Tag Archives: philosophy

Act of conversation

Today, I relieved for a colleague in  her Advisory class. At our Big Picture school, Advisory is where the same group of students with the same teacher for four years learn, pursue interests, go on excursions, present exhibitions, find internships and much more. It’s a group of kids who spend a lot of time together, around 12 hours per week. It’s a group that ‘know each other’. Back to my relief …

I was left no notes what to do with them. It happens, no dramas. I got the students to find a person or two they usually don’t talk to, interact with, and “spend 10 minutes in their company, talking”. Students were not allowed to use any digital technology (phone, laptops) and interaction with anyone other than their partner(s).

Well, this was awkward… It took about 10 minutes to cajole pairs and threes to even sit together. Conversations were hard to get going, so I suggested they talk about something they have in common. “It doesn’t have to be deepest, darkest secrets. Keep it safe. School, teachers (‘best ever’ or ‘worst ever’), pets … whatever, but something you share”. We got going, eventually. And it was fascinating to watch.

Body language was almost more telling than the words. There were little tears of discomfort. A few migrant kids clearly missing the local vernacular, disconnecting and looking up to me to help. But then some of the kids I least expected to interact did so. A couple of rough and tough boys genuinely tried to include the most fluent of talking and high-achieving, social girls, when with friends, who sat there quietly and almost stunned to be talking to this rag tag bunch. Small pockets of conversation everywhere, I simply walked around I tried to stoke things a little. Left to their own to figure out, fifteen minutes isn’t going to kill anyone.

For the last fifteen, they were allowed to go back to whomever they wanted to talk to. The “no exclusion, no tech” rule still on. Aaah, a sigh of relief for many. They talked, a few boys played arm wrestle while talking and expanding their energy in different ways. All good, safe ground. 

For the last part of the lesson, we debriefed a bit. We acknowledged how awkward, even difficult it must have been for some in this class to sit with ‘a stranger’. We reflected on the fact that we (well, this group) spend so much time together yet know very little of the person next to them. We noted the fact that in our lives, we will often be asked to interact, work with people we dislike and how incredibly childish is to think or hope that may not happen. We nodded that conversation, not the necessarily a ‘functional’ here-is-food-or-danger one, is a very basic and uniquely human thing. It is tricky, complex, hard, but ultimately a great way for us not to feel alone. On that, we recognised that we are social animals and that solitary cell is one of the worst punishments for a reason.

It was fascinating, a bit sad, revealing – but then not so either. It exposed how caught up we are in our individualist(ic) act, how hard we find to share something (not in a prophylactic social media way) in the flesh, unmediated, un-purposeful to our own goals, ambitions and perhaps fears. It touched on the increasing difficulty of seeing Other as a human being, not a ‘doing’, useful to us in some way. I didn’t share this last part with the kids but if we repeated this exercise long enough, I’m sure we’d peel open lots of layers. And I think we would all benefit from it.

I left the students with a great line by a colleague I heard yesterday: “Be nice to people. Not because they are or may be nice to you but because YOU are nice.”

We’ll see… 

Community of Inquiry

Quite a few people have asked me for more info about the activity I raved about yesterday on social media and in person. I will spare you describing the incredible satisfaction myself and the students got out it. Let’s just say that the kids by large ‘definitely’ want to do it again.

The activity is called Community of Inquiry (more  here ). It is a cornerstone of philosophy and particularly P4C – Philosophy for Children [video]. Philosophy With Children may perhaps be a better way to name it but … never mind. The way I described it to my students is ‘listening and talking in a circle about a question that can have many answers and none of them are right or wrong’.

I deliberately haven’t yet used the word ‘philosophy’ as I know that would cause a number of our students participating nervous about ‘not being smart enough’. This is the usual and insidious brake to philosophy, particularly in ‘low socio-economic’, ‘working class’ [ah, labels…] context like ours. I had experienced it first hand at a similar school in the past.

Our Community of Inquiry (CoI) ran pretty much along the well-established and very helpful ‘script’ by the Australian Association for Philosophy in Schools (APIS). I attended the Level 1 training workshop last month (thank you again Alison Freeman & Felicity Haynes, a superb weekend!) and I have been itching to put in to practice what I learned there.

