A friend recently sent me a song that he had written about education – partly his own education 50 odd years ago but more pointedly also about education today. The reality is that today education is even more perilous because it has moved into a post-modern era where the present social views are determined by numbers and political correctness rather than an objective norm e.g. a Judaeo Christian ethic. The song refers to this as a “rudderless boat”.
Mousehole Cornwall UK
Currently in our state this has come to a head under the guise of “Safe Schools”. On the surface this is a noble idea. Our children need to be safe from predators and bullying – every one of them. Yet within the program there is also (not too subtle) social engineering about sexuality – an engineering that is shaped by the latest (most vocal) views.
Another phrase in the song that struck me was, “the system can’t tell me what all this is for.” The implication is that so many ideas have been compressed into what has become an overcrowded education/curriculum which, I believe, is striving to compensate for a chaotic social fabric. The result is that we have lost sight of, or have become unsure of, the purposes of education because there are just so many competing ideas in this can of worms.
The school in which I teach states in its Vision Statement “[Our] College strives to be a vibrant Christ-Centred community where parents and teachers serve in partnership to nurture in each child a passion for learning and an uncompromising desire to live according to God’s word.”
Three things stand out in contrast to much of our current education in this statement. One, education is the equipping of a child to love God and their neighbour, two, this is on a foundation not created by our own whims but one that is distilled from the Word of God and three, this is surrounded by a community shaped by a common ethos.
My friend’s song also asks, where will the current societal trends in education lead us? It is a question that disturbs me too and for which the only answer I have is, more chaos.
A few weeks ago while teaching a year 10 class it suddenly hit me that it was exactly 50 years earlier that I had been in Year 10. I expressed this to the students and they responded by saying that it was amazing that someone could be so old and still talk and stand at the same time.
We discussed the changes that occurred over this period. Then the unemployment rate was well under 2%. A student could leave in year 11 and do a two year primary teaching certificate and be back in the classroom before turning 20. Lots of students left by year 9 and 10 and went straight into jobs and apprenticeships. At Queenscliff High all my fellow students would remember Robbo who was the first to escape and became a postman. Even in the early 1970s I could still walk into the Ford factory and find myself on the afternoon shift the next day earning some money so I could afford to get married the following year.
At my school girls still did the “girls’ subjects (Home Economics, Commerce and Shorthand and Typing) and boys did the “boys’” subjects (Mechanical Drawing, Woodwork and the sciences). Some schools were beginning to experiment by allowing a more democratic choice of subjects.
There was the cold war, nuclear fears and the growing rumbles of the Vietnam war. Colonialism was coming to an end and we had just introduced decimal currency.
The divorce rate was still low and de facto relationships hardly heard of. Although later I found out that many of these families suffered at the hands abusive husbands and fathers.
Technology has of course been the one of the most massive changes. In 1966 the teacher would hand out sheets which had been duplicated on a spirit duplicator. Every student would sniff their sheet of paper for its faint smell of the spirit/alcohol.
For those of you who are a certain age, what changes have you noticed?
The room is nervously quiet.
A heater gently hums.
There is the rustling of twitching pages.
Then the reading time finishes
and the starting gun booms in explosive silence.
The click and scratch of pens flinch in earnest.
Unseen but real
nervous energy tensions the air.
details are rummaged for in far recesses
while palms sweat.
Only to know that this is “practice”
and it needs to be done all over again.
Nothing thrills an English teacher more than seeing students become excited about words.
Recently a poet visited the school and held a workshop with a group of students. I sat at the back of the room and observed the class. Cameron, the poet, slowly removed the restraints on the students’ imagination through a variety of sensing and imagining exercises and then they wrote, explored, refined and developed their ideas.
The results were astounding. Some of the students, usually retiring and shy, read their marvelous poems and received praise from their fellow students.
What impressed me was the depth and complexity of thought that some of these poems revealed: reflections on life, living and creation that went beyond the mundane. It reminded me again of the teacher’s task to “unlock” and “enable” – to unlock the talents that that are there and to pass on the skills that enable the those gifts and talents to be developed.
It is humbling to watch a good teacher applying their skills and it is exhilarating to see the results.
It is that time of year again. The general populace is thinking of Christmas but teachers are busily finishing off reports and reflecting on creative ways of telling the truth without engendering the wrath of protective parents. Do I write, “Johnny is an enthusiastic student whose energy knows no bounds” or “Johnny is uncontrollable and has no sense or discipline or self-control”? Do I write, “Mary is unmotivated“ or “Mary reflects all the sloth of her parents”? Um, I wonder?
Before the report writing there was the marking. Exams, essays and other pieces that would provide evidence for the reports, all had to be assessed. Writing and meaning had to be deciphered. By this stage of the year the shoulders are hunched, the eyes bleary and the footstep slow.
The Thanksgiving and Graduation evening is special. Students who have worked hard and achieved highly are acknowledged. My favourite awards are for students who have worked hard and progressed but have not necessarily achieved high marks but need to be encouraged for their effort. Also students graduate from one section of the school and move to the next and the Year 12 students are acknowledged as they leave the College. This year, after being, homeroom teacher to the same group of students for the last three years I have that nagging parental conflict of hope and fear, and excitement and trepidation as another group of Year 12 students step out into the next stage of their lives. May God go before them.
