Are sharks arrogant?

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Today I had my first experience of the ‘come if you want, don’t bother if you don’t want to’ style seminar sessions that will be running throughout my vision and values module this term. For the first time in a long time, my brain actually hurt after the session (from thinking so much) and the discussions I participated in were deep, meaningful and incredibly interesting. We were encouraged to raise points that we were personally interested in, and to direct the learning conversations towards issues that we wanted to learn about.

Below are some of the questions that were asked and formulated as a result of the discussions. We didn’t have time to discuss them all, however the fact that they were raised proved the depth of thinking. I thought it would just be interesting to share them in the hope that the discussion can continue.

How can we govern and get to a holistic vision of education?

Are there different perceptions of holism?

Do we teach for results?

Who has the right to define humanity?

If we change education, we change society. Would society be happy?

If humanity drives education – what does it mean to be human? What should it mean to be human?

What makes someone intelligent?

Can we learn by ourselves with no interaction?

Is teaching manipulation? Is there a difference?

Can you be truly human in a society if humanity means choice, freedom, etc?

Is teaching the manipulation of thought to achieve social outcome and expectation?

Is the fact that we can’t define creativity a signal that we haven’t been taught creatively?

Should we just get rid of the word creativity?

What happens in school that stops the development of children’s innately enquiring minds?

Are A* students always a societal success?

Are sharks arrogant? (Yeah, not sure how we got to this – it was somewhere between discussing the innate capabilities of animals compared to humans and who is more intelligent).

Image: Richard Ling (here)

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Creativity

Just a quick reflection on one line I recently read in a school’s OFSTED report, which said:

Artwork on display and the pupils’ commitment to physical activity indicate that creative and sporting skills are also well developed.

I believe that creativity and being creative, constitutes more than simply producing artwork to display around the school. Whilst I have not read the whole report, and I do not know the school or have any experience of the workings of the school (and I am definitely not attempting to reflect on the school concerned in a negative way), I simply find the idea that well developed creative skills, evidenced through artwork on the walls, reflects a shallow conception of creativity.

Of course, the school may well have a number of different ways of encouraging creativity and I am sure that OFSTED also are aware of the vast discourse in the educational community about creativity and how to develop creative skills. Certainly, I have only just touched the surface in this regard. However, I am using this statement as a starting point for a brief consolidation of my current understanding/thinking.

Guy Claxton (2006) discusses the idea that a creative mentality can be cultivated in schools and dissects the dispositions and habits that creative people hold. Perhaps, for me the most interesting disposition was that of resilience. He highlights that being creative is not always fun. And that it is the ability to deal with frustration and confusion and to not give up when these feelings arise that is key to a creative mind. He goes on to suggest that creative people must be willing to ‘stand out from the crowd’ and think for themselves; these aspects are too often forgotten in schools (very generalised, I know!)

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Perhaps this is no accident. There is certainly a school of thought (Ha!) that believes education is used by governments to control its people; as ‘a mechanized process of inducting young people into the culture of modernity’ (Miller, 2005). Modernity being a view of society as a machine that is managed with the purpose of turning its resources into commodities and profits. Certainly, where educational tradition has been challenged, governments have reacted. The late educator A. S. Neill’s Summer Hill School, where freedom is placed at the forefront of effective learning has, until very recently, always conflicted government ideals – only just receiving a positive OFSTED report having almost been shut down a few years ago.

Lastly (I have gone way deeper than I had planned to so should probably stop soon), in his most recent TED talk, Ken Robinson discusses the idea that we are obsessed with getting people to college (or university) and that we are enthralled to the idea that life and education are linear lines of progression. He promotes a more organic view of education based on principles of agriculture that elevate human flourishing.

How can we implement this practically in our classrooms? Who will lead this revolution? And will it ever be possible to really radically change the concept of education in this country?

Image: BBH Advertising Campaign for Levi’s.

Take a break…

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It’s been a while since I last updated my blog. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything remotely academic or educational. So as the beginning of the end dawns upon me (the start of my fourth and final year on the BEd programme), I thought it was about time I got back into the swing of things.

The fact that my blog and twitter feed have been collecting digital cobwebs for the last 4 months signals an interesting thought with regards to my own personal learning. During term time, both were a way for me to condense my own understanding of concepts and ideas that were being discussed in lectures and seminars. However, over the summer it seems my learning has halted…in terms of contemplating aspects of the BEd modules.

The point I am trying to reach (I think) is that I seem to relate the concept and process of ‘learning’ with being at university. And over the course of my schooling I have relayed ‘learning’ as being a process that only really happens within an institution – be it the physical space, or the ever increasing online spaces provided by institutions for learning outside the walls of the classroom. It is almost as if institutions can constrain learning to specific moments in time, whereas really, we learn everywhere, all the time (depending on what we believe ‘learning’ to be).

Learning is lifelong. And all experiences can be valuable. And whilst I have spent less time contemplating academic issues, I have still been working hard and learning from other experiences. This is the same for many school children as they return to the classroom. I think it is important to harness such experiences and utilise them in the learning environment of the classroom.

I need to consider this further.

Negotiations

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I recently visited a behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESD) school for boys from the age of 7 to 17. The majority of the boys live on site and are provided residential accommodation and care as well as formal schooling, with some on site for 52 weeks of the year. My visit has made me consider the place and function of special schools, the meaning of education in such a setting, and their place in the debate for the inclusion of children with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream schools.

