What if we turned everything upside down?

Cross referenced from Just Trying to Be Better than Yesterday

One of my earliest memories is from about the age of four. I was at home with my family and everyone was eating bags of crisps – or potato chips if you want to get all American on me. The bag, I recall, had a little cartoon man on the front – perhaps made by Smiths or KP – and I had opened my bag from the bottom. The man was upside down. At four years old I clearly couldn’t accept that state of affairs so I turned it upside down to open from the other end. Disaster.
A clear learning opportunity, wouldn’t you say? I never lost another crisp in my life; so isn’t turning things upside down sometimes a clever way of making things better. Even different. Reading Guy Claxton’s ‘What’s the Point of School?’ recently I came across this passage;
‘Imagine a society…in which physical education, design technology and art are the three most highly esteemed subjects, and English, maths and science are obviously less important because they only merit one lesson each a week, and they became optional when you are fourteen.’
He goes on: ‘The outstanding successes of the school are those who are strong, fit and physically agile; who can solve practical problems by inventing and building useful gadgets; and who can make elegant sculptures and great photographs.’
Now I know there will be readers of this who will be thinking, ‘That’s Rubbish’, ‘Maybe’ or ‘Wouldn’t that be nice?’ but it has rattled my cage somewhat over the last few days. We may indeed mock Claxton’s suggestion but on closer inspection it could have some merit. What happens when we, the teachers and adults, become jaded, uninspired by work, and desperate for something new? Most of the teachers I know would fit into one of the following groups: we wish we could play a musical instrument in our spare time; we may start to enjoy sketching or ceramics as a creative outlet; we take a photography course and buy an expensive camera; we join a gym.

Quite simply, we desire all of the things which at the moment are, perhaps, the least respected subject areas in our school system, the things we value less. We actively discourage the skills we ourselves desire thirty years later. Ironic? Perhaps. However, what I think it does is suggest a great conversation to be had. I’m not suggesting we should change everything just for the sake of change but if we are to truly encourage engagement with Curriculum for Excellence we at least need to have these ‘out of the box’ conversations. In fact, we not only need to think outside of the box but, as again I read somewhere recently (apologies for forgetting exactly where), we need to create a new box that doesn’t even look like a box.
Whatever happens, whatever the Curriculum turns out to look like, let’s get talking. And we can start by turning things upside down and seeing what they look like.


5 thoughts on “What if we turned everything upside down?

  1. Jaye Richards-Hill

    Yes, yes, yes. Nothing more to add really to this spot on analysis, ably assisted by Claxton, of course. I think I (and others) have been tossing this one around for a couple of years or more now, and the message remains the same : get out of the silo mentality which is characteristic of Scots secondary education. Break down artificial subject driven barriers to learning, and stop this subject specialism definition angst so beloved of many colleagues in schools. We’re teachers, ffs, let’s be proud to define ourselves by this title…

  2. Juliet Robertson

    It’s an interesting post. I’d argue that in many nursery classes, this happens. The children play according to their interests and abilities and the numeracy and literacy is taught through their interests by professional practitioners who facilitate and extend the learning that is taking place.

    One of the most inspiring schools I’ve visited has been “Puget Sound Community School” in Seattle http://pscs.org/. It’s an alternative school where the pupils and staff and volunteers negotiate each term’s curriculum. When I visited, I attended classes on Dance, the Enigma of Love, Cardboard Creations and Constitution Law. It’s based upon the interests of those in the school community. It’s motto is “Turning Passion into Achievement. It’s philosophy and approach are a good example of what can be achieved when children are truly involved in the running of a school. Oh and every Monday is a community service day and every Friday is about field trips and exploring Seattle area in different ways, again, decided by the interests of the children.

  3. Ian Stuart

    This is also referenced by Ken Robinson in his book ‘Do schools kill creativity’. But how do we change the view of society on the perceived hierarchy of subjects. When do we stop imposing more and more ‘knowledge’ and then allow the passion for learning with the discipline of resilience, not give up when it becomes difficult?
    The skill of how to learn as an individual and as a group becomes more and more important. Then the question becomes ‘How do we measure?’
    This is where the responsibility has to be in the hands of the pupils in dialogue with others. Collecting evidence and making claims of qualifications. That may well include some standardised exam questions marked externally, possibly sat when ready to sit and automatically marked. But the pupil/student/all learners have to be use to having these learning conversations.

    1. Fearghal Kelly

      Great comment. Exactly what I was thinking but couldn’t articulate.

      But how can we as practitioners help to achieve this? If we’re limited in our scope to change the systems we operate within, how do we set about making the best of, or subverting, the systems to achieve these goals?

  4. Mr W

    Just realised that this post actually illustrates the impact of ‘motivated reasoning’ in practice. There is such a focus on what is perceived to be valuable, to the expense of everything else…

    All I’d add is, how many of us start doing something for ‘fun’ and wish we’d started earlier… or even better, had been given the opportunity to learn how to do it at school? Quite a few I suspect. 😉

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