Saturday, 10 October 2015

I Saw an Angel in the Marble

Michelangelo of course was a genius of gigantic proportions. His work is breath taking from architecture through to his stunning sculpture, drawing and painting.  He was able to see in nature and the world generally what others couldn’t see.

 He famously said, ‘I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free’.  This line is so inspiring across a number of dimensions. It excites me from an education perspective.

 Every day parents and teachers have this same opportunity with children. If you look close enough you can see the unique individuality and fragility of each child. This presents a wonderful and critically important time when we can embrace and nurture this fragile beauty. Handled correctly we can draw out the trust and confidence of the child to show their real selves, their personal voice, their creativity, their soul, their worries, their dreams and in doing so set free their potential as human beings.

 When most children arrive at school they are usually bursting with ideas, creativity, personal voice and personality. Their filters on life are open and free. They are keen to express themselves and are willing to have a go at all sorts of new tasks.

 The sad reality is that in traditional education settings, these same children incrementally close down their filters showing less and less of themselves. They learn quickly that there is often only one right answer the teacher is looking for, there is only one way to interpret a question and that their ideas are best to kept to themselves as they are annoying or wrong.  These messages are learnt in subtle and not so subtle ways. A painting may be judged on the skill set of realistic representation of what the teacher wants rather than the ideas and thoughts behind the child’s work. A child’s writing may be judged on the surface features of neat writing and accurate punctuation as opposed to the ideas and thinking of the content. Many children quickly lose their confidence and view themselves as ‘dumb’ because they don’t meet the teacher’s expectations. Quiet and sensitive children or children who just don’t fit the ‘norm’ of life can melt into social obscurity if the teacher allows the more confident, brash or even bullying types dominate the learning environment.

 On a more macro front, if the leadership of a school demands conformity and ‘straight line’ thinking of their staff this filters down into the classroom and the school culture. People become fearful and slowly but surely creativity and personal voice gets melded into a machine where surface features of policies and procedures are more valued than the head and the heart. Most teachers become fearful, lose confidence to speak up and usually fall into line.

 On a broader front still, this is the challenge of our education system.  NZ needs teachers who are encouraged to be creative, have personal voice and autonomy.  This doesn’t mean we don’t need structure and systems but on all fronts, including the macro national level and within schools themselves we need people who are set free to sincerely connect with each other and the children on a real and powerful level where personal voice,  trust, empowerment, respect, risk taking  and real empathy are celebrated.

 If all people are made to think the same via structure and systems, then nobody is really thinking at all. Can you see what is possible for NZ education as Michelangelo saw in the marble?