And then, next year, I can start all over again …
Now that my studies have finished for this semester I hope to have more time to write and read blogs. It is an activity I have come to love but being in the “non-essential” category it has been relegated down the list.
Returning to tertiary study has been a interesting activity. I had forgotten how demanding it could be if one wanted to do it well. The intensive reading, focussed researching, reviewing and writing extended essays were skills that had dulled more than a bit over time. Hopefully all this brain activity will keep the neurons active.
I have regained some understanding of what my students go through. For me however, this study isn’t “future determining” so I don’t want to put it in the same category as my Year 12 students who are seeking opportunities for future directions.
Reflecting on my own Form 6 or Year 12 experiences I have come to understand that 2014 is a different world to 1968. Back then I was competing with other students in my town or state. Students today are, in effect, competing with the world. I have the utmost respect for my current students as they strive to keep the focus and passion in a tough environment.
Moreover, employment in 1968 was under 2% and that included young people. I remember driving past the Ford factory in my final year at Uni and getting work on the afternoon shift without a hiccough. Now the Ford factory is closing and the unemployment rate for young people is astronomical. To obtain work, Uni places and receive an income are no longer values we can blithely assume. So before we start criticising our youth, an audit of how we would fared in today’s climate might be sobering.
Yes, the world is a different place. But I haven’t changed … much.
The “7 Up” series is often described as the best documentary ever made. Starting with a one off program in 1964 it explored the future of British society through the lives of a group of 7 year old children.
Seven years later Michael Apted, who had been a researcher on the original program revisted the young people and continued exploring the direction of their lives. Last year 56 Up was released. Apted had returned to their lives with a film crew every 7 years for nearly 50 years.
I have always admired these people as they have had their lives audited and scrutinised by Apted and then the viewer. Yet because of their sacrifice in this process we have a record of changes, large and small, in British society over a 50 year period. From the class system, attitudes to marriage and children, through to the rise of technology and the changes in fashion, have all been recorded – both consciously and unconsciously. Their lives, and in some real sense, our Western lives have been etched into history.
As a teacher I have used this resource in a variety of ways. The series chronicles human decisions, character, history and society. However I have always been conscious that we are dealing with the lives of real people and that these lives have been filtered through the interviewing and editing by Michael Apted and his team. Whenever I use this series I remind my students to be respectful because the people are not Hollywood creations but fellow human beings with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears just like the rest of us.
I have never been disappointed by my classes responses. Yes they may like one person more than another but we have that in life anyway. It also wonderful to see how students respond to decisions that the participants make and modify their views and responses. I will relate some of these in the future.
I admire all the people in this project simply because of their courage and openness. When we see their lives we get a glimpse of our own.
I hope to write more in the days ahead.
A wood carving in the Melide Museum, Spain, of boys playing marbles
When we were playing marbles around the the cypress trees at Ocean Grove Primary School, little did we comprehend how complicated life would become. Our only interest was winning, honing our skills and showing the other boys how clever we were.
There is an innocence and naivete in being young that is precious because once innocence is lost, it can never be regained. Innocence allows the young to wonder, imagine and rejoice in the world around them. This guilelessness makes wonder and exploration exciting and new. The ocean is a catalyst for stories and wonderful horizons, a forest, a place of scary stories and imaginary creatures … and so on.
It is bad enough that wars and famines destroy that youthful wonder daily, but even when we don’t have these monstrosities we still kill wonder. To put it coldly: too many of our young children know too much. They don’t have to wonder or imagine because it is all done for them. Television and the internet leaves nothing for their forming imaginations. But this loss of innocence is particularly noticeable when it comes to human sexuality. What the average 12 year old knows today far exceeds the knowledge of most 12 year old fifty years ago. Has this extra, early knowledge made for healthier adult humans? I don’t think so. It has tragically led to an overly sexualised society from our children up. Sexuality has lost much of its wonder, beauty and mystique. But I digress.
My plea is that we give our children room to wonder, imagine and explore without imposing upon them our adult understanding too early. That reality will come soon enough – we don’t need to rush it. Our kids need to room to imagine, explore and create – to reveal the world as they see it.
I wonder what Leonardo da Vinci’s childhood was like? I can’t imagine that his parents told him that his fantastical pictures of helicopters and machines were idiotic imaginings. He, I think, was allowed to wonder, and that wonder stayed with him for his whole life.
Sand Desk at the Jamtli Folk Museum, Ostersund Sweden
Carrot or stick?
the teacher’s best friend?
A word in season,
A well timed smile,
A friendly nudge,
will melt ice
and make hearts,
minds and hands
willing and wanting
Yesterday I suggested seeking alternative sources for news. Below is a very small cross section of the places one can go. You may wish to suggest others. There are both Christian and secular websites referenced. The point is simple: in this Internet age there are websites as well bloggers on the ground who can inform us across a wider spectrum and remove us from the need to source our news exclusively from the commercial news giants. After all my aim in life is not to make Rupert Murdock, for one, richer and even more influential.