The choice we all face…

What’s the difference between these two choices?

  1. Choosing whether you’re going to do a PowerPoint or a poster
  2. Choosing to respond to a bad grade with a different approach

The first one is a freedom which releases commitment and energy.

The second one requires the commitment of energy which will lead to freedom.

Modern education simultaneously aims to give children more choice, whilst, paradoxically, removing from them the worry that responsibility for whatever position they find themselves in is their problem. We want children to follow what they want to do, whilst comforting them that they are the unfortunate [subtext: ‘helpless’] victims of circumstance.

Yes, we could ALL look at the situations we are in and feel like helpless victims – realising that the combination of genetics and circumstance has determined just about everything in our lives…

And yet……  agency …… whatever that actually is……. can allow us to turn all circumstances around through this concept we call ‘choice’.

It could be said that, whether or not there is the philosophical entity we call ‘free will’, the belief of any individual that they have agency to choose what happens next to them is the SINGLE MOST POWERFUL means to affect a change in anybody’s life.

Indeed, letting children believe that, actually, the buck stops with them to make their lives better could be the biggest help-up they could ever receive.

This is doubly important, because, in their adult lives, they WILL be the ones held accountable for what they do – victims of genetics and upbringing or not.

Of course… the skill of the teacher and the parent, is in ensuring that the burden of this responsibility never quite gets too much….

7 thoughts on “The choice we all face…

  1. Ah, Chris. Great thought. This reply is part of the email reply I’ve just sent but it fits here so well I wanted to see if others felt the same: Regret/Shame, as painful as these feelings are, are the only way we have of knowing we’re wiser. In terms of learning, as far as I can see, intrinsic interest to learn something in any moment is drawn from things like ambition/confidence/awareness… all of which can be inspired in a classroom, sure!, but they also grow with a person over a lifetime -The View Changes with Climbing the Mountain- I’m wondering how dangerous it might be to push knowledge onto students in school with the aim of avoiding future regret? I’d love for regrets to be universally celebrated! To be worn by people, even teachers, as badges of honour marking real personal growth over a lifetime. What a positive example for students! When students are measured year by year it’s easy to forget, without examples, there are any longer time-scales possible for personal development.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Leah – this is an intriguing response! I like the idea of viewing ‘regret’ and ‘shame’ as signs that we’ve grown in wisdom, and therefore, we shouldn’t feel bad about having such feelings. I think this is a positive way of getting on with life… as basketball coach John Wootton (roughly) said…”Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out…”

      Going deeper into what you were alluding to however…

      Now…are you simply suggesting that declaring an ethos that children ought to avoid regret makes them start to see feelings of regret as some kind of failure (which of course it is – but maybe not in the ‘big picture’) and therefore they become more risk-averse… whereas, letting them go their own way is a better way of showing that we all need to learn through our mistakes to really grow…?

      Or…are you indeed suggesting that teachers/parents shouldn’t actively strive to minimise the regrets that children end up with…? In other words – we should let them find their own paths at whatever stage they are at, whether or not we think we could save them some regret…? The reasons being that they will be most energised by following their own paths – and therefore make the most progress – and also that looking back and then thinking “if only I had my time again” in itself is an intrinsically worthwhile part of the human experience, because it is an internal signal of our growth in wisdom…?

      My mind has gone in many directions with this – largely down the line that whatever we do, we will have some regrets, so maybe you’re right – live and let live, and let each person learn what they’re going to learn…

      ….but ‘stepping back a little’ – the following came to me: ………. What actually is the purpose of having wisdom…?

      …Now, the wisdom we gain from regrets – aside from making us know we are now older and wiser – performs one of two functions: Either, it allows us to live our own lives better (if it is a mistake we can yet benefit from – such as not speeding, or preparing before we give an important speech), or, if the horse is bolted, it allows us to influence others to live their own lives better, if we are no longer in the position to benefit directly from the wisdom ourselves, such as with “make the most of your school years” or “don’t get a drug habit at 16”.

      So… I think this is the reason that children need teachers and parents to ‘force’ knowledge and guidance onto them: because there are some things for which the wisdom of hindsight gains us nothing at all personally (other than letting us know we are old failures). It only has value in helping a new generation avoid having the same – only painful – regrets.

      How about that…?

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  2. I have to say that my mother’s regrets at leaving school at 14 in India (in the 1960s when hardly any girls had the chance for further education and her family would have let her!!) because she was ‘foolish’ (her words) has affected her and me. Her parents and grandparents tried so hard to make her go back to school but they couldn’t force her as it wasn’t compulsory. Only when she grew up a bit more, moved to England, did she really regret her decision. All of a sudden a few more years learning languages, or some qualifications, would have opened up options for her. She did try but with children and a demanding manual job working in a factory, plus a lack of confidence meant that she didn’t return to education in this country.

