Happy Pills

This morning, I summarised the gist of Ira Socol‘s excellent (as always) post titled “Social change and American school” with the following tweet: “We naively charge schools to ‘change the world’ but fail to change basic idea about schools. Right?” Ira agreed.

Here is a my response in little more than 140 characters…

For many years, we have continued to bamboozle students, ourselves, parents and the rest of the society with edu-trivia (class sizes, scheduling, constant assessment and curriculum changes …). We have increasingly separated education from the society it operates within by way of growing specialisation, technicality and digression into what are seen as strictly ‘educational’ issues. I am continuously amazed by the sheer amount and voracity of intellectual effort and energy (translate – opportunity cost) spent on it. It is truly baffling.

Because we don’t really know what schooling stands for, we tend to charge schools with awesome and often conflicting responsibilities. We are asked to babysit and discipline, encourage independence while constantly telling students what to do, develop deep thinkers but get them to change classes and focus on something else when the bell sounds, rote learn ‘tradition’ but develop critical thinking, develop a sense of community but at all times know where they rank and more. All of this of course comes on top of adding, cooking, sewing, dancing, using computers responsibly, painting, woodworking, working out relationships etc…

Welcome to edu-panacea, the magic cure-all. “This should be a part of school curriculum” I often hear various interest groups sprouting on the radio. Sounds familiar?

Then, as Ira points out, “when this absurd plan inevitably fails, we blame our teachers, our administrators, our parents, our students, and often, we begin to argue that only privatization can solve this.”

If education is considered a ‘powerful shaper of our society’ (throw in everything from solving poverty to solving digital divide as Ira points out) why don’t we ask more often: “What sort of society do we want? How does schooling fit into this?”

A society where only a few can truly be educated and the rest socialized and distracted to keep in peace? Yes/No? Checked your school/classroom behaviour management strategies lately? I don’t want to presume too much here but if you are feeling ‘bad’ right now – don’t, you probably had a lot to ‘get through’ that day… I know I do that, often.

Or do you want a society where everyone is capable of being educated and living a free and responsible life, where they are free to take risks and decide their life chances not just tinker with trivial life choices set out for them as ‘destiny’. Are you teaching for such a society? Can’t but would like to? Fancy dreams? I know that too …

Which of these two oppositional views are you closer to. What are doing about enacting them? Why (not)?

Education has the enormous power of achieving amazing success and at the same time induce fear. Did you know it was once illegal to teach slaves how to read and write? Ever wonder why? What is illegal today? Not to teach to the exam?

I dare you bring this up at the next staff meeting. Even if you do, I think the intended dialogue would quickly digress into discussion of technical problems and bureaucratic accountability.

I fear that we as educators have been reduced to technical experts armed with strategies to ‘deliver education’ dictated to us by the ebb and flow of cultural, political and economic forces.

Let’s pull back a little from negotiating edu-trivia and negotiate something that will really matter 30 years after the senior school ball.

Oh, and please read Ira’s post, he tells things better than me. Gotta go to class, the bell has just rung … (*salivating, salivating*)

6 thoughts on “Edu-panacea”

  1. Tomaz,

    Nail hit on head. A very, very good description of things. I’m wondering how courseware can be used to partially deliver individualized instruction to solve some of these issues – that’s an area a lot of schools are going to be exploring in the coming years.

    Great post.

  2. tomaz, i think we have to talk about the larger culture the education system exists in in order to understand how it came to be, what it should be, and how to change it. in my 7 years of experience living overseas in taiwan, i was able to get close to the culture. my husband is from taiwan and i speak chinese. for all the faults of the educational system on taiwan, and there are many, never would you see ‘edu-panacea’ there. that is because parents don’t see it as the educational system’s job to do everything. they feel it natural that that is their own responsibility, rich or poor. you still have parents there who neglect their children. in those cases, a well-funded american school (say in a well off suburb) could change the neglected child’s life with all those ‘edu-panacea’ extras. my main point, though, is generally speaking, taiwan parents have never depended on the government as a provider of a social safety net. the government was for many years the enemy. so a culture built up over thousands of years where people had to depend of family and friends and their own individual effort for everything. if a child is having problems in school, the whole family, often extended family, sacifices of a tutor (at least for the first born male). The child was the safety net for the parents in their old age, so a lot was poured into the child. We in the US are not as willing to sacrifice for family and friends as the Taiwanese are. This is one source of our troubles. Could you bring in your experiences in Slovenia to add to this discussion?

