Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Teacher

Producing exam-hardened individuals to serve the needs of employers has become the be-all and end-all of contemporary education.

But is the exclusive focus on the ability to pass tests in short bursts really helpful to employers, let alone those being tested or the wider society?

Education is ultimately about the kind of people we want to bring up as our fellow citizens. It is indeed important they develop some competence in serving the needs of others so that others will in turn reciprocate by contributing to the meeting of their needs. It is equally important they develop their capacity to find meaning and lead a fulfilling life themselves. Neither of these goals can be realised if we institutionalise a narrow range of skills and tests as the only ones that matter in evaluating the worth of a human being.

Instead of accepting the dominant frame that presents the teacher’s role as that of the factory worker churning out standard components (as well as quite a few spare parts) for the corporate machine, educators concerned with the overall development of those in our charge – in schools, universities, or adult learning – should persist with aiding students in pursuit of their long-term wellbeing.

In spite of the dominant dogma, which stigmatises failures in raising pass rates as disastrous and condemns success in raising pass rates as lowering standards, it is vital to recognise the value of promoting a better understanding of cooperative interactions, opportunities to cultivate diverse human potential, causes of injustice and exploitation, and ways to access cultural enrichment.

To reduce people into categories of good, average and poor exam-takers, and use that differentiation to segregate them into the well-rewarded and the marginalised, is to betray the purpose of education.

It is of course difficult to challenge the prevailing model of education when it is an integral part of our increasingly plutocratic socio-political system. But resistance is most needed precisely when the threat is most difficult to dislodge.

If you too reject the notion that education is about cheering on a few natural born sprinters, and you believe in helping all to run the long distance obstacle course for self-development, then share your thoughts with other like-minded teachers. You may at times feel isolated, but in this struggle you are not alone.


Woodman59 said...

Absolutely wonderful. It is essential that these sentiments are stated as boldly and clearly as this, wherever possible.

The last paragraph - in particular, leaves us with a superb vision of what is required.

@SuitableEd said...

I don't think the problem is just that schools seem to be exam and test factories in contemporary society. I also feel that there are problems with regard to how children are perceived ie. as 'citizens in waiting', who are limited in what they are 'allowed' to voice their views about. If children and young people were truly listened to and included in the development of their own education, where the wasn't a centrally controlled curriculum and much more democracy in schools it might not be necessary for teachers to resort to carrot and stick approaches to 'encourage' children to learn. Having said this, all children are different and with this in mind it would seem appropriate that there be more real choices in types of schools and the types of education they offer, funded through the state.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for inviting comment Henry.

Your blog brought this cartoon to mind - I think you'll have to copy and paste the link in your browser

I don't know the source and am willing to acknowledge it, but it illustrates your point very visually.

Ann Walker (WEA)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. As an adult educator, my entire professional life is devoted to breaking through the privileged charm of the chosen ones.

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Thanks Ann, a very apt illustration indeed:
Wonder if anyone knows who drew it.

Helen O'Connor said...

For the last four years I have been involved in setting up a 'free' school, in the town where I live, Swanage in Dorset. In 2009, Dorset County Council decided to move from a three tier to two tier system of schools on the Isle of Purbeck, which saw Swanage Middle School close in July. This would have left the town without any secondary educational provision, as all children aged 11+ would have travelled at least 10 miles to school elsewhere. However, the opening of The Swanage School, has enabled children and young people to be educated 'at home', in their own community. Some people have questioned the need for a school in Swanage merely 'for the sake of a bus ride', however, they are missing the point... if we are to educate our young people to have 'whole' lives and positive experiences of life, I believe they are best educated in their home communities, in the mix of the people they live with and grow up with. Our new school, The Swanage School, opened this week. We have a 'human scale' and cooperative ethos, where relationships are at the heart of learning and the school is at the heart of the community. Our ambition goes beyond the target driven, hoop jumping exam results process (although we believe qualifications are important too), it aims for a type of education that 'expands horizons' - extending experiences beyond the conventional classroom to the community and environment in which children live. Yesterday the students and staff at The Swanage School went coasteering; jumping into the sea from Dancing Ledge, a beautiful location about a mile from their school. They explored the nooks and crannies of the Jurrassic coastline and swam with a curious seal! Some of them had never been to Dancing Ledge before, or even put on a wet suit, despite living within walking distance of the sea. To me, education is whole when it encompasses the essential parts of life - place (community), values (we have 'The Swanage School Way, e.g. opening doors for each other) and ambition (having purpose...). Exams might be part of this, but they certainly are not the whole.