When I worked in a school, I had numerous roles. Sometimes I would help teach children their spellings. Sometimes I would help to teach children to read. Other times, during SATS, I would be allocated to help children who needed it, reading out questions for example and/or going through mock tests with them and helping to remind them of key things they could do to pick up marks.
Sometimes this could be frustrating. It was particularly frustrating in those cases where I was working with a lovely, bright child who just couldn’t quite get what it was you were trying to tell them.
In certain SATS paper questions you get points for showing how you have worked something out. This is a godsend. Often, children rush through questions, knowing how they are supposed to do something, but because they’re under test conditions, occasionally putting down the wrong answer, even though their methodology is correct. They can achieve more by writing down the method.
With some children, no matter how many times you gently point this out to them, they refuse to put down the method because they think they know better. Then you, most frustratingly, watch them score zero on a question you know they could have clawed one or two marks back on.
They can really get upset about this. Every mark counts and the poor kids are under enormous pressure. Yet when you tried to show them, they wouldn’t be helped. It’s heart breaking, actually.
In other situations, like learning to read for example, you see a child figuring out how a word should sound, and they get it wrong. Often this is because those words are not phonetic. You just have to know them.
You yourself know them. The child knows that you know them, because you are their teacher. You are there precisely because you have been trained to teach them to read. The facts are at your disposal, and there is absolutely no margin for doubt. You are right. They are wrong. Sometimes life is like this.
You teach them the right way to read/say the word. They look at you. They look back at the page. They persist in continuing to try and figure it out, as if you just didn’t exist.
Worse are the children who just blindly continue to pronounce the word incorrectly, because they are so invested in being right, in not losing face, that they will not budge.
These are the children you despair over. These are the children who you see wilfully squandering marks in tests because they have to be right, no matter what. Their own self-belief is more important to them than their willingness to learn, their test scores, and ultimately, and most sadly, their academic future and/or what happens to them after school.
You talk to other adults about these kind of experiences, and they shake their heads. How can children be like this? Everyone knows that you go to school to learn. You do not stand in the way of your own learning. You do not know everything. You can’t. This type of behaviour is self-defeating.
Some, less charitable people, think that children who do this are stupid. How can they be so stupid? You hear. How can they do that? Everyone knows 2 + 2 =4. Why would someone wilfully persist in putting the answer down as 6, particularly when they have been shown all the evidence that this is not so. Someone once said to me; ‘That’s a special kind of stupid.’
I disagree. I think it’s a special type of fear.
We accept that school children have lots of learning to do. We accept that in some cases there are absolutely right and wrong answers to certain things that must be learned, just like in other cases there are grey areas and we have to try to teach children how to navigate those grey areas as best they can, and make sensible, rational, informed decisions about what they learn and their opinions and ideas based on what they learn.
It’s a given.
What about grown ups though?
Why do some people think that learning finishes at school? Why do some people think that they don’t have to think, change, learn, grow and adapt, even though every single thing in the world that survives and thrives does this?
It’s Darwinian. If you stay still, you die. If you are rigid, you snap. If you adapt, if you learn, you succeed. Learning doesn’t have a shelf life. We talk about growing up. We talk about it as if it only applies to children. We think that we can’t or won’t or don’t have to keep growing as adults, despite every shred of evidence to the contrary.
Currently, what I am seeing in terms of how many people are deciding to vote in the EU Referendum is a lot of people doing what I see those children doing in school. There seem to be a lot of people who, for whatever reason, literally prefer to be wrong than actually look at the facts, or learn anything.
Furthermore, they tend to get angry if you point out where they are wrong, and will defend themselves by saying ‘this is who I am, and that’s that.’
There are, it has to be said, a great many grey areas in relation to the EU Referendum. There are a great many things we do not know, and cannot know, and cannot possibly predict. Anyone who tells you that they definitely know what is going to happen to us whether we stay in or vote out, is a liar.
