Monday, April 17, 2006

Making Jack a Dull Boy

This is good - the National Union of Teachers (NUT) recognise the importance of playing, and the possible demise of it in schools. In a time when "work-life balance" is being spouted by every street corner lifecoach around, and programmes about getting away from stuffiness are all the rage, why shouldn't children get a slice of the cake too?

Somewhere along the line, someone discovered that you could push people to limits. Tell people they want money for long enough, and they'll throw themselves in the road for you. Now work out that "telling" involves an entire educational system - work hard, play soft, and you'll get the magic beans at the end of the day - and you start to put the system into overdrive.

Is play dangerous? If it is indeed "imaginative" then how does that affect children? Doesn't imagination involve coming up with your own thoughts, developing your own sense of who you are? Not that I'm cynical of the "education" system (oh, ok, I am really), but the whole idea of "playfulness" really goes against the hard-working, hard-shopping, economic grain that the majority of the system seems to foster.

There's a fine line between "playfulness" and "rebellious" or "non-serious", for example. In the mind of the politician (or, indeed, the CEO, etc), "targets" and "imagination" are at loggerheads. The term "Imagination" conjures up images of crazy potheads deciding that plugging the PC into a cat would be "a great idea". The twist is that the same sense of imagination is needed - shock, horror, et al - to be creative, which is where all that lovely "innovation" that consultants love to talk about comes from. Heh.

Anyway, the NUT actually ties all this in with self-harm, which is an interesting link:

"General secretary Steve Sinnott said there was "increasing evidence of the damage to children's health and well-being" - with more self-harm among teenagers."

I'd love to see the research behind this. Maybe we're just breeding a nation of Goths.

(On a sidenote, this is one of the best ideas I've ever seen...)


Richard Veryard said...

Is play dangerous? Is critical thought dangerous? To whom?

Surely the establishment doesn't want the lower orders to be overweight and unimaginative and depressed? Surely they don't want to ensure that only the wealthy schools have playing fields? Surely they don't want to restrict the study of philosophy and football to the privileged classes?

The purpose of a system is what it does.

Scribe said...

Evolutionary theory, if you follow it, dictates that what works survives... Is the establishment *concerned* about people's welfare? Of course.

But what does the talking in the establishment? The bottom line is the bottom line - GDP, competitive growth, etc. Industry is good for the GDP, which is supposedly good for the whole nation. Industry is also good, supposedly, for education and hospitals, which means that vice versa is also "true". All of a sudden (well...) knowing how to run a business is more important than knowing how to be creative. If you can't run a business, the next essential skill on the list is to be ... ba-baaaa, a *team worker*!

That's why schools and Unis constantly tout "special" clubs and "managerial "positions" as being "great for the CV" - not because you want to do it or because you'd be good at it, but so you're more recognisable as being employable.

Similarly, would people admit to wanting people to be depressed in public? Course not. Is there an entire industry based around therapy? Not just the alternative medicine and massage side of things. Retail therapy is big business.

Now, if you can make your *own* entertainment, are you more or less likely to buy the entertainment being sold to you? Does Sky make more money if you spend your evening watching the Simpsons, or playing cards?

There's no "design" in the system, per se. Only what works.

Richard Veryard said...

Of course the establishment is concerned about welfare - as long as the establishment gets to define what counts as welfare. For example, the establishment sees boredom as the antithesis of welfare, to be eliminated by positive thinking, hard work, and lots of television.