This week, two things jumped out at me from the radio. One was from Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’, the other the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Both concerned identity… what is your label?
Who Are You?
For those of us of a certain vintage, this evokes a minor hit from a major rock band. For the rest, it’s a straight forward, yet impenetrable question. What determines our sense of self and – by extension – self-worth?
It was a schoolteacher who addressed this issue, in a very timely and measured manner, on Radio 1’s Breakfast Show. He was speaking, on behalf of all teachers, to the nation’s pupils. He was particularly addressing those that, in the midst of coronavirus-related school closures, will be missing exams and/or leaving early.
The Whole Person
Those youngsters face uncertainty in relation to their exam grades. These marks, in turn, will – of course – have an influence on the future prospects of each pupil. This teacher wanted to assure all concerned that whilst exam grades are naturally of great importance, they do not define the whole person.
Pupil measurement, at all levels of education, is a contentious issue. The idea that a child can be labelled according to SATS results, GCSEs, A levels, and so on can be the source of anxiety, disappointment and demotivation. However, as our friendly headteacher pointed out, how we label ourselves can be something altogether more positive.
Fulfilling Your Identity
Which brings me to the Radio 4 ‘Saturday Live’ guest, Alice Morrison. She had worked within the media industry, enjoying high status and big salaries. However, when her business fell foul of funding cuts, she looked to her passion for adventure as a way forward.
What struck me, in particular, was when Alice talked about deciding to call herself ‘Alice Morrison, Adventurer’. By allowing herself to choose her own label, she then began to fulfil that identity. And this resonated with me personally, since I did more or less the same thing, when I began to refer to myself as a composer in my late twenties.
Dream & Aspirations
It may seem trivial but how we label ourselves is actually important. Clearly, in neither case did we just say ‘I’m going to be this’ without any preparation or prior learning. But here is the point: we never stop learning. Once we have chosen a particular direction, more and more learning becomes a necessity in order to follow that path.
Young children are often asked ‘what are you going to be when you grow up?’. I think many of us have come to the realisation that, in actual fact, we never really grow up. However, many do lose sight of the dreams and aspirations they had as a child. They allow labels that others impose to define and limit them.
As the teacher on Radio 1 said, it is important to value yourself for your own unique talents. These may be academic; they may be artistic; they may be in the ability to empathise and care. And, whilst we strive to enable our youngsters to fulfil their potential through education, we need also to encourage them to choose labels for themselves.
It may sound grand to call yourself ‘adventurer’. However, if that is your true calling, it would be wrong to refer to yourself as anything else. Children have the wonderful ability to imagine themselves to be almost anything. Fostering this imagination is a vital step towards them later achieving their goals.
You’ve Got to Have a Dream
Let’s remind our pupils that labels applied by others are not the only ones that count. And, thereby, help them on the road to self-determination.
As Oscar Hammerstein II once said:
“You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?”