Saturday, August 04, 2007

The power of a different perspective.

Sometimes it is important to rise above day to day actions and to take a look from a different viewpoint. New patterns of thinking, of understanding and points of view just might emerge.

When things get urgent ( usually well after actions ought to have been taken) we are forced to change whether we like it or not. The secret to success is having the foresight to change before it is forced upon you. But this is always easier said than done.

In our biggest city, Auckland, after years of not facing up to the all too obvious growing pains, a Royal Commission has been set up to consider possible solutions.

Perhaps a bigger more urgent issue is to face up to the 'growing problems' of New Zealand? Evidence of dysfunction in our institutions, designed for an industrial age, are painfully seen in all aspects of our life. Designed for an age of 'experts know best' and 'top down thinking' they are simply unable to respond to current needs. All is obviously not well but until a sense of urgency forces change we will continue to 'patch up' problems with 'quick fix' solutions all to akin to 'moving the deck chairs on the Titanic'!

If there were to be a Royal Commission to consider possible future scenarios for New Zealand then all current organisations might have to consider how they would need to change to be able contribute to whatever is decided. One things is obvious,organisation developed to serve an industrial world will not be able to contribute to, what some are calling, 'An Age Of Creativity' or 'The Second Renascence'.

We are, it seems, in the middle of a dramatic shift in human thinking equivalent to discovering the world is no longer flat. The trouble is, so far, few people have risen above the clouds of their own actions to see the bigger view. 'The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear', a quote from Herbert Ager, Pulitzer winning author.

To develop an innovative and creative country education would need to be totally re-imagined to be able to pay a key role in such a transformation.
As Einstein said a problem cannot be solved by the thinking that created it. New thinking is required.

What beliefs would underpin schools dedicated to develop both caring and creative citizens?

We need an education system premised on the idea that learners construct their own sense of identity and that our role as educators is to create the conditions for them to be able to develop their talents, dreams and passions. It is the 'sad triumph of traditional schooling' that only a small number of both teachers and students can envision a better way of doing things. We only see what we have been taught to see and those who see differently pay the price for their idiosyncratic creativity.

Creative educational ideas ( as against traditional 'transmission' of knowledge) have been around for a long time but they have mostly been ignored. Ivan Illich, in 1971, wrote,'A good education system should have three purposes.It should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to learn to share what they know, to find people who want to learn it from them; and finally furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their knowledge known.'

Mind you Illich saw no place for schools as we know them. He was for 'de-schooing' - turning the community into a school. The Internet is realizing his vision!

Recently an old idea is getting new mileage - 'personalised learning' which, at it best, would prove every learner with their own individual learning pathway until they enter the workforce, or, in a more limited view, 'customising current education provision for each learner.

Such thinking, according to the late Graham Nuttal ( Cant. University), takes teachers into the 'hitherto hidden world of the learner...the world of the students own private world and experiences'. He writes that it is 'clear that just because a teacher is teaching it doesn't mean students are learning.' Teachers must know this but they seem unable to act on this well researched information. Better to do the wrong things well, it seems, than risk doing the right thing badly.

Another important realisation is that it is the total school culture that creates the most powerful 'curriculum'
. The 'messages' the school infuses into, often unwittingly, into all the experiences it offers, provides the material for the 'myths' that underpin every students actions - all too often for the worse! 'Culture Counts' as Russell Bishop titled his book about the experiences of Maori learners.

Learning occurs when students interests are tapped, amplified,extended and deepened. In such situations students will apply themselves with a determination that would surprise many teachers. Education at best is all about realizing the 'essence of the creative spirit' in every learner.

The teachers role in creative education is vital. Their relationship with their students will make or break their effectiveness.

They will have to become expert in helping their students dig deeply into topics that are of interest to their students and then to provide information and guidance to see that their students gain the satisfaction of creating something of personal worth. Teachers depth of content knowledge, combined with their repertoire of teaching and learning strategies, will be valuable to their students as they create their own understandings.

The curriculum will 'emerge' from the issues, concerns and areas of interests of their students. Students, of all ages, are driven by curiosity, challenge and the need to make personal meaning. When a topic 'emerges' it will be the teachers responsibility to build up the background knowledge of their students as they 'sink their teeth' into whatever excites them. Creative teachers will have to practice Jerome's Bruner's, 'canny art of intellectual temptation', to attract students to areas they feel is too important not to be covered. Teachers will have to work in teams, sited in flexible spaces, so as to access and share each others knowledge with their students. Information technology will be at a premium to explore areas of interest and to express what has been discovered, as will access to a full range of the creative arts.

The above ideas have moved away from much of what is currently seen in our schools but it is possible to see elements of all the ideas in practice in schools somewhere in New Zealand - and many are not new - they have just never been really applied.

Our new New Zealand Curriculum sees learners as, 'users, seekers and creators of their own knowledge'

Add to this the ideas of 'personalisation' and the need to focus on developing the talents of all students and the scene is set for dramatic change - only tine will tell.

A Hebrew proverb wisely says, 'Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born to a different time'.
Time to take a new perspective?


Anonymous said...

It is a shame that the Government or the Ministry don't listen to your wise thoughts!

Bruce Hammonds said...

My thoughts exactly but I guess I am too 'untrainable' to be brought into the tent - easier to say what you like if you are roaming around outside. And to be honest I value my integrity too much.