By Marilyn Smith, Principal
Recently my attention has been focused on some of the most significant elements that set Preshil apart from so many other schools; that characterise us as ‘progressive’ and position us to be proactive in providing a thoughtful and appropriate education for children in the first half of the 21st century.
I have just finished reading the book “Beautiful Failures” by Lucy Clark. This book starts with the experience of the author’s own daughter and the struggle she waged against being defined as a failure at school, through the constant pressure to conform and the competition to succeed in the narrow terms defined by the academic race which has become the norm in Australian schools.
Clark questions a culture which condones, indeed fosters, those demands that cause the levels of anxiety and depression prevalent among adolescents today. As adults, parents, teachers and school administrators we are all complicit in accepting educational structures and media hype that systemically chip away at the fragile self-worth every child needs to thrive and to retain confidence in their ability to learn.
The mandated competition in schools, which compares every aspect of a child’s performance from their earliest years and ranks them against their peers, is relentless in judging children as winners and losers; and, as the Olympic Games daily illustrates, there can only be one winner. Literacy, numeracy, music, artistic and sporting ability all are used to measure and rank children. Very quickly children pick up on the cues, “I’m hopeless at Maths”, “no good at Art”, “can’t spell”, “slow”, “behind”, “unsatisfactory”. Whatever it takes to succeed, whatever effort is needed and whatever failure needs to be overcome is increasingly the prospect for children as they face each day. Ever more time and effort are demanded of children in their areas of least success; they are defined, and come to define themselves, in terms of their ‘weaknesses’. How can adults accept that is the best we can do?
Preshil has continued to foster practices that do not feed into the destructive ‘quest for success’ which Clark is describing and which underpins so many of the accepted practices of mainstream education.
It is worth reminding ourselves of Preshil’s Vision Statement:
At our core remains an unshakeable commitment to encouraging all children to progress at their own pace towards their own goals and to be respected as individuals in their own right; a commitment to our children to be nurtured and challenged in an atmosphere that inspires creativity and independent thinking in all areas of life and does not, overtly or subtly, use competition or punishment to motivate through the fear of failure.
As global citizens we encourage an awareness of world issues and encourage effort to make a positive difference. We believe that education should prepare students to be thoughtful, peace-loving and active citizens of the world. Preshil will remain a school that puts kindness, compassion and social relationships at the centre of its operations.
We are proud to differentiate ourselves in these ways – and our teachers delight in seeing our young adults carve out their individual pathways and versions of success, whatever they might be.