There is a danger when discussing any aspect of special schooling of generalising and stereotyping, therefore from the outset it is important to note that every school is different, every child is individual, and every observation subjective. However, I want to briefly evaluate the day for my own benefit – and hopefully provide the reader (if there is one!) with something interesting to consider themselves. The following is a brief exploration of some of the ideas raised from my visit.

The boys formal schooling takes part within the community of the school site. The purpose of the education is to prepare the pupils for a life after school, where they can contribute to the society in which they live. The class sizes are small (I observed a GCSE science class with 2 pupils) and support staff prolific (for a number of reasons), which allows the teachers to personalise every aspect of learning to the pupils; individualisation is a large part of the schools ethos.

When discussing the role of the school with the head of education, one point in particular raised some interesting ideas. If a pupil is continually disruptive in one particular lesson because they are not excited by it, or interested in it, then is there any point in them being in that lesson? If a child is not interested in what they are being taught, then the ‘learning’ is surely considerably devalued. Would it be more effective to allow them to spend time on the subjects they are interested in, and therefore work from the child’s interests? This is what happens at the school I visited, as their curriculum and status as a school allows for this.

The pupils I observed had been excluded from many different educational institutions, and yet, when their personal interests were taken into account, they were more willing to learn. Obviously, I had a very diluted experience of the school as I only spent one day observing and therefore my understanding of the school holistically is limited. However, it seems to me that this aspect of individualised and negotiated learning, which is a fundamental and necessary part of the school’s pedagogical practice, could seriously benefit mainstream schooling. Certainly, personalisation is of great importance in educational agenda, and negotiated learning is being adopted by schools around the world. Perhaps this could be the shape of education to come.

Doug Dickinson, in considering the future of education in the UK, reflects upon John Dewey, an American philosopher whose ideas have been influential in the educational domain for a number of years. Doug Dickinson writes:

‘John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that learning was active and schooling unnecessarily long and restrictive. His idea was that children came to school to do things and live in a community which gave them real, guided experiences which fostered their capacity to contribute to society.

Dewey was not a ‘de-schooler’ as was Ivan Illich but he became famous for pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students’ actual experiences.But he was also critical of completely “free, student-driven” education because students often don’t know how to structure their own learning experiences for maximum benefit.’

Here, links can be made with John Dewey’s philosophical educational thinking. This BESD school considers the experiences each child comes to the school with, before guiding their learning experiences in a real world environment, in order to prepare them for their future lives as independent members of society. The student’s experiences are not necessarily planned around knowledge acquisition of every curriculum subject, yet equally, the pupils are not entirely free to ‘do what they want to do’. There is a balance that allows for negotiation. One question to consider (perhaps) regarding Dewey’s thinking is: who does have the knowledge or right, to structure someone else’s learning experiences? Another question that comes to mind is: who decides what maximum beneficial learning is or should be?

To finish, the UNESCO Salamanca Statement (1994) suggests that mainstream schools with an ‘inclusive orientation are the most effective means of combating discriminatory attitudes, creating welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all’. Whilst I agree that inclusive schooling is important for creating a community of acceptance and understanding amongst all, for the pupils I observed, a mainstream setting would simply not be effective. These boys’ educational needs cannot be met within current school curricula, and whilst they are ‘excluded’ from the mainstream, they are very much part of an inclusive community at the school.

I have just realised that I am setting a great deal of questions for myself to explore and attempt to answer, without actually answering any of them. However, perhaps this is needed to be able to thoughtfully consider possible responses to the questions.

Image: silkegb (flickr)

Vision and Values

I am embarking upon a new module entitled ‘Vision and Values’. This module is all about generating and realising our own educational ethos and is centred around the question ‘What is education for?’

Whilst starting to browse for some interesting articles/information related to this question, I stumbled upon the website ‘school survival’, which seeks to offer support for those who ‘hate’ school. Those young people who are disengaged by the institutions in which they spend the majority of their childhood.

I have picked a few quotes out that raise some interesting points. As I am beginning to consider the point/value/role/worth of education, beginning with a brief consideration of schools seems a good starting point as this is where typically, we view educational transactions as taking place (not that this is the only place, or indeed necessarily the best).

‘There is nothing wrong with hating school, there is nothing wrong with hating being forced to go someplace you don’t want to and being “taught” things that don’t interest you in ways that would kill you if boredom were lethal.’

‘They say school is for learning? Well, being bored is hardly any way to learn anything! No wonder hardly anyone remembers what they were forced to memorize at school. School isn’t about learning, it’s about training people to be obedient to those with authority over them.’

‘Don’t trust school to ‘educate’ you – only you can be trusted with that!’

I could spend a long time analysing these quotes, too long for one blog post. Therefore, I will briefly (and rather disorderly) try and note a few of the things I find interesting and worthy of closer scrutiny at a later stage.

Children are forced to go to school; it is not a choice. Is this a bad thing?

Issues surrounding authoritarian figures, totalitarianism and obedience are raised.

Boredom is highlighted as a large factor of disengagement and disaffection.

Trust. Who should be trusted with the role of educating?

What does it mean to educate?

What should it mean to educate?

What about those children who do enjoy school?