First, we played a simple warm up listening game akin to musical chairs. One participant without a chair stands in the middle and states what ‘(s)he likes’ (Nutella, video games, travel … whatever). As the person finishes stating her like, everyone who likes the same thing stands up and switches the chair with another person (but not right next to them). After a fun and non-threatening few minutes of quick shuffling and bumping, a reminder we have just practiced an important skill we need to show in CoI (listening closely). I showed the simple rules of CoI and it was time to watch the stimulus.


For the stimulus, I picked an old gem shown below. I really wanted to explore the concept of trust and I was confident the clip would generate the questions along those lines.

When finished, students were encouraged to write two to three questions they had about the clip and place them in the question quadrant on the floor. What we were really looking for were the questions the answer(s) to which you ‘really have to think about’ (philosophical questions).

P4C Question quadrant


When done, I ran through the questions and pulled out the key themes, concepts they questions dealt with: loyalty, trust, betrayal, choice, social norm, gender … We whittled it down to a single philosophical/ethical question that contained the key concept of trust (sneaky of me there hey 😉 ), had a quick check by vote if that’s what we want to start with and … off we went, starting with a student-generated ‘Is it more important to look after yourself than to be trusted by strangers?’


The community rules were put up around the class and on the floor as reminders and the yellow ‘talking ball’ (you could only speak if you had it) started doing its magic rounds.

P4C Community Rules

What followed was about 35 minutes of incredible dialogue with kids. In the first half, the ball changed hands among about a third of the 21 students present. As the moderator, I judiciously stepped back and merely nudged the conversation here in there for direction and participation. As we came close to the end, I really encouraged students who had not spoken at that point to speak. And they did, insightfully so and having listened all along. In the end, about 15 of the 21 present spoke at least once. Everyone listened though, deeply!

The hour absolutely flew by. To wrap things up, we evaluated our efforts with a simple questionnaire and banter about it. According to the feedback both verbal and on sheets, we will ‘Definitely’ continue doing CoI at our school.

If interested, you can have a look at all the slides, instructions and feedback sheet here. Free to share!

When I reflect about this (successful) experience a number of key things stand out:

Importance of preparation. I worked hard and made sure things run smoothly by preparing not only the materials and activities but also myself in terms of the topic, likely tangents and procedural issues. Unless thought out and done properly, an activity like this can so easily go awry.

Importance of participation but also ‘giving time’. I was amazed by the insights of kids who spoke little but ‘opened up’ towards the end with incredible insights that clearly demonstrated they had listened deeply all along, processing.

Delight of seeing a couple of kids whom colleagues (or even themselves!) may not see as thoughtful, articulate or intelligent, yet they starred and blossomed in front of my eyes.

Escape from school(iness). At the end, I commented on how much I enjoyed the time spent together as equals in this ‘us’ space. It felt like an escape from school(iness) and its usual power relations, concerns and worries. Kids’ comments were along the lines of ‘I never had anything like this’ . I was pleased but also sad to hear that.

Future possibilities. While I am genuinely excited, I am not getting carried away after the first successful CoI. I am however a lot more positive about gradually introducing more of P4C at our school, to the benefit of both staff and students.

Here is to our students!

More than a game

Monopoly play small
Our very own !

I get to play at school. No, really. And so do our students.

This time, we gave birth to an idea of converting a couple of broken plastic desktops destined for the rubbish tip into a giant Monopoly set (not a new idea). And this was not going to be just an extraordinary set in size. The challenge was on and today – we played our first game!

The set is ‘ours’, based on our (school) surrounds and places, streets, stations, utilities where our students spend their lives. The custom Community Chest and Chance cards are a work of many suggestions from students and staff in person or via Moodle forum, full of lines some of which only we would fully appreciate and laugh or curse at. Cards were designed and worked on collaboratively by several people via Google Docs.

On the ‘physical’ side, the tables were cleaned, sanded, primed, painted, balanced, hinged and carefully detailed – again by many! Cards had to be printed, cut, laminated, shaped and collated, thanks to the work of a bunch of students over the week in a very relaxed working atmosphere.

