Thursday 17 January 2019

Victoria White: My fears for my pre-teen boy as secondary school looms ahead

SCARY: I can't help thinking, what am I letting him in for?

I'M a great one for the nine o'clock rule. By that time I expect the kids to be in their bedrooms so that myself and my husband can rule OK.

So there we were on the couch with our cups of tea, waiting to watch the party leaders' debate on TV, when the eldest squeezed in between us.

We tried to protest, but we weren't on very solid ground. He's just turned 12, and if the strong campaign to give voting rights to 16-year-olds succeeds, he could be voting in the next General Election.


He did a running commentary the whole way through the debate. We kept on trying to shut him up but it was no good, he had his own opinion on everything and he had to express it because he wants to change the world.

He thinks it's going to be easy, which isn't surprising, because he's 12.

I know it isn't going to be easy, but I'm not going to tell him not to try.

He's got a lot more time left to live in this world than I do, and he might yet change it in ways I can't even imagine.

That's why it scares me so much to think of him going to secondary school in September.

The primary school curriculum is as wide as the ocean. The teachers are given the space to be creative.

One of the reasons my 12-year-old is so excited about politics right now is because he's been studying the Easter Rising and the Civil War.

His teacher's grand-uncle was a revolutionary leader and she brought his revolver into the class.

The kids touched it and now they know that the people in history are real.


But secondary school is like a sausage factory, turning out nice little sausages to be fried in the jobs market.

We're still teaching our kids that if they learn a whole lot of useless facts by rote and spew them out at the State exams they'll be rewarded with a well-paid job, if not here, then somewhere else.

I've heard my son talking about the subjects that would be "easy honours" in the Junior Certificate.

But what happens if he comes out with a rake of honours and finds the world economy in meltdown? Will he have any coping strategies?

Will he know how to grow food or open the bonnet of an old car and get it going again?

Will he still want to change the world or will he be happy to sit on the couch shouting at politicians on the television?

Everyone's talking about changing politics, but I've not heard much about changing education. My son is about to head out into a secondary school system which has hardly changed since I was educated more than 30 years ago.

It beats the creativity right out of them. This is handy if you want nothing to change. Doctors and lawyers stay at the top of the tree.

Anyone who does anything practical stays at the bottom. Far too few think up new solutions to anything.

Patrick Pearse realised this more than 100 years ago when he set up his school, St Enda's. He knew the British Empire relied on rote-learning and exams to keep the people obedient.

He called this education system "The Murder Machine" because it murdered kids' creativity.


Pearse wanted to change all that. But whatever about his politics, his plans for education have been forgotten.

A century later we have an education system which still teaches kids not to rock the boat, even as the boat sinks towards the seabed.

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