Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Inspired by Steve Wheeler: Pink Floyd – ‘teacher leave that child alone’. The difference between education and schooling. .

We don’t want no education’, sang Pink Floyd but it would more accurate to have said ‘we don’t want no schooling’, because education and schooling are not always the same thing. And schooling wouldn’t have fitted into the tune so well.

Steve Wheeler
Education’, writes Steve Wheeler in one of his blogs, ‘experienced in its pure form is liberating, mind expanding, and essential’ and continues, ‘often schooling fails to do that for children. School is about uniformity, standardisation and synchronisation of behaviour. Schooling is the industrial process children are put through by the state to ensure they become compliant to authority, inculcated into the skills of reading, writing and numeracy and systematically instructed ( and then tested) about the world about them. They are batch processed by age, their behaviour managed, their performance scrutinized, and there is little time for self-expression. One size has to fit all.’ This he continues is more indoctrination rather than ‘drawing out or to lead from within’ meaning that comes from the Latin word 'educere'.

What does this mean for teachers? Wheeler writes, 'you can either instruct from the front, or you can take a backseat and create opportunities for your students to learn for themselves.’ This is choice teachers make and, over a period of time it has
consequences. Wheeler quotes Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget,each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered for himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely’.

To draw out a child from within themselves, we must first accept that the child has something within them to give. Each has skills, abilities, knowledge, hopes, aspirations and individual personalities that can be nurtured, allowed to blossom, encouraged. Teachers who ignore this will not only fail to ‘draw out’ those individual attributes, they will deprive children from a wonderful spectrum of opportunities to learn for themselves.’

Whether children learn for themselves, or are instructed, depends on each teacher’s personal philosophy on education. Most teachers Wheeler writes ‘probably take the middle ground’ and continues ‘if they are honest they default to the instructional mode when they need to control behaviour, or to “get through” the content of the lesson.’

Only teachers who believe in the creativity within each learner will provide students with the space ‘to express themselves, explore and play, ask the “what if “questions and learn in their own style and at their own pace’. Wheeler believes a state education system cannot provide the flexibility for this kind of education to be realised and believes ‘the best we can hope for within the present system will be agile enough to interpret the curriculum that is imposed upon them in ways that offer children enough latitude to learn for themselves’.

So it seems children don’t need our schooling but they do need education – the drawing out and amplifying of their talents and gifts. In New Zealand we have had pioneer creative teachers who have done just this – the most recognised being Elwyn Richardson. And there are still teachers doing their best to continue this tradition – if only the technocrats and politicians would leave those teachers alone!

Elwyn Richardson
In her book Young Lives at Stake, written in the late 60s,Charity James wrote that ‘teachers are the hired assassins of students’ talents’. James’s book present ideas to complete transform secondary education so as to develop the talents and gifts of all students not just the academic. So far no country has yet to transform their schools to achieve this. Peter Drucker business philosopher has written that the first country to do this will win the 21st C.

New Zealand could be such a country but not under the reactionary National Standards policies of the current government.  Ironically the current government, in its determination for schools to comply to such standards in literacy and numeracy is taking attention of the creativity implicit in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum and, as well, will result in schools narrowing their curriculum and teaching to the standards to ensure they are being seen to succeed.

A more recent Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson has expressed, through his TED Video talks and books, a need to transform education – to shift them from Industrial age relics to 21st C to  learning organisations based on creativity and the development of students’ talents. ‘Creativity ‘, he writes, ‘is as important as literacy and numeracy’. Sir Ken is not alone, educationalists from around the world are expressing the same need for transformation. Guy Claxton, echoing Sir Ken, has written in one of his books that ‘learnacy is as important as literacy and numeracy’.

For all this schools ignore the power of interest in learning and persist with schooling (the transference/transmission of knowledge) rather than education (drawing out what is within). The latter is not anti-knowledge but sees knowledge as a verb – a ‘doing word’- where students gain knowledge in the act of learning – preferably driven by personal interest. Learning in such an environment is personalised in contrast of the current emphasis on standardisation.

Jerome Bruner
My belief is that if schools focussed on education rather than schooling then we wouldn’t have the so called ‘achievement gap’ that politicians blame schools for. The reality is that these ‘failing’ children suffer an ‘opportunity gap’ – and narrowing the curriculum to literacy and numeracy is part of the problem. Rather teachers, according to educationalist Jerome Bruner, should ‘practice the canny art of intellectual temptation’ – curiosity will do the rest. Bruner also stated the obvious that ‘students get better at what they are good at’. Since learning is the default mode for humans this should be no problem.

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