But this was not just ‘anything goes’. In design, for example, everyone was encouraged to have a go at even the trickiest little detail. “Go on, have a go and don’t worry if you stuff up. But do know there are standards expected and you can just do it again if not ship shape.” (eg. all letters had to be stencilled, no free hand). Failure was no huge deal but willingness to (first, at least) have a go and improve WAS. Some kids contributed a little, some a lot, none of it compulsory, none of it forced.

There were kids who handled a power drill for the first time, done their first roller paint, first masking tape, those who learned the need for a washer under a nut, learned the difference between oil and water-based paints (made an interesting clean up time I tell you 😛 …). there were kids who gave up but came back to do a better job. There were kids who had done nothing all term but were now happy to spend a couple hours working on the cards, laminating, contributing card entries. There were kids who saw the ‘magic’ of a collaborative online doc via Google Docs for the first time and more …

And then there were questions! Last week, I tweeted a link to a document to encourage deeper questions about our lives that games like Monopoly can stimulate. And have we got some beauties there – thank you @7mrsjames @drb @scratchie @malynmawby @billgx for your contributions.

We have already asked the kids, casually as we were making the set, and more formally this morning in class, to reflect on some the questions asked. And, as expected, the occasion generated some gems of insight. So far, we have touched on themes of (I’ll list, so many there, statements are all students’ unless indicated otherwise):

  • poverty (“oh, but I live in Medina (lowest property on our board), that makes me a poor **** doesn’t it”),
  • economics (“if the bank just printed more money everything would just get more expensive, people wouldn’t actually have more of stuff … [inflation anyone?]),
  • equity (“yeah but if some ****** has everything to start with how harder is it for me then. That’s bullshit, not fair!…),
  • opportunity (“some players get behind but they can make up for it and get smart and start winning…”),
  • racism, prejudice of kinds (“if you had a special rule for one player and they couldn’t get shit unless they did what others asked them to do … that would suck, I wouldn’t want to be that.”),
  • importance of learning (“Monopoly is about half luck and half skill”. Me: So, you have no control over luck but you have control over skill. How do you get that? Student: You learn stuff and understand. Me: Bit like in real life? Student: Hmmm … yeah, it’s a bit like that yes.)
  • moral choices (“… but if you could just steal stuff and everyone else would steal yours and you want to then carry a shotgun around that wouldn’t be good in the end.”),
  • philosophy of happiness (“I don’t know what makes a successful person. In Monopoly you have to be rich I suppose, I real life you don’t always have to be but it’s boss if you are because you can buy shit and all that…”)

… and more!

All these are individual gems, many overheard by others in the chaos and teenage noise but they were like a razor cutting through to what I believe is the purpose of great education – learn how to ask and wrestle with questions, problems that matter to you and the people you share a community with.

Thank you to all question contributors, thank you for your supportive tweets all along (you know who you are 🙂 ). Most of all, a massive thank you to the 16 contributing students and 3 staff members at our school for making this happen and giving us a sense of being a part of something good, successful, enjoyable and maybe, just maybe, triggering a few lifelong reminders.

Now that you got through all these words … please do check out the photos 😉 (click on the image to see larger). Cheers!

By stealth


One of the best times I’ve had in my teaching career was starting and teaching a Philosophy & Ethics course at a high school – even though the course was choked off in the end, read all about it.

I had taught and truly enjoyed teaching P&E not because I think students should know Aristotle by hand or discuss the merits of Kant but to simply wrestle with the ‘stuff of their world’, vagaries of their daily and long term existence. Stuff like: How to be a good friend? What does ‘success’ mean? What is worth getting upset over and why? Is it OK to lie sometimes or never? Can anyone tell you what to do with your body?

While, again, enjoyable and successful, one of the biggest obstacles in running the course was the running of Community of Inquiry, the central (it seems) plank in the practice of P4C (Philosophy for Children, coined by Lipmann). No matter what approach we tried, it inevitably turned into periods of long silences and A-type personalities dominating the skerits of conversation face to face.

Reasons for that aplenty but main ones were the sense of ‘exposure’ and ‘shame’, lack of experience and value of a ‘rational conversation’ ie dialogue not a win-lose debate, cultural inappropriateness to challenge someone older and more. Over time I realised that this mode of exchange isn’t best served straight up with assumptions of nice, clear, rational, scientific-like discourse but needs to be deployed in context of a particular space and group of people.

