Monday, August 01, 2005
Inspiration and challenges for today
Doctor of Literature (honoris causa)
In April of this year, at the age of 80, Elwyn Richardson was given an honorary doctorate by Massey University to recognize his work as ‘one of New Zealand’s most inspiring, innovative and influential teachers whose ideas were ahead of his times'.
His recently republished book ‘In The Early World’ outlines his philosophy of learning and teaching including his respect for the emerging abilities of the children he taught. ‘They are my teachers as I was theirs and the basis of our relationship was sincerity, without which, I am convinced, there can be no creative education’.
At the ceremony Professor Codd said that, ‘It is timely in the 21st century to recapture teaching as an art. In the early World inspires teachers to take risks, to contemplate values and philosophies as central to the teaching – learning process and to adapt prescribed curriculum to the children’s own desire to explore , inquire and create.’
At a more recent graduation ceremony of new teachers at Massey University College of Education, Emeritus Professor Ivan Snook, also made reference to Elwyn’s honorary degree and ideas .Massey University proposes Elwyn as a model of what it is to be a teacher.
'But there are problems,' he said, giving the students a lesson in educational history.
‘Nearly twenty years ago, a government transformed the whole structure of education in education in New Zealand as well as much else. What changed was the nature of teaching, the nature of learning and, arguably, the very nature of the students you teach. As a result:
Book keeping replaces pastoral care
Testing squeezes out teaching
Skill training replaces education
Competition derives out cooperation
And compliance pushes out creativity
Teachers face increased surveillance by means of standardized curricula, frequent appraisals, and supervision by the education Review Office
Teachers are less and less permitted to think for themselves. They are seen not as professionals but as skilled technicians.
Where they used to help design the curriculum, now they merely ‘deliver’ it.
And the school’s role in promoting social justice is minimized.’
‘The task of education is to develop the minds and hearts of young people by introducing them into the traditions of human thought and feeling painfully gained over the centuries and preserved in the sciences, humanities and arts. Yet under the new regime, you are asked simply to prepare young people to be workers; their future as informed and thoughtful citizens is neglected'
'Not only that, you face a new breed of students: students of the market…who exhibit a high level of materialism and consumption… they see education not as the gentle nurturing of the human spirit, but as a commodity to be bought, used and discarded. This makes your job difficult.’
‘This is in contrast to the idealism of Elwyn Richardson. You are caught between the personal and the political. Wanting to get on with the exciting task of educating your students you are subjected at every turn to political demands which distract you.’
‘And this is never ending…as we approach a general election, you will see there is more to come… ‘At the level of the system I see staff engaged in ‘joyless compliance’ carrying out meaningless tasks in order to comply with some managerial dogma. The next step is cynicism. There is nothing sadder than a cynical teacher: cynicism dries up the energy needed to confront energetic young people every day. A better response is the nurturing of critical faculties. Critical thinking cuts through the nonsense which passes for educational wisdom and motivates to find better answers'.
Critical thinking is an attitude that will rub off on your student. To this end Snook suggests:
• 'Keep up with your professional reading so that you can recognize nonsense when it comes from the principals or ERO officers
• Continue to think. Take nothing for granted especially when it comes from those bent on subverting the educational ideals.
• Work collegially with those teachers who still retain their enthusiasm….
• Form coalitions with parents for they really care about their children. Parents and teachers are natural allies….
• Conform when you have to and resist when you can. In the long run the forces of light may be more powerful than the forces of darkness.’
‘The ability of people participate in society is dependent on the quality of the education they receive. And this depends not on large bureaucracies, glossy brochures, curriculum documents or flowery mission statements but on the personal qualities of teachers’.
Let Elwyn Richardson be your inspiration.
‘In The Early World’ published by NZCER