What if the educational system IS working well?

HelloYarn Fiber (Thrive)

I have been around the ‘change education’ discussion for a while now. I have argued for changes. I have heard the myriad of grand visions of changers and edu-pundits, waded through the ocean of cliches and (mostly) flowery visions pretty much lambasting the status quo of mainstream schooling. And for the record, I have never been terribly comfortable in a mainstream school for a number of reasons.

But just what would you say to a kid (and their parent) who is thriving in the current mainstream educational system so many (of us) are trying to change?

(Because millions of kids do just that)

Over to you … thanks.

24 comments

  1. Sarah Thorneycroft

    I was one of those kids. And I’d say – it could have been better. It could have been a lot better. I ‘thrived’ by anyone’s definition, aced the exams and assignments, but it wasn’t an achievement, I never had to work particularly hard. I do remember quite clearly, though, wishing the whole time that somebody would just stop and make me think. Really think.

    Thriving and thinking aren’t the same thing. I’d be asking a lot of questions.

  2. Sarah Thorneycroft

    I was one of those kids. And I’d say – it could have been better. It could have been a lot better. I ‘thrived’ by anyone’s definition, aced the exams and assignments, but it wasn’t an achievement, I never had to work particularly hard. I do remember quite clearly, though, wishing the whole time that somebody would just stop and make me think. Really think.

    Thriving and thinking aren’t the same thing. I’d be asking a lot of questions.

  3. Eamon Costello

    Perhaps the system we have is the worst possible system (apart from all the others).

    Random half-baked thoughts: Maybe there are certain constraints such as teacher to pupil ratios or other functions of education that we can’t or don’t like to consider – such as maybe sometimes it is just a form of cheap childcare when children are young or when people are older it servers to keep people off the streets and out of trouble but also keeps them out of the labour market for a certain time to create scarcity there so that professions and workers are protected.

  4. Eamon Costello

    Perhaps the system we have is the worst possible system (apart from all the others).

    Random half-baked thoughts: Maybe there are certain constraints such as teacher to pupil ratios or other functions of education that we can’t or don’t like to consider – such as maybe sometimes it is just a form of cheap childcare when children are young or when people are older it servers to keep people off the streets and out of trouble but also keeps them out of the labour market for a certain time to create scarcity there so that professions and workers are protected.

  5. Malyn

    I thrived in my school, an independent all-girls Catholic school; I wouldn’t have thrived where my sisters went, highly-academic public high school equivalent to the selective schools here. Yet even knowing this, it was a shock when I went to university how my being in the school’s top 10 slipped to being just above average at university. Those who went to schools where my sisters went dominated the first 2 years of uni. I did manage to rise up again though not quite into the top 10.

    My point is this. There is diversity within the current mainstream educational system and I think each school’s culture is more relevant than the ‘mainstream edu system’ per se. Thriving in one school does not mean thriving in another.

    My choice for my girls is more to mirror the diversity of the world around them, opting for a co-ed systemic school (Catholic culture is obviously important to me too, and granted not as diverse as public schools; apropos, not all public HS are the same anyway). They are thriving in their schools. I think this is so because some teachers believed in them more on this here. So then, the more we can help students become self-aware and understand/appreciate diversity – whether or not they thrive in the current school – the better they’ll be slotting in to the big wide world.

    I think my kids are doing more thinking than I did their age. I think they are playing less. I think they are growing quicker and learning more about responsibilities and accountability, earlier than I did. Is this the fault of the mainstream edu system or society in general. My parenting style is consciously different from my parents.

    So if a kid thrives in the current system, we should tell them so. specifically. this helps build their self-awareness and self-concept. Can it be better? sure. and students nowadays are questioning the status quo more openly – something I never did as a high school student. They don’t necessarily have answers but neither do most adults.

    sorry, i’ve rambled on a bit. will stop. now.

  6. Malyn

    I thrived in my school, an independent all-girls Catholic school; I wouldn’t have thrived where my sisters went, highly-academic public high school equivalent to the selective schools here. Yet even knowing this, it was a shock when I went to university how my being in the school’s top 10 slipped to being just above average at university. Those who went to schools where my sisters went dominated the first 2 years of uni. I did manage to rise up again though not quite into the top 10.

    My point is this. There is diversity within the current mainstream educational system and I think each school’s culture is more relevant than the ‘mainstream edu system’ per se. Thriving in one school does not mean thriving in another.

