Friday, 12 April 2013
Education, you had ONE job, just ONE JOB!
The Melbourne Declaration (http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/verve/_resources/national_declaration_on_the_educational_goals_for_young_australians.pdf) is a Neil Armstrong-esque, one small step in the right direction, and light years better than the US first attempt at a 21st Century curriculum. But the declaration is, on its own, wishful thinking. There exist more glaring problems with the education system, its role in society, and in society itself, than the National Curriculum and the Melbourne Declaration have thus far addressed. I want to be a teacher (turning down at least two other lucrative career paths) for three reasons: first, because I will be a brilliant teacher, and the world needs as many of those as they can get. Second, because I want to inspire as many children and young people as I possibly can to think critically, have confidence in themselves, and to know who they are. Third, so I can help facilitate the changes to society and its institutions (including education) that need to happen. In short, I am what J Abner Peddiwell called in his timeless essay on education “The Sabre Tooth Curriculum,” a 'radical.' And we live in a radical time.
Whether you're a realist like me or something else, the world is becoming more globalised, diverse, and sociably and upwardly mobile. It's inescapable; like John Henry vs. the machine, you cannot stop progress. It remains to be seen whether these changes will deliver the stated, and desirable, outcomes of producing 'healthy, productive and rewarding futures' for Australian school leavers. There are some good common-sense and relatively simple-to-implement points in the declaration, such as the focus on becoming 'Asia literate' (remembering that not so long ago our own Prime Minister Paul Keating said that Asia is 'just a place you fly over to get to Europe')(p.4). The ideas of creating an environment free of discrimination, and reducing effects of socio-economic disadvantage (p.7) are a little harder to implement, mostly because these are in large part symptoms of the current system anyway. In a sense, what the Declaration espouses is using the disease that produced these symptoms to cure them. By far the most positive aspect of the Declaration is the (albeit small) recognition it draws to the diversity of individual intelligences, and the necessity of 'a range of pathways to meet the diverse needs and aspirations of all young Australians.' (p.8) This is still coming from within the old framework though, which is why it's wishful thinking. For now.
The problem with the current changes to the education system is that they are reformations, not transformations; the system was built to meet the needs of the socio-cultural, technological and communications revolution of industrialism in the 1800's (Rifkin 2009; Robinson 2006), and is predicated on the idea of a certain, very narrow, kind of academic ability, and the demonstrated capacity for it (ibid). It was designed to create obedient workers who, in the words of George Carlin, are:
'Just smart enough to run the machines and do all the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept the increasingly shittier jobs and pay schemes. (The people who crafted it) aren't interested in creating a nation of people smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard...years ago...they just want obedient workers.'
Or we could take a look at H. L Mencken's (1924) damning words:
“The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardised citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is the aim...whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues, and other such mountebanks...in the United States and everywhere else.”
Like it or not, it is the truth. Which is precisely what they're getting, more often than not, and with all the changes the Melbourne Declaration rightly identifies to be taking place in the world, I hope you can see why reformation (as opposed to transformation) isn't going to cut the mustard, and I am in this to change the system from the inside.
I have always had a passion for history, storytelling, original and 'maverick' thinking, and inspiring humankind. A friend once told me in all seriousness that I would make a very good cult leader. Perhaps I am destined to lead the cult of properly educating humanity.
I fervently agree with the sentiments of great historians, historiographers, and historical figures such as Jared Diamond, Edward Carr, Bill Bryson, Jeremy Rifkin, and Ronald Wright, with the idea that facts and rote learning do not matter. What matters is the search for the causal relationships between social and chronological events, and to find them, so one can understand them. To cast, as it were, a long look back in order to cast a short look forward (Christian 2005). Even fewer teachers – or people in general – seem to see why this kind of thinking is important, or why empathy, and appreciating their students for who they really are is the most important (Rifkin 2009). The reasons why fall outside the scope of this particular discussion, but the consequences of not doing it are very real, and probably deadly.
Carlin, G., (2008), It's Bad for Ya! (Stand-Up Comedy Recording), HBO.
Christian, D., (2005), Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, University of California Press.
Mencken, H. L. (1924), in The American Mercury.
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, (2008), Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, retrieved <http://www.mceetya.edu.au/verve/_resources/National_Declaration_on_the_Educational_Goals_for_Young_Australians.pdf >
Rifkin, J., (2009), The Empathic Civilisation: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, Tarcher-Penguin, London.
Robinson, K., (2006), The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything.