This week has seen a hiatus in my own writing while I mark my students’ work. This is for the Teaching Writing module, and the work they’ve produced is in the form of a blog, charting their progress over the past few months and reflecting on how the theories and ideas about teaching have fed into the kind of teacher they want to be themselves.
Many of these blogs are fascinating to read. They are insights into personal histories, specific memories of wonderful or terrible teachers, reflections on the practicalities of standing up in front of a classroom of people, and big philosophical questions that get to heart of what learning should be about, not just for children but for adults too.
One thing that does stand out is the destructive nature of the education system as it stands at the moment. The prescriptiveness of testing, the narrow focus of the curriculum that implies there are only certain facts children need to know, the gradual eroding of creative thinking and natural curiosity, all combine to produce teenagers that are exhausted and disillusioned.
By the time they get to university, I often have the sense that I’m not only teaching creative writing, but also how to think. It may sound ridiculous that anyone doesn’t know how to think, but if people are fed information, processed through tests and exams, discouraged from thinking differently because they won’t fit into the correct box to be ticked, that ability to think in a wide-ranging and exploratory way is gradually eroded.
In a creative subject one of the most important things for the students to learn, even more important than technique, or the great writers they can learn from, or how to respond to feedback, more important than all of this is understanding that your mind has to be free. Freedom of thought is about trusting in your own sub-conscious, having the ability to consider beyond the obvious, to build and make things in your own mind that become tangible and real. This is what creates original work that connects people together and makes a difference to their lives, and this is why we need an education system that allows for this from an early age.
One thing I do find encouraging is that while reading these blogs written by third-year students, I can see they are thinking for themselves. Those big philosophical questions have been raised, and it heartens me to think some of these students will go on to be really great teachers, and maybe, at some point, they’ll be amongst the band of new educators that will find the answers.