Hi again X,
Since I didn’t hear back from you, I thought I should pick up from where I’d left off. You’re likely mulling over everything you should. This might give you more to think about.
In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. Clearly, this is the best time to be a learner. Especially if we can show our kids the way. So, remember, we’re all in this together.
Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression. We have to ask ourselves every day, as teachers, are we ready to make a good one?
As a matter of fact, we’re in a crisis of human resources. We make very poor use of our talents. Very many people go through their whole lives without any real sense of what their talents may be. Or if they have any to speak of. I meet all kinds of people who don’t really think they’re good at anything. They suffer their lives not enjoying what they do. They get no pleasure. They endure it, rather than enjoy it. And wait for the weekend.
And you, most of all, will agree that’s no way to live! As with natural resources, human resources are buried very deep. Talent is often buried very deep. Many brilliant people leave school thinking they’re not smart. The whole culture of education is not designed to identify the full range of human talents; it’s focused on identifying certain types of talent. Certain types of academic ability. And it’s now being compounded by this excessive culture of standardized testing. Which is flattening out the diversity and individuality and originality of our children on an international scale.
Life, as you know already X, is not linear. It’s organic. We have become obsessed with this linear narrative. Human communities depend upon our diversity of talent. Not a singular conception of ability. And at the heart of our challenges, is to reconstitute our sense of ability. Human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it’s an organic process. The irony is people who’re going through this diet of standardized tests and rigidity are popping out of the far end, lacking the very things now the economy needs. People who can think differently. People who can see opportunities and take them. People who can work in teams and can communicate and the problem is not theirs; the problem is that we’re all locked into this old model. We need a different conception of human resources in ourselves and in the people who we work with.
A college degree was Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. But now it’s like the wrapper. And the reason is not because they were harder to get them and they’re easier to get now. It’s not because this generation is less smart. They could be smarter, in a lot of respects. And they actually work a lot harder. The problem is that everybody’s got a degree these days. In the next 30 years, more people will get college degrees than the total number since the beginning of history. College degrees are like any other form of currency. They get devalued. When you have more and more of them around. And the world is changing so fast. So, you’re good, wherever you are. In fact, you’re better off without one.
Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment. And it’s not enough. Reform is of no use anymore. Because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need though, is not evolution. It’s revolution. Education has to be transformed into something else.
When we talk about reforming and transforming education, it’s about customizing to your circumstances and personalizing education to the people you’re actually teaching. And doing that, is the answer to the future.
It occurred to me that maybe we need to go back to our basics. But before that let me revisit how right you were when you said: You cannot improve education by alienating the profession that carries it out.
It would be like trying to improve medicine by vilifying doctors and nurses. Recognizing that education can be encouraged from the top down is one thing but it can only really be improved from the ground up by the people who do the work. In the end, it’s not ministers of state who’re teaching all our children, it’s the people actually doing it in the schools. As a teacher, I am the education system. The equivalent of a policy maker. I will eventually start to influence the whole.
The real role of leaders, whether you’re a teacher or a head teacher or a secretary of state for education, you’re proper role, if you have a loving relationship with education, is not to try and command and control it but to recognize your place in climate control. If you can help to change the climate of expectation in education, if you can change what’s happening at the ground, then you’ve changed the world.
This might sound like a lot of thick gobbledygook to permeate. I will try and make this easier for you and me, alike.
What do I remember of my education? The people, the teachers and the experiences they provided for me.
Education is personal. If you make it impersonal, people will pull away from it.
There’s a large crisis in the use of our personal resources. That people haven’t figured out what they’re good at. And the result is dysfunctional lives and dysfunctional communities. If you don’t find the thing that you’re uniquely good at, there’s a sense that you don’t really know who you are. If you find a lot of people aggregated together who are dislocated from a sense of purpose, you end up with these dysfunctional communities. And that only makes for a very dark future of despondent, disgruntled, dejected, disheartened and if I may add, deranged people.
If, as a teacher, I can get my students excited about learning, that’s my achievement. Children, I was once told, are learning organisms. They don’t need to be helped to learn. And schools, they are not mechanisms. They’re organisms too. They’re living, breathing communities of people who have reciprocal hopes, dreams and possibilities.
I have yet to find a kid who can’t be educated. I have yet to find a school that can’t really be improved if the capacity for innovation is given to the school, the principals and teachers who do the work.
Going back to our basics involves understanding that the basics aren’t a group of subjects. And you really can’t put every phenomenon in the world into boxes. The implication is that there are only a limited subjects in the world that matter. The whole idea of having subjects indicates that the others don’t really matter. It isn’t a very useful idea. It makes education inadequate and partial and incomplete and just unfair.
The basics are not subjects. They are purposes. The purposes of life that education can serve.
The first of them is obviously: Economic. We want our kids to be economically productive and independent. Of course we do. And I’m sorry to put it so crudely but money does equal freedom. And yes it can’t buy you happiness but it’ll give you the comfort to find it. If I can teach you to make a contribution to the world as you make it, then I’ve done my job.
Our children need to be Adaptable. We need to know how to run organizations that are able to respond quickly to change. Organizations are not like machines, they’re like organisms. They’re living entities made up with people and feelings, motivations, roles, aspirations, passions and ambitions. If the organism doesn’t respond just as in the natural world, if it doesn’t respond to changes in its environment, it dies. So does a company.
We must nurture Creativity. We need companies that are consistently and systematically creative. And how do you do that? You need people who can think differently, but we can’t find them because kids coming out of colleges and universities these days find it very difficult to come out with fresh ideas. They’ve been educated on the standard routine of routine testing. We’ve been systematically quashing the appetite for originality. So, if we’re to meet the academic requirement of education, we need to have systems which promote creativity and adaptability as bottom line competencies – the very things that our education systems are being currently discouraged from doing.
