Friday, March 25, 2005
Everybody has to go to school. What happens in school makes a difference for better or worse.
I guess we all believe that going to school helps the learner’s chance of survival and to develop citizens that are able to contribute to solving the problems we currently face as a society.
It is pretty obvious that for all students this is not the case. Perhaps we have forgotten what the purpose of school is or, more importantly, have not rethought the purpose of education in a 21stC world marked by dramatic and often unpredictable changes.
Too many of our schools seem pre- occupied with complying with imposed requirements to focus on the purpose of schooling and this applies equally to both to teachers and students. As well too many teachers have come to accept current school structures, with their genesis in an industrial age, without question.
What attributes do students need to help them thrive in the future and are we currently ensuring students gain these attributes? Maybe our schools ‘designed’ for another era are just not able to do the job? Maybe there are too many people who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are? Maybe the schools are more for the benefit of their teachers than their students? Maybe schools don’t change because change threatens those in charge of schools? Maybe conservative middle class parents don’t want schools to change that seem to suit their students?
Maybe rather than focusing on failing students we ought to look at the idea of failing schools?
Schools ought to be at the centre of their communities, continually self renewing themselves, able develop students who have the skills, insights and courage, to make the world a better place. To do this schools would have to change from places that pass on standardized prescribed information (to be checked and tested), to places that help students critically construct their own meaning based on exploring the own questions. Such schools would value diversity, questioning minds and critical thinking within their students.
An interviewer once asked the late Ernest Hemmingway to identify the characteristics of a great writer. The interviewer asked, ‘Isn’t there any one essential ingredient that you can identify?’ Hemmingway replied, ‘Yes there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built in, shockproof ‘crap detector’.’
Hemmingway identified the essential future survival strategy and the essential function of schools today. New ideas have only ever been developed when people have challenged faulty assumptions and ideas. Courage is required because people in authority do not like being confronted, or to change their minds.
A future oriented education would need to cultivate, if new ideas are to be developed, students who are experts in ‘crap detecting’. Such a system would need to employ teachers with the same attributes because there is plenty of ‘crap’ around in teaching.
Shame we seem to have so few, we sure need them.