An argument for Old School: Really OLD!!

We are actively looking at ways to rethink our profession or at least to think in new ways about it. This is a tough thing for people to do, especially for people that are part of the establishment. Education is a weird thing because what it is truly meant for; what’s its foundations were long before Industrialization were something very different than what it became. If you think of what Aristotle and Socrates and even into the Age of the Enlightenment, the educated were the ones tasked with challenging and criticizing the status quo. As a society we needed education to make us wonder about how things could be, and often, how they should be. There is a reason that one of the first things that a dictatorship does when trying to gain power it to take over schools. Education is meant to be the arena where questions are asked and newer and better solutions are proposed.

This intention for education changed with the Industrial Revolution and I have heard few people explain this phenomenon better than Seth Godin.

The concept that Godin argues is that education changed its focus when it moved from “for the few” to “for all”. This democratic ideal is, at its essence a good one, but the intention behind the new system of learning is not so inclusive. The ancient model saw only the elite educated and so, was placed on them the responsibility to challenge and question the ways of the world. The Industrial Age looked to “educate” everyone but the motives behind it were not to create a people that questioned or challenged authority, but who embraced and followed it. This was necessary for the ideals of the Industrial Age to work and to be realized but it did change the entire foundation of education.

I see this so often, now that I have young children of my own. I go to our parent/teacher interviews and I listen to teachers as they gush about my daughter. She is the “favourite” of all her teachers and even gets all As but their reasoning is not something that gives me great confidence. They say that she is the nicest and sweetest girl who is so helpful in class. It is great to hear that your daughter is polite and gets along with people but I am not seeing where all the As are coming from. In fact I get a bit too worried that she is too obedient and too willing to please. Aside from my own fears of raising a daughter who takes great joy in pleasing authority figures, I think that she needs to develop a voice of her own. Part of me secretly hopes that I will get a note some day in her incredibly neat and organized agenda saying that Hannah had to stay in for recess today because she felt it necessary to disagree with what the teacher was saying about a particular topic.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want her to be rude or obnoxious about her ideas, but I think that all kids have to go through that stage to learn how best to assert their points and ideas.

Education has to be about new paradigm and that only comes from thinking of things in a new way. Another Seth Godin video for your consideration.

I love Godin’s line, “The trouble with racing for the bottom is that you may just win.” This is what we need to face in education. We need to look for new ways to think about our profession and our expectations of our students so that we change what we see as success in our schools.

This is one of the reasons that I truly love my job and I love the school I get to do my job in. The other week, I was at a symposium put on for department heads and administration and we started to talk about how we could start to think about skills as the more important component of our job than curriculum and content. This is a pretty cutting edge idea for a board to bring up, (mad props for TCDSB!!), and I would have loved a format where we had more time and a better environment to talk more about this.

We did have an interesting talk though and started to get to the core of it. We started to understand, or at least wonder, if perhaps there is a fundamental shift in the foundation of education. In the past learning skills were a mechanism; a means to deliver and eventually test curriculum or content. Essentially teachers could utilize practices around learning skills like self regulation and collaboration, in the hopes of delivering and having their students understand the content. We talked a lot about how this is not really necessary any more. How the advent of the internet means that content can be learned and gained in a bunch of different ways so what now is the point.

Our discussion took an interesting turn when the question was asked, “Are things reversed? Is now curriculum nothing more than a mechanism to deliver skills?” This is a mind blowing idea when you think about it. IS curriculum really nothing more than a context to learn and apply proper learning skills. In secondary school, is the science curriculum really nothing more than a context upon which one can use and apply collaborative techniques. Is the English curriculum and reading lists, (even though those lists don’t actually exist!), only a suggested bunch of material that students can think critically about. That would then suggest that they should be encouraged to tell the teacher that this particular “classic” is garbage and that their choice is much more engaging.

This is also why I love doing what I do where I do it, because I honestly think that we in Canada and particularly Ontario can make this shift easier than some other places. Why you ask? Simple answer: STANDARDIZED, HIGH STAKES TESTS. I guess I should more accurately say, the lack of these tests. Unlike our neighbours to the south and even some of the other provinces, we don’t have high stakes, standardized tests that test knowledge of curriculum. The only standardized test of any consequence that we have is the grade 10 OSSLT (Literacy Test) and that can be written more than once, and if still failed, a course can be taken in place of it. With this lack of standardization we are free to look at how we define success in our own classes, schools and boards. We can make that fundamental shift and look to use curriculum as a vehicle to deliver skills. We can say that a student “passes” a class when they have discovered every possible way to fail and thus have critically figured out a solution that works for them.

We can do away with the Independent Study Project because we acknowledge that school may very well be the last time in their lives that they will be asked to complete a task by themselves.

We can encourage a critical eye in everyone and thus design assignments where they are asked to disprove a theory instead of memorize it.

We can do this because we have a situation that may allow for it but it is not as easy as I have just made it. We need to engage in more dialogue like what we started, but truly were not granted enough time to indulge in at our Department Heads meeting. We need to challenge as many of the status quo elements of our system and perhaps finally see it as OUR system and stop paying a debt to those that went before us. The one we grew up in was needed for the time, but that time is done and so we need to reclaim this and make it our own.


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