Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Let's stop pretending the Emperor has all the clothes!

I have just read the Secretary of Education’s report given to some international conference about educational change introduced since Tomorrows Schools. All in all, it seems, it kind of worked out as planned, with a few hitches here and there, but we are on the right path towards all students achieving. Could have fooled me!

Anyway, he says, it is much better than what happened before under the old centralized department. I am not sure if everyone would agree with him; we lost as much as we gained! Educationalists were replaced by technocrats.

For all the rhetoric what has really changed in our classrooms? Sure the NZCEA is better than the old pass / fail School Certificate but, in reality, secondary school structures and teachers ‘mindsets’ have changed little. They still look like nineteenth century factories to me; currently failing far too many students who don’t fit into the traditional mold! As for primary schools, where there is innovative teaching going (and there is), it is in spite of all the incoherent curriculums, confusing assessment demands and the ever changing Ministry compliance requirements.

There was no mention in the Secretary’s report of all the exhausted and burnt-out teachers that have tried their best to make sense of the ever changing demands imposed on schools by the Wellington technocrats. Things at least are getting better now! The curriculum is away been ‘fixed up’. Integration of learning areas is all on again. The importance of the teacher has now been recognized. Why these painfully obvious realizations have taken so long to reach Wellington is beyond me, particularly as they were common knowledge amongst creative teachers long before Tomorrows Schools. And now, after the excesses of competition, the value of schools collaborating is now being seen as a good thing!

It is all a bit back to the future!

So now we are through site based management and stand alone schools and into teaching and learning! The Ministry is now into ‘key competencies’ - new words for ideas expressed by John Dewey and other progressive educators’ last century!

What we really need is for the Ministry to stop calling the tune and to begin a national conversation about the purpose of education in a ‘knowledge age’, and only then, to see how schools need to be changed to achieve the citizens the future will need.

Looking at school provision now, fragmented, isolated, and with de- professionalized teachers, what we need is a real transformation. Secondary schools may never survive – built as they were around a factory mentality with their geneses in an Industrial Age!

Behind the carefully chosen rhetoric of the education secretary lies the reality. It reminds me of the following quote by R D Laing. I think many teachers feel like this quote – particularly the ones that have done their best to comply with all the bureaucratic nonsense of the last decade or so! Trying to cope with a rain of badly thought out changes ( all with unintended consequences) has led to what one writer calls, ‘ a corrosion of character’, a disability resulting from people trying guess what is wanted and how to do it and not listening to their own voices!

‘There is something I don’t know that I am supposed to know. I don’t know what it is I don’t know, and yet I am supposed to know. And I feel I look stupid if I seem both not to know and not know what it is I don’t know. Therefore I pretend to know it. This is nerve wracking since I don’t know what I must pretend to know. Therefore, I pretend to know everything.

Let’s stop pretending! The Emperor has no clothes.

If we are wise we will make certain our voice and our beliefs are heard in any future changes! As Michael Fullan says ‘Central Governments always get it wrong.’

And we need to stop pretending those distant from reality have cornered the market in educational ideas. All the best ideas always come from the edge! Let’s talk to each other and our communities – together we can create a variety of answers.

Wasn’t that the premise of Tomorrows Schools?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The R D Laing quote is so true!

Be great if the Government took your advice but don't like your chances!

Be better if schools did it for themselves!