We want what?

Shopping List

The tipping point for this post comes from tonight’s episode of Insight (SBS Television) titled “Worst and Best Schools”. I provide the link and let you decide on the value of punditry (and some valuable insights, to be fair) on display.

The inspiration for the list below is (ret) Judge Dennis Chaleen’s 8-point reflection on the effects of imprisonment (some uncanny similarities there with schooling). In a few brief points, he sums up society’s addiction to prison and reasons for lack of change in our views and practices. I’ll try to follow his ascerbic style.

I am no retired judge, only a classroom teacher of nearly a decade in mainstream schooling … but here is my list of the baffling inconsistencies:

* We want STUDENTS to have self-worth, so we care most about the winners.

* We want them to be responsible, so we make tests the most important things in their life.

* We want them to take control of their lives and own their problems, so we spoonfeed them with correct answers.

* We want them to be prepared for the future, so we teach like 200 years ago.

* We want them to be non-violent, so we blame.

* We want them to learn new things, so we discard educational research.

* We want them to listen, so we don’t give them a real voice.

* We want them to be trustworthy, so we trace their every move.

* We want them to be independent, critical, imaginative thinkers, so we measure (mostly ) recall.

* We want them to stop hanging around ‘losers’, so we ‘stream’ all the ‘losers’ in one place.

* We want them to be kind and loving people, so we promote zero-sum competition.

* We want them to be a part of community, so we block and control them becoming a community.

* We want to educate the whole person, so we test academic skills.

* We want them to learn, so we equate it with the “necessary pain of work ‘in the real world’ “.

* We want to prepare them for the ‘real world’, so we ban some the most common means of communication in it.

What about the teachers? A couple of quick ones…

* We want teachers to lead, so we tell them to follow.

* We want teachers to teach deep and with passion, so we give them a strict syllabus  and a deadline to follow.

Is this what we REALLY want?

5 thoughts on “We want what?”

  1. We find ourselves stuck in this industrial loop designed to separate kids out for industrial capitalism while we ourselves see ourselves as missionaries of liberation – and the disconnect is so great, the cognitive dissonance so disturbing, that it is hard to believe anyone stays in the teaching profession very long.

    All the contradictions you describe surround teachers every day. Foisted on them by administrative and political rules, religious beliefs, and strategies to ward off the dreaded “loss of control.”

    But learning is a messy thing. It is an individual thing. And when learning is truly successful we create not “graduates” or workers or even citizens of a particular state – but humans who are free.

    Unfortunately most societies seem quite scared of real freedom, and so their schools are, in too many ways, indistinguishable from penal institutions.


    Thanks. I think this post is required reading for my classes this coming semester.

  2. @ Tom
    Great post. It reminds me of a conversation with a teacher the other day. We hope that as a Catholic school we produce graduates who seek Truth and Justice. As a staff we decided the most appropriate way to teach justice is to model it. We decided to adopt a “detention” appeal system where students who feel they have been unjustly accused can appeal to a committee of peers (student, teacher, administrator) to hear their case. If they win their appeal the teacher is written up if they lose they receive double the consequence. The whole idea is to teach justice by having students play a role in guaranteeing it takes place. Low and behold 70% of the staff voted to adopt the plan.

    A disgruntled staff member approached me today concerned we were giving away power. I couldn’t help myself but to laugh. But I’d have to argue far too much of school is paradoxical. Become critical thinkers by doing mindless worksheets and tests of short term memory. Teach the dignity of the human person but celebrate only athletic accomplishments.

    http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/hp/frames.htm This essay catches many of your same observations.

  3. Some more (Students):

    – We want students to be individuals, so we allocate them a student number and make them statistics.
    – We want them to be lifelong learners, so we avoid practising what we preach.

    Some more (Teachers):

    – We want teacher to integrate ICTs into their teaching and learning, so we make it OPTIONAL.

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