Monday, October 23, 2006

Connecting with alienated students.

  Posted by Picasa I don’t know how long politicians and community leaders can ignore the breakdown in society that is painfully apparent in every community in New Zealand. That it occurs in areas of poverty and social dislocation ought to make the problem easier to face up to.

It seems, as a result of a ‘market forces’ ideology, we have developed a society where winners are celebrated while the ‘others’ are left to their own devices without adequate resources to catch up. The effects of this indifference cannot forever be ignored as alienated young people’s anti-social behaviour impinges on us all.

There is a price to be paid for our lack of a communal caring ethic.

In the educational area the Ministry of Education acts as if providing resources to close the ‘achievement tail’ in literacy and numeracy will solve the issue. This simplistic solution will do little to fix the wider issues of indifference that pervades such communities. This is a bigger issue than literacy and numeracy – what is required is to create conditions to involve all ‘players’ so as to develop a sense of ‘learnacy’ and purpose in the minds of the students; this means questioning the ‘success’ of school structured around antiquated industrial aged thinking.

‘Our education system’, says Anne Milne, an exceptional Otara educationalist, ‘succeeds spectacularly in doing badly for our kids’. Her own school proves that things need not be so. She says, ‘We have successfully alienated our kids by ignoring their voices and the reality of their lives’. Currently 40% - 5O% of Maori students leave school before 16 with little to show for their time except a bad attitude towards their experience.

It seems that as nation we are failing to face up to the truth that it is our Eurocentric schools that are failing such culturally different students. ‘If they were white kids, it would be a crisis to be solved immediately’, says Anne. One size definitely does not fit all!

Our education system, by not facing up students reality, are not providing students with the necessary ‘faith, hope and purpose’ that are the 'default mode' of middle class children. The ‘master script’ that determines our education system is just not able to recognize the ‘voice’ of different students and, as a result to succeed, such students feel they need to become ‘voiceless’, or to ‘act white’, to fit in. The resulting loss of cultural identity only creates new problems

By not realizing the potential of such students we are adding to the growing social alienation resulting in the violence and crime that worry us all.

There is simply a lack of connection of students with their schools.

The students who feel rejected by their schools, and who are increasingly divorced from their own cultures, are left in an ethical vacuum with no choice but to live in a fragmented superficial present. No wonder they are attracted to join anti social gangs to gain some sort of belonging.

It is as if they have lost the plot of their own lives and with no constructive sense of purpose or direction join gangs by default and in the process put their own , and others, lives, at stake by becoming involved with the mindless violence that results.

Survival and excitement become the name of the game for such students to combat the meaningless of their existence. It is all too easy to get into trouble, almost unwittingly, once the connection with the wider society is gone – and once in trouble they have no 'social capital' to fall back on.

Locked into the present their lives become pointless and endless and, with no positive group ethic to determine their choices, trouble inevitably mounts up. Often it is not that they know what they are against as that they do not know what they are for.

They see themselves as failures of a school system that has ironically failed them.

It needn’t’ be so.

It the right environment these students can be ‘recovered’ but it will need an educational transformation, and one that involves the wider community. And this will involve more than the current ‘rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic’!

No country can afford to neither lose the talents of such students, nor pay for the social dislocation they create.

The students we fail will make their ‘mark’ one way or another as we all well know.

We need to give these students a reason to care and feel valued as members of their communities. To do this means we will have to change our minds and our schools first.

Anne Milne has shown it can be done.

See for similar ideas the Big Picture Company.


SC said...

Brilliant stuff Bruce!
And I'm not sure it has to be that difficult. If we can just de-teacher ourselves! A small session of time per week (2 periods, half day!) where students 'dream', and follow questioning to lead them into creating a vision or a future. To me, this is the key: creating visions of the future. Many students have never done that. And how many adults ever modelled that skill to young people ? Forget classrooms, 50 minute periods, deadlines. What is something important, lets take time out and TALK about it.
The dialogues usually goes: “schools crap, lifes crap, everything’s boring’. Which leads to the question: “What would it take to make things better’
And this is a really hard question, and one students must be taught to grapple with. If you’re not taught how to create a better future, and take responsibility for your situation, you become a victim. One problem is ‘institutional anxiety’ by schools because someone might walk in off the street and think,…..’hmmm, not much going on here!. Schools need to be settings prepared to take a risk. You dont know what the outcome is because you havent worked that out yet! Takling something so open ended might lead to failure. So what! When is failure celebrated at school! Entrprenuers will say how character building.
And this is the emerging role of the effective teacher: to ‘manufacture success’- it doesn’t matter in what, guide students through a process with a product at the end.
It’s my belief within 5 years it will be difficult to write curriculum for 14-17 y-olds, only frameworks to guide students towards 1) identifying what they want, 2) teaching them how to get it!
Does ‘setting a curriculum’ in fact damage young people by in fact disempowering them?
And when this finally happens, students become empowered, connected and able to take control of their lives.
An excellent program I’ve come across is called ‘Generating Genius- creating a culture of creativity’ (You can GOOGLE that!) It’s a middles years framework looking at genius thinking- yet I have found it most useful for developing programs
that really engage and connect young people.
Of course, it couldn’t be that easy. Could it?

Anyway, your posts are always a great, practical read!

Anonymous said...

A great blog Bruce and a wondeful first comment by SC

The only real 'achievemenent gap' is the 'gap' , or really chasm, between the rhetoric of the Ministry ( about achieving every learners potential) and the reality of far too many students' experiences!

The Ministry ( and the Minister)needs to face up to the idea that secondary school strucures and 'mindsets' are locked into the wrong century - the 19th!

Anonymous said...

That Big Picture link from your blog is wonderful - thanks. All schools should read and use their material - 'personalised learning' around real studies. And with kids we happily fail!

Anonymous said...

It is not that we are short of ideas to action to develop 21st C schools, it is that it is almost impossible to get rid of the old ideas from a past era that effectively block any change. Schools are hardly good examples of 'learning organisations'!