A colleague of mine is retiring. We decided to take her out to lunch today to say goodbye. So we went to a local restaurant and had a really good meal.
The conversation was good as well.Being educational consultants we managed to talk almost exclusively about schools! We discussed the schools we were working in a the moment and quizzed an ex-colleague of ours who has recently left the service to become a headteacher (Principal) 0f a Primary (Elementary) school.
After a while one of us said that she was adamant that her daughter was not going to spend her half term holiday immersed in silly, pointless homework. She wanted her to have fun and get to unwind since she was concerned about the pressure that she felt her daughter was under to achieve exam and test passes.
This statement unleashed one of the most interesting discussions that I have been a part of for many years. The colleague who was retiring said that she had recently been able to get out a number of her daughter’s old exercise books from her secondary school.
“It was amazing,” she said, “just how much pointless rubbish she had to learn whilst at her school, none of which she would ever use again in any meaningful way.”
This opened the floodgates to a whole series of personal memories from our own school days. We had to memorise pages from a well known novel or lines from a well known poem which “killed it dead for me” said one colleague. “They never explained algebra,” said another, “they just said that you do this and you get that”.
There was a general agreement that we had forgotten much of what we had been taught and were not allowed to have our opinion that it was a waste of our valuable time to our almighty teachers who were delivering the knowledge from “on high” that “was good for us”.
We of course were the successes of the system. We all went on to get degrees and then join the teaching community. We were “good teachers” so we escaped from the classroom (what’s the point of that?) and became advisors whose main job was to make our colleagues effective deliverers of much of the material that we had agreed to ourselves was not going to be of value to our students!
We even got to the point of revolutionary thought…”what’s the point of it all anyway?” “What’s the point of homework?” “What’s the point of boxing our children up for hours in nice neat rows and giving them material that they do not want and will never really use in their adult life?”
On the way back to my office I chatted with a colleague who discussed what we had all said. “We are running a Victorian militaristic/factory model of education,” he said, “that’s why there are nice neat rows and thirty was considered an optimum number because they could be dragooned effectively by the teacher/Sergeant Major!”
“So what do we do about it?” I asked.
“That’s up to our political masters,” he said, “we are aware that much of what they say is pure rubbish but we have mortgages to pay and a lifestyle to uphold!”
I walked back into my office with a gloomy feeling. I know that much of what we do is not to support teachers and help children learn.. it is to produce teachers who are effective at achieving results.. but will the current generation of students come out of school having studied the same old nonsense that will mean nothing to them as they become adults?
The joy of blogging is the ability to let off steam. Just as the discussion in an informal setting over lunch had been to a group of intelligent educators. But there is no doubt that at some time and place the Victorian model must end. As Sir Ken Robinson has said so many times, we must change this system because it is not achieving anything. Even the guardians of the system like we consultants, are aware of its shortcomings.. but we are afraid to venture into an opposition when there are the lures of high pay and status for upholding the status quo.
I think though that there is change in the air. It is the change that technology is bringing to our society. As in all revolutions there will be pain and victims and there will be the reaction of those who believe “the old ways are the best”. But a change will definitely come and maybe one day, some of us (probably the younger ones!) will be able to support learning in schools where students have a curriculum that fits their own interests and skills. We will support the teacher as an “effective leader of learning” and we will be able to see our students (our children) interested in what they do and gaining important skills that will set them up for a lifetime of learning and the “Victorian model” will be consigned to the history books where it should have been many years ago!