Saturday, March 10, 2007


I’ve been thinking about suffering today. It started when I read The return of the Schools Fools (March 6th) post on Debi Alper’s site earlier in the week. It interested me because as an educationalist it pleases me when people say positive things about education and schools. Even before I finished my degree I was very disillusioned with the direction education was taking in England and rather than career plans I was planning escape. When I left almost eleven years ago I never imagined I would still be in education now. I was burned out, fed up and just glad to be leaving. Nowadays I love my job, it’s stimulating and I just wish that the methodology could be introduced nationally because I believe in it.

In discussions with my colleague, particularly from Britain, one of the things we share in common is that we didn’t exactly like school. One of our leading reasons for going into education was to make things better for the child. I was an average student who sucked at exams. I was a bored student who was not excited by many aspects of school. The things I enjoyed doing I can still remember now. My primary school project on Brazil made me choose Latin America as my destination for escape. I loved my history classes in secondary when I was allowed to decorate my pages and let the creativity flow. I sailed through Media Studies, but did terribly at English lit, because I could not memorise a quote or poem for toffee. Thank heavens for the fact that by ‘A’ level they let us take the texts in or I would have been super screwed. So yes, I wanted to go into education to make learning a little more exciting and now I can say quite frequently to parents during the year: “If they are not interested in it, they are not going to learn it.” “If they want to dance their times tables, then let them dance.”

But how does this lead me to think about suffering? Well, from day one of my career I was sensitive to the needs of students with special educational needs, which is probably a good thing because in my second year I had sixteen SEN kids in a class of thirty two. I learnt on the job and later I made it my business to learn more. When Juan Carlos who shortened his name to Carlos and still couldn’t spell it finally spelt his name correctly because we had spent weeks with those Hickey Multisensory cards I was proud. We deviated a little and used sponges in the playground and did it in batik and everything, but you know, he got it. Anyway to cut a long story short I know my stuff now and I understand why I have always been drawn to this field. I can see now why I didn’t do so well at school. Why when I grew up in bilingual family I left home firmly monolingual, but when push comes to shove, I won’t say I’m dyslexic.

This is what I was thinking about this morning. Why won’t I say it? And then it hit me. I struggled, but I don’t think I suffered. Somehow I got through and somehow this has stayed with me. And now I’m asking myself why is it inculcated in me that these students should have to suffer? We are well past the days of ‘word blindness’. Research has taught us a lot and brain research is enabling us to know more than ever before. We know how to deal with dyslexia, no child should suffer. So why? Why when I went back last night to that original post did I find two comments there that frankly just made me want to break down and cry and woke me up at seven this morning still thinking about it?

I’m at a loss and all I can say is that I feel for children and the parents of those children who still suffer unnecessarily. Somehow education isn’t working for all children and I don’t believe that it’s a utopian ideal that it should. So how are we going to deal with this? I hope someone out there has some answers.


apprentice said...

I'm so glad you like you job. I listen to Desert Island Discs and it is amazing the number of highly talented and creative people who have been saved by one good teacher showing an interest.

I know I'm on the dyslexic spectrum, but it was never caught at school, I just struggled to memorise word shapes as a means of teaching myself to spell. I still often cant't look up a word because I can't picture it or hear it my brain.

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Verilion,
Thanks for visiting. I've answered your comment. *grin*.
Your post led me to recall suffering on a wider general context. There's all kinds & for all age groups, I think. It's the physical ones that stay obvious. But for the suffering of an inner spirit that controls and hides its secrets, those are hidden for a lifetime.
In the aspect of education & children, I straightway think of bullying as another child's woes.

Have a great week. :-)

Atyllah said...

This is a superb post, V, well done.
As neither a parent nor an educator, I'm not qualified to speak on the education system, all I know is how much I hated school and how I wish today that teachers had made learning more interesting and fun. Back then I loathed history because it was all about dates, now I realise how much I missed because so much history is about story. Would that it were taught that way - perhaps humanity would indeed learn from the past.

Marie said...

Great post, V. I hated school, mainly because I was bullied. The only subjects I enjoyed were English and Art. I quite liked History, though I don't think they taught us much other than about Henry VIII and his 6 wives.

Verilion said...

Hi apprentice, yep it's the hearing it in the brain that is the problem exactly. One benefit of teaching dyslexic children is that I now know the tricks to sort my own spelling out (well to sort it out ish to be honest!)

And Susan, I suppose the type of suffering I am talking about is the inner spirit. There are outer manifestations for all types of woes like bullying, but that inner suffering does stay forever, see the other comments as an example.

Atyllah, it's a shame you missed out on the story of history, which reminds me that Monday's Child has left a comment on my Who Knocked the Wall Down? post saying she's going to use the Schabowski story in class. She's obviously a good teacher!

And Marie, I could never remember whether he had six or eight wives! Numbers and me don't go together to well. It wasn't until someone pointed out the deceased, divorced, beheaded, deceased, divorced, outlived pattern (and I'm still not sure that I've got that right) that I became sure that there were six. Now to name them!!!! And Bullying is hard. I found it so hard at the beginning to 'not blame the bully' but experience makes you see that they really are victims too. Not that that makes you feel any better though.

Debi said...

V - Thanks for the link. I don't think there are definitive answers but there's one very obvious crucial facet coming from your post. And that's how wonderful it is to hear about a teacher who is sensitive and genuinely committed.

Unfortunately you often come across teachers - especially at primary level - who don't even appear to LIKE kids, let alone be interested in their specific needs!

My eldest had one of them in Reception - she told us (he was 4 at the time remember) that he had special needs and 'low ability'.

Turns out of course that he's almost scarily bright with an underlying age at least 4 years in advance of his chronological age.

At a recent gifted and talented conference we were told that self belief is at least 80% of achievement. It was only when he was diagnosed we realised to what extent he had internalised feelings of inadequacy and thought he was stupid. After diagnosis his confidence shot up! That - more than the extra help - has made the biggest difference.

His dad, sadly, is an example of someone who went through school never being diagnosed and consequently still has those negative feelings to deal with.

I've heard of figures of 1 in 10 kids on the dyslexic spectrum and even 1 in 4! They're all different and will need to learn different techniques to help with their own specific way of seeing and learning.

Thank you for being one of the good guys!!!

Debi said...

PS - re Henry VIII's wives:

Divorced, beheaded, died,
Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Verilion said...

Hi Debi,

I'm not sure I'm one of the good guys, just one of the guys who got out. I don't know what it's like in England nowadays, but when I was teaching there it felt like the kids were the last thing you thought about after all the paper shuffling. The amount of paper work involved in getting a child onto the special needs register was horrendous. This is not a justification but it certainly made teachers think twice about whether to do it or not. I think teachers are just keeping their heads above water which is never going to be to the benefit of the kids. And then there are bad teachers, I certainly had my fair share of them too.
Oh and thanks for clearing up the Henry VIII thing. Of course I'll forget again until the next time it comes up again for some random reason!

Debi said...

The very fact that you CARE makes you one of the goodies on my book!


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