Sunday, August 16, 2009

The assembly line

I recently wrote about my hope that education can break away from our 19th/20th century industrial model via a revolution of ideas.

Okay - I'd like to expand on this during this post. But first - a revolution requires knowing which way we want to go.

This exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat sums up our situation in 2009:

Alice - Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here

Cat - That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Alice - I don't much care where

Cat - Then it doesn't matter which way you go

I know which way I wish to go - away from the old industrial model which has so far lasted in New Zealand schools until the present day, and towards the complete delivery of an inquiry model (that actually is the basis of our new New Zealand Curriculum document).

Basically I want to get away from this picture presented in a 1947 training film but which could have been filmed today. Take a look, even if it's just for a few minutes.

What we have currently is this industrial model: desks in production rows, the teacher as oracle at the front dispensing information, conformity and obedience, a rigid timetable structure of discreet subjects, age determined class cohorts, uniform criteria for success, standardised curricula, and therefore students without focus. Look familiar?

The industrial model, which emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, aimed to improve efficiency and to prepare young people for factory jobs requiring repetitive tasks. As a consequence, intended or not, the industrial model tended to preserve the status quo. The industrial model was further characterized by strict rules and regimented behavior, identical curricula and expectations for all students, and an emphasis on basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

Clearly we no longer need to prepare young people for factory jobs exclusively, just as we no longer need to prepare them to become university professors exclusively. Why then do we preserve the status quo model of education?

Standing in contrast is the inquiry model of education, in which learning is active, social, contextual, continuous, and holistic. It requires pedagogies of engagement, learning designs that connect students to knowledge-making activities and to one another, critical thinking, adaptability, creativity, multi-age classes, authentic/diverse assessment practices, teacher as facilitator and co-learner.

Basically, I think we need to revisit a text I had to read at university in 1977 Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society. Some of his messages have stayed with me. This for instance:

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of
unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by
being 'with it', yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth
with elaborate planning and manipulation.

I don't understand what he meant by "being 'with it' ", but I certainly agree with him about the need for a "meaningful setting".

I'll try an explore what these meaningful settings may be over some upcoming posts.

Sources: Christine H. Leland and Wendy C. Kasten, “Literacy Education for the 21st Century: It's Time to Close the Factory,” Reading and Writing Quarterly, vol. 18 (2002), p. 13.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

To a worm in horse radish the world is horse radish.

Lately, I've been watching a lot of the 'TED talks' presentations instead of watching TV (sharp intake of breath). There is some excellent stuff on and I've only touched the surface.

There was nothing on after Coronation Street last night so I read an article in the Guardian Weekly about Malcolm Gladwell. He's the author of one of my favourite books "The Tipping Point'. I was interested to learn that he's a hit on the speaking circuit in the UK. His presentation on spaghetti sauce was mentioned in the article, so I googled that and low and behold it was on TED. At its conclusion a list of other talks came up and my attention was drawn to Sir Ken Robinson's presentation on how education destroys creativity. It was brilliant! And got me thinking, again, about the world's wholly inappropriate industrialised style of education.

I mentioned the talk to my English class and they debated this idea for a bit. Actually they didn't debate it at all, because they were unanimous in their belief that their creativity was not acknowledged and as students they were being processed through the school system in an inappropriate way (not exactly their words, but certainly their feeling). They asked to see the talk and loved it when I showed it to them.

I think we're long overdue a change of delivery. I can sense some subtle shifts with the expanding employment of technology but we need something revolutionary. Sadly, I don't see it on the horizon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Alumni, Stephen Hawking AND Noam Chomsky


Last week I spent a very pleasant evening attending a meeting of our 'old pupils' association'. Mr Gary Vincent is the chair of this association of former Stratford High School students (they were called pupils in the old days). The meeting was at his house and we were there planning the next reunion of former students. Every five years a committee from the association plans a reunion. It's a great idea and is very popular.

The evening made me think about a number of things:

  • All of the students who have passed through SHS in the last 100 plus years and where they've gone;

  • How our school is such a focal point in people's lives in the Stratford district;

  • How one's school years generally are so much a fabric of our individual lives - even after 30, 40 or 50 years;

  • Reunions that I've attended in the past at Mount Albert Grammar School (I was a student during the 50th in 1972 and a staff member for the 75th).

  • The old friends network that I belong to;

  • The communication spread that is possible these days;

  • and what a nice cup of tea Gary made - really nice fragrance to it...

If you haven't seen the old friends site - here are the details: . There are over 1 million members now in New Zealand and more are added every day. That's impressive.

Stephen Hawking AND Noam Chomsky

I recently had a look at a couple of interesting websites and was shocked to realise that at a click of a button I could email Stephen Hawking AND Noam Chomsky. Yipes!! My finger quivered at the thought. I'm not sure why I haven't considered this possibility before, but imagine emailing either of these giants of the academic world. What on earth would you say?? While you consider that thought here are those sites: for Stephen Hawking (The warning on his website - please bear in mind that it may take a while for you to receive a response and that due to the severe limitations that Stephen works under and the huge amount of mail he receives, he may not have time to respond - ) and if you feel brave enough here is Mr Chomsky's contact

I don't know about you but...WOW. This is amazing! All thanks to the website. Please let me know how you got on if you do make contact.