Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Time to break old education mindsets

As Mark Twain said, 'It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.'

All too often we are so busy coping with day to day hassles we do not have the time to stop and think if the tasks we do are actually worth doing?

The end of the school year would be an ideal time to become involved in such reflective thought but in reality too many things are happening and there is never time, even if there were the inclination, to do so.

It is not possible to even think about what you don't know if you think for sure that things are fine as they are and, even if you have concerns, it is easier to leave them up to somebody else; after all what difference can any one individual person make! All too often the experience of those who suggest changes find their views scorned by those who are happy to go along unthinkingly with the status quo - or by those who just can't be bothered to make the mental effort to change their minds. And if it involves someone losing personal power or position in any change you can count them out.

Sylvia Ashton Warner , New Zealand's eccentric creative teacher of the 1950's, once wrote, 'You can tell the creative teacher , she or he , is the one lying in the corridor with the arrows in their back fired by their fellow teachers!'

We need to ask ourselves what is it about our schools that still reflects their genesis in an now antiquated industrial age and, even in some areas, an even earlier agrarian era? As for the latter school terms often reflect farming calendars to allow for summer farm work but it is the industrial age, mass production thinking, that most limits our schools: students placed in age batches, tested and grouped, moved to the sound of bells to receive the next transmission of prescribed learning, and to complete the picture there are the 'waste products' - school failures. Industrial aged values still persist in our school - obedience, punctuality, cleanliness, uniformity, control and top down hierarchical authority. The Industrial Age is well past its 'use by date' - and our schools , modeled on similar lines, ought to be as well. We now know so much more about how people learn it is hard to believe we persist with such antiquated structures.

The ironic thing is that while schools remain trapped in this time warp ( and this is mainly secondary schools) the business world has moved into creating themselves into high trust 'learning organisations' valuing creativity, teamwork and the initiative of those involved to take the necessary learning risks to develop new innovations.

What we need to have is a 'big conversation' about what kind of country we want to become and then to create a school system that creates the kinds of people to realize such a vision.

When such leadership from the top I am sure teachers, parents and students could devise system where all students are given the opportunity to develop their interests, passions, talents and dreams. Creativity is the new capital of any future society - and schools could well be the key to developing the talents of all to ensure we, as a society, are well placed to develop the new thinking to take advantage of whatever the future holds.

'Prediction is difficult, particularly when it involves the future', Mark Twain observed but the key to success is to have the entrepreneurial mindsets able to thrive on ambiguity, able to take advantage of the confusion that exists in eras of real transition.

But first we have to really think hard about all we take for granted that , 'just ain't so', before we can transform ourselves, our schools and the world. It has to start somewhere. The holidays are a good time to give it some reflective thought while the mid is still enough to rearrange all those stressed braincells.

As Al Gore challenged us, we have to face up to some 'Inconvenient Truths'.
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Anonymous said...

To question the purpose of schooling in the 21stC ought to be everyones concern - unless we want to keep doing what we have always done and getting the same results we aways have. Schools sure don't look like 'learning organisations'.

Anonymous said...

'Inconvenient truths' are what we all are good at ignoring - particularly if it means we must actually do something that puts us out or makes us think!

Anonymous said...

As we are well into the first decade of the 21stC it would be a good time to have the 'big conversation' about where we want to go as a country. Politicians can't do this - they are to transfixed by poll driven opinions and locked into short term thinking - but they could at least set up the conditions for it to be done.