My first piece of education activism – activism in the traditional sense of the term ie direct action – happened when I was 6 years old.
It was during my second year in primary school. What had happened was, we were spending a bunch of time on writing practice.
The writing practice made my arm hurt. I don’t remember what I thought about it – whether I enjoyed it intellectually or was interested in it in other ways for example, but the issue was, regardless of that, it made my body physically hurt.
I reached a point of thinking this wasn’t a good thing, that doing something every day to the extent it that made my body be in pain probably wasn’t the best idea. One day during break time, I asked the other people in my class if writing also made their arms hurt. It was impossible to tell during the class time itself, because everyone just had their heads down and was getting on with it as far as I could see.
So I asked everyone – Hey, does all this writing make your arm hurt too? And the answer was a yes, other people in my class were also in pain because of the writing practice.
It’s not like I didn’t like picking up a pen at all. I totally did. For evidence, here is a picture I drew of my own accord age 3 whilst filling in time at my dad’s office. It’s not like I was anti-mark making or anything, I was just anti-doing it to the point of being in pain:
Anyway. I as I said, I asked the other folk what was going on for them, they said it hurt them too, so I said, what shall we do about it? There was a general sense that we couldn’t do anything about it, and I said, something along the lines of, that not being good enough and we had to do something because carrying on as we were wasn’t a good option.
I suggested that the next time we were in the class and writing practice started, that we stand on our chairs, and say: “Writing makes our arms ache”. That this might get the teacher’s attention, and then she might not make us do it anymore, or at least not as much.
Yes, ok let’s do that, was the response from the others.
So there we were, back in the classroom again. Nervous anticipation in the air. Knowing that if the teacher started us up with some writing practice again, that this opportunity for action lay ahead of us.
The teacher instructed us to start writing practice.
People got out their notebooks and writing tools. They began to write, and just in that moment of commencing, I stood up on my chair, and began the chant: “Writing makes our arms ache”.
And no one else moved a muscle. Not one, single other person, also got up on their chair.
The teacher I think was pretty shocked, baffled, by this scene.
I mean, look at me, not exactly the image of a super rebel:
But I believe I was pretty badass that day. I was also supremely let down by my classmates that kept their heads nicely tucked under the parapet. I was standing on my chair! Seriously! And they left me hanging, to face my fate alone.
There wasn’t really any fate. After a little while, the teacher just asked me to sit down again. And the writing practice continued. Due to lack of support, my action was stopped in it’s tracks, and I gave up on that method as a means to affect change. I gave up on my classmates too. Maybe other people didn’t care as much as I did. Maybe they weren’t really bothered and were ok with the run of the mill and their experience within that. Maybe that just wasn’t the kind of action that worked for them. I don’t know.
I do know that the teacher could have listened and backed off the writing practice a bit, or at least asked me if I was ok.