Resisting the ‘inevitable’

Browsing through the education news this week, I came across this article. It reports on a study which seems to show that young people in the UK are being held back because their parents believe that their failure is inevitable – if they are not ‘born bright’, then no amount of hard work is going to change their futures.

This study has strong echoes of the beliefs of Dominic Cummings, a former special adviser to Gove who sparked outrage when he claimed that the fate of young people is determined by their genes, with neither them nor anyone else having the power to change that.

As a teacher, this notion certainly does not ring true for me – though there is no denying it permeates the attitudes of a good proportion of young people, parents and teachers alike. It was not uncommon to hear a year seven student declare they would never be any good at English for example, or a parent to respond to concerns about underachievement with the explanation that their child just wasn’t academic. Teachers too would sometimes fall into the trap of judging a new student by the prior performance of their siblings, or dismiss entire groups as unteachable. The practice of setting by ability, which in some schools begins when children are just five years old, is essentially dictating who will pass or fail – ask a pupil in a bottom set and they will rarely have much faith in their potential to succeed.

But for every young person who followed the seemingly inevitable path, leaving school at sixteen with minimal qualifications, there were others who were transformed by their time in education. The boy who at twelve was thrown out of most of his classes because of his inability to concentrate and went on to combine sixth form study with mentoring younger students who were struggling to focus. The girl who at fourteen believed she could aspire no further than vocational qualifications in childcare despite her dreams of university yet went on to complete the International Baccalaureate diploma and win a place on a degree course.

I am not saying here that academic success at school is the be all and end all – we all know stories of people who have broken the cycle of inevitability themselves, going on to build exciting careers in their adult lives despite the odds being stacked against them. But there is no denying that successfully jumping through the hoops of academic qualifications opens doors, giving people more choice over what to do with their lives rather than having their path dictated for them.

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As a parent, my interest in resisting the inevitable has been revived with new vigour. I want my son to be able to be whoever and whatever he wants to be, to be happy in his choices and not to be held back by other people’s beliefs about what he is capable of. I’m sure that is the dream of all new parents – looking at that helpless bundle of newborn joy in their arms and imagining a future which is boundless and free.

And yet before long something begins to change. A girl who does not seem to take much interest in books at the age of one is destined never to be a reader. A boy of three who runs around like a whirlwind is declared unlikely to ever really be able to focus – but it’s ok because he’s a boy and that’s what boys do. As children grow up even seemingly positive statements can begin to close doors – in my family my brothers and I were labelled encouragingly as ‘the sporty one’, ‘the creative one’, ‘the academic one’ and ‘the musical one’. Actually my youngest brother chose that label for himself, not wanting to compete with what he perceived as our territories. It has served him well, though the rest of us took many years to realise that maybe we could be more than just one thing, that in fact we were all creative, sporty, musical and academic in our own ways and the choices we made in our lives could reflect that.

Of course it’s almost impossible to resist labelling to some degree, but young people are so impressionable that I think it’s vital that anyone with a stake in their upbringing empowers them to believe that their future is not inevitable. The more I watch my baby finding his place in the world the more I believe that his potential is unlimited – and the more I hope he can hold on to that belief as he follows his dreams.

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum Turned Mom’ for inspiring this post with her prompt: ‘It was inevitable…’

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10 thoughts on “Resisting the ‘inevitable’

  1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

    Another thought provoking and eloquent piece. It is horribly depressing to hear children labelled before they have a chance to discover what they may be good at, what they may love to do. We all have the ability to influence the ‘inevitable’ through our choices, we shouldn’t allow others to make those choices for us, or our children x Great post Sophie, thanks for linking to #ThePrompt x

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      Thanks for your lovely comments 🙂 I think some adults are just so quick to categorise things and people – we’d gain an awful lot as a society by listening more closely to our children x

      Reply
  2. Earthmother (@mmearthmother)

    This is such an interesting post. I am petrified of this happening to my son – he’s a very young August baby and is starting school in September when he’ll only just be four. He’s actually very bright and has taught himself to spell aloud all by himself with hardly any imput from me, just by watching Alpha Blocks on Cbeebies. But he can’t hold a pen yet. Or sit still for more than five mins. I’m worried a teacher will judge him on this and fail to notice his skill in other areas. I remember it happening to me as a child – and clearly thinking ‘I’m not one of the bright ones. It’s too late for me,’ when I was only 5 years old! What’s the answer? I hope I can instill a sense of ‘can do’ and confidence in my children. Great post. Have shared.

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      Thanks for sharing 🙂 I’d say it’s definitely worth sharing your concerns with your son’s teacher – the vast majority of teachers I’ve worked with are keen to see the best in children and know they all progress differently – and if nothing else then knowing you are switched on as a parent will keep them on their toes! Good luck x

      Reply
      1. Earthmother (@mmearthmother)

        Thanks Sophie, I will definitely take your advice and speak to the teacher. I just don’t know how much involvement and contact is normal in a school setting. I imagine dropping him at the door and that being it. It’s always so hard to get any hard details out of him after nursery. I don’t think I’d have any idea how he was doing if I didn;t have his daily contact book.Not gonna have that luxury at school though. Guip. Thanks for the good advice. Will be following your blog with interest, great to discover you! #Sharewithme

      2. sophieblovett Post author

        Even in secondary school we did our best to communicate with parents as much as possible – I got to know some parents very well! Definitely in primary I think his teacher will be happy to keep you in the loop x

  3. Jenny

    Being judged is so hard, I really am so nervous about my son who started school next september after just turning four. It’s scary that he might not be ready and then the teacher might assume he lacks in areas. On top of having difficult deadly allergies asthma and sight problems, where he recently got glasses he already has so many things against him that may hold him back or get judged by I scared the age thing will just be all too much. Fantastic post!! Thank you ever so much for linking up to Share With Me. #sharewithme

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I honestly think that as long as you as his mum are switched on and supportive and communicate your concerns then he’ll do just fine. There’s only so much schools can do – for good or bad! Good luck with it all though – I can understand it must be very worrying xx

      Reply
  4. MummyShire

    Such an interesting post with lots to consider. It is inevitable that people put labels on others, because that just seems to be the way of humans, but it is our job are parents to keep these labels away from the ears of our little ones for as long as possible. Whilst it’s easy to empower with words within the home, outside environments like school and nursery can start to slowly layer words/labels. I think if we continue to empower from within, instil confidence and keep talking and listening (listening is just as important) we can help our children make their own choices when they’re ready. But it’s hard! #ThePrompt

    Reply
    1. sophieblovett Post author

      I completely agree with you – the confidence and communication we instil at home is the key, there’s so much else that’s outside of our control! x

      Reply

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