I am soon going to start a series of blog posts with suggestions for how schools and education can change in order to begin to have a positive effect on our (human) way of life. Let’s remind ourselves of some of the problems first:
- The desired outcome of school is the chance to pursue a degree, yet massive amounts of money are wasted on university degrees that are never used.
- Millions of students begin their careers horribly in debt.
- Apart from the process of learning to learn, much of the content of education has little or no lasting significance.
- Many of the highest income earners, those who are most in demand or those with most job satisfaction – are people who were deemed to be “failures” at school. For example, those people who have a trade.
- Many young people’s talents go unnoticed, only – in a miniscule amount of cases – to surface again by accident or through some stroke of luck or serendipity.
- Young people who have a need – or the ability – to specialize rather than be all-rounders are stigmatized by formal education.
- Education has become almost entirely cerebral, marginalizing those young people who think with the rest of their bodies… and simultaneously ignoring the fact that the world needs those people just as much, and maybe more.
- Schools are, in many cases, training centers for compliance:
“The child in a classroom generally finds herself in a situation where she may not move, speak, laugh, sing, eat, drink, read, think her own thoughts or even use the toilet without explicit permission from an authority figure.” (Carol Black)
- People typically have to wait until long after they have got through their education to discover the positive emotions that really motivate them – interest, joy, awe – and help them – if its not too late – figure out the direction they hope their lives will take.
- The idea of “success” perpetrated by society – and therefore by schools – is extremely narrow, very financially-focused, devoid of any emotional consideration and couched in western cultural ideals.
- Structures exist in schools that exist nowhere else in society – such as only being able to collaborate with people almost exactly the same age as you.
- Many young people emerge from their education with little knowledge or understanding of how to take care of themselves – cooking, money management, relationships, ethics, common sense, repairing things and so on. This creates cohort after cohort of people who have been prepared to work, but rely on others for their basic needs or who have to find out through trial and error.
- Students are squeezed through a finite number of career-based doors in pursuit of the traditionally accepted good, lucrative careers – law, medicine, engineering – while, in reality, good lucrative careers are way more diverse, interesting, weird and wonderful than that. Many of these careers are also significantly less destructive and/or beneficial to the world.
Any more to add?
A few days ago, the Dalai Lama tweeted this:
The Dalai Lama has hit the nail on the head. As educators, we are caught in an endless cycle of change as we perpetually seek to “make education better”. However, unless that is part of a higher purpose (or at least one that could have some visible manifestation for us to see the fruits of our labour) – being endlessly in the pursuit of the vague idea of “better” is pretty demoralizing and exhausting. It is also quite pointless as we never stop to think about why we are educating, what school is really for and what the long-term effects are of being educated.
We do need to “change our way of life”, lets face it. Take a good look around you… and beyond. Can we honestly say that humanity is doing a good job at the moment? Can we honestly say that we are part of something positive? Can we put our hands on our hearts and say we are creating a better world for our children, and their children?
Even more worryingly, can we honestly say we – in our schools – are creating better children for our world?
There are all sorts of positive stories out there about people doing wonderful things. But they are a tiny fraction compared to the stories of greed, destruction, waste, pollution, violence, hatred, racism, misogyny and stupidity. Those positive stories frequently come about despite how people are educated. They are often the result of those people who are challenging the systems that education is a part of. They are often perpetuated by the outliers, failures and rejects of formal education or the people who had to wait until their education was over before they could do something they really believed in.
In some cases, however, they are the direct result of education… a single school with a clear mission, a solitary teacher who makes a lasting impact, a student who emerges as a true leader, a project that gathers real momentum. We must start to gather these examples and commit ourselves to creating the conditions for them to happen more. Much more. So much so that they become our purpose – not creating employees, not getting kids into universities, not guaranteeing high incomes.
So… I call upon all teachers to ask yourselves…
“are you changing our way of life through education?”
If so, what are the conditions that allow you to do that?
If not, what holds you back?
Artwork by Igor Morsky. For more information about him and his work, click here.
“Action” is the most abstract of the PYP Essential Elements. We know it’s there, we know its important, we know its designed to encourage students to do good things… but we so often misinterpret it, forget about it and trivialize it.
Jane Goodall’s quote, below, puts it in the most simple terms. Students (and teachers) need to see how everything they do represents their “actions” and that reflection on what they do helps them to consider the difference – either good or bad – that their actions make. This could range from putting their shoes away when they get home to reaching for a book instead of an iPad to helping a friend with a problem to noticing a child beggar and mentioning it to a parent to… the list goes on.
Our problem, very often, is that we narrow down what “action” means so much that it has little or no value. Are we surprised, then, that so many of our students go through school believing it is a bake sale?
How do you guide your students towards a sophisticated understanding of Action?
This quote is remarkably true about the Art of Teaching, in many different ways.
The ability to see and make connections is a crucial ingredient for a genuine modern teacher. It is our ability to see and make connections that enables us to integrate subjects, to make learning inter-connected and to see that learning – in many shapes or forms – exists in every single moment.
