Thursday, April 05, 2007

We need a new Vision for education

Putting the heart back into schooling

Sooner or later people in power will realize that it is not the failing students that are the problem. Maybe the problem are the assumptions that underpin our schools that are failing our stuents?

It seems it is easier to shift the deck chairs on the Titanic than to worry about the faulty engineering. And those who have captured the 'social capital' in our society are not about to give it away -even if in the long run such short term selfish thinking is disastrous.

Being critical doesn't get you many friends but being critical is required if we are ever to change the conservative climate of thinking that determines current 'mainstream' thinking. The only way to gain any purchase is to 'spread' a better story that resonates with what people want - even if such thoughts haven't yet reached the surface. It is always too easy to fix what is broken than to try out a new idea.

To change people's minds those who can 'see the light' need to have the courage to challenge the current assumptions that underpin our struggling current institutions and organisations.

In education have suffered from disastrous reforms seen at their worst by the 'back to basics' of the 'No Child Left Behind' of the USA and the narrow 'league tables' of the UK. Now, in NZ, we have the Leader of the Opposition pushing for a similar approach! These technocratic reforms have led to imposed curriculums and formulaic teaching, with measurable targets as the only barometer of of value. This narrow approach reflects the dominance: of a failing privatisation ideology; rampant consumerism; and an economic competitiveness philosophy where everything - including achievement, is to be measured.

The trouble is that there are important things that cannot be audited in this simplistic way. Schools should be about helping students grapple with the moral, cultural, and spiritual challenges of their world, says the author of a recent book, 'Losing Heart'. The author believes we need a powerful vision of education that focuses on helping young people 'appreciate and navigate a world of increasingly and varied and interrelated identities'.

Students, the book continues, need to see themselves as belonging to a complex interrelated and diverse world community. Students will need to develop a positive self identity so as to be comfortable with crossing cultural borders. All to often such diversity is currently interpreted through fear and anxiety when it ought to be seen as a celebration of diversity.

This vision is a long way from a simplistic literacy and numeracy achievement culture.

Students need to leave their school with a positive sense of values , aware of the need to sustain our delicate inter related world ecology, and respectful and tolerant of others who are different, if we are every to avoid the clashes of cultures that mark our present world.

We need students who leave formal schooling, at any level, who have a responsibility to value the common good of others and to be able to envision new ways of being and relating to one another. A 'winner take all' society is doomed to collapse at some point.

A new vision needs to reinventing democracy to suit a future age age as far too many of our current institutions, designed in an industrial age, are creating as many problem as they are solving. Schools can no longer demand conformity and be 'sorters' of students but need to develop the talents and aptitudes of all 'our' students.

There are creative teachers in our schools but they need to be encouraged to articulate their ideals and live them out in their work. Developing such a creative vision needs to be the central challenge for all involved in education. But they will need help , says the book 'Losing Heart', 'to navigate the current realities without losing heart themselves.'

For those who want to change any aspect of our current system it is not an easy road to follow. Those who see themselves as 'winners' in our current society will take offence and call for reactionary polices. The prophetic voice is often not a popular one until a critical mass of converts develops.

Last words from the book 'Losing Heart':

'Education needs to be understood as more than simply a mirror that reflects the existing culture; it may also represent a light that directs our way to a more hopeful future.'

Let's hope so!


Anonymous said...

This 'blog' seems to reflect the philosophy of the film/book 'Freedom Writers?

Bruce said...

Sure does!