Wanted: A Sense of Direction

The Lure of Instant Gratification

Most weeks I spend a few pounds on the lottery, with the vague hope that one day I will win a few million so that I can retire and do something different. I am probably like the vast majority of people who do the lottery. I know that the chances of winning anything are very slim and the chances of winning the big one are so remote that is not worth getting excited about. In other words the probability of winning are billions to one against. Yet, despite this knowledge, I ‘play the game’ hoping for instant returns.

On an individual level I can rationalise this and feel I am doing no harm. In fact I could argue that if I won a stash load of money I could really make a difference, help my family and donate to charities. The latter may be right, but seeing it from another standpoint, it is a purely individual action, and it is selfish, because it is just about me, looking for instant gratification.

I am not using this article to argue for or against the lottery. However, I do think that over the last few decades there has been a subtle change that has taken place within society in which many of us want quick fixes, instant solutions. Part of this change has taken place because of the cult of the celebrity. A whole industry has grown up that focuses on celebrities, magazines, programmes and reality television shows that concentrate on wealth, glamour and being a celebrity.

Dangers and Risks in Parenting

The recently published Children’s Society’s A Good Childhood inquiry report argues that “…modern culture involves three serious dangers. It encourages:

* The view that to be happy you have to be wealthy and beautiful.
* A confliction and often-violent model of human relationships.
* Physical inactivity, eating, drinking and smoking to excess”. (1)

This report is very significant because it gives a very broad overview of children in society and questions our attitudes to parenting as much as focusing on childhood. When we become a parent we are signing up for life, there are no instant solutions.

One of the terrifying things of becoming a parent is that we do not know how our children are going to turn out; we cannot just wave a magic wand and wish they were grown up. Equally that is one of the most exciting aspects of being a parent as we watch our children grow and are involved in their development.

Attachment theory at its very basic may help us understand what is involved in successful parenting. As a parent we need to allow our children to grow and develop, enabling them to take risks and explore the environment around them. The difficulty, however, is getting the balance right and allowing children to make mistakes and become increasingly independent but within a safe and secure home that provides them with boundaries. This may sound old-fashioned, but my experience of working young people is that they do want to explore but also want to know that the exploration has limits. A child that is free to roam has no limits.

Reviewing Aims and Values

The Children’s Society report is questioning whether in much of society we have got the balance wrong, we are to focused on the individual, we are too risk averse and that ultimately as a society we need to look at our values.

The latest offering from the Cambridge Primary Review, I would suggest, complements and develops the ideas in the childhood inquiry report. In the latest report they focus on the narrowness of the curriculum offered in primary schools. The authors accept the need for a national curriculum but argue that the emphasis on a narrow curriculum in a rigid test oriented environment is actually not helping many of our young people.

They argue that there should ‘twelve aims for primary education’ which they divide into three groups:

The needs and capacities of the individual

  • wellbeing
  • engagement
  • empowerment
  • autonomy

The individual in relation to others and the wider world

  • encouraging respect and reciprocity
  • promoting interdependence and sustainability
  • empowering local, national and global citizenship
  • celebrating culture and community

Learning, knowing and doing

  • knowing, understanding, exploring and making sense
  • fostering skill
  • exciting the imagination
  • enacting dialogue (2)

Their view of a national curriculum is also located in local communities, reflecting the actual environment children and young people are growing up in.

Both these reports question our assumptions and ask us very significant questions about whether we have lost our sense of direction and our values as to what is important.


(1) Make Childhood look better


(accessed 22/2/2009)
(2) Towards a New Primary Curriculum http://www.primaryreview.org.uk/Downloads/Curriculum_report/CPR_Curriculum_report_briefing.pdf (accessed 22/2/2009) see also


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