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Vive La difference

By Tim Middleton
We may well have come across them at some stage in our life — those jokes about the difference between two items. In case we need reminding, here are some of them. What’s the difference between ice cream and your advice? I asked for the ice cream. What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care. What’s the difference between a cat and a comma? One has claws at the end of its paws, and the other is a pause at the end of a clause. They probably do not get better with age, it has to be said! Then there are some about teachers: What’s the difference between a teacher and a train? A teacher says, “Spit out that gum!” and a train says, “Chew! Chew!” Finally, (promise!) what’s the difference between a teacher and a cynic? A teacher answers your questions; a cynic questions your answers.

The Frenchman (suitably!) Anatole France is attributed with first declaring the wonderful refrain, “Vive la difference!” with particular reference to the differences between women and men. The real beauty and delight in the world, it is argued, will be found in the recognition and extension of our differences. We are all different — different colours, different heights and shapes and sizes, different pleasures, different customs, different abilities, different personalities, different understandings, different hobbies, different careers, different tastes, different everything. Hard as it may seem on first reading, we would hate it if everyone was like us! The parent who pitifully cries out to their child “Why can’t you be like Tatenda?” has not grasped this. Vive la difference!

Education, therefore, must ensure that our children are different. We cannot motivate or discipline or manage everyone in the same way but must enable everyone to grow in their own unique distinctive way. A vibrant garden will have many different plants of different sizes, colours, fragrances, shapes, some flowering at different times for different periods of time. The ocean is full of different fish, the bush is full of different mammals, each adapting as necessary to the different climates and conditions. So it is with children! Long may we ensure we develop differences in our children.

Interestingly, the self-same Anatole France quoted above is quoted elsewhere as saying that “An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.” There lies an important difference that children need to understand and grasp; it is a distinction that we as educators must elucidate and encourage if children are going to be different. Long live the difference!

Some advertisers have translated France’s saying as “Live the difference” and used it as their slogan. If we take such a translation to our view of education it is reminding us that teachers must live the difference themselves. Children will flourish if they see different teachers teaching in different ways the same subjects; they will be encouraged and relieved to know they can be different. Teachers will only be effective, and therefore education will only be effective, if teachers live their subject; education will only have an impact when the teachers believe what they are teaching, when they have vitality and delight in it, when they are passionate about it, when they are energetic and caring and absorbed by it. They must live it when they give it. Long live education; long live the difference!

If we are going to do that, then education is going to have to be different from what it is now and what it has been. We must move on from saying that “it was good enough for me so why not keep it as it is?” If the refrain works for children, it must apply to education as well. We must spit out that guff and boldly be different. Only a cynic will question that; rather, chew on it.

Education must be the difference in our children’s lives but that education must live long, not simply at school or to gain entry to further education. It must be long-lasting, long-affecting, long-meaning; it must come alive and live! Education must make the difference in our children’s lives. Education must allow for the differences in children. We need a different education that includes, involves, excites our children. We are the ones who can and must make that difference; we must live the difference. We must be the difference. There is no room any longer for ignorance or apathy; we are not being offered ice cream here. Vive La Difference! Live the difference! Long live the difference!

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. 
  • email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw
  • website: www.atschisz

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