A couple of weeks ago, a local primary school held an event of sorts. The children worked in groups and took their places in various classrooms throughout the school building. There, they gave small presentations, demonstrated how to make things, or administered lighthearted quizzes. Other students, parents and guests moved between the rooms and visited each of the groups. It was well run and reasonably enjoyable.
At the end of the event, people gathered in the school gymnasium where the principal delivered a closing address. He then invited a few students to the stage to speak about the day’s programme. Two students who attend my English school were chosen as speakers and both gave short speeches, relaying their thoughts about the day and which activities they personally had enjoyed the most. They spoke articulately and with confidence and I told them so when they came to my class a few days later.
Of course, the speeches were too well crafted to have been written immediately after the event and I assumed therefore that they had prepared a draft beforehand and had just inserted the relevant details about the activities they enjoyed in the appropriate places.
‘When did you write the speech?’ I asked the students individually.
‘I didn’t,’ each replied. ‘The teacher wrote it and I just had to read it.’
‘But, did you tell the teacher what you wanted to say?’ I asked.
‘No,’ they both replied.
This saddened me. It saddened me because I wondered what the point of such an exercise was and the only conclusion I could come up with was that it was for show. It was designed to make the students and the school look good. It also made me wonder just how many of the activities in each room had been similarly crafted by teachers. I suppose giving students an opportunity to read aloud in front of an audience has its merits, but I can see no reason why the students shouldn’t have been allowed to express their own thoughts.
It reminded me of the English speech contests where speeches are often written almost entirely by a teacher and simply recited by a student, and of the time I worked part-time at a kindergarten where the kids put on an end-of-year show and large sections of the show were pre-recorded with the audio being piped out rather than having the kids speak on stage. The reason given was that the kids might forget their lines.
All of this saddens me because education is no place for illusions. Let kids express their thoughts, let them forget or, more likely, remember their lines, and have faith in their abilities. If they make some small mistakes, so what? Isn’t that part of growing up, part of education? No decent parent is going to think badly of a school because a child makes an error on a public stage, and no decent school should care that any parents may harbour such thoughts. Schools of all places should be concerned with what kids can actually do rather than what it looks as though they can do. The illusion of learning benefits few.