I recall that some of our lessons in English involved us sitting around a boardroom table with classmates and teacher, discussing a text and sharing our opinions. I felt very well prepared for university tutorials the following year, where academic discussion was already familiar and ready for extension. I remember watching Franco Zefferelli productions of Shakespeare, and I recall our English teacher dressing in period costume to convene class as Jane Austen, inviting us to interview her while she remained in character for the whole lesson.
NZ studies lessons took place in the library, in the conversation pit, where we would sit on the steps and talk with our teacher. The school was visionary in anticipation of modern learning environments, and flexible use of space. Another creative aspect of this particular class was the opportunity to research and write a narrative from the point of view of an early settler in New Zealand. I wrote a diary, recreating the daily life of a pioneering woman, and ‘authenticated it’ by soaking the paper in tea, singeing the page edges with a stick of incense, and binding it with ribbon in a felt covered volume. Alongside the encouragement to be creative, we were also inspired to involve ourselves actively in community events and in social activism more broadly.
I remember taking time away from the classroom to go down the peninsula to assist with catering at Otakou Marae during the Waitangi Tribunal hearings for Kai Tahu.
As I was dabbling in Economics at the time, I was a Managing Director of a student-led company, which involved us setting up a business in small groups, and working to make a profit under the tuition of local business people. The Young Enterprise Scheme was very much in action back in those days, and it was a superb way to learn a little about the intricacies of commerce, accounting and management.
It is lucky for me that my days at high school were so full of opportunity, with strong and supportive relationships, freedom to learn, and creative possibilities. Sometimes I listen to and read about young people who do not experience school as I did. Times have changed, but I wonder if there is sometimes less trust, less privilege, less opportunity and less relevance.
When I hear of schools who prioritise military-like dress codes, who ban cellphones, and emphasise curriculum coverage, I wonder.
Admittedly, when I hear of educators who champion relationships and relevance as something new and modern (21st century learning?), I also wonder…
Cleopatra - My salad days,
When I was green in judgment: cold in blood,
To say as I said then!