The rules of engagement
In military or police operations, the rules of engagement (ROE) determine when, where, and how force shall be used (for example, a submarine of country A cannot open fire on the shipping vessels of country B without an official declaration of war). Such rules are both general and specific, and there have been large variations between cultures throughout history. The rules may be made public, as in a martial law or curfew situation, but are typically only fully known to the force that intends to use them. The ROE should comply with the generally accepted martial law.
I was going to call this post 'Engaged' and start talking about the locks on toilet doors, because 'engaging with learning' seems to be a predominant buzz word in many of the education industry publications I've been reading this week. (But the ROE was a better analogy I thought, if we were having one.) "The student must be engaged with the learning process..", "The vast majority [of NEETs].." according to this news item:
"...are actually 'engaging in education, employment or training' - they are just 'moving in and out of the system as they drop out of or complete their previous activity'. So part of the strategy is to get them re-engaged as quickly as possible, rather than spending what may be months doing nothing."
So I want to write today, on the eve of another meeting between home educators and Mr Badman and while meetings are also being set up with Professor Heppell to discuss the review, something about the engagement of students.
So what do they mean by the word? From my Collins dictionary here:
engage v.t. to bind by contract, pledge or promise; to hire; to order; to employ; to undertake; to occupy; to busy; to attract; to bring into conflict; to interlock. [Fr. engager, fr. gage, pledge].
And a pledge is a two-way thing that requires voluntary participation. So, governments have mandates because some people still go and vote for them (or neglect to riot for their removal); eCAFs [opens pdf] can only be carried out with the family's permission and a student has to want to study in order to be engaged in the learning process. If you try to bypass the necessary rules of engagement by forcing people into situations they didn't agree to, you find yourself in trouble.
Some school pupils will be engaged with the learning process there just because it happens to suit their interests and their learning style. Others will be extrinsically motivated by the wishes of their parents, or the perceived need to gain qualifications at whatever cost, so both of those groups will presumably keep working. But there's a third group, Mr Badman's "Highly individual, entrepreneurial [students], adaptive to constant change, [which is] becoming [the] dominant lifestyle choice in younger generations in UK and US", for whom those kinds of motivations don't work. So they want to set their own targets, which is what Stephen Heppell says his students are allowed to do.
I'm not putting this very well, but I was talking to Ali about it earlier and he explained it so much better than I can, which isn't surprising really, since I'm speaking from second hand experience and he's speaking from first. I've asked him to write something about it for the blog, but he's stressing about getting it 'right'(!) so I'll try to paraphrase what he said a little bit:
"The Internet is the perfect learning platform. Really, you only need to give unlimited access to a child a PC and broadband internet access, and that child will learn in leaps and bounds. You don't need to try and regulate or stimulate that learning in any way: it will just happen. If I'd had someone asking me what my targets were for that day, week or month and trying to coerce me to stick to them, it wouldn't have worked because my targets changed by the minute according to what I discovered along the way. If someone had been expecting me to log onto a certain site or tracking my movements online, it would have just irritated me, restricted me and slowed me down. I'd have been trying to think up ways to bypass their system instead of just getting on with learning what I wanted to learn. Why are there always strings attached? Why can't they just give computers to children who need them, and let them get on with using them as the brilliant learning tool they are?"
He said a lot more than that, and has promised to have a look at Notschool and write his thoughts about that for me. I hope he does: he's a great writer. He just keeps telling me: "Don't expect anything brilliant," but I do, of course. I'm his mother! Hmmm, no pressure then..!
I've found a research report written by John Traxler for Becta entitled: Learners - Should We Leave Them To Their Own Devices? which I thought was going to be even more interesting than it actually is, but it's just about whether to allow students to use their own 'mobile learning devices' (iphones etc, I think) in class. This quote might be useful though:
With increasingly sustainable and sensitive contextual information, learner devices necessarily give institutions far greater insights into the locations and behaviour of learners. Enriching the educational experience must involve engaging as fully as possible with this contextual information and perhaps linking it to other education systems such as learning platforms or school registers. With this, however, comes the potential for greater surveillance and oversight of learners. The implications differ across the sectors; surveillance may even be a good thing for schools responsible for the care of minors but only so long as the data remains secure. Conversely, concerns about privacy and surveillance may stop some learners volunteering their devices. [My emphasis]
Anyway, it seems to me that there's a lot of engagement required, where ever you look: Graham Badman and Stephen Heppell engaging with home educators; schools and other elements of the education industry needing students to engage with their learning; governments wanting to engage with the electorate. I notice the word has made its way onto the Local Government Association's list of banned words - twice! (If they really did ban all those words, there'd be just reams of blank paper in those pdf files I've been reading for the past few months.)
But in respect of learning, a student can either choose to engage with (or resist) a prescribed course or agreement, or he can be free to engage with his own educational process. Are these alternatives mutually exclusive? This is perhaps where the toilet door analogy comes in:
You know? If it's already engaged, you're locked out and you have to find another cubicle, one that looks VACANT. I suspect that's how learning works, as well as public toilets: if someone's busy on their own programme of learning, you can't really get in to interfere with that and nor, in a sane world, would you want to.
I'd also say it depends entirely on the freedom of choice: if there was absolutely no coercion whatsoever, then those two alternatives might not be mutually incompatible, but this would mean no pressure about outcomes, evidence or attendance and I take issue with the 'NEET'-based idea that if someone's not on a recognised programme of education or employment, they're "doing nothing", because it doesn't leave any room for informal or self-directed learning whatsoever. Luckily in the case of elective home education, a student can be following her own interests and not officially classed as NEET - although a glance at this thread gives you an idea of how complicated the NEET statistics are.
Anyway, when people want to make decisions about us, they need our engagement with the process - perhaps because without it, they risk looking like dictators.
Today's blog was brought to you by the word engage which I think I have now exhausted, just in time before it was banned. Tomorrow I'm working on that 3rd and final part of the NSPCC series, now that Tech's finished the research. No more Sesame Street posts, I promise :-)