So, I’ve learned the lesson …

At my new school, we don’t have or teach subjects as such (see Big Picture). So we don’t and are not going to have a subject called Philosophy and Ethics. But for the last couple of Mondays after lunch, we gathered all the students (and staff!!) in a large room, sat in the circle facing each other and, with no great introductions or statements or goals or procedural reminders started simply started talking about failure.

The rules were simple: Share something you have failed in, big or small. If you can’t or don’t wish to, simply say ‘Pass’ and the person next to you will continue. Well, about 40 of us sat in this room after lunch and shared stuff for an hour ! Previously unheard of!

First few rounds were about failure, then one about how school-related failure, and we then finished with examples of something good that is/has been school related.

This Monday, we ran another ‘circle session’ today. Bit rowdier with more interruptions but even to have these kids in the circle, facing each other and sharing this stuff for about 50 minutes is pretty damn good. And pretty damn insightful, with amazing gems among the trivial, teenage posturing/shyness noise.

I made a promise that things we discussed won’t leave the room and I will honour that. But I felt we started something that for now just tickles the 2 C’s our school is built to empower young people with – confidence and curiosity.

Yes, we will need to think carefully how to walk the line between between the ‘novelty factor’ and ‘booooorring!’ and not choke off the 2C’s with over-structuring things … but I tell you that opening of spaces where kids were game enough (and obviously felt safe enough) to share sometimes quite remarkably personal stories was something very, very special.

And I for one would love to see not (just) what philosophy can do for these kids but what can these kids do with philosophy, how can they use it to recognise their uniqueness, their becoming and what matters to them in the process.

So we are doing Philosophy. Slowly, gradually … just don’t tell anyone about it or call it that way 😉

The ultimate question

Pompous title? Read to the end and that may change 😉

Yesterday I watched an avalanche on Twitter, for lack of better analogy. Within minutes, a very casual pondering of a couple of good, open ended questions (OK, let’s call them philosophical) between Bianca Hewes and myself turned into a frenzy of criss-crossing replies by almost a dozen people. In a typical Twitter fashion it was messy, bit restricted (no essays is not an inherently bad thing either), we all kinda threw bits of philosophers we have read and like(d) into the mix, made some new connections, challenged, asked each other a bit, wondered together … in short, it felt like a shot of thinking espresso (at least to me).

And it was the second such little avalanche in two days … We were onto something!

I have never formally studied philosophy, apart from a few units at uni. I taught Philosophy & Ethics at a high school (and loved it!) for a year. I am no ‘philosopher’ but I have always liked and enjoyed to think, read, poke, question, wonder, stir and sleep with clear conscience.

Everyone is a philosopher, even the young kids. In fact, they ask the best questions! To illustrate, just a few recent questions from my 5 year old: Why can’t we have a day off today at school today? Why do adults drink things kids can’t? Why people don’t share money? Why do people have different languages?

And it is sad that it is only the young kids and the very top scientists and scholars that ‘get away’ with ‘dumb’ questions like that. Anyone else would be dismissed along the lines of ‘what’s wrong with you to ask that sort of thing?’ or, worse, be threatened by it because they immediately think YOU have the answer and they don’t. We are addicted to answers, particularly if they are quick and delivered with certainty, no matter how bluffy, unsound and downright crappy, wrong, even hurtful they may be. Want an example? Read this passionate post by Leesa Watego on her views of our Prime Minister’s rhetoric).

Philosophy is at the heart of everything we do, every choice we (don’t) make in our lives. Don’t believe it? OK, let’s ask, top of the head scenario: Were you at work on time this morning? Why (not)? Why is that important? What things should always run on time and which ones not so? Who decides? What gives you/them the right to decide for many? Can somebody then tell you what to do with your body? Why (not)?  When is it OK to ignore them? … I am sure you can see the infinity of possibilities. I am also sure you can see how conversations like that can be steered in a particular direction. And I hope you can see the value of pausing sometimes and thinking about these things. Are you a teacher? Parent? Reckon kids would like to have a crack at some of these questions in their own way? You bet !

And do we need a PhD in philosophy to ask such questions? Do we need to learn the entire history of Western philosophy or know in depth some French guy who wrote 5 books on the topic 300 years ago to wrestle with answers? Sure, it may help a bit (oh, and dropping a name or two on Twitter looks so cool 😉 ) … but answers, no matter how partial, incomplete, must ultimately come from within, no matter how ‘educated’ we are.

Now, I am NOT dismissing professional philosophers neither am I suggesting we navel gaze all day long and doubt with every single breath we take. But sometimes it is just nice and useful to (in the parlance of road campaigns for kids) Stop, Look, Listen, Think (thanks Leesa 😉 ) and, importantly, Act.

Deleuze, one of my favourite philosophers (showing off here? 😉 wrote this about art: “Art is not a notion but a motion, It us not about what art is but what it does that is important.” You can easily replace ‘art’ with ‘philosophy’ (or anything else for that matter …’education’, ‘love’, ‘snow’, ‘cooking’, ‘kiss’) and you can see the ultimate point of philosophy is a pragmatic one – it is to be done, not merely known and learned about.

And to break the shackles of perception of philosophy as something you ‘take’ at uni and something only those who have read great philosophers in depth can do and similar nonsense, we (Bianca Hewes, Malyn Mawby, Mitch Squires, Nathan Hutchings, Janie Kibble, and myself) started a special hashtag on Twitter: #42c

Sure, we can have some very sophisticated discussions and links in there BUT (at least in the humble, naive view of yours truly)… the tag is NOT about showing off how much you know about [insert name of a philosopher]. It is NOT about big words to impress (some may be needed though, just is…). It is NOT about feeling guilty for not having read more or thought more. It’s NOT about talking, it’s more about listening. It’s NOT about providing definite answers, it’s about asking good questions (a skill not practiced enough in classrooms and broader society). It’s NOT a win-lose debate, it’s a dialogue (distinction here ). It’s NOT a bogey to shame, it’s a chance to learn.

So when you feel like asking a curly question and/or wrestle with one- just type and hash #42c on Twitter and away you go. To keep the hashtag brief and relevant, we had settled for the genially funny ’42’ and added the ‘c’ for cents so Twitter search picks it up. Why 42? Good question! Watch below, it’s a must 😉

Spread the word, we only have 7.5 million years left!

Still waiting for Eureka: the problem with schools as a science

Image source: http://blog.scs.sk.ca/tado/vschools/archives/GroeningCartoon.jpg
Image source: http://blog.scs.sk.ca/tado/vschools/archives/GroeningCartoon.jpg

This is the first post with a particular theme in the series “Why is everyone an expert of education?“. The series is written collaboratively by Ira Socol, Dr Greg Thompson and Tomaz Lasic.

Science is an awesome, admirable pursuit of measurable, testable, replicable truth. It is a pursuit of certainty that something has, does and will work as we imagine it. We want to be certain that a medicine we give to our child has been tested and declared safe, a bridge we drive across stable enough to carry us. Data and methods we use give us control to predict, improve, avoid. That’s all fine when dealing with inanimate objects. Yet ask an engineer and they will tell you that even concrete and steel could behave unpredictably, hence the overdesign and consideration of safety margins. Enter humans.

Data and scientific methods give us the delirious joy of thinking that things are repeatable and replicable with human beings too. Because something works/does not work in one context, we assume that that must be the case for all contexts. This applies to curriculum, to standards, to teaching strategies, to discipline and management strategies, to educational psychology, to the very organisation of schooling.

Scientifically observing and measuring actors in schools fools us into believing we are capable of absolute knowledge, absolute categories, and once we got those right – absolute solutions. Fools us? Just look at performance pay for teachers debate, curriculum wars, ad absurdum arguments over accuracy of assessment, validity and usefulness of standardised, statewide literacy and numeracy testing and more. In all these we want to measure so we can be ‘certain’, to establish norms and through them (as the term suggests) normalise people and put them in brackets. Once they are in boxes, brackets and percentages, we can apply the right dose of whatever it is we have come up with as the solution.

Now please – categorisation is a perfectly human thing and helps us live our daily lives, no doubt. But when categorisation becomes unexamined, unquestioned purpose of what we do with human beings in education, then we have a few problems. Or put bluntly: It is rubbish, and it bewilders and alienates students (and with it many teachers, parents and others).

When seeing education as a science, we tend to break it down to its elements, particularly those we are familiar with. Instead of having a more holistic view of an actor in the process of schooling, we prefer a cleaner, reductionist, building-block view. We build walls around and guard our areas of expertise. There we propose solutions to fix things we are certain of. And when we want to justify, we look for figures. In this need, the efficient simplicity of “68% on the test” becomes very seductive. We are insecure in trusting the ‘soft’, slippery immeasurables like intuition, freedom or hope etc. so we invent ever more complex, ‘hard’ systems of quantifying people to cling to and value: “Is this a 72% or 74% answer?” Sounds like “is this Class B or Class C concrete”? But hey, “it has worked for me at school so why not for these kids too, they should be motivated by it.”

So, apart from all having a lot to say and guard as ‘experts’ – where does this lead us?

The problem with education as a science is amplified by the centralised nature of most school systems, where control is exerted from a distance. If you remove relationships from schooling (let’s face it, the majority of system administrators/policy makers spend very little time dealing with relationships in schools), what is left is the idea that schools are largely the same, and therefore, the same tests should elicit the same responses. If they don’t there must be something wrong – and the finger is normally pointed at teachers!

In Australia, USA at least, and we imagine many other countries, the people making decisions on education have probably not done more than tour a school in the last twenty years, yet they still are able to provide ‘expert’ commentary. A few problems rise immediately from this.

First is the modernist view of scientific solution – a belief in the inevitability of human progress through science. These decision-makers enter the debate with a belief that each adaptation in the educational system has been “progressive,” and thus that the education system which they succeeded in was “near perfect” – the result of centuries of continuous improvement. A bit of “tinkering”  (Tyack & Cuban, Tyack & Hansot) will thus result in “perfection.”  Their authority flows from certainty and the promise of being led to such perfection. The second problem is the idea that success is quantifiable and that the idea of it applies to all of us equally. The third problem is the leaders presuming that their framing of experiences is both correct and applicable universally.

This all adds up to create an understanding of education as a science where results are replicable and reliable. We call this phenomena “white coat replicability”. Governments, the media, and bureaucracies deal in white coat replicability when they talk about effective schools and teachers, about ranking schools based largely on benchmark testing.We are hearing a lot in the media at the moment about Joel Klein and New York public schools. Consider this article which talks about the ways that data collected can be misused and misrepresented.

Today, schools are dominated by externally developed testing, reporting on student achievement that uses mandatory standards and systems, and continual reform. What is this doing to students? Do we think that schools cater more or less for student difference and uniqueness now than they used to? After years of education as a science, the system is at least as discriminatory as ever. We think that we collect and control so much information now, it is slowly paralysing us from dealing in intangibles such as freedom and hope.

The interaction between students and teachers is becoming less relational and more normalised, where outputs are measured and teachers and students are measured and measure each other. The problem with this is that the measurement fixes students as good/bad, successful/unsuccessful, likeable/unlikeable and students increasingly live/perform these measurements. Ever wonder why there are groups of students who are Rebels in every school regardless of context? Schools need rebels to show students who not to be.

This fixing of students into neat packages are things that schools do all the time. After all you can measure deviance/compliance can’t you? Students find these packages very hard to change. We are indebted to the work of Stephen Ball from the University of London and the notion of performativity.

To put it simply, students and teachers are trapped in their performances as a result of the ways they are measured and organised within education as a science. The trick of performativity seems to be that individuals come to see themselves in terms of the data collected. They perform as they feel they should be expected to/come to expect themselves. For example, a “dumb” student may hardly try to do well in a test because he does not see himself smart – and the grades simply confirm it. The data assigns the well-known and well-rehearsed roles. These roles are so reified by repetition that even altering the performance to accommodate (a change in) their self-image becomes unacceptable, much like when one actor discomforts audiences if he/she replaces another in a television series. When students act out of their accepted role (for example, “good” girls getting drunk), they experience negative feedback, often from students as well as teachers. Ontologically, schools teach students to limit their being – limit who they are and can be. Change anyone?

