Why are we talking about children being behind?
I am trying to be curious about the narrative that children are now "behind" due to the pandemic. The thinking that some are behind and some are ahead isn't new in education but the talk of a generation of children being behind started me thinking. What if the language we use determines our thinking about the purpose of education and the development of young children? What if unpicking this helps us to understand why teenagers in the UK have such a fear of failure that it impacts their wellbeing? (If you haven't read the Good Childhood Report 2020, please do).
We call ourselves the human race (the dictionary definition of which is all the people in the world, considered as a group) and maybe the core idea of this has been lost along the way. What is this race that we are all competing in? And in our society, do we start that race at birth?
If it is a race, there is the inherent idea of winners and losers. No one wants to be a loser. There are developmental milestones that we can use to track our progress and can talk about being an early or a late developer. But is comparison the thief of joy, as Teddy Roosevelt said? What do we miss when we look at moments like sitting up, saying a first word or losing a baby tooth against a backdrop of when we are expected to do those things and noticing who managed them before us?
The measuring, comparing against standardised 'norms' continues unabated throughout childhood and education. Even in adulthood, people look at their peers and wonder whether they should have settled down, bought a house, travelled the world, taken their pension. The trouble with this is that there is infinite variation in a human. No two humans are exactly alike in all respects.We are more than our biology as we develop dynamically in relation to our environments, both physical and emotional. When we pay attention to where we think we OUGHT to be rather than where we are, then we can feel not good enough. Think how repeated experiences of feeling inadequate can impact our sense of self, our wellbeing.
Do we really want our world to be based on winners and losers in a race to the finish? What would it be like to give attention to how we are at the moment? What are we learning right now? What achievements have we accomplished and where will we go next? Success breed success so a strengths-based approach which looks at what is going well might be a good place to start.
Instead of framing the new term as a static point where children have kept pace with or slipped behind, surely it would be more helpful to talk about how children will be met where they are by those who work in schools. They will be taught what they need to know by skilled professionals who will listen and work out what they need.
We have an opportunity to celebrate the way in which we have got through the last few months and to build on whatever has gone before. No one can be left behind because we are all following our own path, alongside the rest of the human race.