Source: Cosmic Kindergarten http://www.flickr.com/photos/hexholden/3374990171/
Yesterday, I did a couple of hours of ‘parent duty’ at my 5 year old son’s kindy (abbreviation for ‘kindergarden’), helping out with learning tasks, minor cleaning and a few other bits. It was wonderful to see this group of 4 and 5 year olds loving being there, playing, sharing, inventing, doing their first letters, numbers, rhyming, painting games and generally having a ball.
Their teacher is ‘Donna’ (not her real name), an experienced, wonderfully caring and professional in the kindest and honest meaning of the word. Kids adore her and are coming along in leaps and bounds. Donna knows I’m a teacher too and we had a brief chat over our morning cup of tea while the kids were busily devouring platters of fresh fruit:
Donna: These are such a great bunch of kids but I am finding myself struggling.
Me: Oh, how so …
Donna: It’s these curriculum and reporting changes and pressure that comes with, I can imagine what’s going to be like with this National Curriculum coming out soon too. They just expect more and more of kids, constantly. So I am finding myself spending more and more time doing this evaluation, covering skills and content and following guidelines and ticking boxes.
Me: More of that recently?
Donna: Yes, particularly since we’d come under Department of Education umbrella attached to the local school. Before we were community based and it was a lot more relaxed and I dare say productive. You know, I had time to do and think about things like room arrangements depending on the kids I had in group that day, shift things around to suit them, listen to them. Now, I just don’t get around to it or maybe do less of it. I have all these checklists to go through.
Donna: Yes, have a look at this pile. And it’s not as if the kids will forget about the thing I ticked today tomorrow. Or maybe they’ll ‘get it’ when I’m not around to tick that box, while they are playing at home or somewhere else. It’s not to say we should not evaluate how things are going with each child and look out for potential difficulties – that is a very important part of our job. But so much of what we do now is just plain silly and a waste of time we could spend a lot better.
Me: And if you don’t follow these things ….?
Donna: That’s the strange and uncomfortable thing – I feel guilty. Guilty for not reaching what I am supposed to be able to cover and guilty for some kids not being able to do what I am told they should be able to do.
Me: So learning becomes a kind of performance and you and the kids … performers?
Donna: Yes, well put, exactly!
Me: And you start seeing yourself and the kids in terms of that performance?
Donna: I resist but often I can see that.
Me: And if we cast our mind in the future, the kids will see themselves in terms of that performance at school, of school?
Donna: And that’s really sad, isn’t it? And it starts so early here, in kindy.
Me: Sad, and a lot more wrong than it is right. Thanks for the cuppa Donna, looks like the kids are done with their fruit.
Donna: Thank you, we often don’t get to talk about these things.
OK Apples, well done for your wonderful eating and sharing of fruit, it’s time to put our plates away …
What Donna has expressed there has actually been noted, researched and has a name – performativity (for this particular kind of performativity I highly recommend the work of Stephen Ball – his “Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity” paper is a great start).
I invite you to explore the concept, its impact and its implications, unburdened by any of my own commentary.
And every time you hear a politician or a pundit banging on about accountability, standards, performance, curriculum and the likes in education, every time you hear rants (for AND against) about this stuff – go beyond it. Think about what it is doing not just to what and how we learn but (through it) what we are, what we become and how do we see ourselves and others as individuals and community members.
Socrates apparently said: “I can’t teach you anything, I can only make you think.”
I wish so.