    My choice for my girls is more to mirror the diversity of the world around them, opting for a co-ed systemic school (Catholic culture is obviously important to me too, and granted not as diverse as public schools; apropos, not all public HS are the same anyway). They are thriving in their schools. I think this is so because some teachers believed in them more on this here. So then, the more we can help students become self-aware and understand/appreciate diversity – whether or not they thrive in the current school – the better they’ll be slotting in to the big wide world.

    I think my kids are doing more thinking than I did their age. I think they are playing less. I think they are growing quicker and learning more about responsibilities and accountability, earlier than I did. Is this the fault of the mainstream edu system or society in general. My parenting style is consciously different from my parents.

    So if a kid thrives in the current system, we should tell them so. specifically. this helps build their self-awareness and self-concept. Can it be better? sure. and students nowadays are questioning the status quo more openly – something I never did as a high school student. They don’t necessarily have answers but neither do most adults.

    sorry, i’ve rambled on a bit. will stop. now.

  7. human

    Thank you Sarah, Eamon and Malyn (and Darcy Moore, via DM on Twitter, hope he puts his good 2c here too …). Valid points.

    So far, none of you (and please, I DO thank you for your time and headspace for leaving a comment, not chastising you :-)!) has directly answered the question as it would be asked by a kid and their parent. I can gleam a bit from answers but … What would you say, literally? (How) would you probe?

    Is the change we need/seek (just) a matter of tinkering a bit with the system (you know, better IT tools and use of, more flexible teaching arrangements, more subject choices, broader or deeper curriculum, better teachers …) or do we need to change things more deeply and more swiftly? Why?

    Sorry for throwing around such vague concepts like ‘thrive’ and ‘mainstream’ but Sir Ken Robinsons (I do respect the guy!) of this world throw them around too and everybody claps but nobody heckles and asks.

    And if I appear vague in all this … it’s because I am wrestling with this myself. Thank you for wrestling with me.

  8. human

    Thank you Sarah, Eamon and Malyn (and Darcy Moore, via DM on Twitter, hope he puts his good 2c here too …). Valid points.

    So far, none of you (and please, I DO thank you for your time and headspace for leaving a comment, not chastising you :-)!) has directly answered the question as it would be asked by a kid and their parent. I can gleam a bit from answers but … What would you say, literally? (How) would you probe?

    Is the change we need/seek (just) a matter of tinkering a bit with the system (you know, better IT tools and use of, more flexible teaching arrangements, more subject choices, broader or deeper curriculum, better teachers …) or do we need to change things more deeply and more swiftly? Why?

    Sorry for throwing around such vague concepts like ‘thrive’ and ‘mainstream’ but Sir Ken Robinsons (I do respect the guy!) of this world throw them around too and everybody claps but nobody heckles and asks.

    And if I appear vague in all this … it’s because I am wrestling with this myself. Thank you for wrestling with me.

  9. Greg Thompson

    The longevity of the school as a structure and as a set of institutional practices is not a fluke. If it didn’t work for all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time blah blah (you get my drift) then the structure of school would vastly different than it is today. Don’t get me wrong, there have been changes (ICT, pedagogies, epistemologies) but very little has been structural.

    To go back to your point Tomaz, what should you say to the student? I would say nothing at all. Congratulate the student on their fortune and move on. Of course school works for some, it is meant to (albeit in fairly divisive ways). I’ve always thought that one of the best things for a society would be letting go of certainty, that we have the answer to education for all. Ironic that as teachers we are expected, and often expect other teachers, to be certain.

  10. Greg Thompson

    The longevity of the school as a structure and as a set of institutional practices is not a fluke. If it didn’t work for all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time blah blah (you get my drift) then the structure of school would vastly different than it is today. Don’t get me wrong, there have been changes (ICT, pedagogies, epistemologies) but very little has been structural.

    To go back to your point Tomaz, what should you say to the student? I would say nothing at all. Congratulate the student on their fortune and move on. Of course school works for some, it is meant to (albeit in fairly divisive ways). I’ve always thought that one of the best things for a society would be letting go of certainty, that we have the answer to education for all. Ironic that as teachers we are expected, and often expect other teachers, to be certain.

  11. human

    And it is the ‘letting go’ of so many things that we are (expected to be certain of) that is and will be the hardest thing to do.

