I read an interview with author, speaker and academic Brené Brown in which she said, “Eighty-five per cent of the men and women that I interviewed remembered something so shaming in school that it forever changed how they thought of themselves as learners. And these play out in your later life.”
This makes me so sad. I remember lots of shaming things in school, not just around learning. And one of the reasons I started to question Harry being at school was I noticed him questioning himself, changing his personality, feeling worried and guilty.
One day he said that they’d played Rounders in PE and he hadn’t been able to catch the ball and some friends had laughed and others had been annoyed and he was upset that he’d let them down. I could never catch the ball in Rounders either. Or hit it, for that matter. I remember being a fielder and praying that the ball wouldn’t come anywhere near me. I remember seeing it flying towards me, looking up and being dazzled by the sun and thinking “I’ll tell them I was dazzled by the sun, that’s why I couldn’t catch it…” even before I’d tried to catch it. And I didn’t catch it. And no one cared whether or not I’d been dazzled, they just thought I was an idiot. What gets me about that is I didn’t even try. I’d already decided there was no way I was going to catch it, so I didn’t even try. Isn’t PE meant to be fun? Isn’t there a way to… I was going to say “teach PE” but does PE even need to be taught? Couldn’t PE be play?
Couldn’t all learning be play? (Einstein thought so, he said, “Play is the highest form of research.” But, you know, let’s not listen to that guy…)
Learning can be such a joy, that it seems awful that school should be a place of shame, but so often when I talk to friends about home ed – when they’re trying to understand why we’re doing it – they give me an example of some aspect of school that made them feel shame. Sometimes it’s the changing rooms/showers or something that happened with a friend, often it’s how rubbish they felt they were at a certain subject. I’ve had friends tell me they’re still embarrassed – 20, 30 years later – because they didn’t understand some aspect of maths. But why be embarrassed? That’s the failure of the school, not the student, surely? I read this quote from Stanley Kubrick just the other day
I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.*
If you try to motivate with fear, is it natural that children will feel shame when they don’t learn? I don’t know.
We can’t avoid shame, I’m pretty sure. But I’m hoping that being home with family, with people who love them, will help my children learn how to deal with it. And if you haven’t watched Brené Brown’s TED talk, you must.
* That quote is from here, the rest of the post is also worth reading.