Monday, March 07, 2005
'What's it all about Mary'?
Another good idea from on high.
Just caught the end of a discussion on National Radio with Mary Chamberlain, a Ministry Curriculum Manager, about the Curriculum Review; sounded all sweetness and light.
The draft review will be available in all schools at the beginning of next year for their comments. It will then become official the year after.
This, according to Mary, is to give all teachers and school ‘time to get on board’.
It would seem to be ungracious to be critical of such developments but things need to be said. The first thing is to realize that what is now being proposed is nothing new except for the rather technocratic ‘key competencies’ phrase.
This phrase, which has been lifted from a rather tedious and repetitive OECD Report, describes the ‘generic’ competencies that every one will need for a good life and a well functioning society.’ It is a long read for some simple and obvious insights.
What worries me is the comment, from Mary, that ‘teachers will need time to get on board’. This implies that our experts have the answer yet again, and all teachers need to do is to learn these new improved tricks. I say ‘new’ because in effect they are a contradiction to the earlier advice passed out by the Ministry. The Ministry, it seems, is now saving us from themselves! Let’s hope that have fully informed the Education Review Office of their change of heart!
Rather than giving the teachers ‘time to get on board’ it would have been better if the Ministry had spend more time listening to the innovative and creative schools that are actually putting such ideas into practice. With a bit of historical research they might also find that the ideas have been the basis of progressive teaching way back to John Dewey and even earlier.
And what will worry me even more will be the schools, ever so eager to please their masters, who will rush to get on board, not even realizing that they had the ideas all the time. After all it doesn’t take a brain surgeon, let alone a technocrat, to work out what attributes, values, attitudes and strategies students will need to thrive in an unpredictable but potentially exiting future?
As for me, what is even more important than all the ‘competencies’, is to keep alive the desire to learn that all learner are born with; the passion to follow what drives each of us; the dreams we all too easy give up on. Schools should be about developing caring creative people who will hopefully leave the world a better place. Identifying and amplifying students talents is the number one task of a school. Schools too, should stop teaching and start listening to the voices of their students.
All this means we need awkward people who question everything. As George Bernard said: ‘all progress depends on the unreasonable man’; or in these more politically correct days, ‘difficult woman!’ This is always difficult. As Oscar Wilde wrote ‘Telling the truth makes you unpopular at the club!’
The first thing the Ministry should do is to listen to schools, to hear from them what the Ministry itself has to change, so schools can be all they have often been promised to be.
I would also like them to own up and say that ‘their’ earlier standardized curriculum model they introduced (with no time given for ‘teachers to get on board’) was the wrong model. It has only created confusion, stress and ‘burnout’ and hence the real need for a ‘new’ approach. We will wait forever of course – the official message is that it is all part of a natural development!
As I mentioned earlier, I can see schools so thankful for the new developments, that they will actually thank the Ministry for saving them from themselves.
Who cares, I suppose, as long as a lot of the compliance rubbish, that schools suffer under, goes.
If something doesn’t go teachers and principals, as Dean Fink writes, will have to more than 'mere mortals'.
We need more than sweetness and light from Mary!