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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Nothing to Fear

Long live us / the persuaded 'we' / integral / collectively
In the recent palaver surrounding Michael Wlmshaw's comments about teachers leaving their place of work at 3pm there were many people joining him in roundly condemning the entire teaching profession.  On the BBC reportage online there was a comment imploring teachers to "wake up to the real world".  And, you know what that commentator may have had a point.  Albeit not the one that he thought he'd made.
Everyone has / their own number / in this system that / we operate under
Education as it currently exists is not really meeting the challenges of the real world.  In this real world parents hand over their children to institutions where their child will join approximately 25-30 others in a room with an adult who is trained academically to... what exactly?  We judge teachers by results these days, the point of the profession is to deliver numerical targets based on attainment that is above average.  Everyone must strive to achieve the same as the top 15% of the population in the age range slightly above their own.  They are stratified and taught and guided through this system by age bracket with arbitrary distinctions made between different year groups.  And these numerical results are... what exactly?  They are Levels, created to show progression and no more.  They have no real link to any useful skills or ideas beyond vague statements created by the people tasked with making sense of them.  These do not match up to GCSE grades that, themselves, are largely more correlated with stats and normal curves within a particular set of students than anything to do with a fundamental or baseline 'standard'.  These do not match with A Level grades and these do not match to degree qualifications.  None of them match with vocational style qualifications, though they were judged by the same yardstick, and none of them take into account how anyone actually learns.
We're moving to / a situation / where your lives exist / as information
These teachers are trained to ignore the student.  Let me explain: children are individuals in many regards but they are also a collective.  They instinctively attach to people that are of different age ranges as would have existed in our distant past.  Increasingly we force them into groups of similar ages and similar experience, this makes them more malleable and pliable to the demands of society without ever actually allowing them to learn from those who make up this society.  Now, the teacher is trained to worry about outcomes, to feed them content based on a particular set of tools and to differentiate on a very narrow basis.  Even this narrow basis is arguably impossible to get right - as it is predicated on a particular style.  Furthermore, whatever age range is taught, we all naturally assume that this teacher is going to support those children as if they were their own.  This is patently ridiculous.  No one can possibly offer the kind of support we expect for the next generation in such numbers, let alone when looking toward meaningless numbers to show 'progress'.
One world / one chance / one life / one reason / all under / one sky / unchanging / one season
What, exactly, is education creating?  The system as it stands strives to train students to think critically, certainly, but in such a way as to avoid the questions that perhaps need answering.  And teachers are complicit in this, though they would claim that they aren't, by asking what they believe to be difficult questions and trying to get students to think 'outside the box' they implicitly reinforce the fact that there is a box and that this is the way students must behave to 'get ahead'.  Teachers implicitly support the notion of 'progress' and of 'wealth' by encouraging and exhorting students to do well in examinations to get the grades to get the jobs to gain their livelihoods to live a better life.  In talking about jobs and careers and wealth and responsibility and individualism the teachers reinforce a world that is created to serve the needs of the few.  They, in essence, justify their own existence.
If you've done nothing wrong / you've got nothing to fear / if you've something to hide / you shouldn't even be here / you've had your chance / now we've got the mandate / if you've changed your mind / I'm afraid it's too late
Education is thus parasitic.  It creates the conditions required for its continued existence by creating the grades that must be achieved to be respected enough to get the jobs that are, themselves, largely created by the education system that creates the society.  In the end, education perpetuates the system and increasingly causes it to multiply and mutate in a way that allows the education system to breathe, expand, and thrive.  In the process teachers feel that things need to change or need to be tweaked, but they create the conditions to allow those very people that entrust their child's development to the profession to simultaneously denigrate it and disparage it.  Those who can, do and those who can't, teach.  Now, what if we were to try and create a system whereby those who can also teach whilst doing?  That's how humankind has existed and developed for most of its history, the schism between this was created by the Industrial Revolution but the crack that was exploited to make it stick was first caused by the move to agricultural production, of all things.  Now, don't get any of this wrong, it does not imply that the nomadic and tribal way of life was superior to what we have no.  Rather it means that what we have now must be recognised for the unnatural and artificial edifice that it is and we must recognise ourselves among both the architects and the builders that keep it going.
Everything means something / yes, even our mistake / carelessness means something / no simple give and take
Much of what education has to offer has value, of course, but the way in which it is delivered is unnatural and didactic.  We claim to have active learning and we claim to be looking out for every child - every child matters - but what we actually mean by this is that academic didactism is the order of the day.  We are no more Socratic or philosophical in our society than we are genuinely altruistic.  In the early days of a child's life the child learns the most.  And the child learns by emulating and it learn in fits and starts.  What a child can do one day they may be unable to do the next and the path may double back many times before a skill is fully integrated into the set owned by the child.  There is no linear map of progress.  And, and this is the crucial part, that learning is never tested.  There are no levels or other signs of computer accessible data that can be used to measure or show that progress.  Different skills are learned by different children at different rates but there are general guidelines that are based on testable data that can be used to show that, for example, a vast majority of children are able to speak in sentences by the age of five.  Does that mean there are children who speak better and earlier?  Of course it does.  But no one seems bothered by that and nor do they attempt to make children who 'lag behind' match the attainment of those that power ahead.
You said: / "You're over-reacting / you're reading / too much into this. / If you / think this is important / your sense of / proportion is gone"
As a society we are happy to have the straight-jacket of these ridiculous notions placed on our children.  Indeed, so happy are we for this that we get angry at those entrusted with our children if those progeny fail to hit the arbitrary levels prescribed by the very same system that seems to be 'failing' them.  Look at the language!  We talk of failure as though it means something beyond the artificially created boundaries we create for our children to aspire to!  We talk of wealth accumulation and improvement as though the two were the same while paying lip-service to the idea that all people are able to develop in their own way.  What complete rot!  No one is allowed to develop in ways that are not mandated and controlled in ways that we all recognise.  Anyone that is different to what we perceive to be 'normal' is faced with the shame inducement of the whole group.  It has its roots in our nomadic and Neolithic past and it certainly served a purpose in smaller societies but now we have decided to institutionalise this trait and thus it passes from the control of small communities and into something else.  What else?  I don't know, but it would appear as though it is not healthy.  We blame government, we blame schools, we blame teachers but, in reality, it is all of us.  We condone it, we allow it and we encourage it.
You said: / "Oh, don't be so pious! / You're taking / this all the wrong way!"
I question the use of examinations.  I question our success criteria.  I question the society we are very deliberately creating and, might I add, doing so while trying to look the other way as conspicuously as we can.
Nothing to fear / nothing to fear / nothing to fear / nothing to fear / nothing to fear / nothing to fear

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All comments are welcome, I have a thicker skin virtually than I do in real life!