Are children blank slates?
11 Sep 2017
The new school year has started. Tied up in the midst of all that is happening are those staff training days. This new academic year I was inviting staff to think about their ‘attitude’ towards the child. What image or view of the child did they have? It is a really important question. How we think about children matters. Indeed the view we hold of the child will shape the opportunities we create for them and the nature of the practices we create. In turn that will define their experience of being at school! So how do we think about the children in our schools? Assumptions about children are everywhere. With adult assumptions (a view of the child that we believe to be right without having explored that with children themselves) framing so much of how we come to do school? It is therefore important to stop and think about how we view the child or indeed how we might view the child in order to support them in making the most of their learning. One frequent view that staff had of children was as ‘blank slates’. Philosopher John Locke back in the 1770’s introduced the idea of the child as a blank slate. The adult’s educational role was to fill that slate in in the most appropriate way. What was entered on to the slate would thus define the adult that that child would become. However, Locke’s view of the child was rather one dimensional. It is that way of thinking that can be dangerous in our approach to education today. If children are shaped by adult input alone it is very easy for education to be seen to be about children being ‘taught to be’, with a focus on the universal child and their ability to perform in adult generated tests. Are children blank slates? Or when they arrive in that classroom do those slates already have something on them, indeed aren’t all those slates themselves of different shapes and sizes? What children bring with them to school and what they carry around at school might both aid and hinder their learning, but it is important to be fully aware that it (that baggage) is there. Children are not blank slates. They not only carry experiences and knowledge but they are also actively involved in interpreting the learning opportunities they have at school. Staff in schools are therefore there to help facilitate those experiences and to allow children to make the most of them, as together adult and child contribute to the person that they are and will become. Our attitude towards the child in school should therefore encourage children to ‘learn to be’ - as we focus on the individual child and the processes linked to developing the skills of a lifelong leaner.