The second is cultural. We live in a world that’s increasingly complicated, increasingly riven, increasingly contested. Many of the great conflicts around the world are not economic in character, although they’re economic in dimension, they’re cultural in character. These are conflicts in people’s ways of seeing the world which are ideologies, they’re value systems hitting each other head on. And they may imperil us in the end.
It’s a small enough planet as it is X, and it’s becoming more and more populated. But in any case, for ethical reasons as well as strategic ones, we need forms of education that completely understand how they came to think as they do, why their values are as they are, why their patterns of life are as they are and why other people’s are different. To learn what their own cultural identity is and what formed it and those of other people. Now for that, you need to broaden education. You need education that gives equal weight to the Arts, to Humanities, to Social Studies and not just to Technical subjects.
The great challenge we face on Earth is: How to live together? How to cope with this complexity? How to understand each other’s points of view, world view, points of reference? Can our education unify? Can it bridge the divide? It has to, otherwise we’ve failed miserably. Sadly, we have!
The third is social. We need forms of education which engage this generation in the processes by which our communities are organized and governed. There’s a lot of evidence that people are pulling away from those roles; a lot of evidence of disengagement, disenfranchisement from our political institutions. Every generation has to rediscover democracy. It’s very important that we take part in these civil discourses. That we actively promote it. You do it by having a culture which embodies these processes of participation. Our children would have to be taught and constantly reminded that people fought and died for their right to vote, a right we not only take for granted but too often disregard by deciding not to exercise it.
How do we engage people in our communities? When we, the people, withdraw from the democratic process, democracy ceases to exist! It stops working. Our schools have to reflect the processes we wish to celebrate and perpetuate.
As I see it, the real purpose of education on which all of the others depend is, personal.
I see it as the ultimate because, in the end, education is about people. It’s not about components or machines, it’s about people who’re being educated. And if we know anything about people, it is that they are different. They’re driven by different talents, different abilities, different passions, different interests and different motivations. One of the signature features of humanity is diversity. Of course it contrasts sharply with one of the organizational principles of conformity. And an education which isn’t nuanced to individual differences soon finds that very many people are disengaged from it or alienated by it. But if we don’t understand that education is about people and individuals, in all their diversity and multiplicity, then we keep making the mistakes that we make.
If we treat it like a machine-age activity, rather than a human process, then we run ourselves into a cul-de-sac. We need to talk about transforming our lives and public institutions.
And if we’re talking about changing education from the ground up. That’s the ground I’m talking about. Most political strategies start from the top down. They think we can issue directives from the top and people will conform and everything will improve. And the evidence is quite the contrary. The more the governments go into command and control mode, the more they misunderstand the nature of teaching and learning. The more they misunderstand the process of education, the more alienated people become from the whole process.
And this is the shift we have to make. What we have to realize is that education in itself is a personal process. Education’s failing today is that it is impersonal! The factory model of education, the one you decided to snap out of, treats kids as commodities, it treats them as data points. And when we drive the system by test results only and lose sights of the feelings and humanity in the system, then we lose sight with the system itself. Kids walk out. Because it’s the natural thing to do when you’re being treated unfairly. You can’t have a revolution unless you protest. And walking out is the first mark of a protest.
To call them dropouts, is to say they’ve failed. But may be the system’s failed them. Everyone that stays in education has a reason to be in it. And everyone that pulls out has a reason to pull out. The big shift we have to make is to radically personalize it to every child in the system. That means taking full account of the different ways in which children learn, taking full account of the different things that engage and draw their interest that has implications for the curriculum, it means being able to schedule education around the individual needs and learning styles and interests of each child.
Education is a human process. It’s an art form. Teaching is an art form. And what’s happened in this mad clamour to meet the standardized testing is that we’ve lost sight of the artistry and humanity at the heart of education.
Teaching has become a delivery system for curriculums. Teachers have begun to be seen as functionaries in the raising of standards, in the administration of tests. Your job as a teacher is to deliver the national curriculum. I don’t know when we decided to borrow this sort of lexicon from Fedex. I don’t know when we began to think we can drop the curriculum off for you. And teaching, has become reduced, in the political discourse, to a kind of delivery system.
Children are learning organisms. They don’t need to be helped to learn. They are born with a vast, voracious appetite for learning. In fact, they evolve in the womb with this appetite. They just pick it up. You nudge them, you correct them, you encourage them and they learn.
It only starts to dissipate when we educate them. That’s to say when we put them in buildings designed for the purpose. And put them in serried ranks and start to force feed them information in which they may or may not have an interest. Children learn anyway! The conceit of education is we can help them do it better. And direct them to things they may otherwise never know if left to their own devices. That’s why we plan to do this sort of stuff.
Well, learning will happen anyway. And with the new technology it’s happening more and more spontaneously. What this means is, if we really want education to become effective, we have to focus on the processes of teaching and learning tailored to each and every child.
How can you do that with 35 kids in the class? You do it by getting them actively involved in teaching themselves and teaching each other. The idea of education was and I hope still is, to learn to think for yourself. The best teachers tell you where to look but don’t tell you what to see.
Kids are born scientists. You’ve heard Neil deGrasse Tyson say it. They’re always turning over rocks and plucking petals off flowers. They’re always doing things that by and large, are destructive. That’s what exploration is! You take off a part, whether or not you know how to put it back together. An adult scientist is a kid who never grew up. A creative adult is the child who survived. Let’s value the inquisitive nature of our own kids. Let them make noise and roll in the mud and get dirty and break things and put them back together and discover for themselves the tremendous effort and potential that lies within human creation and the wonders of this immeasurable universe. Let kids be kids. They’ll be fine! And if they’re not, it’s our job to make them fine!
Much to chew over. Digest, digest and then suggest.
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