Three shakes



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Shake one – Friday afternoon

A beer with “Michael”, a friend, teacher at (one of) the most ‘exclusive’, expensive, ‘high-achieving’ girls school in Perth. I have just explained what I do at Moodle these days and touched on my deep conviction against spoonfeeding students and instead giving them real responsibilities, real problems, real chances to fail and succeed.

Me: “I hate it when they look up to me to give them the answers as some kind of oracle. At 15! “Go away and don’t bother me because you can’t be bothered to figure it out  on your own, with your classmates or a person on the other side of the world – but wake me up in the middle of the night if you want to learn more or tell me I am wrong somewhere.” This is why quite a few kids, majority (wannabe) ‘high achievers’, never liked my teaching style and philosophy. But that’s life sunshine! What am I setting you up for?”

Michael: “Oh mate, you would struggle at our school. That’s exactly what I’ve been telling them for years. But… the school is all about academic results, that’s all they are really interested in. And the kids? “You are here to help us get the top marks so just tell us” It drives me mad sometimes, what are they going to do when they get the top marks, what are we really teaching them?”

Shake two – Sunday morning

A visit to another friend, another teacher and former colleague (yes, I do have non-teaching friends too :-) ) Let’s call her Dina.

Dina really wanted to do a bit of emerging curriculum with Year 8 kids new to school. They looked at a documentary, then a mockumentary to pick differences and the kids really ‘got’ the genre and the idea. Then it dawned on her that the kids could actually try and make one. They jumped at it! Kids were asking their teachers if they could they leave their class early so they could come to Dina’s class and work on their doco. The two AEO (Aboriginal Education Officers) assigned to her class as support remarked “you don’t need us, these kids are doing amazingly well!”

Me: “So, what happened?”

Dina: “Well, I came one day all excited to the office and told our Head of Department [a ladder-climbing tick-a-boxer, my note] about it, expecting a “great job, how can we help” sort of thing. Instead, I got questioned and told off : “…I am concerned about this, ”documentary” is not in the Education Department’s ‘Scope and Sequence’ document for Year 8, only for Year 9.”

Shake three – Sunday evening

I had a long phone call with my brother in Slovenia.

His 6 year old son (my nephew) started Grade 1 in September. He enjoys school and learning activities, plays basketball a little and is generally a happy, yet quite an observant and sensitive child. He also carries a bit of extra weight. Recently, he developed a severe tick. It works out he has been bullied at school (won’t go into details but quite heinous).

My brother: “… and to top it all off, he comes home the other day all in tears because he made, for the first time, two mistakes in the maths test (!!!!) He came apologising, as if he somehow let me down. My heart broke I tell you.”

Excuse the swearing but have we gone fucking mental? THIS is what happens when real people are reduced to educational numbers, syllabus documents and grades.

I could write rantily or eloquently (or bit of both) on us becoming the bastards of ‘reason’ and ‘progress’ (John Ralston Saul wrote an outstandingly scathing and well-argued trilogy on this last decade, highly recommend) – but I won’t, not tonight at least.

Kiss your kids and tell them you love them. Often.  (Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen that line before and times I said it…)

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Author: human on March 27, 2010
Category: 3. Change?, 4. Teaching
Tags: , ,
2 responses to “Three shakes”
  1. I think that people focus so much on numbers (especially when they don’t know how to add them) that they miss out on the key fact that the best systems have the best TEACHERS – NOT the best bean counters or TEST WRITERS or other administrivia experts…
    “Finland, Finland, Finland why can’t we be more like thee? So much to show us about ped-a-gogy…” apologies to the Python crew. PeterSW

  2. I’ve thought about this stuff a lot since becoming a dad, and my conclusion is (and I’ll get ready to get flamed for this one) is that all this is no more than human nature manifesting itself in yet another crappy way (and apologies to Tomaz for sullying the title of his blog).

    In an environment where competition for a finite set of resources exists (the big house, the nice car, the 120cm Plasma with home theatre and Foxtel, the golf club membership, the overseas holidays), ‘achievement’ gets boiled down to your capacity to earn more money than your neighbour, which reduces to your ability to complete a degree in Medicine or Law or something, which crystallizes into a TER at the end of year 12, and the rest writes itself back to being in the ‘right’ preschool. I tried to blame this on Capitalism (and there goes my chances of ever visiting the USA I suppose for suggesting such heresies) for a while, until I realised that Capitalism is just another manifestation of human nature – a desire to have life better than the next guy, no matter what the consequence.

    Of course its not all humans which are prone to falling into this trap (if you can call it that) – but I’d bet that lots of them are also the ones who are already rich enough to influence things like University entry processes, which the rest of us then get to live with.

    What to do about it? No idea in the broader sense. Not rely on the organised education world to be the primary educator of your child in the micro-sense. As parents I think we all have a role to play in trying to open our children’s eyes to the different perspectives on the world, such as understanding that a TER may be an important thing, but it sure as hell isn’t the only thing.

    For the record, the best description of this I’ve heard I reckon is the interview with Trey Parker and/or Matt Stone of Southpark fame in the movie “Bowling for Columbine”. See it if you haven’t.

    My 2c only as a jaded grumpy old man with a sad lack of faith in the underlying nature of the human race ;)

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