  3. @V

    Welcome back! Let me clarify a few what may seem truisms I stand by:
    – Yes, education is parent and a child of culture it exists in. Teachers are cultural workers, not ‘just teachers’.
    – There is no perfect educational system, nor do I want to see one. I prefer the constant tension and I am not throwing baby out with the bathwater on the current, mainstream system of schooling (whatever that one may understand … damn definitions hey 🙂 )But I do feel we have gone waaay over to the corporatist, bean counting and techical side of things, thus divorcing education form ‘care for/of the person’ through knowledge. We teach but we rarely ask ‘what the hell for?’In that, we re-create so many of the ‘losers’ that reinforces the message that they are ‘no good’ (I teach many of them!).
    – I would like the government to provide decent educational safety net (a somewhat demeaning and grossly incorrect term to often used to describe public schools). I do not believe in market forces there (or in health, for example), I may somewhere else.
    – I would not like to live in a country where the family (while honourably and with no doubt best intentions) pour their effort and savings to educate one child.

    In Slovenia, where I come from, education has been and still is, free, regardless of the change in the economic system (now capitalist). Private school pick up the kids either who can’t hack it in public schools and/or a few rich-daddy kids. People have realised how important this is and have kept it free. While Slovenians surely can do better (I have a couple of teaching colleagues from there), they fundamentally value education too much to leave it to ‘the market forces.’ Actually, not to labout the point, i invite you to look at the blog of Stephen Law (a philosopher) and his very considerate writing on the topic.

    Nica talking to you, feel free to gmail. 🙂

  4. so in slovenia there is widespread consensus that education should be free for everyone- to what level? and how is education ultimately paid for, through some kind of tax? the problem in the US is that many people think that 1) if you are struggling financially, it is because of a flaw in your character, not in the system. so many believe you deserve what you get. live in a poor area where good teachers are hard to come by? it’s your own fault (they think). 2) also, any many parents think they have no responsibility in helping their child to succeed in school-that’s what the teachers are paid to do . 3) then there are those parents who put the fault on the child and say- ‘you fail, you deserve it,it’s all on you- you are the master of your fate.’ and finally, 4) many feel they got good jobs without a lot of education, so why worry about their kids struggling in school.

    how do these attitudes i’ve come across in america compare to what you’ve found in all the countries you have lived in? ps i’m not concerned with the ‘market forces’ wrinkle in this problem. i’m concerned about how cultural attitude/assumptions have brought us to this point, because when you understand others’ core assumptions, you can better understand if your own assumptions are valid or not.

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  6. Well said; especially the response re. administrators.

    As a teacher AND an engineer, I would like to see educators trained to THINK not just to do. They do what admin tells them, what the district mandates … but I have noticed that they cannot think independently (outside the box) and thus, cannot solve problems as engineers do.

    E.g. my district is a failing district and all those educators in the district do is throw crap at the problem and hope something sticks. In effect, they are repeating an experiment BUT expecting different results (Einstein).

    I agree. If money is to be a reward, then it should be rewarded to the TEAM effort. Otherwise the system will be corrupted by the most popular or outspoken teachers. I have seen a lot of those who APPEAR to do a lot but actually accomplish very little.

    Response to “Edu-panacea”

    Not bad.

    But I think you all have missed the real problem: here in America education does not command the respect that it does in other countries. The entitlement attitude has permeated virtually every aspect of our lives, thus excluding personal responsibility. Furthermore, money & power are the only things that are respected in this country.

    As long as students, parents and politicians EXPECT everything; as long as people want to blame the teacher, or demand “teacher accountability”, as long as PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY is absent then education will never command the respect that it should, and students and their parents will never take learning seriously as they should.

    We, here in America, have forgotten that “knowledge is power”.

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