Suffer and be still. Are our children today the women of our past?
Having moved house, last year, I find myself dusting off my much loved books. Into my lap falls Martha Vicinus’ book ‘Suffer and be still: women in the Victorian Age’. This is not unusual as I have a passion for the Victorians. It was an age of great leaps forward in Industry. In turn our generation will be remembered for its similar dramatic progress in the area of Technology: where everyone has the ability to take a picture of their lunch and share it with the world, within a second, thanks to a device in their pocket. But, laying alongside ‘Suffer and be Still’ is another book… ‘The ADHD workbook for kids’ by L Shapiro. With the continued increase in children being labelled or diagnosed with the condition; granted due to a multitude of a factors. I ask myself will future generations balk at the fact that children, in 2018, still don’t have a voice: in the way that women didn’t 120 years ago. Is it our children, now, being made to suffer and be still?
Thanks to the Victorians we have sewing machines, photographs, bicycles, electric light bulbs in the home and electric trains underground to name but a few. They were innovative. Forward thinking. Intelligent. But, is that just the men? A woman’s property became her husband’s when she married and prior to that it belonged to her father and of course women weren’t seen as having enough sense to vote. In fact, it was still perfectly legal to beat your wife with a rod as thick as your thumb… and this didn’t change until 1975!
The inventions of the age did not belong to men alone: women applied for thousands of patents over the era. Female oppression didn’t stop Ada Lovelace from becoming the world’s first computer programmer. It did not stop Beatrix Potter from working as a scientist and describing species of fungal spores that would not be recorded officially for another forty years. Standing behind men in society did not stop Marie Curie from helping to develop the first X-ray machines, or from working in radiology. And it did not stop their Queen: Victoria meeting ten different prime ministers and their forming twenty governments in her reign; even though she herself let the side down by not supporting ‘votes for women’.
Where women have made some progress in their fight for equality, before hitting the much talked about glass ceiling, have children? They too have made their mark in history! Mozart is said to have composed his first symphony before hitting double figures and Louis invented Braille at only 15 allowing millions of blind people to read books. So, there has always been children described as gifted. But I, like Sir Ken Robinson, believe that all children are capable of being extraordinary. This is not a new idea; Picasso believed that all children were born artists. We squander their chance to be creative though; with creativity being defined as
‘the process of having original ideas that have value’.
Without time and space and less emphasis being put on homework and outdated subjects that are only needed now by the few, according to the Professors themselves, are we cheating our children out of years of their life and a bright future without even giving them a say about it? It has been well documented that children learn through play and yet, regardless of these facts: our children play less than most countries around the world!
Ridiculous as, the longer the government let children play for, when they are young, appears to me to be positively relative to how well their country does in World education league tables. For example Finns spend a lot of early childhood playing outdoors and often top the list. Children in Holland don’t get homework in primary school at all and are some of the happiest children in the world unlike our children in the United kingdom. With friends that nurse in the industry I don’t need figures to know that the rates of children being diagnosed with mental health issues are going up and up and the age of sufferers is often now as low as four. A rate of about 1 in 4 makes our children some of the most miserable in the world and having worked in Africa as a nurse volunteer I am pretty sure that that is worldwide and not just out of the developed countries.
I myself suffered with clinical depression as a child. I felt like I had no control over my life and in being told that childhood was the best of what’s to come I felt like there was nothing ahead worth living for: if this was as good as it got. I was of course misinformed. Already in double figures I remembered, though, hours playing out and little pressure at primary school. I wasn’t tested at all until I was eleven and even then it wasn’t taken seriously, perhaps because the school hoped they wouldn’t lose their brightest students to the grammar. Not that I fitted into that category. I was too busy collecting snails in my desk! Today children are repeatedly tested at six to ensure they do actually achieve the grades at 7, which the schools hope for, to get OFSTED off their backs. Where children used to play outside for more than half of their day they are now lucky to make it outside at all. How can they with fear mongering in the press that they are unsafe? When, as we are reminded by the likes of Maria Guido, children are actually safer today than they have ever been.
But there is no time anyway! Even five year olds get three or four pieces of homework a week on top of their daily reading. I am not denying that the education system has moved on since the Victorian period. I certainly believe that teachers, like nurses, work incredibly hard and are the unsung heroes of our era. Real life super heroes. But, we are basing our interactions with children in the wider context on an outdated model.
Thanks to Innovation do we know what the world will look like in five years? So, how then can we prepare the children starting school today for work that they will retire from in 2065? What is there to teach? Now that this generation belongs to them as they are the ones with the imagination. Be under no illusion, both my, and the average adult’s right brain lies a shriveled raisin next to the over thinking, logical, anxious left hemisphere as I mention in more detail in ‘I can find Nirvana; and so can you’.
Children live their first four years almost entirely in their right brain. They can all be extraordinary. They are not frightened to have a go. They aren’t frightened to be wrong.
If you are not prepared to be wrong then you will not come up with anything brilliant.
