by Tim Middleton
The Big Bang Theory” is a very popular television sit-com which follows the lives and loves of a group of highly-intellectual science students. In modern parlance, many would look at these characters as “geeks”, they being academically exceptional but socially awkward, eccentric, non-mainstream; what they talk about between themselves would not only be “all Greek to us” (namely something far too difficult for us to understand) but also it would more likely be “all geek to us”.
“Geeks” in the past have also been given other terms or indeed labels; for many, they were known as nerds, as dweebs, as weeds, as the seven-stone weaklings who would have sand kicked in their face by hulking bullies on the beach. If we stop to think about it, “weeds” is perhaps slightly inappropriate as weeds in the garden may be seen as strong; they take over the garden, spread easily and quickly and take away sunlight, water, air and space from other plants, denying them the opportunity to grow, causing damage and death. Social “weeds” or “geeks” would not normally be seen as such.
There is another context where the role of weeds is considered. In the well-known Parable of the Sower and the Soil, recorded in Matthew 13 in the Bible, the story warns of the danger of how weeds (the thorns, the thistles) can choke the seed sown — they throttle, smother, suffocate, invade, kill the good plants. In his explanation of the parable Jesus explains that the weeds represent the “cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” which can damage our spiritual life.
The fact is that we must see education, as many educators have described, most notably Sir Ken Robinson, as an agricultural image rather than an industrial one; schools are places where children are like plants that need to grow physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, not factories which churn out children as products with certain qualifications. In that regard, therefore, it is equally appropriate to see that there are weeds in education which have the same impact of choking the growth of children in schools.
While the “cares of this world” may well choke the life out of people’s spiritual lives, in education it is more likely that the categories of this world do that, in terms of a child’s all round growth. As we have seen, society (and schools) is quick to label people as “geeks” and “jocks” (those with fitness, strength, beauty, fashion, charm). Schools, probably not deliberately, categorise pupils into academic and sporting children, though there remains a category of pupils who may not fit into either. Pupils are all too quickly categorised as Arts or Sciences, as being well-behaved or trouble-makers, as a success or a failure. Not only do we label them but we also give them a rank; some are more important, more interesting, more significant, than others. The impact of such labels, of such typecasting, is to choke the life out of pupils; the label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pupils see no hope of ever becoming something else which leads them to see no point in trying. It is a gradual suffocation leading to a sad end. We must stop categorising pupils.
Furthermore, just as in the afore-mentioned parable the “deceitfulness of riches” chokes the life out of spiritual life, so in education it is more the deceitfulness of results that does such (while linked with that we find the deceitfulness of reputation). Results are deceitful while we use them deceitfully. Results hide the fact that a child with poor results may simply struggle to put points on paper and that a child with good results may struggle to relate to people. Results hide what has gone into attaining them; too often pupils are so busy cramming or even studying that they are not learning anything (other than how to pass an exam), nor are they developing the whole person. People with results do not get jobs while people without results do get jobs but we are led to believe otherwise, are forced to pursue results and as a consequence there is no real growth; we are left with a 178-IQ weakling with little strength to live.
We want all our pupils to grow and blossom in society with life, energy, fruitfulness and beauty. This is no big bang theory; this is real life. There are weeds in education that are throttling the life out of children. The categories we introduce and the results we pursue will not help children to learn. We need to remove such weeds and we do not need to be a geek to work that out.