online: 19 december 2002

17 december 2002 at a school concert

Today I went to the Christmas concert at a school in inner London that one of my grandchildren has just joined.

The sight of about 150 children, from 3 to 11, singing and dancing and playing percussion instruments - to the enthusiastic direction of the teachers and to the attentive audience of parents - touched me. By the end, when we were all asked to join in singing 'The twelve days of Christmas', I felt tears in my eyes. Whatever horrors are happening in the world of grown-ups, I felt that here, and perhaps in all schools for young children, everything seems joyous, good, enthusiastic, and well-intentioned!... It's the presence of these tiny people, their newness, uniqueness, enthusiasm, and their quiet perception of the world we have brought them into... these and other nameless qualities of children make a world within walls that seems better, by far, than the world we know outside.

But then I wonder. I notice that, despite the frequent news stories of aggressive children, many on drugs, some even armed, the children here seem as well-behaved and as obedient as I remember being - in that elementary school in Aberystwyth seventy years ago. But, if that implies the same externally-applied discipline to which we were subjected, what we witnessed today was not children-as-they-are but as the education system insists that they should be... And what's happened to progressive education?*... Hm.

Certainly the sight of so many young children, and their dedicated teachers, is something wonderful - regardless of the teaching system. It's the presence of new people, the future of the world. But I still doubt it, the whole idea of education, for it's tied to control and to conformity with the world as it used to be... when surely these new people should be encouraged not to conform but to create a new world of their own that is beyond the one we know!

That's enough theory for the moment. The sight that surprised me most was traditional Indian dancing. Three girls, almost teenagers, moving their arms and hands and fingers to what I think was South Indian music - a combination of the earthly and the divine that is far superior, I think, to the split traditions of the West. And it was happening in London. Something of the wider world is already here!

Yes, this was an encouraging day, despite the sorrows of the times, and an incentive to do something, even now, for these children of the future. But to be able to do that 'something' we may have to change our minds!

*For instance: what has happened to education through art?

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© 2002 john chris jones

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