I had been thoroughly enjoying my day and was extremely excited for my first values workshop. I couldn’t wait to get my teeth stuck into this module as I had heard such great things about it. However, my curious mind and eager thoughts were suddenly brought to a halt due to what i believe to have been an award winning performance by Mr Paul Cowie. First of all he introduced himself, telling us of his adventures to Singapore and his history with teaching (I was excited to see his skills in action) but unexpectedly, the workshop took an upsetting turn.
We were split into 4 groups, given resource packs and instructed to discuss and then create an item that could be used by a fresher at the University of Dundee in order to aid them whilst settling in and adjusting to university conditions. Once we opened the pack we instantly noticed that our group had been given significantly less resources than the others. This disheartened us instantly. “Why do we have less than them?”, “How is this fair on us?”, “Well obviously they are going to do better than us.” These were just some of the comments made by my group. However, we persevered and came up with, what we thought was an amazing concept, the idea of a pencil case. Unfortunately, this revolutionary and unique idea was not satisfactory for Mr Cowie as we discovered after he interrogated and dissected our mental blueprints. It was safe to say our confidence had been knocked.
Then we began creating our design. This pencil case was unlike any other pencil case, it was fully customisable, it was extremely colourful and it was.. well it.. it was just a pencil case but in the moment it was the best thing since sliced bread (you had to be there to understand). Still looking around we see all of these weird and wonderful creations that these privileged groups had put together. A map of the Dalhousie building, a cocktail recipe book of items to create a great student experience and something else I can’t remember because I was still so angry that we had been given such little resources. Once again Mr Cowie wandered around the room discussing the designs within our groups. One by one he complimented and engaged with the other groups on what it does, why it was helpful and when it would be useful but, once again, he saw our petty pencil case and sneered at it; labelling it: stupid, ugly, pointless, the list goes on.
After this we moved onto our presentations, we started off the excitement and, unsurprisingly, Mr Cowie could not have seemed less engaged with us. He was on his laptop, reading his phone, yawning, looking at his watch and, in my eyes, doing everything in his power to crush any drop of confidence we had left. Then came the other groups who received compliments, positive body language, eye contact and his full attention (something which we were craving at this point). The results were in: Group 4 (us) – 2/10, Group 3 – 4/10, Group 2 – 7/10, i think you see where this is going. At this point in the workshop the door was looking like the only escape from this spiral of embarrassment and self-loathing.
Finally, Mr Cowie revealed that this was all an act; a social experiment if you will. He explained that the way we were feeling is how some children may feel in a classroom. One of your main responsibilities as an educator, or any discipline involving social situations, is inclusion and equality. Whether it be subliminal or intentional we cannot exclude individuals or groups just because of their ideas, beliefs or abilities.
This exercise opened our minds to the fact that not everybody comes from the same background, not everybody is as capable as the person sitting next to them and not everybody can progress at the same rate as their peers. There are many factors that contribute towards a persons learning with the environment they do this in being one of these key factors. By ignoring, disregarding and being uninterested towards a person you are simply destroying the confidence they have in their ability to progress and learn. This will result in underachievement, a feeling of resentment towards learning and a sense of insecurity within ability. Individuals from underprivileged backgrounds may need some extra support but most importantly they need to feel equal to those of privilege.
This exercise was extremely interesting and although I may have been at the brunt of it all, I feel I have come away with a better understanding and open mind towards this topic. I believe that confidence and environment are the keys to unlock a persons full academic ability.