Meaning brings information to life

Brexit. Are we in or out? Should we be in or out? It is likely when you put the question to teenagers, many of them will be of the opinion, “Who cares? Why I should care?”

It is a sad state of things that many grow up to be ambivalent about the things that should matter most. Now I don’t mean to say Brexit is most important, but the awareness of how it should be, and its relevance on one’s life, is unfortunately not the thing thought in schools.

Schools disseminate information. But perhaps on the school curriculum, more focus should be placed on the context in which it takes place in.

What do I mean? Imagine this – students learn about history and the World Wars, but the scale of this is hard to internalise from a textbook. But take them on a school trip to Flanders, see the rows of poppies laid out, and you get an idea of the sacrifices that people paid with their lives.

Away from the classroom, away from the pure dissemination of information, the things they learn have more relevance.

One can say the same of physics. Rather than trying to teach about moments through a point, for example, a teacher can ask students to balance a tray of different objects with a finger. Where is the place they are going to put their finger? It depends on the varying weights of the objects, and their mass and their weight from the point. But rather than teaching these concepts purely from a textbook, information takes on more relevance and meaning if it is seen to be part of everyday life.

We can do the same with finance. Instead of discussing Brexit and what it means in terms of jobs and business agreements, give students a small sum of money with the task of increasing it. They can trade with other groups of students, or not. But they have to increase the sum of money they have, and not just hold on to it, as it loses value. In the interaction of these forms of games, students have an idea of whether Brexit matters – not from the textbook.

In the arts, learning piano music is sometimes viewed as the depressing of piano keys in the rhythm and speed indicated of the sheet, with fingers assigned to the keys. A piano teacher in N8 once mentioned to me how a parent viewed piano playing as mere muscle memory, dependent on repetition. But this only breeds the idea that the approach to the music is merely information to be assessed and acted on. For the piano player, greater meaning can be achieved by understanding the compositional process, the background and motivation of the composer, and by experimenting around with the music – to change its expression – to see the effects.

The problems that teachers have is in making the information relevant. But they are tasked with teaching the information first, and ensuring it is kept in the minds of students. What is necessary is more a reduction in content knowledge, so teachers can bring the information to life, and students can learn and retain.

How has this impacted me as a counsellor? In explaining choices and courses of action to my clients, I don’t just tell them what they do, but why they should do it and how it will it make them feel. In short it is not just about purely the information, but the meaning behind it. When the recommended courses of action have more relevance, the counselling suggestions are more likely to be adhered to.