Before you start this, go and buy “You are not so smart”. By David Mcraney. An excellent book that will jolt your reality.
It would appear the education system is yet again under scrutiny in the UK. Apparently it isn’t good enough and many people are leaving school unable to spell, read or do simple maths. The teachers, the government and the parents as usual are all blamed for this cycle of ‘decline’.
That is despite, teachers and parents being better educated and working harder than ever to improve their children’s chances in life…
The discussion has now widened to a Gattaca style discussion based on genetic ability. Are we born with the capability to achieve everything we are told we are capable of?
There are certainly those who don’t think so and in theory I have to agree. We all have differing genetic weaknesses and strengths. That is what makes humanity such a successful species.
We are certainly not all Sir Bradley Wiggins, or Albert Einstein, or Ava Gardner for that matter.
But I suspect that – as in the pseudo-science of phrenology in the 19th Century- this information will be used in completely the wrong way.
But are we missing the point?
I have been advertising for a year, for a part-time assistant gardener with no response. Not one person has replied via email to my adverts. I am not asking much, merely somebody who is willing to work hard, be courteous and be on time.
I am not the only one to say there is a massive problem in horticulture at the moment. Alan Titchmarsh, Diarmuid Gavin, and many, many other notaries say the same. The industry is in crisis.
Going back to my advert; I do ask that they want to learn – and that is the key.
How many people see gardening as a job for the ill-educated or the simpleton?
Or, how many people see gardening as simply being a cleaner, a person who merely polishes the brass?
When I went to horticultural college, some moons ago now, there were young adults who were attending because you needed no qualification to attend so it was seen as an easy course. There were others, who simply wanted to learn a bit more about their passion, but didn’t want to be professionals.
Can an industry survive if all the applicants are uninterested?
The ones who have made it to the higher levels of the business, attaining Head Gardener status or ‘Management’ at big companies were all those who showed a keen willingness not only to learn there and then, but also to continue to learn.
I have also interviewed scores of people for various jobs I have advertised in the past. They came from many walks of life, and were educated at varying levels from the basic to the graduate. Yet all were unwilling to learn further, many did not know basic plant names and some didn’t see the point in learning basic botany. If I gave them a book to read, three weeks later it would still be unread. Surely, it is like applying to be a doctor and not wanting to know the patient?
Horticulture from my perspective – I hasten to add – is not a job for the lazy or the uneducated. To tend a garden properly, as I have said before, you need a multitude of skills and fitness that in many other jobs would be surplus to requirements. A smattering of Latin is a good start, as is biology, botany, physics, chemistry, geology and geography, meterology and history. Art and design is also of major import, as successful gardening is quite an undertaking of the eye. Gardening is incredibly creative, yet also incredibly scientific -possibly the only industry where the two meet outside the theoretical higher learning centres.
But what does this have to do with the wider educational ‘crisis’?
Aptitude and inspiration.
Is it me but are these two words ignored?
From the perspective of one who has gone through the process of state education from 3 until 18 (plus my college, university and back to college years), I have seen many differing styles of education.
My primary school was excellent and allowed the children to explore their strengths – although there was the odd authoritarian who went against this principle. We were tested on aptitude and inspired to use our strengths.
My secondary school was, how can I put this, a bit of a mess, the cracks papered over with religious doctrine. For a start, it was obsessed with achievement above all else. Now, normally a parent would be pleased to see the lie of statistics – and who can blame them. Several children sent to Oxford, some notable sporting prowess, an orchestra, etc. etc. But it didn’t tell the real story of box fitting and eventual abandonment for those that didn’t shape up. Indeed the army drops those candidates who don’t work. But a school is not the army.If you couldn’t keep up, or you didn’t have the right attitude, things weren’t so rosey.
We all remember the good teachers?
That’s because they inspired us to push our strengths, not through bullying but by charisma. Anybody who didn’t like the subject, would not have felt this. Simple. Should everybody else be dragged along to satisfy targets?
Whilst talking of schools, a local school to me in Horsham has an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted report. It declares that last year the school has success in achieving a 70% pass rate A to C in English and Maths at GCSE. But that leaves 30% that the school failed. After-all these are children, not adults. Over 1 in 4 of the children in that school are not sufficiently taught at school. Is this the schools fault?
