Thursday 26 May 2011

Schools & Education - Wake The Fuck Up!

I have done some talks and workshops in schools recently, and am part of an organization that works with troubled youths, trying to help them see that the world is bigger than the bully in the playground.

But the bully isn't just in the playground. He's in the staff room. He's in the system.

I met this girl today who told me her dream. To be a singer and actor. She's never told anyone that before because when you're thirteen and you tell people you want to sing and act they think you're insane.

They don't like insane in society. They don't like ideas and dreamers. They wanna teach us maths and science, even when we hate maths and science. All they teach most of us is how to add up how low our paychecks are and then how to set fire to them with a Bunsen burner.

There was this other kid who we met because he's the 'bad kid', which is code for 'black' and 'gets restless during French lessons'. We gave him a folder and said "make it your own." We thought he'd write his name and class number. Instead he designed graffiti. It was amazing, and he did it for the other student's folders too. 

But schools don't get that. They think singing and graffiti don't lead to a career but knowing 3.14 is Pi does.

I was 12 years old and I was exactly how I am now, but less tall. My English teacher told me "Writing isn't your skill, find something else". It hurt. But she was my teacher. I didn't write for fun again for five years, and school was a nightmare.

I lost five years of my growth as a writer and it's because my teacher said I can't do it, and I believed her. 

It's time to wake the fuck up. The talent of young people is getting squandered. It's hard to be an entrepreneur from a prison cell, or from behind the counter at the supermarket. By then most people are dead. Because when you have big dreams the system doesn't allow you to exist.

And the system is broken. Half the people aren't working. I know geniuses who went to university because that's what was insisted, and now they work part time doing admin in the back offices of shoe shops. Everything is fucked yet we still make them call the teachers "Sir" and we still make them read shit that has nothing to do with who they are.

It's time for the educators of our young to wake the fuck up. I don't know how we do it. But the world is changing. Our young people are Facebooking and developing iPhone apps. It's different now. But still the artists suffer. 

That girl today was so shy about wanting to sing. It doesn't HAVE to be that way. That shyness isn't nature--- its growing up and having to push your aspirations so far inwards that pretty soon you convince yourself that not only do you not want to sing, but you really want that extra shoe shop shift.

I've got nothing against the shoe shop. I just know that people have bigger dreams. It's hard enough if you know what you're doing and have resources; but when your teachers, schoolfriends and everyone around you is forced to be exactly the same as everyone else, you get oppressed. You get stuck at home.

The world is a giant place, dreams come true. But we can't keep killing it at such a young age. Because how you are at 14 is usually how you are forever. Let's make it about possibilities and uniqueness. 

It's down to us as individuals -- as teachers, parents and teenagers. But there are also larger forces. Our governments, the men in grey suits who run the schools, and God knows who else. School is a place to learn, to have your mind opened to the possibilities. It's almost never the thing I just said. We need to change that.

Wake the fuck up.

Care to share?


  1. Awesome, powerful post - you're completely right. Love your passion.

  2. There is more creativity in schools now than there has ever been. Teachers jump through hoops to create engaging, exciting lessons to match the attention span of the kids. And this is, in part, a good thing. (Even though Michael Gove would like to put a stop to it) But the fact remains that more kids are leaving school unable to function in the real world because they either lack the basic skills like forming sentences and adding up, or because they don't know how to speak to people (like calling them 'sir').

    It isn't the job of education to pander to who the kids are at this point in their lives. They read Of Mice and Men not for torture, but to learn something about things outside the realm of their own experience, which might, ultimately, teach them about themselves.

    Of course children should be encouraged and encounter positive reactions to their effort but back in the old days of a traditional curriculum and the smell of chalk on the blackboard, kids still grew up to be singers and writers and actors and dancers. Why should today's kids be any different?

  3. <_< really? <_<

    what jess said XD

  4. This is an excellent post. The thing about creativity is that it's so fluid and subjective more often than not people are unwilling to look outside of their tunnel vision to realise that.

  5. I have a fourteen-year-old. Most days at school in her Honors classes, she draws graffiti on her arm. She doesn't have art class this semester but can't stop being an artist. Very often, she comes home with a particularly amazing sharpie-tatoo on her arm and tells me with a big smile how her English teacher complimented her on her creativity.

    So I don't think the attitude you are seeing is everywhere ... I think there's hope.

    -tonja at (I am one of many that cannot easily leave comments this week)

  6. JESS - It's great that you have an outlook that schools and teachers are jumping through hoops, this is amazing! But sadly has not been my experience at all.

    I was not meaning to imply that we should not learn to add up and learn to write sentences. What I really meant to get at is the inner oppression that keeps young people from expressing themselves, and seeing why that happens. It comes from the world around them, the people around them.

