Since November 2012 I have been teaching fashion history at a high school for stylists. The education is generally practical, but my topic is theoretical. I conduct the teaching as I would at a university, hold lectures for my students who manage their own research, which is then reported in presentations.
As I have explained to my students, these presentations can function as their first CV before they get a job. Thus, it is important how the presentations look; everything makes an impression. They determine the level of ambition for their presentations themselves, but certain criteria have to be fulfilled.
Attempts to make the majority of students to fulfill their assignment themselves seem futile. In one of the classes, only 7 of 25 made a meaningful effort, of whom only two managed to finish the task on time.
The language in the material received leaves a lot to be desired. Not even the “best in class” systematically live up to the level one would expect from a high school student. Punctuation may be entirely lacking, capital letters are sparse or wholly absent, and the dividing of composite words is frequent. Several do not understand the concepts of “Year of birth” and “Year of death”, something I had not considered explaining. One student said that he thought Armani was active during the 1930s, as the text read ”Giorgio Armani, 1934 – ”.
So – this is the scenario. Here comes my own version of how it got to this point.
I quickly understood that it would have been desirable to lower my demands and my “high level” – the students were not keeping up, I was talking too fast and using too many difficult words, and nobody was able to shoulder the task of reading my long, intricate instructions, as many would have lost their focus after four sentences. This is not, however, an explicit request from the school, but several other teachers have related how they make great effort to keep their language as simple, brief and uncomplicated as possible.
There have even been discussions about how to change the exams. It is proposed to give students a variety of choices: If you aim to get an A (top grade), you need to learn a lot of material, while if you settle for an E (merely passing), you can acquire less.
I consider this an entirely wrong path to take. Why should someone, right at the outset, send the signal that it’s OK to fail? Is it acceptable that they will believe that I do not expect great results from everyone? Why must it be that I have to lower my level? Rather, the students should be expected to increase theirs? I am there to teach them something new, something better. That would be the whole point of education – or?
This problem starts early. Already in daycare, we are taught that everyone is equal. No one is better than anyone else, and, most importantly, no one is worse. Obstacles are swept away, and no demands are made for personal responsibility well into school age. All wishes are granted until the environment is on its knees. The word ”challenge” sounds great in a plan of action, but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t work, as the child is then forced to test his limits and that is scary. The result of decades of accommodating the will of the children is this monster of ignorance that is now a millstone around the neck of the youth in Swedish schools.
One easily gets the feeling that demands for responsibility and achievements are equated to child abuse. That grades are something abominable and unjust separating the ”gifted” from the ”poor”. Let children remain children, at any cost,. Possibly for as long as they want. Easily far into their 30′s. Freely adapt the environment for life, as long as the children get what they want. Yes, that is right, the world is circling around you and all of your needs! Why should you, at high school level, have to adapt to stricter demands, when you never had to do so before?
This has far-reaching effects on several aspects on the development of children and youth. When (if) they get teachers like me, who systematically demand a lot, everything becomes extremely painful and they are not able to live up to my efforts. I get mad when young people at Swedish schools throw away a chance they are given (and even get paid for!), as if it was their bloody right to ignore the responsibility inherent in a free education – when pupils in other countries are shot for demanding the right to education…
This is what we have gained from our attempt always to please everyone. Our youth pay the price by acquiring lousy skills compared to the rest of Europe. This, and nothing else, is what has caused the poverty of Swedish education.
By Mia Berg