Socio(pathic) Skills; the dark tangent of Student-Centred Learning?

I admit it; I was in school at a time when the 60s generation free thinking was not a rebellious idea, but a norm – both inside and outside the classroom – and communism was in vogue among intellectuals and teachers. Openness, freedom and critique of Le Ancien Régime was part and parcel of the pedagogic 5-year plan.

It is with a sense of deep shame I now admit that my class absolutely terrorized our teachers – as I remember it, several refused to teach us, some actually fled the class, others wept, one immigrated to Greenland – and I remember us openly quoting the law against physical punishment and children’s rights to further taunt  our impotent and furious adversaries.* In the words of Tony Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, “Self-expression and the creative process ruled.”


One of my classmates was the son of two divorced hippies, which had of course accentuated in him any child’s natural search for boundaries. One day we were on a crowded bus and an elderly lady got up her courage to ask for his seat. He told her no with a blank stare. I cannot remember the details of the following encounter, thank God, but I believe she murmured something about youth and manners as she finally got off. But, anyway,  my mate and I got into discussing whether one should stand to offer one’s seat to elderly citizens. Being brought up (most of the time) in an upper middle class home, with grandparent born around WWI, I still had some live links back to pre-sixties norms, and I sheepishly defended this outmoded practice. It went like this, A being me:

A: “Because she might have leg pains.”
B: “Well, we’ve just been playing football. I have leg pains too, and I am a child!”
A:“Well, someday you’ll grow old, won’t you want someone to offer you a seat?” 
B: “You don’t even know that, I might be dead before I hit forty from cancer!
A:“Because … it’s the right thing to do.” 
B: “Says who?”

Et cetera.

The problem was I couldn’t convince him – while not teaching us manners, grammar or maths, school had taught us the validity of expressing private opinions in all situations and the power of the counter argument – for the sake of argument. When one adds to this that no rules of argumentation actually need to be followed, as rules of rhetoric and even logic are no longer taught anywhere outside a few university faculties, well….

Now put that into a context where children don’t have pre-WWI grandparents, but are brought up in an environment where 56 percent of sons 8  to 21 years old share the same taste in movies as their fathers, and 48 percent enjoy listening to the same music, and 44 percent share the same sense of fashion and clothing as their moms**.

For people familiar with the proposed content of our upcoming Educators’ Workshop in Islam Awareness Week, I want to direct your attention to the conundrum in the United Arab Emirates, where the government is throwing its full weight behind market forces’ demand for total student-centredness and, against a population concerned about a complete undermining of their religious and cultural values – which in our context might read as “ethical and cultural values.”

Getting students to choose the right boundaries in a limitless world. This form some of the thoughts behind the discovery exercises I am developing for Religious Education sessions to UK schools.
The end result of my personal anecdote is that Danish public buses now have signs reserving seats for elderly and pregnant –  often distinct seats to each, to avoid fist fights between geriatric hippies and young pregnant women.
* Less than a decade before I started in school, the so-called caning circular (spanskrørscirculæret) of 1967 had finally banned all forms of physical punishment in Danish schools
** Generation Gap Narrows: Parents, Kids See Eye-to-Eye on More Things).

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