Thursday, April 14, 2005

With students as cogs

   Two education-related announcement have caught my eye recently.   I'm, obviously, training to be a teacher, and furthermore have an interview tomorrow for a job at a south Birmingham school and 6th form centre.   Hence my interest.   Do you not understand, or something?
   Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Chessington (ha!   That's a joke!) has talked quite strongly on the issue of modern schooling as too much involved in employment and the economy.   As I plan to talk about in a future post, this goes back to the famous Ruskin speech in which the PM of the time, Callaghan, lambasted a lazy, liberal teaching establishment for doing what it liked, and proposed more control.   Over time came Thatcher, the national curriculum, and more and more control and surveillance of teachers and testing of students.   This was all to do with enlisting student in a strengthening British economy and ensuring that they became productive.   Hence Thomas Telford School, the training ground for future go-getting middle-managers and the entirely unidealistic.

   So, Rowan Williams of Chessington.
   In this article:
He also attacked the government's welfare-to-work programme for placing too much emphasis on getting parents into economic productivity and too little on persuading them to develop nurturing skills for their children's sake.
He said: "The welfare-to-work nostrum isn't enough. It has served importantly as a corrective to a passive attitude, but, insofar as it presumes that economic productivity is where we all ought to end up, irrespective of our nurturing and forming responsibilities, as a society it isn't enough. We want to see a society which is composed of adults, people who can choose and act and change, who can hope, see that they have made a difference, who can be sorry when they fail, who can empathise. It doesn't happen by accident. We have choices that face us in this election period and we have much longer choices as well. If we go on producing grown-up infants, we can hardly wonder why different sorts of violence and dysfunction exist in our society."
He added that the relentless emphasis on improving economic productivity had had a damaging impact on education and had caused a greater focus on school testing. "It is another form of our obsession with results and productivity [and] it is a particularly malign one," he said.

   And in this one:
"In a setting where relentless productivity is overvalued, we can forget what is needed to produce functioning human beings. We can become abusers of our children by default when we ignore the choices we can make that will better secure their stability and their sense of being seen and listened to. The result is that we seem to produce people who themselves cannot properly look or listen; and this is not a matter of pop psychology but a serious insight from those who have studied neurological development." said Dr Williams.
The tendency "to consumerise and sexualise childhood" had increased in recent years, said Dr Williams, who added: "If we want to give children a chance of experiencing childhood as they should - experiencing it as a time to learn, play, grow, in an environment of stability and security - we have to face the demands of being adults ourselves."
Dr Williams added: "We want to see a society which is composed of adults - people who can choose and act and change, who can hope, see that they have made a difference, who can be sorry when they fail, who can empathise. It doesn't happen by accident."

   In yet another article, Michael Morpurgo made the case for more books in schools.   You see, the byword of the age, ICT!, has left us somewhat floundering.   It's amazingly expensive, especially with all the technicians and upgrades and Windows to fund and buy and payroll, and yet doesn't seem to actually particularly improve educational standards.   Yes, it's good to word process, and the internet is fun to play games on - but educational software hasn't made an impact.   Even if it is interactive and programmed by Jeff Minter.   Maybe... just maybe... we should read books?
Michael Morpurgo:
"It's easy for people to see the benefits of good food and exercise.   But the benefits of books are far less obvious. Governments like things they can measure and for which they can set targets to show they are doing their job properly, so education has become ever more focused on delivering an extremely narrow set of results. Along the way, books have become marginalised - mere educational tools - and everyone from teachers to pupils has lost some of the magic of reading. Where textbooks have a narrow remit - a sole purpose of getting a child through a set curriculum - they are unlikely to be that educationally challenging," he says. "Teachers and children will pick up on this and switch off. However, the boredom is less a function of the book than the system itself.   We need an education system that prepares children for a challenging world in which they become active participants in a democracy, not one that teaches them to do a limited number of measurable tasks unthinkingly. To achieve this, we need to put books back at the heart of school life."

   In short, we can't just teach'n'test kids for 'basic skills' and 'key skills' and expect them to have anything more.   How many important questions can be broken down to basic skills or key skills?   Children are not bits of technology to be quality tested against a list of criteria, and then passed on down the conveyor belt to a hopper marked 'past'.   Goddammit, we're living, breathing, thinking creatures, and we deserve a break!

   But what can we do? Perhaps we can break into Tony Blair’s brain with some sort of mind gatecrashing device and change the future of the world.