Friday, April 06, 2007

Real Teaching

'As far as I can see, this whole "problem" has its basis in the compulsory element of education. How different all this would be if facilities were invitational!'
- Barbara Stark, Chair of AHEd

'Something is going seriously wrong when more than half of children are deteriorating in their education despite turning up at school every day for three years.'
- Nick Gibb, Conservative party School Spokesman

'We regret that the drive towards full employment in an expanding economy will result in a greater institutionalisation of children.'
- The Association of Teachers and Lecturers Annual Conference

'We have an increasing number of kids who are deciding that they don't want to do either a certain subject or a certain teacher's lessons.'
- Teacher, TES message board

'It is part of the mythology of childhood itself that children hate learning and will avoid it at all costs.'
- Daniel Quinn, Schooling: The Hidden Agenda

It's not only children and families who are poorly served by a compulsory education system - I really feel for the teachers too. I think it's tragic that so much expertise and natural teaching ability is wasted in trying to force children to comply with this counterproductive law.

There is nothing more demoralising and frustrating than trying to teach someone who doesn't want to learn that thing, at that time, from you. They struggle to pay attention, they're not interested in asking questions or learning the answers and all their thoughts are focused on escape. In that way it's worse than prison. Prison only seeks to contain a person's body. Compulsory schooling also seeks to contain their mind.

Very good teachers can sometimes succeed in capturing a student's interest in something by finding creative ways to draw people in and make things look exciting, but this is impossible to maintain on a full-time basis, in respect of every student. Especially when the teacher has to produce a certain quota of paperwork from the class every term. We take people who passionately want to teach, and then ask the impossible of them. And give them no option other than resignation or sick leave.

Natural teachers love to teach just as much as willing students love to learn. This is a magical, powerful, essential relationship in our society, but we repeatedly thwart its development by making education compulsory.

I have in my mind an image of an 'invitational facility', as Barbara puts it so well and how very different its teachers' lives would be.

Such a teacher would be free to convert his/her classroom into an inspirational space: a physical demonstration of their specialist subject. There would be time for the teacher to study more, and freedom to make the space comfortable for everyone. Students would come when they wanted to learn from the teacher - and they would certainly want to learn from a teacher who wanted to teach and did it well.

Instead of standing infront of a class of unwilling, increasingly unruly captives, exhaustingly battling against closed minds, the 'invitational' teacher would wait until someone came with questions or requests:

"Can you tell me about...?" "Can you show me how to..?" "Can you help me work out..?" And the teacher wouldn't be expected to know all the answers like an endless encyclopaedia (although some might!) but would instead provide resources, guidance and a shared enthusiasm to help the student learn from the point he or she was at, to the point he or she wanted to know.

There would be no problem with teacher recruitment, student behaviour, truancy, quality or quantity of work... or monitoring home educators! In fact, such a solution would solve a great many of society's problems in one fell swoop.

So why isn't it happening?


Blogger Tech said...

couple more quotes that i think are appropriate for this blog post (although some might think the first a bit *hippy* ;-) )

“There is a tendency in the West to expect teachers to provide us with all the answers, to reveal objective truths about the nature of our experiences: what they should be; how they should feel; what benefits they should bring us. However, the approach of Kum Nye, as it is in many Eastern traditions, is quite the reverse: a teacher does not express certain kinds of knowledge until the student reaches a point of understanding for himself or herself. Then the teacher confirms that this is so. Everybody’s experience is unique, and everybody has the capacity to find their way to truth.”

“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand”

11:44 am, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Oh and just picked this one up off AHEd list:

Winston Churchill said...."Schools have not necessarily much to do with education....they are mainly institutions of control, where basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school."

I think that answers the question you posed?

11:47 am, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Mieke said...

It IS happening, but only on a small scale and in a few countries. Ever heard of the Sudbury Valley School (Massachusetts, USA), or read any of their books? "Free at last" is the one I like best. SBS was founded in 1968 and they're still going strong. Lots and lots of well educated and positive experience there!

11:55 am, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Qalballah said...

The thing with real teaching as any Sufi will tell you is that everything depends upon the time, the place and the capacity of the student. Real teaching is nuanced. It changes with the seasons, the time of the day, the alignment of the planets, the experiences of the child - everything! It is a peculiarly Western mind set that tries to force everything into neat little compartments and timetables. Real knowledge resists that. All that happens at best is some information gets carried around.

