Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wounded by School

It is disconcerting to appreciate that schooling , usually seen as a positive experience, is seen by many as damaging to young people. Many years ago a Senior Inspector, of the then Department of Education, asked a group of advisers how schooling had benefited them. He was surprised when many said that little that they currently now thought important had been gained from their schooling. I had the same thoughts. And we were all 'successful'. Made me think, at the time, lots of students must see school in a different light. Of course no one listened then to their voice then - and mostly they were blamed ( or other factors outside the school) for their own lack of success! Things haven't changed.

Success in life is all too often determined by success at school. And all efforts to improve schooling very rarely take the trouble to listen to the voices of teachers let alone students.

In her wonderful book 'Wounded by School' Kirsten Olsen speaks passionately about the experiences of young people whom the school system has failed.

While reformers , policymakers and politicians focus on achievement gaps and insist on accountability measures thousands of students mentally and emotionally disengage from learning. As well many gifted creative teachers leave teaching finding the current surveillance culture demeaning. And worse still many school principals are part of the problem busy complying with imposed measures to standardize teaching to ensure their school is seen in a positive light by the authorities.

No one listens to the 'voices' of the students. This is what Kirsten Olsen has done and her finding speak loudly and poetically about the need for transform schools so all students experience the joy of learning.

Kirsten writes that current schooling harms all students; the talented and gifted, the middle of the road students , those from different cultures and particularly those the school has deemed to be problem learners.

She writes passionately about the need to develop schools where all students feel valued and empowered, where all students experience the joy of learning, and she writes clearly about the need to challenge school structures and practices many teachers currently use use without appreciating the harm they do.

Current schooling wounds too many students. Anyone who has listened to the voices of students whom school has failed , or their parents will recognise the extent of this wounding. And sadly most of this damage is done in the name of helping students learn what the school has decided to be necessary to learn. Very little of which develops every students gifts and talents even the so called successful students are unaware of their hidden talents. For too many school is neither benign or or neutral.

Olsen is raising fundamental questions about the purpose of learning.

Olsen's findings conflict with teachers who became teachers to help their students. Equally the school system 'wounds' creative teachers who are forced to conform to current approaches. Most classroom teachers currently feel that they have been diverted from their true educative task by the current emphasis on quantifiable improvements. No one is paying attention to the real needs of students to ensure they all develop positive learning identities; identities centred around the development of their gifts and talents. Success is solely determined on school orientated narrow 'academic' achievement.

Some of the school wounds are:

Children who leave feeling they aren't smart; that they don't have what it takes to succeed - caused by effects of testing, grading, ability grouping and streaming
Students who believe their ideas and thoughts are not valued.
Students whose talents and gifts have not been recognised or valued.
Students who have lost the joy of learning for its own sake.
Students who are risk averse to save face
Students who have developed poor attitudes and feelings of alienation or anger
Students who can no longer see connections between various learning areas.

To make things worse conversation with successful learners very rarely mention learning as a pleasure; learning driven by intrinsic motivation. Too many are stripped of their courage and nerve the very attributes all students will need to thrive in the future.

The sum result of all these wounds are a drain on schools and develop future societal problems.

I for one feel the ideas of Kirsten Olsen provide the missing reality of school - the thoughts and concerns of students.

Until school leaders start to listen to their students then little will change.

And only creative teachers -who have always listened to their students and have aways valued their talents, are in position to develop schooling as a positive experience for all.

Until real change occurs schools will continue to wound their students.


Anonymous said...

Excellent blog Bruce.

The Kotahitanga research of Russell Bishop and others ( Waikato University) has listened to the voices of Maori students and their parents and have developed ideas about how teachers ought to relate to their students.

As with Olsen their research is about the need for respectful relationships, listening to students, valuing their life experiences and ideas, and working with students parents. However many schools, particularly secondary ones, are resistant to such student centred approaches.

Allan Alach said...

Great post Bruce - an update of Ivan Illich. You're on target as usual, the problem is how do we get the message to the unconverted?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Getting the message across is the issue - talking with students and their parents about what they want might be a start?

Debra said...

I just discovered your site Bruce. Thank you for stepping up and speaking out! Thank you!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thank you Debra - it is important to speak out!

Anonymous said...

I look forward to your review on this book. My daughter is one of those wounded by her school experience. Ironically I now support homeschoolers, many of whom are public school refugees.
Thanks for your passion and posts about an education our youth deserve.