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*)