You can’t collect all this data and employ these evaluators in schools without people performing their results (positionality). Want to know why many students feel alienated from schools? One of the key factors is that they are continually judged as being less or even non-successful. The same is true for teachers! Who hasn’t felt despondent when the school they are working in has performed at unacceptable levels in their subject through something like NAPLAN (Australia’s nationwide literacy and numeracy testing)? One of our colleagues had this experience and the school spent the next 6 months ‘diagnosing’ the problem, counselling the subject teachers, exhorting the students to do more, aim higher etc. The end result? Teachers were forced to run after school study classes, they began to ‘teach for the test’ and the school results stayed the same. The drop in teacher morale was curiously never measured, or seen as significant. We don’t think that the educational experiences of the students would have improved as a result either – teaching for the test negates most of what is wonderful in the relationships between teachers and students and the richness of student learning.

So what is being learnt when education is run and organised as a science? That your performances measure you – that you are quantifiable. You learn how to see yourself as a particular type of student/teacher, and grow to see this as ‘normal’ – the business of schools becomes normative measuring and pedagogy becomes sterile, limited, controlling and superficial. But gee it looks clean!

Why is everyone an expert on education?

politics of ed

Image Source: Tyack, David (1974). The One Best System. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Page 286 (Thank you Jon Becker!)

Everyone is an expert on education and its particular, dominant subset – school. Everyone who has either attended school, taught at school, had their kids at school, managed school, funded school, even avoided school knows what school does. Unlike any other public institution, we can quickly produce an opinion on what schools should and shouldn’t do. Scores of politicians, business leaders or (other) powerful pundits who arrive on the scene claim the credential of knowing how to run schools. Many of these self-proclaimed experts are widely interviewed and financially supported, many more ignored beyond their personal sphere of influence.

But just why are we all ‘experts’ with a more or less considerate opinion on how things should be with schools and education?

Short answer: If we presume we are constituted, built of what we ‘know’, then we don’t only KNOW a lot about school, we ARE school. School is not (just) an institution, it is a particular way of thinking and knowing we are attached to. And because we can’t imagine anything different, we get cornered into dead-ends of ‘solutions’ that substantially change – very little.

Now for the long answer and explanation… Continue reading Why is everyone an expert on education?

4th century skills

Any Questions?

And that’s BC!

Recently, I have replied to a few posts by fellow bloggers with what may have seemed a bit negative attitude towards the marriage of digital technology and education (I use the word digital because chalk was once called a ‘technology’, now it’s … just chalk).

Here is the gist of my thoughts as posted on Jez Cope’s blog post titled Why use technology in teaching? (see some interesting links from comments!). Time to come clean, you be the judge:

[Why use technology in teaching?] For my 2c – it is because with technology (by that I mean digital technology you and I are using right now) we can develop not just “21st century skills” (whatever that means because we don’t exactly know how the century is going to turn out do we…) but “4th century BC” skills [corrected ☺] that some of the old Greek wise heads were talking about – democracy, participation, freedom of expression & thought, active citizenship … you know those pesky old things that never seemed to have gone out of fashion with thoughtful people [and for which millions have thought about, enacted, fought and died for over centuries].

As long as technology is used to those goals it is a professional travesty not to consider it in education. Sadly, we are often more focused on the science of technology (the ‘best version’ or ‘latest tool’ or ‘most efficient system’) to kinda forget the massive opportunity to change not what and how we know, teach & learn but what we are and become. That’s the ball game for me!

Epistemology to ontology. Knowing to being. If it sounds a bit abstract, “high & mighty” – well, it is. But it is a direction, a purpose, a possible place to ‘come home’ to. I don’t think about it all the time, just like I don’t think about my children every single moment. But I do and like to care about it.

What effects is this ever-changing chatter of class sizes, rostering, assessment accuracy, not to mention instructional technology, going to have for what we and those we interact with want to be(come) – no, I don’t mean a career.

Put another way: “What is this going to make out of us and the kids we teach?” Simply collecting and amassing the arsenal of ‘technologies and strategies’ without really answering this question is like dressing all up with nowhere to go.

We should take technology for granted but we definitely should not take technology as ‘good’ for granted. Never forget that not long ago, some of the world’s most creative, intelligent and passionate people collaborated and used the cutting edge technology to create a …. nuclear bomb.

While hugely important, the question “can we teach and learn better with technology” must always be preceded, or at least tempered with, “can we be better human beings with and because of technology”?

I reckon we can, time will tell.

PS Just as I posted this I read a story about China blocking social networking sites – ’nuff said!