There are also a great many other lies floating about, propagated by both sides of the argument. Frankly, nobody who is a politician, on either side is coming out of this well. They are all peddling fear and an unwarranted certainty about the future that is frankly disgusting. They are all lying. All of them.
There is also a great deal of bias, from all sides.
The one thing I am certain of above all others is that I would not trust a single one of these people or organisations as far as I can throw them, and it absolutely breaks my heart for the future of this country whichever way we go, that these people will still have more of a say in how our future will pan out than anyone else in the whole debate.
This means however, that falling back on what your education should have taught you, is more important than ever with regard to how you place your vote.
Firstly, figure out your methodology and do your research. Show your working. You could pick up valuable points. If you suspect one thing you read or hear is biased, read or listen to other things to try and find the middle ground, or pick the right path through the nonsense. There are facts and non-partisan articles around.
Secondly, accept the fact that if you do your research, you might have to change your mind about what you thought was true, good or bad.
Thirdly, there are some things that are just facts. They just are. It doesn’t matter if your opinion about them tells you otherwise, there are certain things, particularly to do with how we are governed now, that are incontrovertible.
It doesn’t matter, for example, how fervently you believe that the EU wants to tell you what shape fruit you can buy. It’s not true. Saying that it is true, doesn’t make you right. Saying that it is true, doesn’t make you clever.
Think about what you would say to a child, as their teacher, if this was a SATS test and they repeatedly answered this question: ‘Yes. The EU can tell me what shape my bananas are.’ when you know the answer is ‘No. The EU cannot tell me what shape my bananas are.’ And you have been teaching them this fact for six months, and in the test they score zero, because they have allowed their beliefs to outweigh the facts.
Would you pat them on the back and say: ‘Never mind. I accept that you wrote that, because that’s just who you are and well done you for sticking to your guns in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?’ You wouldn’t. If you did, that would be pretty cruel.
Over the last few weeks I have had the absolute and utter sadness to watch many people give opinions on this and a wide variety of other topics related to the EU and the power it wields in the UK which have no basis in fact whatsoever. Yet these are the points on which they are basing their decisions to stay or leave.
It is, and I am not exaggerating when I say this, absolutely terrifying. It is the most frightening thing I have discovered about this debate.
The second is how much bigotry and racism still exists in this country. As the weeks go by I have become sadder, and sadder and less and less proud when I see what we are supposed to stand for as a nation contrasted with what we currently seem to stand for.
I have actually, genuinely cried about this, for myself and for my children.
It is my opinion (note that I am not saying ‘fact’) that this referendum will have the biggest impact on our nation’s future since the Second World War. It will massively affect how I live out my old age and what my children’s adult lives turn out to be.
I have friends and acquaintances who are voting on both sides in this referendum. I absolutely endorse your right to vote whichever way you see fit. There are valid arguments for and against on both sides.
So here’s what I’m asking, and just like the kids I used to teach, it’s up to you whether you do what I suggest or not.
What I am asking you to do, is consider really carefully whether what you believe or think you know to be true is actually true. I’m asking you to check your facts, even if you think you don’t need to. In a decision this big, it’s worth going back over your working. Better to pick up one or two marks than none at all, right?
I’m asking you to think really carefully about our future, because in or out, it is our government that has to put in place what will happen next. It doesn’t matter what they say they are going to do, you need to think really carefully about whether you think they will actually do the things they say and whether they’re capable of delivering their promises. Weigh up both sides before you make your decision.
I’m suggesting that you don’t get angry with me the next time I point out an inconvenient truth that doesn’t gel with your picture of the world. That’s like getting angry with your teacher for pointing out that 2+2=4.
In the grey areas, where there are no facts, I am asking you to discuss things with me so that we can both learn, not so that I can be right. I am not trying to pick a fight. I’m genuinely trying to learn and grow. I might even be persuaded to change my mind. It happens.
I’m asking you to think, and if you find that insulting or offensive, God help you.