The natural reaction is to say yes. But that isn’t fair. The schools are given strict guidelines and charts they have to follow. A curriculum and a calendar in which they have to do it in. Corporate target setting has become the norm in a system it should never have been introduced to. There is very little room for manoeuvre. Thus some children are left behind.
When I left school after many years of desperately trying to fit the required mould, (rather than being able to explore fully my own strengths in emotionally secure surroundings) I felt abjectly lost.
You see, I never fitted the mould that was presented to me at school. There was no alternative formula. Sink or swim. I was too insecure to push myself for my own gain and too immature to attempt Oxbridge or any other gem that was available. (I would like to add here, I have met several people in my life thus far who have the obvious intellect and capability to achieve the hallowed ground that is Cambridge or Oxford, yet their opportunities were stunted by a short-sighted educational outlook and life happenstance.) Whilst I enjoyed art and design, again I was too immature to apply myself. I wasn’t bothered about competitive sport. In fact, I have never seen the point in pushing myself just for the sake of somebody else who I don’t like – and why should I? It’s not my self-belief which is lifted when I win something for what appears to be somebody else’s gain. In the end, I did just enough to get by, but never enough to see how far I could get. I didn’t see the point as the reward was not something I personally wanted. I was never inspired to greatness. Perhaps that is cultural, perhaps it is societal, perhaps it is parental? We are nurtured by our school experience after-all. My headmaster then went on to become the adviser for the Education Department at the highest levels of government…
Despite spending many years blaming my school, I realise it wasn’t their fault. A school is not so much a place of education as a place of conformation – and a very useful tool it is too for a post-colonial country. Except somewhere the theory has fallen down. Schools no longer teach moral codes. They no longer teach civic duty and certainly don’t teach personal responsibility. (Well the good ones do, but you pay for them!)
I would think there are millions out there who see the same thing.
College was different. Small classes with specific aims. I thrived.
University was much the same with one difference. Small classes with specific aims BUT everybody who was there was interested.
Schools are problems because they are supermarkets. Everything is labelled and packaged to fit a criteria and like supermarkets; the ugly, the misshappen or the unpopular are dumped. Whatever is successful is sold, all other products are consigned to the dustbin. Leaving just the nicely packaged, beautiful things for the consumer to eat.
I have not included in this discussion the proven psychological concept that some children are not strictly ready for formal education, sometimes as late as 7 of or 8 years old. But I quote” You should also know that all brain functions do not mature at the same rate. A young child with highly advanced verbal skills may develop gross and fine motor control more slowly and have trouble learning to write clearly. Another child may be advanced physically but not know how to manage his/her social skills. Others may be cognitively advanced but show emotional immaturity. For all of these reasons it is important to understand how our brains mature and the differences that may be present at each stage of “normal” development.” i.e Not all children are the same…But then the Fins know this don’t they?
So we are back to teachers being trained psychologists too…
There is also a very interesting concept which nobody else seems to have picked up on. Primary education is kept local and small. The schools are generally small with low pupil numbers. The lessons are not difficult and are taught (hopefully) in a way that accommodates all abilities. If all is well, the child should leave well adjusted and socially secure.
The culture shock is secondary education, which is a great monolith of homogenization. Schools of 1500 to 2000 pupils exist in many places and with the population expanding bigger schools are envisaged. In India one school boasts 47,000 pupils! Ages in the UK secondary system vary from the innocent 11 year old to the adult of 18, with all the ranging of hormones in between. This is the very years when emotional and psychological well-being is key in order for you to prepare for working life. Is this not upside down? Surely a child should be prepared for life by exploring their likes and dislikes without fear of ridicule or frustrated ignorance?
When I was at school I wanted to be a farmer. Think on that. A kid growing up in the middle of one of the worlds largest cities, not wanting to work in the city…How often do you think my wish for exploring this idea was entertained – In a school that advertised jobs in banks in its glossy magazine? Not often. But as I say, I wasn’t mature enough to seize or even see opportunities.
Nowhere in life are you forced to attend a place where you have to mix with vast groups of emotionally unstable people most of whom you probably won’t like for 5 days a week for 7 years. Nowhere except perhaps prisons and asylums…
Perhaps this is the answer?
Horticulture is not the only industry to suffer this crisis too. Technology, engineering, physics and manufacturing are all industries desperate for fresh input, yet there is virtually no interest.
What of the future?
I hold my breath.
Happy, educational gardening.
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