour. I don’t mean factory/chimney sweep/coal miner. That was the industrial mess that led to school. I mean before all that.

    Comanche kids could once ride horses bareback better than most adults alive today. Boys and girls learnt the artisan trades, the crafts, the whatever, of their parents virtually from the time they could stand and talk.

    If the factory’s broke [just ask Seth Godin: What is school for?], let’s reimagine the workplace.

    That doesn’t mean rewind—it means reimagine. Learn from the past, don’t just recreate it. We don’t all have to try and find a living as horsemen or artisan cobblers (but feel free to try!), but we could rethink what we do and how to do it.

    Hands on 3-year-olds

    When I picked my kid up from grandma—after an afternoon where daddy had to work, so he had to go somewhere else and be minded—I discovered that he’d been helping grandma set a table for her book club.

    Not just any table. It was a Dutch Masters’ still life table. Overflowing grapes, French cheeses, cut glass goblets. Stunning.

    Good work! What else could he do?

  • Why do we go to school?

    Neon sign
    The thrill of learning (Photo by Nick Fewings)

    Like most people of peasant stock, I regard education as an incredible privilege — one my forebears never had.

    But what did I actually get?

    Often (not always, but often) it was bored or uninterested peers facing bored or frustrated teachers moving us towards tests with set info. For most people I knew, the last day of school was the best day — a day they dreamed about. I have watched everyone I know who has become a state school teacher in the UK (from my parents to a large amount of my friends) grow more and more disillusioned.

    Most have quit the profession altogether.

    Why is it that students and teachers seem to dislike the school system so much? As I said at the start, education is one of the greatest privileges in life, right? Maybe it’s not that we hate education, but that we hate what is delivered and how it is delivered in our school system? I have a three-year-old child. Do I care about him? Yes. Do I want him to have the privilege of education? Yes.

    Do I want to send him to a British state school? Not really.

    Stormtrooper under a lightbulb
    Stormtroopers have imaginations, too (Photo by James Pond)

    I visited a Steiner Academy Open Day (yes, the fluffy, sandal-wearing schools — in fact, a German system established in the early 20th century that is more holistic in approach than anything in British schooling). While I love much about the concept, I was also struck by their dated insistence of desk-based lessons, in rows, with one-way information processing.

    They were also passionate about rules and obedience (perhaps to impress OFSTED?), and very anti-technology and team sports.

    This bothers me. Just because the state school system isn’t working doesn’t mean that the answer is to shun tech and football in favour of a pseudo-early 20th century schooling system, but with an arts and crafts ethic. Education should be open, disruptive, innovative, not scared of bringing the passion out of children, and not obsessed with standardized testing and factory line production.

    I have worked as a teacher in a Swedish school.

    They achieve one thing Steiner is also good at, namely, letting children become self-confident and engaged, unafraid to talk to an adult as an equal. I was particularly impressed by the fritids concept — late afternoons given over to self-directed learning by the kids. As a teacher, I facilitated them in whatever project they thought up, from building a wormery to creating a handmade comic book.

    But I’m still left with the question: what is school for here in the UK?

    What are my choices? Hmmm…

    While we’re thinking, here are two thought-provoking videos from Seth Godin and Sir Ken Robinson, people who’ve been umming and ahhing themselves.