What if school nurtured the passion and interest of every young person?

School systems everywhere inculcate us with a very narrow view of intelligence and capacity and over value particular sorts of talents and ability.

Some of the most brilliant, creative people I know did not do well at school. Many of them didn’t really discover what they could do – and who they really were – until they’d left school and recovered from their education.

Ken Robinson The Element: How finding your passion changes everything

At the moment I’m reading Don’t Peak at High School: From bullied to A-list edited by Fiona Scott-Norman. This book is a collection of stories of well-known Australians who overcame the bullying at school during the so-called ‘best days of your life’

Kate Miller-Heidke – singer “At high school I’d go sit in a toilet cubicle through morning tea, and all of lunchtime, so I didn’t have to see anyone. There were very good acoustics in there, so I’d sing, but I’d stop if anyone came in, and wait till it was empty. I’m sure that did a lot for my reputation… The first friends I made were in the children’s chorus of a couple of amateur musicals up in Brisbane, because everybody was the reject from their school.

Adam Boland – journalist, creator and producer Sunrise “I’d retreat to the library at little lunch and lunchtime. I felt safe there. I read a lot, and I started writing a lot, and that’s how I set upon the journey of becoming a journalist. I credit those lonely periods with teaching me how to read and write outside of conventional schooling.”

Marieke Hardy – actor, scriptwriter columnist blogger “What liberated me in the end was getting in with the drama group… Drama kids don’t care what anyone thinks of them, they’re too busy playing theatresports.

Megan Washington – singer/songwriter “There was no one at ballet school from my real school, so I could be myself there… And then I went to a new school and it was fine. It was full of nerds, every other reject from every other school. It had a performing arts bent, I had a complete shift, and my dancing became my focus. The best thing was when I suddenly realised I wasn’t ugly – it was the most liberating thing in the whole world. I’d believed it for a very, very long time, and then it was, ‘I’m not ugly! I don’t smell! In fact, I smell great!’

One story really resonated with me.

Eddie Perfect (yes, his real name) wrote and starred in “Shane Warne: the Musical” and is currently a lead in the Australian TV comedy/drama “Offspring”.

The school that Eddie attended was a very well-disciplined all-boys private school in Melbourne. He knew that he wasn’t the kind of boy who would be successful at this school. Subject-choice guidance focussed on optimising the university entrance score, rather than allowing for students to follow their interests and passions. Eddie was determined to study humanities and the arts, regardless of the impact on his grades.

My experience of high school was that it’s a very constricted and narrow view of how people are supposed to be. It’s particularly limiting and suburban. I was always creative, and wanted to be successful and do something unique, but none of that was ever recognised at school. It was kind of my own shameful little secret.

It wasn’t until I discovered song writing, five years or six years later, that I went, ”Oh, this is it”.

I think the institution of high school is, at its core, about early detection. It worries me. I think high school is getting so career-focused. They want to form you and then send you off in a particular direction.

Here a thought…What if school was a place where the spark of learning was ignited inside every student?

Our younger son showed interest music at a young age. We fostered it however we could. At school he joined school band and the choir and successfully auditioned for the Australia Opera when he was about 10 years old.

We were hardly ‘stage parents’, we just wanted to give him the opportunities and experiences he desired. He successfully auditioned for the inner city performing arts high school – a public school that takes young people with potential and gives opportunity for music, dance and drama students.

This school gave our son a range of experiences. He joined the orchestra, string ensemble, stage band, concert band and rock band. It was such a joy to see our son love school and take every opportunity that came his way.

The performing arts orientation created a strong sense of community in the school. Students from across the grades would perform together, breaking down many of the barriers that exist in high school. Today our son is a singer and songwriter, he has numerous opportunities to develop his craft and is working with his band to break into the industry. Of course, in the meantime he works as a barista to support himself.

As a mother, I was grateful for the opportunities that my son had, but as an educator I used to think that it would be wonderful if every young person could go to a specialist school that would provide opportunities for each student to thrive.

As we move away from valuing some intelligences over others and recognising that there is value in the contributions of all – school can become the nurturing ground for all students, as it should be.

We need to create environments – in our schools, in our workplaces and in our public offices – where every person is inspired to grow creatively. We need to make sure that all people have the chance to do what they should be doing, the discover the *Element in themselves and in their own way.

Ken Robinson The Element: How finding your passion changes everything

* Element – the place where things we love to do and things we are good at come together.


2 thoughts on “What if school nurtured the passion and interest of every young person?

  1. Love the article. Years ago I decided to not continue all the usual PD and took a leaf out of the Steiner Education model of teachers Involved in PD for self and community. I undertook a drawing and painting class for 6-8 months. I now use c=drawing at the beginning of each year as a socialising tool and a way of improving drawing for further work later in the year. I undertook guitar lessons for five years and can play a few songs and even had some singing lessons. I am not great but I can sing a song with some prac. I completed some clay work and even got myself involved in plays and from their started enjoyed being backstage support. I use these all these skills every year and find it helps promote a healthy, vibrant and happy classroom while also catering for the needs of the more creative students.
    As a child I was creative but only discovered this potential as an adult of over 30 years of age. I am now 44 and love creativity. I am now hoping to start building ahouse so I can design the garden and interior.


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