Chester Draws, a regular contributor to the comments on this blog, made a point about ‘resilience’ that really had me thinking:
“We have plenty of what amount to infinite problems out there. They are called computer games.
The thing is that the kids who supposedly have to learn “resilience” are extremely resilient at playing them. They don’t, generally, lack resilience as such. What kids lack, but many develop as they get older, is resilience at tasks they don’t like.”
I think this cuts to the heart of two key issues in the debate about education. Firstly, generic skills such as ‘collaboration’, ‘critical thinking’, ‘creativity’, ‘resilience’ and so on are highly context-dependent. A kid can be a great collaborator in his football team but very poor at collaborating over housework. Beyond a few social skills that children will generally pick-up in early childhood – ones they were learning long before schools existed – there doesn’t really exist a general set of collaborative skills that can be taught.
‘Resilience’, seems highly dependent on personality. But the way Chester defined it is interesting. It would be almost impossible for a progressive educator to work on such a skill because they shrink from tasks that students don’t like doing.
This extends right the way from the unthinking progressivism of cool activities where teachers call on technology and popular culture in an attempt to ingratiate their subject towards the students, all the way through to the high Rousseauian romanticism that underpins educational convention: children are in a more natural state than adults and we should follow their interests so that they may learn in school as effortlessly as they learn to walk or speak.
A good test of where you fall on this is Shakespeare. Few children love Shakespeare from the outset because the words are difficult and the plays are set in a different time. Should they be allowed to refuse to study Shakespeare and be given other literature instead? Perhaps something more ‘relevant’? Or should the adults assert their authority and coerce students into studying The Bard?
To many professional educationalists, coercion is basically wrong. Yet most teachers are masters at it. Despite the rows that erupt on Twitter, very little of it is done with overt sticks and carrots. Much more is about expecting students to conform and a refusal to accept that matters may take any course other than the one the teacher has planned.
I think this places most ordinary teachers practically at odds with our philosopher kings. Yes, many of us will pay lip-service to progressive slogans but we fundamentally operate on a different level. There is a vast literature where academics bemoan the failure of teachers to properly implement the academic’s preferred reform. Perhaps this is why. There is a mismatch.
It also gives us another way of looking at the world. I suspect that most teachers will, at some point, have been told that a student misbehaved in their class because the content wasn’t interesting or engaging enough. But if everything is engaging – if all lessons follow the children’s interests – then how will they ever learn to be resilient at tasks they don’t like?
Followed to the extreme, we would end up with a generation of snowflakes who can’t bear anything out of their comfort zone and who give up easily. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success in the 21st century.