Friday, 20 March 2020

What do beards and the OECD have in common?

As we watch the Covid-19 situation evolve as a rapid pace, those of us in schools are looking at our preparedness for the future challenges of causing learning remotely. There is an inevitability to this at some stage in the future, even if for a limited number of our students. Our overriding paradigm has to be 'business was usual' for as long as possible while taking all sensible measure possible to 'mitigate the risks', to keep everyone safe.

One of the things it has done for me is to provoke some thinking on our purpose as educators. You might say it's a little late in my career to start that. It's not a matter of having started it,  but rather a matter of deciding to put down in words how I see things in the face of the challenges we face right now.

In writing this, my target audience is our whānau and our rangatahi, because I would hope that colleagues have already determined their position in this regard.

So what is our purpose? I think that the greatest task that faces us is to prepare young people to take their place in society as people able to participate in society, to contribute economically, socially, morally, to bettering our existence as human beings. This brought me first to a piece I wrote in a school newsletter at the start of the year, as we faced the perennial 'beard wars', senior boys demanding the right to grow beards, despite the clear school rules. I wrote this:

Already this year I have had cause to consider the psychology of our teenagers. Psychologists in the 60’s and 70’s described them as ‘marginal man’ (at a time when our language was far less sympathetic to the issues of gender identity). They were referring to the idea that teenagers are at the margin, the grey area in which they are neither child nor adult. It is an age therefore where they are seeking identity, and they do this in many ways, not the least is by pushing against the boundaries in order to gain a line of sight to exactly what it means to be themselves. You will see this daily in your home lives.
Pushing against the rules of any organisation is perhaps the easiest way, as those rules are the things most visible and therefore the easiest target. The problem is that any group or organisation must have rules if it is to function. It matters not what the organisation is: the army, the Police, a hospital, a construction site, a school. They all need rules if they are to function. 
Therefore perhaps one of the best things we can do for our teenagers (after giving them our time and our unconditional love) is to ensure that they understand that rules exist and that they develop the resilience to cope with those rules, regardless of whether they agree with them or not. I have had cause to address the issue of beards. It is perhaps relatively normal for teens to see the growth of facial hair as a way of establishing identity, it reflects their search for themselves. However beards and moustaches are often not allowed. In the Police, yes, In the army no (although there was an odd rule that almost ‘required’ a sergeant in the Royal Artillery in the 19th Century to grow a beard - I haven’t been able to find out whether that is still allowed or not, although I suspect not). Our own school rule is clear: boys are to be clean shaven, beards and moustaches are not allowed.
There are rules in many workplaces, whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not. As a kura, and as parents, we do our children NO service at all if we do not support them to accept that fact. In one of our recent regular weekly visits to our local supermarket the checkout operator admired Lorraine’s painted nails, lamenting the fact that as staff they were not allowed painted nails if they were to work at the supermarket. When our employer says that we must wear protective footwear if we wish to work on site, then we have two choices: wear the protective footwear, or work somewhere else. We don’t argue with the employer that we want to work there but not wear the footwear.
Growing facial hair may well be seen as a chance to rebel, and you may argue that the growth of facial hair does not impact on learning. But as I said earlier, we do our young people no service whatsoever if we cannot help them to understand that societies and groups need rules to function, and that to some degree at least we all need to observe those rules. This too is an important part of their learning. If our young people want to rebel, let it be against something that actually matters in the long run. Facial hair hardly seems important  when the future of the planet is at stake, or when we have almost 300000 children still living in poverty. Support our rangatahi to rebel for a cause that actually makes a difference. Support them to show kindness in their actions, to show thought and care for others. An argument about facial hair seems to me to be very self centred. There are far better ways of building personal identity.

My brain then connected this with some material published by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). Here's what they said:

Creative problem solving requires us to consider the consequences of our actions, with a sense of moral and intellectual maturity. This allows us to reflect on our actions in light of experiences and personal or societal goals. The perception and assessment of what is right or wrong in a specific situation is about ethics. It involves questions related to norms, values, meanings and limits: What should I do? Was I right to do that, in light of the consequences? Where are the limits?

That brings us to the toughest challenge in modern education: incorporating values. Values have always been central to education, but it is time to move beyond implicit aspirations to explicit education goals and practices. This will help communities shift from situational values – under which an individual’s actions are guided by circumstance – to sustainable values that generate trust, social bonds and hope. If education fails to build foundations for communities, many people will try to build walls.
(OECD Educational Compass 2030 Last accessed 21 March 2020)
The OECD has effectively stated in 'eduspeke' what I was saying about beards. All that matters in education, in learning, is not just academic in nature. One of our key purposes is to enhance and develop our moral position in life, to enhance our values, to grow those things that make us human.
The purpose of education is NOT to maximise examination passes. League tables and exam results do not measure what counts, and if we think so then we have certainly failed to give due consideration to what matters in education, to the true purpose of education. The OECD view certainly doesn't align with the 'League Table' bandits who thing that NCEA results are the true measure of the effectiveness of a school. It aligns very closely with what we call 'the front half of the curriculum' in New Zealand, that part that spells out key competencies, values, and vision, for our learners.
Yes we all want improved examination results. Yes these results matter. But more importantly we want young people to go out into society determined to make a difference, to be good citizens. For three years now I have been repeating my plea to our students: BE KIND. It is the SAME message we hear from our Prime Minister The Rt Hon. Jacinda Ardern.
The good news, going back to the original prompt for this thinking, is that as a Manaiakalani Programme kura, we are well placed to continue students' learning remotely, on line. Teachers have well developed Google sites that support visible rewindable learning. Students (and staff) blogs support interaction, they support the visible reflection of thinking and learning and the provision of feedback, the interaction with authentic audiences.
The 'however' is this: not all things that matter can be taught remotely, and not all things that matter can be taught in schools.
Much of the purpose of schools is to provide the social connection that we all need, to provide our children with the opportunity to a make it through adolescence learning those skills necessary to be connected, kind, adults who make a positive difference in our communities.
It is also true that not all that is important in learning comes from schools. If your children end up at home with you, take the time to cook a meal together, read a book together, prepare the garden for winter, or change a wheel on the car together. Maybe make a 'bobby cart' together.. do you remember the joy of that as a child yourself? Take the time to truly be 'present' with your children.

In the meantime, it is essential that we maintain business as usual, that we keep routine and 'normality' for our children. If nothing else, in Canterbury we learned this lesson post February 2011. The Ministry of Health emphasises that school closures do not keep people safer at this stage. It is essential that we follow their advice. THEY are the experts. We would be fools to ignore what they say.
In these challenging times.. kia tau te mauri
Robin Sutton

1 comment:

  1. Kia ora Robin, so very pleased you finally decided to put your ideas down on paper in regard to the purpose of education. This would be a great question to ask our colleagues, I think we might get a range of answers. I believe Covid-19 provides us with a unique opportunity to ask this question, and as you point out, move from situational values to sustainable values. Is the status quo good enough? Is the status quo sustainable? Who is the staus quo benefitting and who is it disadvantaging? Time to take 'stock' me thinks and seek values that ensure all 'boats rise on the tide.' Thanks for sharing.