Last week I took part in my first values seminar. As we went in, we were separated into four teams. Each team was given a brown paper envelope with some unknown items inside and we had set time frames in which to plan an idea, make the idea using only the objects inside the envelope and present the idea . My team took the brief about making a useful tool for a new university student very literally and decided to physically use the items; including pens, coloured paper, Blu Tac, paperclips, and tape; we had been presented with to create a pencil case and a detachable campus map. After presenting our idea for the helpful tool to the group, each team was given a score out of ten that ranked each team from best to worst. In my particular group; one team scored one point, another scored three points, my team scored seven points, and the final team scored ten making them the winners. The winning team, and my team, as we came second, were given prizes.
The teacher then asked us various questions about the task, such as did we enjoy it (to which, of course, the winning team answered yes) and had we noticed anything about the competition side of things. Neither my team, nor the winning team, were grasping what she was getting at. Then the other two teams started to pipe up and say that they had noticed the teacher spending a lot more time with the teams that came first and second. At first I thought this had just been a coincidence, but then the two lowest scoring teams began to offer up more examples of inequality that they had experienced during the task. They said that the teacher had been less encouraging of their thoughts and ideas, less involved in their design process, and less respectful and attentive when listening to their presentations.
The penny finally dropped when the teacher said to look at the other teams’ tables. Whilst we were looking around, the bottom two teams were saying things like “Yes, I knew it!” and the top two teams were exclaiming “Oh wow, I didn’t realise that!”. The scores that the teams received not only corresponded with the attention and help that they were given, but also the supplies that they had had inside their envelopes! The team that scored one point had only a couple of items like a pen and a white piece of paper, but the team that scored ten points had an abundance of products to take advantage of; from staplers and hole-punches, to rainbow pens and sticky notes.
The thing that has shocked me most about this seminar is the fact that I, and everyone else in the two ‘best’ teams, didn’t notice the blatant inequality and unfairness that was occurring in the other two teams. We were all oblivious. We had just assumed that the task presented the same challenges to the other teams as it did to us, however they were having to think twice as hard because they not only had to come up with a plan, but also had to problem solve to work out how to accomplish it with their very limited resources.
I think this class that we have been involved in is not only a powerful metaphor for the many imbalances across the country’s, and even the world’s, education centres, but it also speaks volumes about how as both societies, communities, and individuals, it can be far too easy to go about our business and live our lives oblivious to the struggles of others. I had no idea of the other groups’ positions. Just because I had made that assumption that we had all been treated equally, I concentrated on my own team and our task at hand. If I had just looked up from what I was engrossed with, I could have realised that, although we had a challenge to complete, other people around me had further hurdles to overcome before they could even get to the challenge I had.
I can see how the wider meaning of this task relates to financial inequalities in schools everywhere that may impact on students’ education, but also on a more personal level that, as a teacher, you must take time to consider which barriers each different child may have standing between them and their potential accomplishments. Each child is unique and will have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to both school and life. It is so important to recognise and adapt to these differences to help everyone to reach their full potential.