Decolourising Education

I’ve had to go back to teaching this year, mainly because of the rising cost of living. I’ve been working in two different schools, and in one of them, in common with the school I last taught at, display boards are being denuded of colour. Instead, children will be able to bask in the glory of brown hessian, framed with black. Apparently someone no doubt very important said that colour was too triggering for children.

I decry this with every single cell of my body. Colour does not trigger. Lack of boundaries and a cohesive behaviour strategy in a school might well trigger, but colour? Colour can only enhance the learning environment. If this is the current thinking in education, that colour must be stripped from children’s lives, things are worse than I’d imagined. I think it’s sad. I think it’s bad.

It’s funny, because I’ve recently been taking one of my art students through the process of colour mixing – painting a colour wheel, and then creating tones, shades and tints. the difference between these three, by the way, is whether you add black, grey or white to the basic hue (which is the original colour, such as red or orange)

The wealth of colours available to an artist is almost limitless once you get mixing. I feel as if I’ve always known this sacred art of colour theory, as it’s known. I probably did have to learn at some point that red and yellow make orange, but it feels as if I’ve always known it.

The point is, colour is a vital part of my life. It’s a part of who I am. Having said that, my studio is a muted shade of grey – I decided to go for a tone which wouldn’t distract me when I’m working. So maybe there is something in this idea that colour on display boards at school might adversely affect the learning environment.

But no, I don’t believe that. I have grey walls in my studio, but I have orange blinds at the window. I have colourful artwork which really shines on the grey walls. I suspect actually that what is behind this latest fad is merely cost-cutting – hessian will not need to be replaced as colourful backing paper needs to be. And that in itself is very sad, and a poor reflection on the state of funding in Education.

One can only hope that things change, and governmental priorities change, and that teachers are able to protect the things that matter in education, like colour, art, and music, alongside the constant drive for results. I worry about the state of education, because it feels very much as if creativity is being sacrificed on the altar of academic results. It’s the same in English lessons – children are taught in excruciating detail how to use a conjunction or a connective, but their opportunities to create their own fantasy worlds are being stripped away, just like the colour on the display boards. What sort of a future are we creating?

Sorry – getting rather existential here. But I actually feel quite deeply that what is going on in our schools in the UK is fundamentally wrong. We aren’t producing creative thinkers – we are churning out cogs in a machine who will never question the status quo. All because they have hessian on their display boards? Well no, but that is the latest bad idea in a very long litany of bad ideas.

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