Overnight, news broke that Prince Rogers Nelson, better known just as Prince, passed away suddenly at age 57.
We all know him as the prodigiously talented, eccentric, religious pop icon of the 1980s. There’s nobody who wouldn’t recognise When Doves Cry or Raspberry Beret when they come on the radio.
Prince had an interesting early life. Growing up as an African American in Minnesota in the 1960s, racial tensions and socio economic disadvantage were common. His parents, who encouraged his musical gift as a young boy, separated in his early teens and eventually he moved in with neighbours, rather than be shoved from parent to parent.
Classmates remembered him as the painfully shy and quiet kid who you wouldn’t notice if you passed him in the hall. Teachers do remember him though, they remember him coming in at all hours to play basketball with his friends, which despite his short stature – he was only 5’2 – he was extremely good at. And they also remember him in the music room banging out music of his own composition on pianos, guitars, drums hours after sports practice had finished and when the cleaners were trying to get in! They would often lock the doors to the music room at recess to let him express himself.
He showed no interest in academic subjects. He wasn’t disruptive, but did only what was necessary. His test scores were anything but spectacular. In his mind, he didn’t see the point in spending time on academic studies, because he was going to be a musician, and that’s what he needed to focus on.
Despite many of his friends falling to drugs and gang violence, and the assumption that those who don’t commit to academic studies go the same way, Prince stayed out of that with a single minded focus on his music, and writing.
Indeed he wrote, starred, directed and produced his own film in high school.
At 15 he was offered a record deal, which he turned down because they wouldn’t give him the opportunity to produce the songs himself. Obviously not trusting that a 15 year old knew what they were doing.
By 18 his first album was released, and he played every single instrument on that recording. He had his band who performed with him on tour, but so particular about his art he wanted to make sure what was recorded exactly matched his vision.
What does this have to do with Protecting Childhood and what we’re trying to achieve with the education system?
Let’s imagine Prince was born in Australia in the mid-2000s. Imagine he was in late primary with his passion for music.
Would he have the opportunity to spend hours in the music room unattended to hone his craft?
Would it be tolerated that he would “break in” to the gym or the hall to play basketball or music with his friends at night or on weekends?
His lack of interest or application to academic study would see his NAPLAN scores very low. He would be categorised as a “high need” student, and recommended to go onto an individualised learning plan – ironically, an individualised learning plan is what all children should be organically receiving, but that’s another story.
He would likely receive poor reports, and based only on the associated data, school hierarchy would likely recommend remedial study and advise parents to force him to do more literacy and numeracy worksheets.
He may even have been diagnosed as having ADHD or ASD due to his single minded focus on music and lack of attention when “academic” curriculum items were the focus of the day.
Or worse, he might just completely sail under the radar – sitting quietly and non-disruptive. Not making a fuss. Adequately passing within the tolerances. Receiving reports that say he’s adequate and well behaved and nothing else to do, but perhaps encouraging to spend more time on homework and less time mucking around with music. His gift going unnoticed and unrecognised.
He might have been lucky. He might have had one of you wonderful teachers who recognise that children with a gift like this need to be given the environment to flourish and chase that gift. Relaxing on the other items not because you don’t believe they’re important, but that if he recognised he needed them he would dedicate time to them, and with his intelligence he would easily and quickly catch up.
But our system discourages that kind of mindfulness and attention to individuals. There’s little doubt Prince’s “Data” would raise alarm bells. No child left behind! He can’t afford to fall behind on his persuasive text and reading level.
Of course, utter nonsense. He was a musical artist in the truest form. Music is one of the ultimate creative mediums, which has a very strong base in mathematics. His lyrics were poetic, deep with thought and understanding of his emotions and the emotions of others. His music connected with people.
He was not illiterate. He was not innumerate.
If we continue down this path of standardised education; standardised assessment; assessing all children as if one size fits all, children like Prince Rogers Nelson, unique diamonds, might well be discarded, dissuaded, disillusioned into believing they are a failure.
Imagine how much poorer the world would be today if that had happened in the 1970s.
How much poorer will the world be in 2040 if the Prince of today has been discouraged because the data said they weren’t good enough, and their teachers and parents buy into it?
We can’t let that happen.
We won’t let that happen.
Read more about “The Quiet One”:
Written by Chris Cox