My first 11 Plus class was in 1995 when a friend asked me to tutor her daughter and thus began a journey that altered my destiny. Twenty-five years later, I am still accidentally teaching 11 Plus English. Her daughter had a brilliant, logical mind, challenged by the hidden inferences incomprehension.
In my garden, sitting on a swing and just simply tossing thoughts around, I Socratically questioned and clued her into the eureka moments that only thinking differently makes possible. The result was that we proverbially ‘cut a road through a limestone cliff’ using prior knowledge, higher-orderthinking and imagination, incrementally chipping away years of rote learning which had led to a well-concealed sense of academically driven, personal inadequacy. Sounds familiar?
Every year since then, my heart has wept, witnessing bright, able minds, with vastly different talents, who in too many instances, were ‘fish’ being taught and tested on their ability to ‘climb a tree’. The objective: get the grades to enter a school that would provide them with social inclusion of the ‘right kind’ and be taught by ‘the best’ teachers, thereby ensuring a social and academic future that would make their parents proud.
I don’t even want to go down the road of wondering to what extent, for some teachers and parents, our children’s learning is REALLY about bragging rights. I believe that social mobility was the correct fundamental objective of education in 1950. While still incredibly valid in our society, its objective of 2030 must reside in access to creative prospects and competency in communication leading to GLOBAL contribution.
Read, Who Moved my Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson. The Honourable Santia Bradshaw has moved our 11 Plus cheese permanently and the response is the wail of, “Bring our cheese back, now!” It’s not coming back and let’s be brutally honest – it was old, rotten cheese that had grown detrimental bacteria because it should have been tossed out four decades ago. “Well, what and where is the new cheese?” many will demand in response, as if life is a fine dining experience, being served by Huxley’s ‘Epsilons’, rather than a buffet where you actively help yourself. Here’s the terrifying part – it is for us to find together with hard work and persistence, receptivity and ultimately, love of our country’s best interests.
From my perspective as both an observer and participant in Barbados’ antiquated educational system, the educators’ fear of change is objectively and pragmatically driven and the parents’ fear of the unknown is subjectively driven. The common ground (hopefully) is that both parties want children to be safe at school, learn for the purpose of meaningfully contributing to an independent and fulfilling life and just to be happy. If we keep that in mind and accept that all radical change is painful, inconvenient, confusing and takes collaborative sweat, we can then move on to designing it together without a magic wand.
Parents don’t have a choice, but those in all education roles do. If any feel that there will be too much effort, personal development, discomfort or displacement, perhaps they need to re-think their future. This change is about our nation’s children on a global stage. However, I have hope (and parents should take comfort) because I personally know dozens of teachers and education administrators who are currently silenced by the din of the status quo brigade looking in problem terms rather than solutions. This band of brothers and sisters will get on the team of a learning revolution in a heartbeat with unbridled, enthusiastic support.
Underneath and beyond all of this, is my deepest reason to support the Minister’s decision: behaviours are manifesting at home that parents are faced with condoning or correcting, negative choices our youth are making in society are tossing away innovative futures this country desperately needs and the inordinately high level of classroom management teachers are having to implement is wearing them down, while they try to just get a lesson taught. All of this indicates that our methods have expired and we are on a runaway Victorian train to disaster.
My truth is that if a child is unable to CRITICALLY THINK through cause and effect and fact and opinion (concepts introduced in Class 2, by the way), we have an educational system that is a failure. These basic tenets of thinking have been left unapplied since introduction because our focus is on preparing students for the great Vegas trip to the 11 Plus examination. No one goes to Vegas without the hope that they will win big, even if they know deep down the odds are less than slim. Let’s face it, in our imaginations, we have already planned how we will spend the hundred grand we will come home with and we haven’t even checked in at GAIA yet!
As Nehemiah said, “I have great work to do and I will not come down.” Minister Bradshaw, you have great work to do and this accidental teacher is behind you 100 per cent. Whatever new ‘cheese’ comes, I look forward to the renewed hope in the future that it brings with it.
Julia Hanschell can be contacted on: