Friday, December 02, 2011

Let's not lose the point of school now we have 'the standards'!

Just as we need creativity the government imposes standardisation. Not that schools haven't been there before.

I have just discovered, in my tidy up, a copy of Guy Claxton's ' Whats the Point of School - Rediscovering the Heart of Education'. Claxton's book provides inspiration for a real 'step change' in education to cope with the demands of a dynamic new century that is already a decade old.

Our current system fails too many children but the answer is not to go back to the failed standardisation of the past.

The trouble with the standards is that the cure may be worse than the problem as school are pressurised to focus more on more on ensuring students succeed they will neglect more important things such as attitudes and individual students' talents and gifts. It is these qualities that are the heart of a future orientated education. I am reminded of the old saying:  ' when you are up to your backside in alligators it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp'! It is not that I am against literacy and numeracy it is just that these need to be seen as very important 'foundation skills'  - skills best learnt when students see the point of them.

There is no doubt that Claxton is one of the most important writers of our time. Claxton is one of the UK's foremost thinkers on creativity, learning, and the brain.  All schools should have a copy and make efforts to implement his ideas - somehow, in the present environment in New Zealand, I can't see this happening - quite the opposite.

Claxton begins his book by writing: 'The purpose of education is to prepare young people for the future. Schools should be helping young people develop the capacities they will need to thrive. What they need, and want, is the confidence to talk to strangers, to try things out, to handle tricky situations, to stand up for themselves, to ask for help, to think new thoughts.'

'But, he says, 'they are not getting it'.

'Education' he continues, 'has lost the plot and it urgently needs to recover its core purpose'. Politicians claim to put education at the heart of their concerns but they are wrong if they think imposing regressive standards will do it they are mistaken - they will only act as  intellectual straight jackets. Politicians need, Claxton says, 'the courage to go deeper'.

Albert Einstein wrote that 'education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one has learnt at school' - and Claxton reminds us that Einstein was referring to those lifelong skills and attitudes that mark out a true learner.

The key to develop such qualities are gained by students working in groups researching engaging projects involving skills of collaboration, discussion and attitudes of self organisation. This of course involves in depth content and quality outcomes but it is , Claxton says, 'not the immediate performance so much as the cumulative development that is going on behind the specific tasks' that is more important. It is these attitudes and skills that matter in the long run.They are the core confidences young people need,Claxton calls them 'learning muscles.These are curiosity, courage, investigation, imagination, reasoning, sociability and reflection' .'These , Claxton calls ' qualities of mind'. And all these are are 'perfectly capable of being strengthened and cultivated by education' - but the 'pressure to push up literacy rates' subverts their development. The quest for results undermines student's confidence and contributes to their 'losing their capacity for wonder and critical thinking'.

Claxton quotes John Dewey who wrote: 'How many students for example, were rendered callous to ideas and how many have lost the impetus to learn by the way in which learning was experienced by them?' The new standards come to mind!

In this desire to focus on literacy and numeracy, Claxton writes, 'we  have forgotten the deeper purpose of education.'

'To effect a thorough change' he says, 'we have to start by seeing how bad things are.We have to understand what it is young people really need, what schools are actually providing, and acknowledging the gulf between the two. And then we have to establish, beyond all possible doubt, that the kind of educational reform for more than a hundred years is not going to work'.

Only when this is understood that a different kind of change is both necessary and possible. 'With a little bit of imagination, and a modicum of courage, education can rediscover its heart and soul.'

Claxton wants to inspire teachers to see  students as 'brave and confident explorers, tough enough in spirit,and flexible enough in mind, to pursue their dreams and ambitions.'

So did the New Zealand Curriculum until the government sidetracked it!

'We need a new narrative for education that can engage and inspire chidren'. Lets fire kids up with the deep satisfaction of discovery and exploration. They are born with learning zeal; lets recognise, celebrate and protect it, but also stretch, strengthen and diversify it.'

Schools have , as Claxton says,   'lost the plot'!


Anonymous said...

Schools may have 'lost the plot' but in these days of political populist and simplistic solutions( and supported by reactionary parent fears) schools are simply playing follow the leader. It is case of the blind leading the blind back to the sterilty of the Victorian Era.

Allan said...

The comment above from Anonymous sums up the situation pretty well.

It's not so much that schools have lost the plot, but more that the plot has been stolen from them by forces they can not fight. There wouldn't be, I hope, too many schools that would turn down the chance to return their teaching and learning programmes back to the principles and values of the New Zealand Curriculum, and to send the current ideological based impositions to an appropriate resting place.

However in these days when 'experts' don't seem to have a voice (across many different areas, not just education) ,whereas economists are deemed to know all the answers, I guess we can't hope for anything else.

A challenge for society, as a whole, is to work to return to a world where specific expertise and experience is recognised and valued, and, correspondingly, to admit that the God Emperor of Economics has no clothes. Solve this issue and the whole house of cards will tumble. Normality will return.

Tara TJ (@taratj) said...

"We need a new narrative for education that can engage and inspire children"
This is truly important and I am confident that this is already happening in many wonderful schools (and within classrooms) around our country. Normality will return ... and hasn't even left in places. The key thing is to SHARE the stories - especially the ones that value knowledges, epistemologies, and pedagogies that are not so valued by our alleged 'leaders'.

Bruce said...

Thanks Allan - but it is a shame that not enough principals, with principles, fought to keep the New Zealand Curriculum as their rallying point.

And Tara we do need a new narrative not only for education but for our country -maybe our planet.

With you I know there are creative individuals in our schools ( well more in classrooms) that will continue to keep ideas alive in the upcoming 'dark ages' but I don't think returning to 'normality' is the answer. It is the new narrative that needs to evolve.

But you're right we need to share the stories ( of this new narrative) and now we have the technology. Not me unfortunately.

NZ Teacher said...

Reggio Emilia is what you are talking about, at least for children up to the age of 6! I just returned from an amazing week in Reggio Emilia where they began by asking "Are schools places that generate a desire to know?" Creativity is paramount in their community. We have begun these discussions at my school. Thanks for your post Bruce.

Bruce said...

Greetings NZ Teacher. I am a huge fan of Reggio Emilia education and believe it has lessons for all levels of education. 'Are schools places that generate a desire to know? is an excellent question for any school to ask.

Tara TJ said...

Thanks Bruce! Yes, normality was a bad choice of words the sentiment was meant to be that schools will return/remain/evolve into places of learning as opposed to places of Targets and Standards.
Exciting innovative narratives are evolving and will be shared!

Bruce said...

Couldn't agree more Tara. Someone with ICT skills needs to set up a website/blog to network the exciting narratives - to keep the dream alive while we go through the standardisation era. I could place my blog on such a site?

Anonymous said...

I think schools lost the plot as soon as WALT and success criteria filtered through. That's when creativity and holistic teaching methods were finally crushed. People started to think a bit more about the old days when the new curriculum arrive, but that has now been crushed again. Bruce, please keep writing as you do currently, coz you keep the fire alive!

Bruce said...

I have to agree with you. The rot set in, sidelining creativity, with the introduction of WALTS, 'success criteria' and other imposed 'best practices'. Not that such ideas didn't have some value but they have become 'fixed practices' - what we always need is 'next practices' - new ideas.

The trouble is anon teachers have been so 'colonised' by such approaches that they have lost the point of education as a liberating force. As a result, the 'new' curriculum has been sidelined.

All we can do is, as you say, is to keep the fire alive and hope for better days.