Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Seeing the sea: The places all children should see & be seen

Hillary Clinton is credited with bringing to mass attention the proverbial concept that it takes a village to raise a child.  Some people obtusely object to the notion on the basis that ascribing to it necessarily involves an abdication of parental responsibility to child rearing.  In fact a sensible analysis simply leads to the conclusion that we all in one way or another owe a responsibility to all children to ensure that they enter adulthood ready and informed to fulfil their potential.

Compulsory education has for decades amounted to a societal manifestation of that proverb.  But of course education extends far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic even if, dismayingly, far too many leave children leave full time education unequipped with even these the most basic tools for living a life fully lived.

It is by no means a novel comment or criticism to observe that much of what is taught in schools is of tangential utility in the day to day lives of most adults.  A classic refrain is the complaint that schools don’t teach completion of self-assessment tax returns and certainly recollection of a dread moment when I contemplated undertaking this task is enough to lead me to add my voice to that particular chorus.

PSHE (Personal Social Health & Economic Education) is the mechanism by which schools are expected, formally, to ensure that pupils leave schools with basic life skills that extend beyond the 12 Times Table and a passing knowledge of the plot of Romeo & Juliet.

The PSHE Association website sets out the statutory position thus:

The Government’s PSHE education review concluded in March 2013, stating that the subject would remain non-statutory and that no new programmes of study would be published. The DfE has however stated as part of its National Curriculum guidance that ‘All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice’. This position was reinforced by the Government’s latest draft of the national curriculum framework, published on July 8th 2013.

By far the component of PSHE that draws the most comment and provokes the most controversy is the way in which it informs schools’ approach to sex education.  Many people decry the quality and content of sex education as taught in some schools and there is no doubt that the topic arouses strong passions.  Some parents feel that sex education should be entirely the province of the family and others feel that schools shy away from properly considering with children what consent means in the context of sexual relationships and the concomitant responsibility of boys and men to ensure that it has been given.

I feel however that a very worthwhile conversation should be had about what schools and society generally should be teaching outside the classroom.  Since the centenary of the start of WWI last year and running until 2019 the Government has made funds available for every secondary school in the country to send one teacher and two pupils on a trip to one of the WWI battlefields.

In some respects this is a laudable initiative but in others it is frustrating and tokenistic.  The assertion has been made that the two pupils in question will in some osmotic way convey the benefits of their experience to their classmates.  Obviously financial considerations have precluded the sending of all children to the places where many of their great-grandfathers made the ultimate sacrifice.  As it is the contract for the project has cost £5.3 million.  However griping about this scheme carries with it the implicit suggestion of disrespect to the Glorious Dead.  In truth though it is not hard to see why the government was enthusiastic about an exercise that conferred political capital at little political cost.

It would have taken a brave politician to suggest that rather than arrange an outing to the sites of what was supposed to be the war to end all wars that children might more usefully meet the living survivors of current conflicts.  Rather than seeing the brutal effects of war on screen children could see it in the flesh at Headley Court, the rehabilitation centre for wounded service personnel in Surrey.  War maims and it kills and children growing up with the intention of volunteering to serve their country should see for themselves the reality of that fact.

I have a list of places that I believe all children should visit or see before the age of 18 because they are places which will help children understand what adult life (and death is about).  I have previously written about why visiting a court ensures that justice is seen to be done and enables even those who have not performed jury service a chance to understand what the administration of justice means in real terms.  The vast majority of these places can be found near where most children are and consequently the expense of arranging the visits would be more than made up for in the value conferred by the experience.
In alphabetical order my suggested list of unmissable places for all children would include:

-       A church
-       A cinema
-       A council chamber

-       A court
-       A GUM clinic

-       A hospice

-       A mosque
-       A museum

-       A prison

-       A synagogue

-       A temple

-       A theatre

-       The sea
This is my own arbitrary selection of places and, in one case, a thing that should enable every child to understand the ‘village’ in which he or she is growing up and will one day be an adult member of.  I have included the sea because the thought that any child in this island nation could reach adulthood without having seen the sea is in a small way too shocking to contemplate and yet there must be many who do not.  The sea is our most accessible connection to the sublime and a reminder that all societies and the places within them are the construct of men and no education is complete without a realisation that life is not all man made.

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