To My Daughter…

It’s begun already at your nursery and as we start the process of choosing a school for you we enter a process that challenges my practice, my pedagogy and my values in a way that is, to be honest, complicated! You see, it’s easy to have a set of guiding principals and views on education when they are not your kids. Don’t get me wrong, these have been researched, wrangled with, debated and reflected upon but I find myself in a new world of difficulty as a mum and, as I’ve said, it’s started already.

You see I hate the constant testing of children, the value and praise given as an object or the idea that achievement is proven only through the gaining of a certificate. I’ve spent my time with family members who claim they are ‘stupid’ or ‘uneducated’ because they didn’t get an O Level or left school at 15. This deeply held belief is simply not true. You know this as you watch them figure out a new piece of technology or play the most beautiful acoustic guitar but they have bought in to the ‘common sense’ idea of what is is to achieve. I spend my time teaching people who just cannot resist focusing on grades rather than learning within a subject area where it really won’t matter. They discard their natural ability to make connections, ignite a room, bring passion and energy because they didn’t get the highest grade even if they have gained so many skills. I watch and listen as I move through classrooms working with teachers who want to know if what we are doing will ultimatley raise scores on a test. I despair as I watch some Year Six children sat at desks spend a whole year practicing tests. Testing, levels and the reward for prescribed idea of achievement is bleeding the life out of education but there are many fighting for you.

I went to collect you the other day from your nursery. You’re 2. There was a file with your name on it so I opened it to be met by pages and pages of level descriptors and written statements from staff proving that you had achieved set markers that someone, somewhere had decided makes you normal or worse average! On one page was a handwritten statement about your progress. Your key worker raced up to me panicking saying and apologising profusely that it wasn’t typed up and promising me that she would soon and did she mention that she she was sorry? As I sat there I felt a mix of emotions between pride and annoyance. One part of me wants you to play. To be free. You’re 2 for goodness sake. Go get muddy, fall over, make a mess and laugh. I want your key worker to enjoy your company. I trust her to note that you are making progress, to care that you are but I want her to get to know you more than I want a ream of paper. Yet another part of me sits there, pouring over the pages to check if you can play with block independently, show a range of vocabulary etc. And it’s this tension that’s the problem. It’s this tension that I know I’m going to find difficult so we may have to muddle and work through it together.

I’m going to work hard but I may get it wrong at times. You see I don’t want you to measure your worth with a sticker or think that good behaviour is the be all and end all. When you’re on the cloud and others are in the swamp (or whatever public behaviour management ‘strategy’ is used) I want you to be able to recognise and empathise with how others may feel. I’ve seen those on the ‘top’ gain a great sense of self worth from being so high on a ladder pitched against their classmates but your self worth mustn’t come at anyone else’s expense. When you come out of school with a sticker for ‘being good’ I will be struggling hard no to discredit what you may have done so thats it’s detrimental you but this type of reward system is horribly flawed. It’s meaningless, empty, commercial, consumerist. I’ve just come from having a moment with your granny who wanted to buy you some stuff from a shop despite having given you presents the day before. We live miles away and it’s a habit she is falling in. I don’t want you associating her with ‘stuff’ because ‘stuff’ is meaningless, valueless. I want you to learn the value of things. No, in fact I want you to decide, make a choice what you think the value of things are and this is the most difficult aspect of all. I don’t want you indoctrinated into the system’s idea of achievement or my own. Blimey, this is complicated!

I want you to embrace learning, relish in the challenge, push yourself and be ok with failure. If you are in the swamp or haven’t been publicly awarded credits on some whiteboard avatar version of you for all to see then I don’t want you to worry. For your worth, knowledge is not that. It cannot be defined in the amount of stickers you’re given, the amount of points you get, data, numbers, certificates, money, objects, stuff, house, car, bank balance, looks or clothes size…oops there I go!

Every time you do well in one of the hundreds of tests I will be challenged. You see I trust that the teachers know what they are doing but whatever level, score, rate, number, piece of data your learning is distilled into is not the value of you. I will attempt to resist showing off that you are this level of reader, writer or whatever on Facebook because to do that supports what this Government want. It helps support them bringing in more and more testing. Makes it normal, Accepted. Parents complain on one hand but on the other sit looking at the scores with pride or despair.

It will be hard as in the centre of this is you. So all I can do is help you to question it all. To ask questions, to seek, be curious, explore and to then ask more questions. For you will need to decide what is or isn’t important. How I will encourage you to ‘do your best’ and ‘just be happy’ will be tested in itself and who knows if I will pass!

Your mum x

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