    She pushed us all at school, would not tolerate nonsense, made it clear that she regretted it. It meant that my brothers and I (all of whom have been to university) understood the value of an education, how not to look a gift horse in the mouth (in terms of the free education we were receiving) and to take all the opportunities we could get. The worst thing that could happen is that we would fail but failure was better than not knowing what could have been.

    Her negatives allowed us to experience positives – obviously I would have preferred it if she had studied over here but that’s a different story.

    Sanitising the world for children doesn’t stop them ever feeling regret or shame – it just prevents them knowing how to deal with it.

    Take a very recent example: A teacher I work with asked his class if they would like to do an assembly voluntarily. One child for no good reason shouted out no. To which he said that’s fine you don’t have to be in it. Two minutes later she was in floods of tears. It was home time and she was still crying so I told her to get a tissue but she was quite inconsolable. One of the other children repeated what she had said to which she cried again. I just told her what might be the right thing to do – apologise to the teacher and ask if she could be allowed to join in as she had said the wrong thing and was sorry. She went out, thought, calmed and came back to check what she needed to do, as she did want to fix the situation. She was in the assembly today and a very happy child at the end of the day. I know others would have condemned the teacher and insisted her crying was enough for her to take part but actually the process of regretting the decision and apologising was important. She might remember that each time she opens her mouth and says the wrong thing- firstly maybe to think a bit more before speaking (although we all struggle with that) and secondly as a means of knowing how to deal with the situation in the future instead of feeling helpless.

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    • Yes… so a key thing about the process of feeling regret, could be what you learn from properly dealing with regret… There’s a great big picture growing from all this 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is quickly becoming one of my favourite edu blogs! Keep on ‘stepping back a little’ this is great! I’m beginning to believe that telling ourselves our feelings of regret mean we have failed/are failures is one of the silliest things we can do to ourselves. What fails? Who fails? Nothing alive fails. We exists. That alone is extraordinary. Ok, ok… a person can fail a test, of course, but IF they chose to take that test for a greater purpose then a ‘fail’ in one go is just a clue for what to do next. Have you heard of ‘The Successful Mistake’? It’s a book being written about outwardly successful peoples mistakes and what they learnt from them. It’s all along these lines -books not written yet, but I’ve heard an interview.

    What’s the point of Wisdom? Love this Q! Here’s one angle: What if, once we have moved through our regrets, we can then apply the wisdom gained in this process by influencing others through stories/analogies AND then trust them to pick the message they need in their life. Because no one lives another persons life no one can really say ‘do this exact thing’ or ‘don’t do that exact thing’. Trying to ‘force’ specific advice/knowledge is ultimately disrespectful to the person you are trying to help? Teachwells story is interesting because, in a way, my regret is that I believed in the value of our education system so much and took every opportunity going to get the very most out of this jewel that is free education, despite personal concerns that it was wasting my time/energy. My regret is that I was too scared of failing in the future to trust myself to leave that system. Yet my message to others now (what I needed to hear as a student) is to ‘trust yourself’. How obviously immoral would it be to say ‘leave schooling’ because I’ll never be able to know a person well enough to tell them to do anything specific like that. It has to be a choice. In summary: Wisdom leads to stories/analogies/abstract messages and trust that students/people will pick up on what they need (joyful learning!) … and less telling people what to learn/do/not do and forcing others along specific paths you wish wish you’d taken (learning through fear). All this followed by a big question mark!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks again Leah – particularly for the flattery – I’ll let you carry on following the blog 😉

      Actually though, thank you once again for another thought provoking inject….

      Your idea of using wisdom for respectfully influencing the decisions others make through the use of stories/analogies etc – rather than telling them how it should be – is, I think, in itself a wise development of the discussion. I think I do do this at this present time with my oldest son who is experimenting with what might work best for him in life. I’m aware that I want to warn him of things, but at the same time it feels vital that he can freely choose to take those choices anyway – but with me having at least given him the benefit of knowing how I view things with hindsight.

      Additionally, it strikes me that your last few sentences could be slightly tweaked and then become entirely appropriate to say in the context of my last post on ‘How to make Evidence-Informed teaching work’. We can never tell another teacher exactly what they should do with their class. Just give them ‘Golden Glow’ examples of how things seem to have worked out in different circumstances, and hope that they can freely synthesise the unique version of things which will work best for their situation.

      …I’m about half way through my response to your email… I keep having to ponder and come back to it…!

      Liked by 1 person

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