19th Century style Schooling vs idealistic teaching

Idealism is a dangerous trap for someone like me, someone with a vivid imagination and an expansive thought process. It means that I quite often feel disappointed when things are not as good as could possibly be imagined.

I imagined modern schools would be at the forefront in terms of providing a nurturing, knowledge rich, safe and morally advanced environment, I imagined schools cared about the well-being and social /emotional development of people, after all, schools are in the people shaping business. People go in to school with less knowledge than when they come out, they are shaped and moulded by what society needs and are provided with a robust education which forms the foundation of knowledge for the rest of their life.

alphabet class conceptual cube
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In a somewhat anti-climatic fashion, what I actually found was that children go in through the doors on the first day of school with excited expectation, with hopes of being nurtured, of being taught useful things, of being supported emotionally, they are then immediately given the impression that they can’t do anything because the work they are given is too hard for them, while this may build character and resilience, it may also foster self doubt and low self esteem. They are then given the impression that their unique and special talents are meaningless because of the focus being so heavily set on English, Maths and Reading. Of course English, Maths and Reading are vitally important, but we are ignoring the ways in which children do learn and gain self-esteem through other means, such as play, music, dance, nature, and art.

Rushing a child through the school curriculum at such pace as to not allow them to soak anything valuable up or gain any new knowledge of themselves or the world is fundamentally wrong. I have seen pupils in schools being rushed through their learning journeys at a devastating pace, even when they are not yet ready to move on they are dragged on to a new topic, without adequate time for new knowledge to be retained.

The pressure from government bodies for schools to perform, has created top down pressure, which eventually lands on the teachers lap and then on to the pupil. Children are then pushed to perform; as a result they miss important milestones. Teachers move children on too quickly so that their students are not ‘left behind’ because that would make the teachers themselves and the school ‘look bad’. Teaching is a frantic rush to meet age related expectations, grades, and milestones.

Teachers struggle to obtain constantly moving targets and ever-increasing higher expectations. Grade boundaries are abused by senior management, data is meddled with and forged to ‘save face’ in the run up to a OFSTED inspection, governors meeting or to compete in league tables.

There is certainly a lot at stake for teachers, if they are seen not to be taking part in such corrupt practices or they are not pushing children beyond unrealistic age related expectations, then they are not awarded their next pay grade, they may even be bullied out of their job for showing that they disagree with such unfair practices.

If schools are seen to be holding children back and not progressing them -even when they are not ready to move on-  to meet such high achievement, they are given ‘inadequate status’.

yet, we can, as teachers, surely imagine better for our schools. As an idealist myself, I see many different ways that schools could adapt for the modern age. Hypothetically speaking, if I were to describe the ideal school in which to work, I would instantly dream up a plethora of different imaginative responses, all of which, unfortunately for me and the children I teach, do not exist in reality.

Unfortunately for us idealistic types, we have to make do with the reality of schools today, the dreary, 19th Century style school, with the overly academic focus on Maths and English and no focus on the arts, physical activity, drama, art or any other ‘soft’ subject. Add to that the interference and establishment of corrupt practices within SLT’s which are happening left, right and centre. Lastly, and not forgetting the unmotivated, unfulfilled potential of our students, who have been shown all of the things they can’t do instead of the things they can.

As Einstein famously said ‘ If you try to teach a fish to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid’

Our students are represented here, by the fish, otter, elephant and the penguin, which all have their own special talents for which there is not yet a way to measure;


This begs the question; Are we inadvertently teaching our pupils that they can’t do things instead of empowering them to become thinkers, leaders, creatives, and innovators of the future?

I, personally relish the day when our  19th-century-style schools go out of fashion and a new type of school is built; with real vision, creativity and modern ideals, based on real research, based purely on the learning and development of children. That day couldn’t come soon enough.

In my next blog; the present situation in schools may anger you, in which case, you may feel the need to escape in to a Utopian daydream with me, come and help me to imagine better…


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