But it's the 'learning' that's the thing, isn't it? If you disagree, then you are certainly going to find the rest of what you are about to read rather challenging. I suggest you stop right now.
Still with me?
I more and more frequently laugh at our professional conceit when we assume that teenagers will sit down in front of us when we tell them to do so, to learn what we tell them to learn, the way we tell them to learn it. 'Damn it all, do as you are told, we know what's best for you'. Of course to some degree we DO know much about what young people need to know and to be able to do in order to be more fulfilled human beings, better able to participate in our society, and we do so within the framework of a national curriculum which is still amongst the best in the world.
If I reflect on my own learning it is, these days, almost always 'just in time' learning. I learned how to use Screencastify four weeks ago because i realised that writing lots of words for our community (not just now but at any time) is NOT the best way to communicate. Job done!!! I can now make Screencastify recordings at will, although I am still not yet very accepting of hearing and seeing myself.. my inner vice says "EEEwwwwwkkk .. b***y hell".
If we accept that it's the 'learning' that's the thing, then I suspect that you are highly likely to agree that there are many different paths to learning. The concept I am hedging around here is what in the educational jargon we call 'agency': our capacity and the capability to determine what we will learn, when, and to some degree how.
Now I'm not trained in primary education, so don't know what this could/should look like for younger children, but for secondary aged/teenage learners I think I have a little more clarity. Our own Hornby High School experiences with distance learning have put the spotlight on some of these issues.
Here is one absolutely delightful example of what I mean. A staff member emailed me with this after a GoogleMeet with members of her Year 12 form class.
"<Teacher A> said XXXX had made a bonfire in the backyard, XXXX told me in Classics Meet it was in fact a forge, complete with bellows but he didn't have the right fuel to build up heat. XXXX had made a metal tipped spear bound, in Hippolyte fashion, to a spear head, with a round shield including metal cup to defend the fist- he shared a video of a reenactment fight, critiquing their formations and linking how the hippolyte method influenced the Roman legions. He and his brother had a battle which he linked to the Drama curriculum- method acting [he doesn't do Drama]. In passing he discussed how Leonardo di Vinci invented a tank, based on the Roman battle formation; then explained to me how to present screen properly. Is learning happening without school? I like the way XXXX thinks and connects ideas!"Consider for a moment the depth of thinking and problem solving that is apparent in that description. I contacted XXXXX to discuss what he had done, seeking his permission to share his work (which he readily and graciously granted). He said:
"Here is just some of the many things I have made over this last month. But sadly i couldn't get any photos of the forge as i did get in trouble for it as big looms of smoke went up into the sky. And the crossbow is what I am still working on."He sent me these photos:
I asked him if he had been set these tasks or whether he just did it off his own bat. His reply:
"Yeah I got bored and just started to use stuff laying around the house so I did this purely because of boredom."This reply reminded me that being 'bored' is actually an important part of creativity. The mind needs to rest, to be allowed to wander and ponder, something we do NOT grant our learners as we push them in the 'busyness' of 'education'. If as a kura we are to continue our pursuit of our vision as a 'centre of creative excellence', one ongoing challenge for us will be how we empower learners to harness their innate creativity.
This is the impact of 'agency'. XXXX was empowered, he dug into stuff that interests him, using his own talents.
I added to the discussion a suggestion to a range of XXXX's teachers that they consider whether there are NCEA standards that could be attached to any of his work. Isn't that the way NCEA was intended, before we subverted it in the interests of 'education'?
And then there are these examples of students completing some great work at home, when they are ready. Take a look at these two blog posts:
Desharn's creative writing
Trisha's analysis of dystopian writing
These are both junior students.
All of this challenges the school/home paradigm under which we have worked for the past 150 years. We have subverted learning in the name of education. Yes learning and education are the classic examples of the economists' 'Merit goods', and yes we are all better off when individuals get more of it (which is the LIE to the whole idea of charging student loans etc.. but that's another story).
However our assumption that learning can only take place in our institutionalised setting is (as we are seeing right now) flawed. We need to consider and develop a new paradigm for learning, one that acknowledges the cultural and emotional capital that sits within the home, one that builds student agency, and also one that is founded on kindness to ourselves and each other.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to all of this is the set of 19th century definitions of school attendance that require physical presence on site, that define what attendance looks like (2 hours before and 2 hours after midday, for 380 (or 384) weekly teaching half days). These things I believe are technically easy to change.
The bigger elephant in the room is the problem of equity - for agentic learning to happen in the home, learners need supportive whānau. What do our whānau think? This lovely piece of research headed by Dr Riwai-Couch is more than informative, it should be central to our thinking. Our levels of wealth and income inequality, and that raft of problems that come with poverty, and substance abuse and addiction, mean that we already have an underclass of disempowered young people who will find access to learning difficult without whānau support at home.
How do we address that? Economists are the first to agree that Government intervention is an essential tool to providing suitable 'quantities' of Merit and Public goods (education is defined by those economists as a Merit good). These are good reasons for government intervention against the 'market'. So a caution to any neoliberals who might have read this far .. your own dogma supports government action. Don't you DARE try to tell me that the market will solve these problems. The market has singularly failed to solve the problems of inequality, and inequity (and yes for the uninformed out there these ARE very different things). The market has merely exacerbated them.
Perhaps one of the best things Government can do right now is to empower educators to solve the problems. Changing the rules can only enable improvements in learning outcomes for learners, as long as we focus on learning. not education, as as long as we can keep focussed on the greater good of society, not the benefit of the privileged few.
We have over the past five weeks of lockdown seen the capacity that teachers (and schools in general) have for innovation and simple bloody hard graft. The voices railing against longer term change are the voices of the entitled, the voices of those who have been the historical winners from our 150 year old paradigm.
I am hopeful that this Government will allow a collaborative, cooperative, and empowering, philosophy, coupled with a good dose of pragmatism, to hold sway.