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Nostalgia is not a useful map for designing curriculum


Centuries ago, nostalgia was deemed a mental illness, a profound yearning for home that inflicted palpable pain. The term itself, derived from the Greek words nostos (meaning 'homecoming') and algos ('pain'), spoke to a deep-seated ache associated with reminiscence.

You cannot change the past, but I dare say you might learn from it. Time from Alice in Wonderland- Through the Looking-Glass

On the positive side reminiscing supports connection making and offers comfort, like drinking a hot cocoa and wearing warm socks on a cold day. It can also give us an opportunity to revisit events from a new vantage point where we can better understand the wider social and cultural dynamics that were in play at the time- we cannot change the past but we can learn from it. However a caution needs to be offered here, we can visit the past in our dreams and imaginations but we need to remain aware that our memories are imperfect recollections of then and this is now.


Currently, a disconcerting trend is emerging where nostalgia seems to be driving educational decision-making. Some are hearkening back to a past that may be more idealized than real. In tough times, it's human nature to edit memories, casting our past in a rosier light. But was it genuinely better?


Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I cherish many fond memories. If I wanted to I could settle in to a rhetoric that things were better back then but they weren't, they were just different. Life, then and now, is a tapestry of highs and lows. In the early 80s, our family home burned down, and we faced profound loss. Financial struggles ensued, with no safety net akin to today's total replacement insurance. The community rallied, but the broader support network was limited by the constraints of communication at the time. Reflecting on that period, it becomes evident that modern resources might have alleviated some of our challenges.


I share this example to illustrate the importance of acknowledging progress. Despite the good that I experienced growing up and the gratitude I feel for the community that supported us at the time, challenges remained and were ever-present. The internet, heightened connectivity, and increased awareness of trauma and loss are among factors that could have mitigated the difficulties we faced then.


Most of us adults remember our own school days and those of us who have succeeded in some way probably thrived (or at least survived) within the system and structures of the time. This is not a valid place to build education policy from though. How many of our classmates failed to thrive? How many students in other schools struggled? What happened to those who didn't make it?


The world we live in and, more importantly, the world our children are growing up in is vastly different to the one we grew up in. It's not bad, it's just different. We now know so much more about neuroscience, learning, trauma, communication, parenting, childhood development and more. Choosing to ignore this and go back to a sanitised version of a painful past for many worries me.


My greatest hope is that we can work together, outside of political dogma and division, to create educational pathways that honour our children's needs here and now. What happens to them now sends ripples out into the future, the world is evolving and we need to create an educational system that reflects that. Education does not sit outside society. Imagine if qualities like kindness, equity, and a keen understanding of the dynamic interplay of education, neuroscience, and child development were driving our educational decision making? I think it has merit.




Megan Gallagher, is a mum, teacher, coach, speaker, PLD facilitator and consultant. She weaves her teaching experience, intense interest and curiosity about the brain, and coaching skills together in all that she does.

She specialises in coaching for children, families and educators, teacher wellbeing, curriculum design, and impactful teaching and learning.

One of her greatest pleasures in life is seeing others shining and this is the basis of the work she does with Ignite Your Spark.

For more information please check out meggallagher.nz or you can contact her at meg@meggallagher.nz 


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