|"If our young people grow up holding on to such terrible feelings, it could lead to another war some time in the future when the fate of the country is in their hands" - Zlata Filipovic|
This Wednesday I was invited to teach, perform and curate a slam at the British School Of Brussels for a few days. It is an international school, mostly attended by the children of diplomats, government administrators, military etc. I was honoured to meet and talk poetry with many young people from all over the world. I spoke with students who have lived in Cuba, Philippines, China, Australia and all over Europe, as well as meeting students from Africa (some of whom are part of an exchange programme). The main thing that these young people have in common is that they are all from wealthy families. Coming from teaching in Hackney, where students live mostly in social housing, you'd expect a contrast... and there is. What I can't say however, is that one of these demographics has more of a need than the other, it is just a case of those needs being different.
The interesting thing about teaching poetry, is when you create a space that nurtures honesty, vulnerability and creativity, you make it understood that it is ok to think what you think and share it, because your story matters, and it is ok to step out of uniforms and predicted grades and just be the person who is working their way through life, as we all are.
Many beautiful and difficult things are brought into that space but recently I've been hearing students (in all kinds of classrooms and spaces) say things like, "I'm in school, I don't think this is the place to talk like this", it breaks my heart to hear that young people feel their way through school as a space that is closer to an incarceration than a liberation.
I often hear students label themselves "stupid", or "not smart", one particular lesson last week, I asked the class for the definition of "figurative language", when a heavy silence fell, a student staring at his desk said "We don't know sir, you're teaching the dumb class". It's heart-breaking when young people feel the pressure of "being intelligent", instead of the excitement of being curious.
|Cyrus The Great in 550BC Persia, founded "The Rights Of Nations", the foundation of Human Rights laws |
While researching for my MA, I found that National Curriculums all over the world share a consistency in policies that encourage human rights, social awareness and student voice, something which I do not see practised enough. Reading through the National Curriculum's, it reminded me of the day I was invited along with fifty international artists and campaigners to recite each bill in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Halfway through, a woman from Iran and a man from Sri Lanka broke down in tears, followed by everyone in the room. It was the simplicity of hearing our rights, articulated out loud, with matter-of-fact-precision. If this was the bar set for basic human rights, too many of us are living with content instead of passion, oppression and mis-education instead of enlightenment and conviction.
No matter what part of the world, or the background of our students, I believe the classroom is one of the most important spaces to bring about self-empowerment and therefore, social change. This needs to be a space which, as I said before, allows us to be vulnerable (connected to each other), creative (to explore new possibilities), honest (to understand our similarities as well as our differences) and conscious (to keep seeking truth).