Once upon a time, primary school teachers didn’t have a National Curriculum, and somehow they managed to work out what children needed to be taught and how they could interest their children in learning. Research papers, countless studies and published books on child development all explained how a child grows from the infancy of egotism to a broader recognition of a wider world and the needs of people other than themselves. At birth, their lives are wholly focused on the “me” and through the stages of development, they begin to recognise the “we”.
This is the start of a journey to explore, nurture and cultivate their personal and social intelligences, learning how to be self-regarding and self-effacing, experiencing the pleasure of knowing themselves and knowing others, developing their own passions and interests and appreciating the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of others.
Although the words personal and social intelligences may not have been used, this was one of the fundamental points of the Plowden Report: recognition of this incredible journey of development, where we start with the child, recognise their somewhat inward-looking perspective and through careful nurturing and thoughtfulness, broaden their world to incorporate other people, prepare them to learn about worlds and times that they hadn’t experienced, and ultimately to draw comparisons in order to appreciate the present and the immediate.
This is why the role of the primary school teacher is so important and always will be. This is also why primary school teachers, prior to the National Curriculum, taught children about their local environment and from this gave meaning to the history and geography of the area that would lead to an interest in the life and times of others, opening their eyes to further learning.
This local study didn’t preclude the study of other areas of history. There was still room to study ancient Egypt or 19th century Britain, but there was the opportunity for greater reflection on certain periods of history dependent upon the relevance of the local area.
During the building of the Olympic stadium, we were distressed by the lack of children visiting the site as we took our regular walks to literally watch history being made. One of the contributing factors in this could have been that teachers were racking their brains to try to see where such a school visit could fit in with the prescribed learning outcomes of this imposed curriculum. Thankfully some of them did work out the connection, yet the driving force behind such a visit should simply have been that this construction site was on their doorstep and was extremely relevant to the child.
We’re fortunate to live and work in a city that is steeped in history; one that has evolved and flourished through the richness of multiculturalism, one that has incredible buildings and amazing stories to tell, one that our children and young people should be studying and recognising their own important role in its history, its present and its future: never more so than in a place such as Shoreditch and its immediate neighbouring constituent areas.
This area is oozing with interesting places, factual fascinations and an opportunity to look at the very heart of society as it draws together both indigenous folk and the wealth of immigrants over the centuries. From the ‘invasion’ of the Huguenots to the settling of the Bangladeshi community, this area has evolved, transformed itself and is going through yet another regeneration as more and more people begin to recognise the vibrancy of the place. Jews and Muslims still live harmoniously together in the area. Mosques have been built next to Synagogues and no-one has had to build a dividing wall between them. Young and old walk the streets, sharing the same restaurants, enjoying the same music, appreciating the same aesthetic aspects of the place that aren’t deemed as traditionally beautiful, yet hold an incredible fascination. The wealthy and the less well-off intermingle, largely without immediate thoughts or feelings of resentment or injustice, just an acceptance that this is the nature of this incredible city of ours – some prosper, some don’t.
And on our visit to the area on a bright, warm and clear Monday afternoon in the onset of spring, there wasn’t one group of school children to be seen. All this wealth of history and geography, of art and music, of maths and literacy, of religion and anthropology, on the doorstep – and not one group of children taking advantage of the learning the area has to offer. Contrast that with the hordes of children at South Kensington Station the following day, and we wonder why people think that the best place to “visit” history, science and architecture is at a museum on the other side of town.
We’re not saying that the museums of West London aren’t worth visiting. They most certainly are. The richness of information, the potential for developing a child’s imagination and the celebration of creativity is something that should be enjoyed and encouraged in these places. The fact that these museums once again allow free admission makes them even more attractive to schools and families but they’re not the only place that offers eclectic history and learning opportunities for our children.
As the weather warms, albeit a slight interlude (we hope) this week, we implore people – primary school teachers, families, friends of young children and teenagers alike, to get out into the city or the village or the countryside to explore what your local environment has to offer. Take those children on that journey from introspection to retrospection. Encourage them to develop their intra-personal and their inter-personal skills. Enable them to use all of their intelligences as they begin to understand , appreciate and value their local area and all it has to offer.
“Begin to see what is in front of you, rather than what you learned is there.”
Stephen C Paul
“If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
In Part Two, we will look in greater detail at the learning opportunities a visit to the local area can offer.