I am, I can, I ought, I will – a philosophy on education by Charlotte Mason that raises some interesting thoughts to consider in our British educational environment. School is supposed to be a place for learning, creativity, achievement and growth. The Third World countries are encouraged to change their fate through education and I agree that it’s important to give children the opportunities to change their futures themselves and break the cycle of poverty, although a very complex issue in itself.
When I think about children who’ve experienced early trauma and the school environment alongside these four phrases it gives me hope to think some schools may follow this philosophy in some way. I know through the many educators I’ve met over the last four years that it is the drive for many of them – to see each child as an individual and to help and support them to reach their potential through learning; whether that’s academically, emotionally or socially. All are important and impact on each other. Without the ability to connect to others, to be self-aware and reflect, to process our own learning – we cannot really grow and develop in the best way possible.
I’ve not actually read much on Charlotte Masons philosophy behind these phrases so forgive me if my thoughts are a million miles away from hers. I do love that blogging allows you the privilege of letting your mind wander and contemplate the big and small issues of life. With that in mind I’m going to look at these four phrases through my very biased view in relation to my children, and others like them, who have had a rocky start to their lives and their schooling in some way.
I am – Knowing who you are and having a good sense of identity and self-esteem is actually essential to learning. Taking risks in learning is so important, without it we can’t step out into new areas, give things a go and fail in order to succeed. When children don’t have a solid understanding of who they are and feel good about themselves, then learning is a very scary place to be.
I love to watch children totally uninhibited in their play. When you see a group just enjoying the game and being together it’s really moving. My children are doing this more and more. As they grow and start to feel confident about themselves they actually are free to learn more. Knowing how important this is to learning helps us to understand that spending time on building children’s self-esteem is well worth it. When they feel good about themselves I believe we’re half way there to them being able to internalise the learning and to be giving out to others too.
I can – Shame is a very powerful emotion and one which many children feel as a result of their needs not being met in early childhood. Many children in our school environments behave in ways that are baffling to us. They are a result of the shame they feel at the core of their being. Running away and hiding, rage, lying, blaming others, minimising their behaviours and overreaction to criticism are all signs of a child riddled with shame.
Those of us who were fortunate to have good enough parenting from our parents probably find this hard to understand. If there’s a new opportunity at work we might be a bit frightened and nervous but also excited and relish the success that is possible. For children who have that in-built sense of shame anything new is terrifying. “What if I fail?”, “What if others find out I’m rubbish?”, “How can I handle the horrible feeling of dread at the thought of doing this thing?” – many thoughts children have when we present a new challenge to them.
I ought – This one actually I think we all struggle with. You can see this as a positive or negative. “I ought to know better by now”, “I ought to be able to cope with this”, “I ought to be able to make friends like everyone else can”. Negative thoughts that hold us back and are very unhelpful. Children and adults alike have these thoughts running round our heads constantly. Being compared to others is crippling. Each child is an individual and I wish we could have a flexible enough education system that would reflect this. I know schools try their best to treat children as individuals but the system dictates that we create sausages in a sausage machine.
As an adoptive parent we are told many things we ‘ought’ to do with our children. One of the areas of much debate and struggle is which school to pick. I have to say if I had my time again, and had the patience, expertise and we were in the right circumstances I would have home educated my children. For all the cons that people come up with I know that for some children, especially those with a trauma related background, being in our schools is far more stressful then it is beneficial sometimes. My blog buddy (whose children are not from the same background as mine I’ll add) made this choice and you can read his blog on this title to see why.
I will – My children promise me daily that they will be ‘good’ if I let them do something they want – “if we can stay up another half hour we’ll go to bed nicely”, “if we can play this 18 rated game we’ll turn the sound down and only do the nice bits of the game”, “if we can have one more cake we’ll still eat our tea later”. And of course you know the end to all those stories! They can’t. Can they though? Well I’ve come to understand with our children that they really do have good intentions to keep those promises. They really do want to be able to negotiate and keep their end of the deal but when it comes to it something just makes them sabotage it. It’s as if there’s a self-destruct button that’s waiting to be pushed every time.
I’ve mentioned shame before and I do talk about it often, see previous blog, as I really do believe it’s the underlying root cause of many of the difficulties for our children. When you feel that you don’t deserve good things you always find ways to prove that. It’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s also a test of my strength and will to keep to the things I’ve said. I know they are watching me to see if I’m strong enough to cope with their difficulties and that I can stay strong when needed. It can be exhausting to live like this though – for them and for me!
So whilst I can see that there are extra hurdles to the I am, I can, I ought, I will motto for vulnerable children I do think encouraging children in these areas is essential. The two other quotes from Charlotte Mason that I read are really pertinent to education and what will make the difference for children who may not have a stable home to go back to.
“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life”.
I know that for my children they need the right atmosphere to learn. One that is safe and calm. They also need strong boundaries maintained by all but also the awareness to know that behaviour modification techniques do not help, ways to relieve anxiety do.
“Education is the science of relations”.
And finally relationships are what it’s all about. For children who have been let down so often in relationships that is what needs to be built up. They need us as their educators in and out of school to work on those relationships and help them to trust people again, so that they can have a hopeful future.