Jewell of Anstey

Education for life
November 22, 2010, 12:58 am
Filed under: education, politics

Maria Montessori did not believe adolescents should go to school at all.  She thought they should be out in the fields working, and growing into their adult bodies and their adult selves. As the mother of teenagers, I reckon she had a point.  And that is why I am excited by the ALP Y9 proposal.

I was watching the ALP campaign launch streaming on my computer when I first heard about this plan.  I was not actually expecting to hear anything I would get enthused about, so I was delighted to hear John Brumby outlining this genuinely exciting initiative.

Of course, kids these days don’t get to leave school to do manual work and then go back. If you fall off the education treadmill in the modern world it is often very hard to get back on, and rare to go as far as you might have done. The manual work is largely gone. The opportunity for that kind of education within the family or community is a thing of the past.

But we still have to deal with the realities of adolescence.  Teenagers have a massive job to do in growing physically and emotionally and defining a newly minted adult sense of self. We ask them to make massive decisions about their life directions, and to make them fairly young.

Year 9 is a crunch point in education.  There are reasons why kids disengage at that point. They are under enormous pressure to work out who they are – not just in the sense of choosing school subjects, but in really deep ways that goes to the core of their identity.

That kind of existential work is time-consuming and all absorbing.  The minutiae of remembering to get your white shirt through the wash over the weekend, or keeping track of your textbooks can get very tedious when you are trying to work out if you are in love for the first time. Obeying petty rules can feel like tyranny when you are first feeling the power of being adult size.

At this time in their lives, kids deserve a bit of time off the treadmill of bells and rules and rigidity.  It is the right time for a shake up. A chance to follow up an absorbing interest. To meet different people. To be somewhere new. To be distracted from book learning for a bit while you get a handle on who you want to be.

Yr 10 is when kids start to take different paths.  Individual paths that they must choose for themselves. At the end of Yr9 they will be faced with important decisions about how they want the next three years, and the rest of their life, to pan out.

In kindergarten, children learn through free choice and play. At the end of childhood, in Yr9, our teenagers can be given another chance to learn in ways that are playful, but none the less crucial for that. This is a no less transformational moment in their lives than the important preschool years.  It is the perfect moment to be flexible.

This program, for me, is not about handing down wisdom on practical life skills.  It is about taking away some of the pressure of the daily grind of class and homework, to let our kids play for a moment. It is a smooth space in among the deleuzian striations of school. It is a hiatus that will allow them to enjoy a moment of being before they have to get on with becoming.

Maybe the execution will disappoint.  Maybe Bailleu will get elected and it will never happen.

But the concept is a winner with me.


4 Comments so far
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Clearly Year 9 is the right time to do it. There is mountains of research that shows this. That is the reason that just about every private school does stuff with the Y9s.

The question, as always, is the execution. It should be done through organisations like Outwardbound. If they try to do it on the cheap with the army it will be a disaster.

Comment by Yair

As I stated before I am not a fan of this policy.

Again I don’t know the details and I based my opinion of the ALP statement. I understand that at that age we need to be taking away some of the pressure of the daily grind of class and homework, to let our kids play, and that’s fine.

What I am thinking is whether this program does that. It seems to me a ‘size fits all’ approach. In the same way as adults, kids may let off steam in different ways. Play computer games, go to a skate park, play or listen to music whatever. What it is proposed is a normative approach. Kids may see this as another ‘thing we have to do for school’ as part of the curriculum. I would think that this camp would be fairly structured, we wouldn’t have students ‘doing their thing’. Of course I don’t know the details and perhaps kids won’t be forced to hike for kilometres in cold rain but may do out in the field to do art, which in that case changes the whole perspective.

Just that I balked when the statement about ‘getting them out of the comfort zone’ in the actual policy. Seems a bit presumptuous to me. How do they know all children have a comfort zone? Is that comfort zone actually something that is helpful where they are at? If any student wants to go to a ‘camp’ of course they should be assisted and enabled to do so. But some may not. I don’t like the mandatory assumption of the policy.

Of course mine are assumptions and I am very happy to be proven wrong. Tristan absolutely loves camp and he jumps at the bits to go. But surely there are some kids who are awkward and unfit and not into the outdoors that will feel out of sorts. Of course some teachers will be able enough to make feel included. But can we be sure this will occur in all schools in Victoria? Private schools that do this sort of thing are very well resourced, this cannot be said of all State schools.

Comment by Guido

Guido, my understanding is that it is a term-long program which is about more than just a two-week camp. I also understand that students will not be forced to go on camp. While I think a lot of kids get a lot out of a physically challenging experience, I hope that it not the only option on offer.

Comment by jewellofanstey

Yeah. I heard this morning that it won’t be compulsory…so issue resolved!

Comment by accidentalaussie

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