I had the good fortune to be invited to speak at a TedX event recently. It gave me a platform from which to challenge the education system to think a little harder about the kids they too often reject.
I quoted George Bernard Shaw, who in 1903 eloquently pointed out that; ‘the reasonable man adapts himself to the world and the unreasonable one seeks to adapt the world to himself.’ Therefore, he concluded, that all progress depends upon unreasonable people.
And of course as I pointed out, the world needs those unreasonable people right now. We are entering an era of unprecedented social change. Charities are becoming businesses and once cold and heartless corporations are starting to differentiate by having positive social impacts. The evidence is growing; tomorrow’s world will be very different from todays.
Yet it is no surprise that our education system remains a sausage machine. It takes youngsters with a wide range of interests and abilities, and encourages them to conform and perform. You must pass your exams; you must go to university; you must be just like the kid at the next desk. It is no wonder we’re seeing a growth in mental health problems amongst our young. It hurts to go against what to you appears the grain.
To make my point that often the most interesting youngsters are those rejected by the system, I had a box of six eggs. One I’d painted red to stand out from the rest. I threw it and it broke in the midst of the audience. I like being unreasonable! But you see where I live in Norfolk, we have one of the highest levels of school exclusions in the UK.
I met a young mum recently whose son Alex had been permanently excluded from school. His crime? He was very bright and found the maths he was being taught too easy. Being six years old and a tad autistic, he was a little unsubtle in the way he showed his displeasure at being bored. He’s now being taught at home and is on the waiting list for what will be Norfolk’s first school dedicated to supporting kids with autism.
As Danny Dorling observed in the Guardian recently, we measure children’s performance at school, all the time, yet the UK education system remains at the bottom of the league when compared with the rest of the world’s richest nations. As I explained to the TedX audience, the system behaves like Adrian Mole, who took ages to realise that constant measurement did not stimulate growth.
Having set the scene and demonstrated myself to be unreasonable, I went on to tell my story. With an IQ of 155 I should have sailed through school. Instead I failed, illustrating perfectly the fact that having a high IQ can be a ‘hidden learning disability.’ Early diagnosis is what we need, so that bright kids be recognised, understood and given the help they need to excel.
Social enterprise Swarm Apprenticeships exists to help those kids when older and trapped in the gap between a trade apprenticeship and university; neither usually appeals and too often, they find themselves underemployed and wondering what went wrong.
But there’s nothing wrong with being bright. Until you find yourself trapped in a system created by those who behave as if they are not!