I am a trained teacher and this is what I learned: the bright kids didn't need me - they could have done better with a stack of reference books and the time to do a good job instead of splitting their days up into 35 min segments. The not so bright ones could have been inspired in other ways but this was impossible due to the fact that that would need 1 on 1 tutorials and individual curricula which the 'system' can't cope with.

The rest needed a vocation or apprenticeships and there is little benefit teaching someone French when they haven't even mastered English.

Real knowledge, as the saying goes is the lighting of a fire and in the System they have a very good sprinkler system set in place to douse any smouldering embers.

11:58 am, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

You just described Summerhill.

2:53 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

I am very interested in the concept of schools evolving in 'learning centres' - places where people can seek support and resources etc. as they need it. 'Flexi-school' but on a grand scale, offering opportunities for learning tailored to the individual as it would be the individual who chose the level of involvement that they needed.

I would agree with qalballah points, but am still a little cynical as to whether some members would ever seek to engage in such a system - which in turn boils down to my own values and my own beliefs about what education can be. What if individuals chose to not read or write (and I do know adults who are illiterate and this does cause them difficulty in their day-to-day lives). Naturally having been through the school system, it is clear that the school system has not worked for them (and that trying to force them to read and write has not been a successful approach) - but would any alternative be more successful?

I my children's case (and that of many other children I know) then yes, it probably would. My eldest two would be considered to have 'come' to reading late, yet now they flourish, however would that be the case for everyone?

I think it would require a shift in mainstream societal thinking away from the notion of (forced) school education towards self-motivation, which although it already naturally exists in many young people whether within or without school, for others their experience has been so negative and their expectations so affected that the natural thirst for knowledge that a young child has may be somewhat compromised.

Erm, losing the thread of my own argument here, so will probably read and continue in a mo.

3:04 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Who described Summerhill Tim?

3:06 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...


It seems to me that there are all sorts of different models we might try for schools and education, and the only one which has been proven not to work is the State education system we have.

3:06 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

Hmmm. Right. I hate the way there's such a narrow little box to comment in.

I suppose the concept also widens to include adults within the community, however, such opportunities do exist within the college system for adults who want support in areas such as literacy and numeracy (although there are other more subtle barriers to them accessing it).

Another point is that schools act as a form of mass subsidised childcare - there would need to be a further shift in attitude towards working patterns (etc.)

I hate not being particularly linear in my thoughts :0(

Am off to visit the Mass. link (I'm already aware of Summerhill).

3:10 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

Tim - yes. Although some people do have very fond memories of school (I'm not one of them).

I think there needs to be a further diversification of options available to families, because, IMHO, true choice does not exist unless you also have the option of paying for attendance at one of the independent schools (such as Summerhill) as well as that of HE etc. and live in an area where there is the choice available.

3:13 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Ah, her post wasn't there when I posted. I don't agree though, and I don't personally think that Summerhill is a good example of what we're talking about here.

I think that we're talking about a community centred learning centre, and as far as I can tell Summerhill is only available for it's own community - ie the students who belong to the school, so you still have that *school* feeling of a sequestered environment.

There are still elements of compulsion - you can't board at a school, no matter how free, and still have complete choice over what and how you learn.

Summerhill also seems to prefer little parental input, which seems to me to be pretty much in line with alot of *ordinary* schools.

3:16 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

My interest is in that of a centre open to all, that can be accessed freely, although I would suppose that naturally there would have to be some sort of timetable in place - can't expect people who work there to spend their entire time there and be on call every minute and perhaps a little unfair if someone wants to come in at some time past midnight :0D

3:22 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Lol, well yes! But then again, there will be people who prefer to be doing their learning in the early hours, and there would also presumably be teachers who might prefer that too, so it could potentially be open through the night too, but again, would have to have an element of structure to work.

3:25 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

T'would be nice to have the flexibility. Certainly I think something common to many young people is that they're not exactly early risers ;0) (mind you, I'm not so young and that would include me...)

3:27 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

A friend of ours is just finishing her education at Summerhill and says that, although she's preferred it to 'ordinary' school, she still found the legal compulsion to attend put her and most of the other students, off learning.

This "You HAVE to do this," "Then I don't want to," situation seems to be at the root of the problem, and Summerhill and Sudbury both operate within countries where education is compulsory, so they still struggle to harness pupils' curiosity and will to learn.

3:34 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

How on earth would you be able to experiment to see if this system could work though?