In my experience, there are teachers who – regardless of training or qualifications – just have the ability to walk into a classroom and see the relationships and connections that exist between the types of learning going on. For example, they can see how a student’s desire to learn how to cook is also an opportunity for them to develop their ability to read, do measurement and understand scientific principles. They can also see beyond that into the possibilities of writing and publishing cookbooks, publishing recipes online, creating tutorial videos and developing their ability to explain through speaking as well as writing.
There are also teachers who need to see it to get it, who need to be shown… maybe a few times. These teachers may need to rid themselves of their own experiences as a student – some of these are very deeply ingrained – as these may have limited their ability to see connections for some time. They may also need to rid themselves of the things they learned when they were being trained as teachers. Many teachers were, to put it bluntly, trained to be very dull, disconnected educators. Some of them burst out of those shackles as soon as they see what it is truly possible to achieve with students, others may take a little more coaxing – its a bit like the different ways that animals react when released from a cage!
Sadly, there are also teachers who will simply never see the connections that exist between different types of learning and will, therefore, never make those connections for their students. Their teaching will forever remain as isolated lessons and skills. The thing is – these are often lessons that do need to be learned, and skills that do need to be developed. So we have a real dilemma about what to do with these teachers. Do we try and get rid of them? A year with them could, and often does, put a student off learning forever. Or do we treat it as a “year-in-waiting”, a year developing crucial skills that the students will – eventually – begin to see the purpose of later when, if, they are fortunate enough to have some time with someone who helps them make those connections?
There are many exciting things emerging in education at the moment.
All sorts of educational big-wigs are blowing us away with their theories about how learning should be. Revolutionary ideas about the power of allowing students to work on the things that really interest them or the intrinsic motivation of allowing kids to focus on making, doing and creating are eloquently being delivered in high profile keynote speeches.
And, it seems, school decision-makers are listening.
This is, of course, exciting.
But, for many of us… those teachers who have been giving our students these opportunities for many years – and often getting in trouble for it – the feelings are mixed. There is a sense of frustration, and exhaustion, among those of us who have been swimming against the tide for so long. We cannot help thinking of all those times we got called in to be told to “stop doing that stuff because the other teachers aren’t doing it”. We cannot help lamenting our fallen colleagues – those who were so good that their difference from the masses led to their downfall. We cannot help feeling sad about leaving schools we have given up on and moved on, again, in the hope of being surrounded by more like minds. We cannot help thinking about all those “nearly” teachers who almost developed the strength to teach differently, but didn’t quite make it.
Sounds like sour grapes, doesn’t it? At times like these, teachers like these face a serious dilemma. Do we say “I told you so”? Do we react negatively and pompously and become a bit of an ass about it? Do we turn in on ourselves, because that has been our survival strategy for so long?
No. We are surfers… and the big wave we have been waiting for is approaching. Yes, we have been honing our skills on all the small waves on the inside for a long time – and we’ve been bashed about a bit in the process. But, our wave is finally on the way… and we need to re-position ourselves, make sure we are in the right place and enjoy the ride.
We deserve it.
Photo by Jeff Rowley
This video represents a significant moment for its creator, Mimi. As a Grade 5 student, she has been showing tons of quiet potential all year… but this video symbolizes her emergence as a genuine go-getter, full of confidence, talent and modest precociousness.
She wrote the poem, sought out some advice on how to produce a video that wen with her message, learned how to do the green screen technique from Mr. Frank and then completed the project independently.
The video has wowed everyone in the school, within five minutes of sharing on Twitter it was used in an IB Diploma TOK lesson (see their responses to Mimi here) and it has been used as a provocation for the PYP Exhibition in several schools. When this happens with a student’s work, it is incredibly empowering for them.
Here are the words of the poem:
Trapped in Gold
It was dark
I was trapped
I was trapped in Gold
In this place of darkness
Where everyone seems to be
There was me
Finding a way out to be free
The human mindset not working properly
Greed,Selfishness is all I can see
Swiping and swiping my card constantly
Until I realized my card was trapped with me
Hard works pay seems to go so fast
When your life is on hold and it all seems so sad
The sensation of new things
Fills me up with joy
But inside I am upset and destroyed.
All this credit,loan and lending
The life we live is full of spending
It is a cycle that is unending
And we are all pretending.
They make us seem like fools
Sell us tools to make us feel good
Buy the new version to stay on trend
But it’s just another hole
For us to mend
Everything just clutter
But just with money in the gutter
It’s all just an illusion
Nothing but a trick
After you spend, makes you feel sick
There is full of gluttony
It is ruining your life
Can’t you see?
Our lives are a mess
I have to confess
But it’s time to speak up
Don’t let our world corrupt
They suck you in with weird solutions
And all that is left
Are minds with confusion
There used to be excitement
And laughter in the park
But now its all dark,no footstep,no mark
Holes in my shoes
Swinging on the swings as high as I can
It felt like I was a kid superman!
How can you be a good dad?
When your child is entertained by an iPad
So next time
Spend your money wisely
Don’t be a fool
You’re trapped in Gold
This podcast raises some interesting questions about the PYP Exhibition, but also about teaching in general. In particular, the discussion focuses on the problem of making sure that we spend time with all of our students. If we are all honest, we must admit that we have one or two students each year who tend to “fly under the radar”.
What do we do about that?