    I ‘wrestle’ myself because at some point I am expected to be certain, albeit imperfectly, always. I am bound by care for the kids and to lesser extent care for the field(s) of human endeavour I teach and talk about with the kids to do so.

    It seems then we often suffer from certainty more than we do from uncertainty πŸ˜‰

  12. human

    And it is the ‘letting go’ of so many things that we are (expected to be certain of) that is and will be the hardest thing to do.

    I ‘wrestle’ myself because at some point I am expected to be certain, albeit imperfectly, always. I am bound by care for the kids and to lesser extent care for the field(s) of human endeavour I teach and talk about with the kids to do so.

    It seems then we often suffer from certainty more than we do from uncertainty πŸ˜‰

  13. Greg Thompson

    Or at the very least refuse the interiority of guilt. You know the teacher guilt; ‘Am I doing enough’, ‘Am I letting kids/parents/colleagues down’. Embrace the absurdity of institutional life and laugh subversively.

  14. Greg Thompson

    Or at the very least refuse the interiority of guilt. You know the teacher guilt; ‘Am I doing enough’, ‘Am I letting kids/parents/colleagues down’. Embrace the absurdity of institutional life and laugh subversively.

  15. Malyn

    If the question is “why do we want to change given that many thrive”….

    The change that are most relevant are to stop trends:
    – rise of the importance of standardised testing, sometimes even linked to teachers’ merit pay
    – students increasingly vocal about the relevance of syllabus/curriculum
    – speed of technological changes
    – increased use of social media
    – diminishing opportunities for work in ‘industrial’ fields
    etc

    Parents will be like you and me who’ll say, “we’ve managed well as products of the old system.”…and it’s true. At this point, it is good to say that education serves society and not just individuals. For instance, parents need to understand the nature of standardised testing and how these can be abused.

    The world around us is changing. If we accept that a key purpose of education is to prepare our kids to become responsible adults (contributing to society, etc), then we must change accordingly. For example, turning a blind eye to social media is bordering negligence – kids are using it…it’s like giving kids keys to drive the car without all the lessons and practice they need to become competent. In fact, as far as SM is concerned, some kids “steal” the keys.

    It is not just a question of thriving “now” (which is great) but thriving “after” leaving school.

  16. Malyn

    If the question is “why do we want to change given that many thrive”….

    The change that are most relevant are to stop trends:
    – rise of the importance of standardised testing, sometimes even linked to teachers’ merit pay
    – students increasingly vocal about the relevance of syllabus/curriculum
    – speed of technological changes
    – increased use of social media
    – diminishing opportunities for work in ‘industrial’ fields
    etc

    Parents will be like you and me who’ll say, “we’ve managed well as products of the old system.”…and it’s true. At this point, it is good to say that education serves society and not just individuals. For instance, parents need to understand the nature of standardised testing and how these can be abused.

    The world around us is changing. If we accept that a key purpose of education is to prepare our kids to become responsible adults (contributing to society, etc), then we must change accordingly. For example, turning a blind eye to social media is bordering negligence – kids are using it…it’s like giving kids keys to drive the car without all the lessons and practice they need to become competent. In fact, as far as SM is concerned, some kids “steal” the keys.

    It is not just a question of thriving “now” (which is great) but thriving “after” leaving school.

  17. Darcy Moore

    Tomaz,

    In the late 19th century a radical and expensive idea, public education, transformed the life opportunities for many children and communities. Literacy improved and so did our democracies. I would argue that everything is not OK at the moment and we need some similarly radical re-envisaging of how learning is supported, in our communities, if our civil society is to be nurtured. I suspect that many do, as you suggest, flourish in our current system but year after year, Australian society becomes less equitable and opportunities decrease for the most disadvantaged. I would like to see a proper national debate about learning and schooling, the future and how we need to adapt. More of the same and a new curriculum, more suited to the 90s, are not the answers IMHO.

    Apologies for the tardiness of my response Mr @lasic πŸ™‚

  18. Darcy Moore

    Tomaz,

    In the late 19th century a radical and expensive idea, public education, transformed the life opportunities for many children and communities. Literacy improved and so did our democracies. I would argue that everything is not OK at the moment and we need some similarly radical re-envisaging of how learning is supported, in our communities, if our civil society is to be nurtured. I suspect that many do, as you suggest, flourish in our current system but year after year, Australian society becomes less equitable and opportunities decrease for the most disadvantaged. I would like to see a proper national debate about learning and schooling, the future and how we need to adapt. More of the same and a new curriculum, more suited to the 90s, are not the answers IMHO.