James Dyson knows this. Simon Sinek told me, through the power of Audible, that Dyson spent 15 years working through 5,126 prototypes for his dual cyclone vacuum cleaner before inventing one that worked. That is a growth mind-set in practice.
Children of today are bypassing the security of voting systems and records of corporations like Apple in the matter of minutes. Why are we still training them in subjects of our choosing, decided on by an education system built by The Victorians for an industrial age? My thirteen year old is always on her tablet, selling things, making videos, chatting with friends and playing games, but states that she hates computer science without a gigabit of irony. This is the imagination age and we don’t know what 65% of their jobs will look like as they don’t even exist yet.
It used to be obvious to me why Maths was being given priority over other subjects with the likes of Dance being at the bottom. Every country around the world has the same hierarchy after all. We educate people from the head up. I was a good student. I got good grades. It has taken years to become a fully dimensional being and unlearn all that I learnt. It took a deteriorating physical body and the discovery of mindfulness and the knowledge of the joy of slowing down to teach me that almost impossible lesson. It was painful beyond my previous imaginings.
Are the children who did badly at or with school better off? Professor Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison (who invented the light bulb) were both poor students and thought to be mentally handicapped. Lord Sugar left school at 16 and Houdini literally disappeared from his at aged 11. I love the story of Gillian Lynner. Her loving mother was worried about her inability to sit still and the distraction she was to her peers in school so took her to a specialist. He listened and the adults left the room leaving Gillian alone. At this point she began to dance to the radio he turned on while exiting. Pointing through the window in the door the specialist turned to Gillian’s mother and said: ‘She is not sick’ (this was the 1930’s: today perhaps she would have been diagnosed with ADHD). ‘She is not sick’ he said, ‘she is a dancer’. Gillian was enrolled in a dance school and found herself with other children like her who learnt through movement. She went on to set up her own dance school, choreographed the likes of ‘Cats’ in the West End and is a multimillionaire.
With more children being diagnosed as having sensory issues; hyperactivity issues or trouble with attention perhaps it is time to remember that the world is different from what it once was. Perhaps, it is time to see the world how children see it and learn from them for a change. To make rules together as a family that every person can abide by. How can we expect them to put down their technology if we are calling to them from over the top of a smart phone. A device that we carry into the toilet, so we can catch up on social media to fill the silence of pausing briefly for a number two. Instead, together, we could, come up with a time that all members of our household are happy to be away from a screen.
Let’s ask children what they enjoyed about their day; rather than just what homework they have. Perhaps it is time, too, to stop chasing after the boundaries on the definitions of normality. Of pushing children at unreasonable targets laid out by a government who either haven’t had children, or don’t have time to see them. Let’s agree that life is a spectrum that most people figure out eventually and some long after they are being defined as an adult and given the right to vote. It is not unusual for people today to have four careers in their lifetime and the mantra ‘study hard, work hard, get a good job and security’ is not true anymore. Sir Robinson points out that more people are leaving universities with degrees than any time in history. But, there are no jobs for them. The academic goalposts have moved and now they need Masters or Doctorates; if there is nothing else that gives them the edge.
The young are running successful businesses from their bedrooms using tools learnt off on-line video platforms. As Sugata Mitra showed children can learn to have a computer work for them and teach themselves complex biochemistry in a foreign language with no adult help to even show them how to use a mouse.
I too believe that we can all learn from each other, whatever our sex or age. All we need is to meet a person passionate about the subject to answer our questions or to want to find the answers with us. We are after all social beings. So, next time you sit with a child remember that they are an inventor, an artist, a scientist. They have a voice.
I have been reading up and thinking on this subject for a while and thank the likes of Pam Laricchia; Daniel Siegel; Adele Faber; John Holt; Alfie Kohn; Nicola Morgan; John Taylor Gatto; Avital Schreiber; Lucy AitkenRead and Heather Shumaker for shaping my thoughts through your books, podcast and videos. The following sources though are mentioned or quoted from in this blogpost.
John Bennet (2011) Why Math instruction is unnecessary [www] https://youtu.be/xyowJZxrtbg TEDxTalks watched 2015 and Sept 2018
Jill Bolte Taylor (2008) My stroke of insight [www] https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight/discussion TED2008 watched Sept 2018
M Guido (2015) Our Children are safer than they have ever been [www] https://www.scarymommy.com/our-children-are-safer-than-they-have-ever-been/ Blog: Scary Mommy. Read 2015 and Sept 2018.
S Mitra (2013) Build a school in the cloud [www] https://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud. TED talks 2013 watched August 2018.
Sir Ken Robinson (2006) Do schools kill creativity [www] https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?language=en&utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare TED 2006. Watched 2015 and Sept 2018.
L Shapiro ( 2010) The ADHD Workbook for kids: helping children gain self confidence, social skills and self control. Oakland: New Harbinger publications
S Sinek and D Mead (2017) Find your why: a practical guide for discovering purpose for you and your team found through [www] https://www.audible.co.uk
M Vicinus (1973) Suffer and be still: Women in the Victorian Age. London: Indiana University Press