What I wish had been covered in my school curriculum.
Writing by Kirsty Thomson. Illustration by Caitlin Osfield.
Since starting University some three years ago, I have had my eyes opened to issues and topics I have grown passionate about. From climate change to the liberation of marginalised peoples there is an entire world of life and experiences I kind of knew existed, but never really was made properly aware of. I wish sometimes that I could have been shown these things before now, given myself more time to better understand and work towards change. There is so much going on in life, so many struggles and nuances I was never exposed to; there is more that needs to be learnt and more that needs to be taught.
I wish I had read more literature by marginalised and often forgotten and thoroughly underrated authors. My high school reading list was thus: Carol Anne Duffy, William Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Heinrick Ibsen, Robin Jenkins, George Orwell, Seamus Heaney and William Golding etc., etc.. Whilst all brilliant writers and having texts worthy of study, my understanding of the canon of literature and what was to be considered as ‘good’ was skewed from the beginning. Only once I arrived at university was I introduced to feminist literature, queer theory, postcolonial literature and writers of colour. Books and their study shouldn’t become diverse only for the lucky few who can get a place at university; all people should be able to find someone to whom they identify from childhood. The question as to what works of literature are worthy of study and introduction to young people is in desperate need of a revamp - too many young people are going to grow up not recognising that there are books written out there for them and about issues they can relate and connect with.
I loved history at school but in recent years I have come to recognise the flaws in the way it was taught to me. From an analytic perspective, I feel I was given all the skills I needed. I was able to evaluate and question sources, build up arguments and offer debates about a range of issues. The problem however lies within the content base of history I was exposed to. So many of the topics we covered in class were Anglo-Centric: whilst this may instil national values and help me understand my roots, it was not until later on at university that I properly understood just how much of the history I was taught was written by the historic ‘winners’. Within the discipline, there is an emerging recognition that there needs to be more history taught from ‘below’; exploring events from ordinary, sometimes forgotten people rather than from military superiors and those who stood in positions of power. Was the history I was taught at school truly representative of the experiences of the majority of those who lived through it? No. There is so much rich, deeply informative and powerful world history not covered in schools simply because it took place outwith Britain, or because it reveals the harm of Britain’s Empire. I wish for the future that my children will recognise that whilst the history of our homeland is vast and interesting, that vastness does not and shall not diminish the history of others.
Since coming to university, I have come to understand that Geography is so much more than describing ‘foreign’ countries and remembering capital cities; it seeks out to understand the world and the spacial connection between people, places and the earth. I wish I could have better understood the meaning of geography while I studied it at school, the way in which it allows people to see how the land and by consequence life has evolved over time. Geography also is the study and use of an ancient art form: cartography. Had I known and been able to appreciate the level of artistry and talent needed for our atlases to exist I believe I would have not only enjoyed the subject more, but perhaps paid more attention in class.
ART, DRAMA AND MUSIC
I have come to be able to appreciate just how interwoven art, theatre and music are with cultural identities only since leaving school and learning more about life. I was very lucky to have a great creative department at my school with wonderful teachers who sought out to give you every possible opportunity. The creative opportunities presented to me were limitless, I could even learn almost any instrument I wanted. Offering the capacity for creation was amazing and really allowed for students to express themselves, however I can only wonder whether or not that ability to create and express would have been better appreciated had we all been able to learn the history and true meanings of the art we made. If we understood the purpose and weight behind what we were performing, the quality of our performances likely will have been improved.
So much of the science I was taught at school was given to me on a need to know basis. I would memorise facts, figures, equations and complete problems without really understanding what they truly meant. Calculation is integral to science however so too is the recognition as to why science is important. At school, the greatest emphasis was placed into the ability to complete sums and extrapolate from data. However, I have come to realise that science is so much more than that. To study science is to understand the nature of the world around us and to seek out what causes our world to behave and change in the way it does; it is rooted in discovery and the drive to learn and understand. I wish I had learnt more about the faces behind the laws in physics, the determination and wonder which fed space exploration and the practical uses of chemistry and biology. Science has the ability to teach children to question life around them and wonder, yet all I remember from the classroom are facts and figures.
PERSONAL SOCIAL EDUCATION
In Scotland we have a subject dedicated to trying to help school children develop the skillsets needed once they have left school: interview skills, writing up a CV, sexual education, basic healthcare and safety training. It is a vital subject but in certain aspects could go further. There are a whole range of issues which we face day to day which are not really covered within the classroom. Understanding and appreciating the importance of consent, basic knowledge of our rights, recognition and celebration of sexual liberation, attitudes towards racism, climate change, political debate, proper use of and ability to budget personal finances, understanding of disability, sexism within the workplace etc. The list is added to each and every day, I could go on forever! Since coming to university and being able to witness and experience so much of life, I have come to realise that education is at the core of solving so many of these issues. Too many things are shied away from and considered taboo to teach to young adults and school children but the reality is that so many of these issues will impact them at some point in their lifetime. Should we want to seek out progress and change as humanity, we need to begin by ensuring future generations have a better understanding and are given the abilities to navigate the world better.
These are just a small handful of my hopes for a better curriculum. As our understanding of the world changes, so too need our schools to adapt in order to best prepare and inspire children looking to set off on their adventures through life. The current situation and curriculum is far better than it has been but it simply does not go far enough yet.