    Apologies for the tardiness of my response Mr @lasic πŸ™‚

  19. Lindy

    What would I say to a kid and their parent thriving in the mainstream educational system?

    I want to know how they are thriving. What do they do on a day-to-day basis that helps keep them optimistic, and moving forward? How do they define thriving? Is it feeling good now, or maybe believing that their current situation will lead to later improvements in quality of life?

    I’d want to ask them what helps them thrive, and what, if anything, hinders them? What makes it a good system for them? How would the changes we want to see impact on that?

    Because if we know what works for them, can we build on it so the system works better for more of its users?

    Sorry for the late reply Tomaz – Hope these ideas help with your wrangling πŸ™‚

  20. Lindy

    What would I say to a kid and their parent thriving in the mainstream educational system?

    I want to know how they are thriving. What do they do on a day-to-day basis that helps keep them optimistic, and moving forward? How do they define thriving? Is it feeling good now, or maybe believing that their current situation will lead to later improvements in quality of life?

    I’d want to ask them what helps them thrive, and what, if anything, hinders them? What makes it a good system for them? How would the changes we want to see impact on that?

    Because if we know what works for them, can we build on it so the system works better for more of its users?

    Sorry for the late reply Tomaz – Hope these ideas help with your wrangling πŸ™‚

  21. Maree

    Schools aren’t broken.
    Are any of these replies from current educators or students?
    GERM is creating an environment in which thriving, creativity, optimism are more difficult. Students do thrive. Teachers try to ensure that … Despite the conditions. Schools are not broken. Yet.

    Expectations of success has changed. Only academic students are valued, vocational students, talented young people who make other choices are seen as less…
    Lack of empathy and understanding for those young people who lack the privileges and choices of those judging them is becoming more common.

    What worries me is what we are trying to turn schools into? Test and data driven, constant striving to improve to what and for who? Good teaching is relationships, connection, motivation, inspiring… Not often measureable. Rarely measurable at the time.

    The motivation behind those driving the need for change must be examined.

    I think this is an important question.

  22. Maree

    Schools aren’t broken.
    Are any of these replies from current educators or students?
    GERM is creating an environment in which thriving, creativity, optimism are more difficult. Students do thrive. Teachers try to ensure that … Despite the conditions. Schools are not broken. Yet.

    Expectations of success has changed. Only academic students are valued, vocational students, talented young people who make other choices are seen as less…
    Lack of empathy and understanding for those young people who lack the privileges and choices of those judging them is becoming more common.

    What worries me is what we are trying to turn schools into? Test and data driven, constant striving to improve to what and for who? Good teaching is relationships, connection, motivation, inspiring… Not often measureable. Rarely measurable at the time.

    The motivation behind those driving the need for change must be examined.

    I think this is an important question.

  23. Tomaz

    Hi Maree

    ‘Schools aren’t broken.’ Hmmm, not saying they are. In fact, quite the opposite …

    ‘Expectation of success has changed… only academic students are valued’ Well, the ‘academic v non-academic’ divide has been around for decades. I for one never stopped a kid becoming say a hairdresser or a mechanic. I don’t nor will I ever have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is that they see that as the only option in their (working) life.

    With you on non-measurables, always have. Yet increasingly hard to do when eg funding depends on ‘the measurables’ (despite all the nice and warm talk by the purse holders). Why is it so?

    Motivation? When education becomes about the money we have to spend on it, efficiency is the vision. Sad, but daily reality of many. We need an alternative story.

    Cheers and thank you for dropping by and commenting.

  24. Tomaz

    Hi Maree

    ‘Schools aren’t broken.’ Hmmm, not saying they are. In fact, quite the opposite …

    ‘Expectation of success has changed… only academic students are valued’ Well, the ‘academic v non-academic’ divide has been around for decades. I for one never stopped a kid becoming say a hairdresser or a mechanic. I don’t nor will I ever have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is that they see that as the only option in their (working) life.

    With you on non-measurables, always have. Yet increasingly hard to do when eg funding depends on ‘the measurables’ (despite all the nice and warm talk by the purse holders). Why is it so?

    Motivation? When education becomes about the money we have to spend on it, efficiency is the vision. Sad, but daily reality of many. We need an alternative story.

    Cheers and thank you for dropping by and commenting.

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