    But it's good to see so many of you disagreeing with me -- gives me hope! But I can't hide from my own personal experiences, from my own schooling, to many many examples like this that I have witnessed and seen in recent years. I still think we have a big problem.

    Tonja-- What you say is great!! :D

  7. That's just the thing though. It's 'inner' oppression. Uncertainty comes from being a teenager; being intimidated by your peers, magazines and TV, as much as it comes from school.

    You didn't have a good experience at school but you've done well so your experiences there did help shape your creativity. It gave you self-motivation and drive.

    As a teacher it is my job to be positive, even down to not marking work in red pen as it is a negative colour! Good teachers encourage kids and there are good teachers in every school. Teenagers are supposed to be unsure. There will always be the tortured artist. Schools do a lot, but their job ultimately is to turn out kids who can function in the world, whether they fulfil their dreams or not.

  8. Oh, grow up.

    The chances are - vastly - that the singing 13 year old will never make it, and without what you would probably describe as "the boring stuff" she really DOES only have the shoe shop option.

    As for "the naughty kid" who did the graffiti - it's much easier to tolerate kids when you're with them for three hours at a time than three years at a time.

    I'd also like to point out that I am a teacher of 9-11 year olds, and they all think the sun shines out of my backside because I encourage them to be whatever they want to be - but I also make it clear they need education as back-up and that does, unfortunately, involve learning your times tables.

  9. I'm leaving the school system this year for this very reason, gave them my resignation yesterday, in fact. I can no longer stand to see kids treated as idiots.

    I don't know any adult who would stand for being told what he can think, who he can be, and even when he can go to the bathroom. It makes me sick to see kids' hopes belittled and ideas crushed before the words are even out of their mouths.

    I'm a reading teacher and I have two kids of my own. I know that kids will learn as they go, whether some holier-than-thou teacher who thinks he's indispensable is there or not. Kids learn best through play, in their own style and their own pace.

  10. Jess & Anonymous - Just want to say -- I really appreciate what you do, as teachers. And anonymous, you're right, I couldn't do what you do every day and it IS different when I am only swinging by for 3 hours and get to be the cool creative guy. I completely agree, I just want to say that.


    I think there are two different sides to this debate that are very strong. It's like when religious people argue with atheists, it's a whole different belief system!

    And there are people like paradox4, someone who it seems is in the system, who feels like me, which makes me feel less insane.

    Anonymous - you talking about 'tolerating' and telling me to 'oh grow up' - these are the attitudes that trouble me, that I see in schools; and kids get hurt by it. It stops their growth as people, kills their spirit.

    But I agree that I am not in the system, I am just an occasional passer by, and I will genuinely reflect on that.

    I think you teachers do a great job, and I couldn't do it. But my problem is not with teachers so much as it is the system, what you are made to teach. If you believe in it; great, but I think life is so much more, things of equal importance, and they don't get reflected in schools. It's great that you guys feel differently, and that you get to be creative and supportive -- but so often that is not the case.

  11. I agree with all of this, I am defo the same kid I was at 14 and now I am 55 and doing what I wanted to do with my life when I was 14. Spending my days drawing, painting and creating...I have the time now because I am unemployed after working since I was 18! It's all mad isn't it!

  12. Great post, Kid. I lost a lot more than 5 years, but I have to give myself partial blame for that. Some teachers were encouraging, other said that writing wasn't a job you go to college for. I backed off and followed a different path, but that creative calling can't be stifled forever.
    You're right, we need worldwide education reform.
    We need to recognize and nurture the creative, "different" child. We, our schools, must embrace the uniqueness of each student and offer ways for them to pursue their dreams!

  13. The fact that you used the word "tolerate", anonymous - is the exact reason why this post was made.

    Though, I must say if my English teacher told me to stop writing, I would've just smiled at her - and walked away.

    It's sad he/she took 5 years of your life.

    Nice post.

  14. Duke, thanks for understanding why this post was written so well.. thanks! It's great to be understood. You should be a teacher!! :D

  15. I'm 16 my friend - and I would rather be anything other than a teacher :D

  16. How about a student puts in some input herself,(aka im in high school) the teachers may say one thing, but as a student, i know how we feel. You may be trying but some kids can not learn the basics, and when they get a bad grade there self esteem goes down the toilet, and when you are average at everything like the schools are trying to get you to be, how do you find what you are good at? The teachers do work hard but some teachers also dont do anything. And the ones that do nothing, cancel out all of the efforts of the teachers that work hard, But its not just the teachers, its your parents, friends, and family members telling you to grow up and stop dreaming, and go for a realistic job, but when someone pushes those people to the side and pushes them out of their way, their skills increase, and they will do anything to prove those people wrong, but it dose not always work that way sadly, some just give up.

  17. Fuck da schools man

  18. Our recent conversation with two teachers revealed some right here of their difficult classroom moments, as well as some of the most fulfilling and inspirational.