I've two year 7 RE classes and so far they are adorable. They do precisely as they're asked, and laugh politely at my many witticisms. If you've never experienced a class of 11-year olds ready to learn and happy to chuckle you've truly missed one of life's joys. I'll keep you informed about our collective progress towards The Meaning of Life on Monday mornings.
You might be tempted to ask why a woman of my stature – and I mean that literally – is doing yoga with children, but you’d be better off asking how. It’s not easy with my arthritic knees, and I could only do some of it and yes, yes, I know that if I did more of it I could do more of it. I didn’t even close my eyes, for example, which seems important in yoga and remains within my physical capacity.
As a general rule, parents expect those charged with the care of their young to keep their eyes open, if not peeled. I can’t imagine a teacher anywhere who would close her eyes with 50 year 11s in the room. Anyway, if I’d closed my eyes I wouldn’t have seen them and the seeing was the joy: my physical flexibility is nothing to do with the case.
These fidgety and energetic young people were model yogis. They were entranced by it. Artfully arranged by Sir so that they weren’t burdened by peer pressure they were free to listen, watch, try and relax. They breathed, lay, stretched, and ran like good ‘uns. Not one of them let embarrassment stop them participating. Each of them, after a full hour of pretty silent concentration, was wreathed in smiles. One asked for the name of the music. One said she didn’t like her leggings, but got over it.
Good grief, why? Why weren’t they in maths? I hear you ask. This was one of our Community Days in which we try to give young people a bit of exposure to aspects of adult life. Schools are where society looks after its young until they’re old enough to take on the mantle of adult citizenship, and there’s quite a lot to that. Keeping control of yourself and not getting overwhelmed is the message we give to year 11 on this particular annual day. We do team games, revision planning and, yes, yoga. All year groups do something a bit different. Year 10 worked with external partners about avoiding gangs and violence, for example. Year 12 debated. We usually take year 7 for a walk, but the weather was against us.
One of the other year 11 sessions was mindfulness with crochet. I didn’t get to that, but you’d probably like to know that though my knitting is serviceable, I’ve never crocheted but I can at least pronounce the word, which sets me apart from the crowd, it seems. A senior person confused governors almost beyond endurance with talk of crotchet training, and year 11 themselves made only garbled sounds.
Having something to do with your hands is important if you’re a fidgeter. HMCI Spielman has been seen to crochet, and I once went to a lecture by the late Heinz Wolff where he gave us bits of Meccano to fiddle with while he spoke. This amused the nuns siting behind me, one of whom poked me in the back and said it was the first time I’d sat still all day.
But today I sat tidily with the Director in the Woolwich Centre while we talked about our plans for this year 11 and two weeks ago I sat still into the night chairing a meeting about the usefulness of arts research and measurement to school decision-making. A Tallis friend, Tate’s Anna Cutler, talked about measurement, about space, time, content and method. She said two very arresting things. The first was obvious: art and schools have endured and will be around for a long time, despite current measurement trends. The second was chilling. She talked about South Korea’s reviewing of their school curriculum in the light of an unacceptable level of child suicide. What, she posed, would be an acceptable level?
We know that the way we measure children has got out of kilter with the things we value in life. We try to mitigate a little of that in a small way at Tallis while still doing what we’re expected to do to equip them with the qualifications for the adult world. Don’t begrudge them a couple of hours in the year focusing on deep breathing: it’s the least we can do.