Nowadays we look back in horror at the terrible treatment of children in factories, sweat shops and mines in the Victorian era and wonder how people could have tolerated such abuse. The advent of education for all children was, in part, intended to correct that awful maltreatment and to ensure children had an opportunity to develop their talents. ‘Education’ – obviously from the Latin ‘to lead out’ or ‘bring out’ – means to draw forth and develop whatever gifts and talents we have inside. My own education was, I believe, based on that ideal and I am eternally grateful to my Grammar School teachers and the gentle atmosphere of the wonderful school I attended (and, incidentally, where I also had the good fortune to teach for a while).
Although I am no longer involved in that area, I listen to education ministers and see what is happening in schools and I am appalled! Where is the ‘drawing out’ of talents when so much depends on forcing things into children’s minds, and there is so little time for them to develop their personal abilities? There might not be slave-labour in sweat shops in England, but isn’t there an even greater abuse in crushing children’s minds and individuality? Now, records are kept – not only by schools but by government departments, I believe – of every single child’s progress in certain areas...why??? Are children commodities of the state? If I were still a child in school, I would consider it an invasion of privacy for some unknown person to have records of my judged abilities in various subjects, while having no idea who I am or what I believe or where my talents lie! Repeatedly, we hear the phrases ‘our children’ and ‘what we must do for ‘our’ children’ and I cannot help thinking, “They are not my children or our children and they are certainly not the state’s children!”
Recently, someone put forward the ridiculous suggestion that children should start school at the age of two! It is interesting to look at the education of one of the most brilliant men ever to have graced these shores – Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg. He was placed under the care of a tutor before he was 5 years old, but his tutor recognised the importance of play and fun and exploration, and so the prince’s education up to the age of six was simply play, stories and picture books. At six, he had lessons for one hour a day. From seven to nine-years-old, he had lessons for three hours a day, and not until he was nine did he have five hours of lessons a day...and he turned out to be one of the best educated men imaginable!
I think some ministers ought to read Francis Thompson’s wonderful description of childhood: “Know you what it is to be a child? It is to be something very different from the man of today. It is to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything, for each child has its fairy godmother in its soul...”
Meanwhile, though this is a puppy and not a child, here is a very, very wobbly expression of the joy of childhood/puppyhood (and it is impossible to hold a camera straight, while holding a lead on a Bichon in the midst of the famous ‘Bichon Buzz’ so please forgive the terrible quality!):