If such a centre was set up now, presumably it would have to be within an experimental community. Under current laws, unless for the reasons of the experiment the community was granted immunity from them (ROFL), then the centre would have to be registered as school and we'd be back a square one :-(

I can only see it working (help me think further outside the box!!) if we had true autonomy within true communities, which would mean the breaking apart of the entire way of life that we currently have.

3:47 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

I can't remember the exact law re. registering as a school. Is it based on time spent as well as numbers?

3:50 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Think it's more than 5 pupils - the length of time is up for debate at the mo as they've just had a consultation about it.

3:53 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

If you were a student who wanted some help from a teacher, you could phone or email the teacher and explain what sort of help you wanted and when you would want it. The teacher would presumably keep a diary and have slots available, in which s/he could accomodate various students who might have enough in common to share a session.

You could also keep an open door policy and have students listening outside and being drawn into sessions that interested them.

I'd like the idea of libraries to be taken and run as schools - you could incorporate public libraries into schools so that they both worked together. You could use the centres for vocational and academic training, teaching and learning.

I was recently looking for a council-run MOT centre for my car, for e.g., but there aren't any local to us. This would be an ideal thing to run in conjunction with a learning centre: I could get my car tested impartially and students who wanted to be mechanics could do the job, supervised by the tutor.

I think we cause big problems by trying to make all learning paper-based. Only a small range of intelligence is based on reading and writing. We ignore or downplay the others, to the detriment of many children.

"How on earth would you be able to experiment to see if this system could work though?" Hmmm good question! Well, the first step is to deregister from the current system.

I'm just remembering a phone call I had a few months ago with our chief EWO. He was asking me if I had a list of private tutors, because parents kept asking him but the risk of conflict of interests prevented him from sharing the information, though he did want to help them. He was wondering whether referring them onto me might be helpful. Sadly I had to tell him I didn't have such a list.

But a lot of teacher don't like the present system and are teaching on 'supply' because of it.

Seems like we have an element of children and teachers both not in school there, but wanting to teach and learn, without the element of compulsion.

The other thing is, anyone can teach, given a love of the subject and the patience to convey information at the learner's pace. A big proportion of teacher training is learning 'classroom management', which is only necessary with compulsion.

3:59 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

"Under current laws, unless for the reasons of the experiment the community was granted immunity from them"
- Depends on the definition of 'education' doesn't it?
Autonomous learning gets around it because we truthfully make the argument that our children are learning all the time.

4:05 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL, shorter coments for the win! I keep losing the thread of the discussion by writing long ones.

4:06 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Do you think that this could be a worthwhile argument pursuing in the coming months: that further prescriptive measures for education will prevent creative solutions to the problems of the current system?

4:16 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

or even an argument worth perusing.

4:21 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger dottyspots said...

I think further prescription will likely worsen some young people's experience of school. As for keeping them there till they're 18! I've worked with young people who don't want to be there at 14, let alone at 16. It would be impossible to keep them there until 18. It's madness.

However, I don't think anyone making any of these decisions is going to listen, otherwise they wouldn't have come up with what are, to me, blinkered suggestions in the first place.

4:24 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

Blah, i give up! I'm going outside to build brick walls lol!

4:24 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

>>I think further prescription will likely worsen some young people's experience of school. As for keeping them there till they're 18! <<

Aye, crazy idea isn't it? I know a few young people who, if they'd had to stay until they were 18, well, they would either have been very badly damaged or would have badly damaged others :-(

LOL word verification is *kpows*

5:30 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

this thread on the TES message board actually debates the issue, when you get into it.
Some *interesting* teacher reactions to the idea!
One that caught my eye: "Do you know how hard it is to become a school teacher?" ^^

11:08 pm, April 06, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

I just read that thread. Aber1991 comments caused complete outrage lol. It was quite funny.

8:16 pm, April 07, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Made me laugh :-)

I wonder who he is? He 'sometimes thinks he's the only liberal on the planet'! That's sad. And untrue.

And some of their reactions to his term: 'dear children' were interesting too I thought,

6:28 am, April 08, 2007  
Blogger IndigoShirl said...

I just read that thread too.... too scary for me - all that you must have qualifications to get a good job and be told what to do. Shudder....

Its teaching in square rooms all day that must give them that box mentality lol! I wonder what would happen if they build schools with round rooms: sorry I'm being silly now!

10:10 am, April 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL yes! Round classrooms, with french windows all around every wall... open ones....


10:21 am, April 09, 2007  

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