There is a line from Ransom Riggs’ novel ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ that always make me angry and resentful every time I read it:
“… One day my mother sat me down and explained that I couldn’t become an explorer because everything in the world had already been discovered. I’d been born in the wrong century, and I felt cheated.”
It is the idea that adults have the power to shut down a child’s dreams – and that they do it – that hits the hardest. I am sure that a great many of us look back on our own personal histories and remember times where the hopes and dreams of childhood were dashed by someone. Perhaps they were well-meaning, or intended to somehow help us to ‘grow up’ as they told us that the world was not as big, or as wide or as open to us as we had dreamt. It is a moment that never gets forgotten. Some 30 plus years later I still feel the metaphorical punch to the gut from my History teacher who told me her subject was “too difficult for me”, and closed the door for me on a study of a subject I had loved since I first started to read.
In my professional life I have come across parents and even some teachers who have played the same, corrosive role as my old History teacher, making decisions for even very young children that limit their horizons and depress their ambitions. No, you are not artistic. I’m sorry, but sports aren’t for you. Don’t be silly, you can’t go overseas to college. When it happens, it is a form of abuse of the soul that is every bit as destructive to a child’s psyche as a threat of violence. Surely there is no place for this in our schools?
The challenges of our times are immense. We live in a sea of news stories that pour images of violence and threat into our homes and onto our screens. And how we choose to see the world has a profound impact on the extent to which we feel able to change the world that we see around us. More than ever, we have to find ways to safeguard our children from the damage and de-sensitization that will inevitably follow if we do not make a conscious decision to choose hope over fear. But how do we simultaneously protect our children from the world whilst also teaching them about its realities? How do we make sure that they are not overwhelmed with messages of fear and negativity? We have an overwhelming moral and ethical duty to raise our children up – to raise each other up, come to that – and to inspire them to dream big. As an educator, there is no more powerful reason to do the work that I do than this.
If we can inspire our children to dream, inspire in them the self-belief that they can do anything, and develop in them the capacity and desire to make a difference, then education truly will be the most powerful force there is to change the world.