And it starts in kindy

Cosmic Kindergarten

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.

Me: Checklists?

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.

12 comments

  1. Rachel

    It seems to be everywhere. I live in Catalunya, Spain and I was most unhappy to receive my 4-year old daughter’s report last year since it consisted of nothing more than a computer-generated report with boxes to be ticked. Nothing personalized in it at all, unlike the previous year. A complete waste of paper and ink. I can just picture the “educators” in the Department of Education doing their best to automate everything (because you have to be able to measure “performativity” in quantifiable terms, right?). Teachers in the system are no doubt so fed up that a lot of them are probably at the “Yeah, whatever” stage, unfortunately. Pobres hijos mios.

  2. Rachel

    It seems to be everywhere. I live in Catalunya, Spain and I was most unhappy to receive my 4-year old daughter’s report last year since it consisted of nothing more than a computer-generated report with boxes to be ticked. Nothing personalized in it at all, unlike the previous year. A complete waste of paper and ink. I can just picture the “educators” in the Department of Education doing their best to automate everything (because you have to be able to measure “performativity” in quantifiable terms, right?). Teachers in the system are no doubt so fed up that a lot of them are probably at the “Yeah, whatever” stage, unfortunately. Pobres hijos mios.

  3. Geoff Allemand aka @scratchie

    Another great post Tomaz. Thanks for the link to ‘performativity. This was a new term for me but now explains how I have been feeling in the school ‘system’ and how the pressure was becoming too much back in 1995 when I left primary school teaching. This quote was exactly my thoughts and pretty close to the year I left…”I was a primary school teacher for 22 years but left in 1996 because I was not prepared to sacrifice the children for the glory of politicians and their business plans for education (Christopher Draper).”
    Have you read the work of John Taylor Gatto, especially his book, Weapons of Mass Instruction?

  4. Geoff Allemand aka @scratchie

    Another great post Tomaz. Thanks for the link to ‘performativity. This was a new term for me but now explains how I have been feeling in the school ‘system’ and how the pressure was becoming too much back in 1995 when I left primary school teaching. This quote was exactly my thoughts and pretty close to the year I left…”I was a primary school teacher for 22 years but left in 1996 because I was not prepared to sacrifice the children for the glory of politicians and their business plans for education (Christopher Draper).”
    Have you read the work of John Taylor Gatto, especially his book, Weapons of Mass Instruction?

  5. human

    @Geoff Cheers Geoff. Yes, familiar with Gatto. Read much of his stuff and attended his brilliant ‘webinar’ a few months ago, heard him talk and answer questions.

    This performativity caper is THE stuff to change, educationally and socially but it’s a bloody hard thing to strip the mask of hyper-rationality in a world that is addicted to answers, no matter how shonky, ill-thought and just plain ill they are, often for the same kind of people too. Glad you dug around the little, when unpacked just a little it strikes a chord with so many, not just teachers.

    @Rachel (& Geoff, extended :D)

    Yes, it seems we are in the grip of this horribly fake and shallow discourses of ‘accountability’ and ‘competition’ in the “Western world” (whatever that mean these days …). One thing I find particularly disturbing is the erosion of truly collective, collaborative and with it deeply transformative action, most potent in local settings, local contexts.

    Too often we do these things thinking ‘well, as long as I do OK, I’ll be fine’. Such thinking is then incentivised and individuals who are constantly ‘performing well’ and exulting ‘excellence’ are being rewarded (for the right kind of excellence, of course). And as the wheels keep turning, we adopt this corporatist language and loss of anything but private interest – a cornerstone of a performative system. We start seeing ourselves, as John Taylor Gattor would put it, as a ‘human resources that it is OK to be disposed with’, trapped in our roles.

    I invite you read on about performativity, perhaps tickle your colleagues with it sometimes and by all means – stay in touch so we can talk at least like this in the future.

    Thank you both for your excellent and insightful comments.

    Tomaz

  6. human

    @Geoff Cheers Geoff. Yes, familiar with Gatto. Read much of his stuff and attended his brilliant ‘webinar’ a few months ago, heard him talk and answer questions.

    This performativity caper is THE stuff to change, educationally and socially but it’s a bloody hard thing to strip the mask of hyper-rationality in a world that is addicted to answers, no matter how shonky, ill-thought and just plain ill they are, often for the same kind of people too. Glad you dug around the little, when unpacked just a little it strikes a chord with so many, not just teachers.

    @Rachel (& Geoff, extended :D)

    Yes, it seems we are in the grip of this horribly fake and shallow discourses of ‘accountability’ and ‘competition’ in the “Western world” (whatever that mean these days …). One thing I find particularly disturbing is the erosion of truly collective, collaborative and with it deeply transformative action, most potent in local settings, local contexts.

    Too often we do these things thinking ‘well, as long as I do OK, I’ll be fine’. Such thinking is then incentivised and individuals who are constantly ‘performing well’ and exulting ‘excellence’ are being rewarded (for the right kind of excellence, of course). And as the wheels keep turning, we adopt this corporatist language and loss of anything but private interest – a cornerstone of a performative system. We start seeing ourselves, as John Taylor Gattor would put it, as a ‘human resources that it is OK to be disposed with’, trapped in our roles.

    I invite you read on about performativity, perhaps tickle your colleagues with it sometimes and by all means – stay in touch so we can talk at least like this in the future.

    Thank you both for your excellent and insightful comments.

    Tomaz

  7. Rachel

    Thank you Tomaz and thanks Geoff for the book recommendation. Love the title!

  8. Rachel

    Thank you Tomaz and thanks Geoff for the book recommendation. Love the title!

  9. Geoff Allemand aka @scratchie

    Thanks Tamaz and Rachel. It has been a great support to be able to share and support online and starting to form a PLN is a must for this type of work. I long for the day when my allies will be ones I am working side by side with.

    By the way I recently found Google Translate and it has been a great help to decipher endings like Rachel’s – Pobres hijos mios (My poor children)

    Here’s my little ending in a language other than Aussie…as that would be too easy!
    “At finde din passion ændrer alt”

  10. Geoff Allemand aka @scratchie

    Thanks Tamaz and Rachel. It has been a great support to be able to share and support online and starting to form a PLN is a must for this type of work. I long for the day when my allies will be ones I am working side by side with.

    By the way I recently found Google Translate and it has been a great help to decipher endings like Rachel’s – Pobres hijos mios (My poor children)

    Here’s my little ending in a language other than Aussie…as that would be too easy!
    “At finde din passion ændrer alt”

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>