Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Looking back

Dr Beeby.Director General of Education in the first Labour Government.

I came across an old magazine in my shed which had an address given by Dr Beeby in 1983 to mark one hundred years of the primary teachers union.

I couldn't resist a quick read. Having some sort of insight into the past can put the present into perspective and better still give ideas for future directions.

All too often we can get so mired in the present that we are unable to see beyond whatever is taking our attention. Teachers, trying to interpret what is currently expected of them, are in such a position. All it causes is stress and confusion.

Paul Gauguin was in this position in the 1890s when he was depressed and painted what he intended to be his last painting. He called his painting:'Where are we coming from? Where are we now? Where are we going? His creativity must have worked because he continued to paint.

Education is also about creation - the creation of positive learning identities for all students.

This is what teachers should be focusing on. Educationalist Guy Claxton calls this 'learnacy' and considers it more important than either literacy or numeracy. It is about preserving ( and amplifying) the love of learning that we are all born with.

Currently we have not achieved this.

Dr Beeby's address was about looking back as well as looking forward but, he said, that he had always been more interested in the future but that you have to look back to see where you have come from to see where you are going.

Today teachers need to look back to ideas that have been sidelined by the imposition of the current technocratic curriculum's of the 90s and to appreciate that it is these curriculums that have caused our current confusion and distress.

Dr Beeby believed in a creative role for education. He reminded those present in 1983 that the most important thing realized about education in the previous decades had been the discovery of the individual child. It is not that individuality wasn't appreciated earlier but that the school system was based on a mass education vision which made realizing such an idea impossible. A system, developed in the 1870s, couldn't conceive of individualising learning. This view persisted right up to the thirties when some felt schooling should only be for the select few after standard four. Mass education, large classes, prescribed standards were the order of the day. School was a devise for, 'selecting bright kids and for discarding the failures'.

Today, he reminded his audience, things have changed. Junior classes, in particular, reflect new 'child centred' understandings.

Dr Beeby an take credit for this development and, in particular, for placing importance on developing each child's creativity and individuality. Unfortunately it did not infiltrate the more traditional exam orientated secondary schools.

Developing all students 'learnacy',talents, and their creativity, by 'personalising' learning is where we need to go in the future.

Every child, Dr Beeby said, 'should leave with a sense of achievement'. We need teachers who refuse to accept that the failure of any child is inevitable. Teachers, to achieve this, need to be sensitive to the needs of every learner. If you can turn failure around, he said, 'you might get a glimpse of of the school of the future'. He wondered whether the very structure of school is the failure.

Dr Beeby questioned why we still segregate children by ages as it is not the kind of group human beings, or animals, normally form.

Dr Beeby concluded his presentation with few thoughts about the future.

'Every child should finish school with a sense of achievement, a knowledge of his own worth, and a generous acceptance of the worth of others. Every one should experience a deep sense of doing better that they had done the day before, better than they had ever expected. If a kid doesn't get that by 12 or 13, the chances are that he'll never get it.' 'Teach them the three Rs, but essentially they must get this sense of their own worth'.'A school for everyone'. A school, he said, should be centre for the community where, 'people would bring their children to the creche and kindergarten, come back as teacher aides..or to continue their own education- I am not talking about just the primary school.'

Such a school would realize his forty year old dream of a school system in which, 'every New Zealander, whether his or her level of academic ability, whether she be rich or poor, whether she lives in the town or the country, will at last, have a free education best fitted to the fullest extent of her powers'.

'What would such a school look like', he challenged.

We would be well advised to rediscover the creativity of earlier days and develop schools as places where all students are able to develop the innate gifts in caring and democratic communities.

We have long way to go but it is worth thinking about.

Be more fun that trying to do what others in their ivory towers suggest. And more creative and, as a result, more satisfying as Gauguin found out all those years ago.


Anonymous said...

I wish there was a sharp brain lke Beeby's in our current Ministry.

Queen Bee said...

Hi Bruce I wish to you the quote of Beeby's "to hand an influence at all on the future..." in an assignment I am writing in a Policy Analysis paper I am doing at Massey. I am wondering if you could help me reference it for me or direct me to where I could access the speech to do so? Thank you, do so enjoy following your blog, often very helpful in triggering thinking when assignment writing.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I found Beeby's article in a 1983 NZEI magazine. I no longer have the magazine but perhaps the NZEI have back copies?