In both the talk and the book, Robinson talks about Gillian Lynne. When she was at school in the 1930s, Lynne’s teachers told her parents there must be something wrong with her, because she could never sit still in class. Her mother took her to a doctor, who talked to them both together. Then the doctor stood up and told Lynne, “I’m going out here to speak to your mother alone; we won’t be long.” He switched the radio on, and left the room with her mother. As soon as they left, Lynne began to dance to the music on the radio. She didn’t realise the doctor had stopped with her mother just outside the door of the room. He turned to her mother and told her, “your daughter is not ill; she’s a dancer.” Her parents moved her to a school of performing arts, and allowed her to nurture her talent. If you’re not already, aware, Lynne is actually Dame Gillian Lynne; she is arguably the most successful and famous choreographer in the world, having worked on Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and many more.
I wonder, if Gillian Lynne were a child in school today: would she be moved to a school for performing arts? Or would she be given a label and some Ritalin, and told to sit down and shut up?
I wrote a post earlier this week that seems to have gone a little bit viral. In it I spoke about how I think nurseries should be there for children to have fun, not for certain EYFS targets to be met. I also asked:
What does government think will happen, if my daughter just gets to play and spend time with her friends until she is 5?
I worry that as a society, we are forcing children into a structured learning environment earlier and earlier. And while yes, they do get to play at nursery/pre-school/school, I would argue that this is a case of too much work and not enough play.
I am fully aware that a good teacher, can make work seem like play. I am aware that many children enjoy learning and find it fun to count to ten or write their own names.
I am also aware that children can learn an awful lot through just playing without there being any ulterior motive or hidden learning. Yesterday I posted this photo online, with the caption “I think my child is about to learn a valuable life lesson.”
Guess what: yesterday we learned that when you step on a balloon, it either slips out from under your foot, or it pops. Other lessons we have learned lately include: “if you try to stand up while you’re under the table, you’re going to hurt your head” and “the best place to try out these new pens is in the book, not on the floor.” Both are valid life lessons, and I would argue that at the grand old age of 2, all three of these lessons will serve my child better than anything Ofsted might like to dream up.
We seem to put so much importance on reading and writing, on being able to add up, on science. What’s important to me is that my child finds what makes her happy, and pursues it with gusto. I don’t care if that’s being a mathematician or scientist, or an artist. Or a painter and decorator. Surely it takes just as much skill to be able to hang wall paper properly or safely cut down a tree, as it does to solve a particularly difficult equation? It’s just using a different set of skills. Some of us are good with numbers; others of us are better with practical things.
How many people leave school believing they are stupid, because they don’t find reading and writing as easy as others? How many people consider themselves a failure if they don’t pass a GCSE in maths? To me, Gillian Lynne’s story should serve as a warning to us all: look what could have happened. Look what the whole world would have missed out on, if it weren’t for that one doctor. I would not consider Gillian Lynne a failure or stupid, by any stretch of the imagination.
How many children have already been failed by a system which favours science and maths over art and drama? How many more will be failed by being forced into this strict academic structure of testing and gradings at younger and younger ages? It seems to me that our education system is teaching children how to pass tests, rather than how to think for themselves. That’s great if we want to raise a generation of adults who can pass tests; not so great if we want our children to be entrepreneurs and creative thinkers.