Friday, March 25, 2005

'Crap detecting'

Ernest Hemmingway Posted by Hello

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.


Anonymous said...

I remember you saying, at one of your presentations, that schools suffer from too much Ministry C.R.A.P! Meaning 'Ministry Continually Revising All Procedures'!

Busy principals sure need some of Hemmingway's 'crap detecting' ability!

Anonymous said...

Sure do!!!

Anonymous said...

Four Points toward the Brave New World of Education NZ Style

1. If schools are so bad for kids, why not take away the compulsion side. (thousands of kids are doing it for themselves anyway...It's called truancy!) Make attendance voluntary and then watch how quickly schools buck their ideas up.
2. Watch how quickly parents/cgers would respond to the obligations the school could lay on them to have their child prepared to learn. Watch the level of parent involvement in their local school become focussed and proactive.
Watch how quickly kids begin to value education as kids do in India or Egypt. (The economists approach... the value of something is proportional to its level of scarcity/cost or the possibility that one could lose it.)

3.Ministry/ERO stuff is just a smoke screen. Allan Peachey has it sussed... I think he calls them the 'junkmen.' They deliver requirements that don't match need at classroom level. Any principal worth his/her salt should politely ask them to leave. And that's another issue... whatever way one looks at it, NZ schools in general lack quality leadership!!

4. Get rid of parent powerlessness by downsizing Central control and establishing educational administration and supervision at District Council level throughout the Nation. A Peachey idea with real merit.

Anonymous said...

I like the 'busy principals sure need some of Hemmingways 'crap detecting' ability' quote. Pretty much every principal I know wouldn't have the moxy to act on it even if they could detect the crap!!

Bruce said...

I must admit to not being a Peachey fan.

The idea of school not being compulsory has merit, as it would sharpen up schools to get them to look at learning from a learner's point of view, but there is the issue of protecting community good as well. It is not just about 'winning' and 'losing' schools!

And I certainly aren't an ERO fan! All they do is give a school a 'warrent of fitness' according to 'their' criteria.

I do however like the idea of Regional Support - read my latest Newsletter on

But I am still not a Peachey fan - I want to see secondary schools transformed into 21stC Learning Communities.

But at least Peachey stands up for what he believes - he has this thing called 'moxy'?

I believe that too many principals are too busy covering their butts and complying to be real leaders?

They need to work together and to be led by shared ideas. This would give them 'moxy'! Once again read my latest newsletter on site.