We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For

Apr 29, 2010

Category: Thoughts    Tags: , ,

The plan was to watch the documentary ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ and, if it was worth recommending, to flag it up on this website.

Launched in November and given away free with a national newspaper, this 77-minute film has been labelled ‘An Inconvenient Truth for Education’. In it, a succession of talking heads (including Sir Ken Robinson, Richard Branson, Germaine Greer, Bill Bryson, and Henry Winkler) and some talking Heads (!) put forward a strong argument for a more flexible curriculum and a focus on practical and vocational learning.

Here’s a taster to whet your appetite:

Its main message is that the world is changing incredibly fast and our education system needs to breed individuals who have the skills to adapt to it and meet its challenges head on. The film focuses on five students from the Swindon area and looks at some of the issues teenagers face in their learning.

The plan was to watch the film, comment on what it had to say and provide you with a couple of quotes and link to get a copy for yourself.

That was the plan.

But the reality is that, for all the excellent quotes and thinking-fodder on offer in the film, one thing really stuck out for us and it wasn’t the call for a new way of thinking about education — powerful though that is. It wasn’t Henry Winkler’s passionate comment: “How you learn has nothing to do with how smart you are. How you learn has nothing to do with your brilliance.” It wasn’t the excellent questions that the documentary and accompanying website throw out there…

It wasn’t even the realisation that we’re taking educational quotes from the Fonz!

These were all excellent things, but the one thing that we came away from ‘We Are The People…’ with was simply the five students.

Taken from five very different backgrounds (but from the same Swindon locality), these 15 and 16 year olds have five different experiences of the education system.

Wherever we teach, we have all met characters like them in the classroom… The boy who gains a sense of pride and self-worth working with his hands (plastering and welding), after struggling in a traditional classroom environment. The girl who has sailed through her education so far and is quite laid-back about her future. The boy who has been passed from school to school for behavioural reasons and is now out of education altogether, but who, in a candid moment, admits he wishes he could go back and change things.

You’ve met them. We all have.

All five of these students have their equals all over the country. They’re normal teenagers with the same sorts of opinions, hopes and dreams that all teenagers have.

Yet, as we watched the documentary, it was impossible not to think “these kids really are sparky”. Every one of them. Even David, the boy who had in his own words, “been to nearly every school in Swindon”. All five teenagers had different needs, different ways of learning, different interests, even different motivation, but something about watching them speak about their education made us think these individuals would be great to teach.

Yes, we all know how students who struggle with the traditional school set-up can cause problems and often be a nightmare to try to teach when you’ve got a classful. But, when you get a chance to talk one-to-one with them, don’t you just relish the challenge?

It wasn’t our plan to write about sparky pupils, but watching ‘We Are The People…’ was a reminder of the different learning styles, social backgrounds, hopes and aspirations that our children bring into the classroom every day. Every child has a spark inside of them — it’s up to us to care enough and take the time to find it.

If you have time, watch the film. It’s a stimulating discussion of how our education system can keep up with a changing world. You can order a free copy of the DVD here and we also found a downloadable version here (right-click to save, but be aware it is 786MB).

We’ll leave you with three brilliant quotes from the film…

The first is from Eve Gordon, the Principal of MetWest High School (Oakland, USA). 80% of the students at MetWest come from low-income families and the majority of these will be the first in their families to go to college. Even so, the school has achieved a fantastic 0% dropout rate and almost all of the students go on to graduate. Principal Gordon’s attitude is similar to our own three simple ideas:

The second is from the oft-quoted Sir Ken Robinson:

The final quote is from the video’s pillar-to-post teenager, David. For some reason, it just stuck:

Was he rescuable? Who knows? But there are pupils in your school in a similar situation who are…

It’s our job to make the most of their talents.

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So, what do you think?

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