“The man who was responsible for supervising the first National Curriculum of over 100 years ago was the Senior Chief Inspector, Edmond Holmes. When he retired he wrote a book in which he condemned all that he had been doing for the last thirty years, and admitted his sense of shame for being a part of it. He wrote about how teaching had become a debased activity:
“In nine schools out of ten, on nine days out of ten, in nine lessons out of ten, the teacher is engaged in laying thin films of information on the surface of the child’s mind and then after a brief interval he is skimming these off in order to satisfy himself that they have been laid“.
Plus ca change?
In the 21st Century, when teachers work hard at monitoring and recording children’s progress as it happens, through observation, discussion and internal testing, it’s clear that external tests before the age of eighteen have very little point and purpose, other than to satisfy remote politicians and others who insist on establishing an academic hierarchy which can be published in the form of ‘league tables’, which can then be seen as proxy measures for the effectiveness of schools.
In his book, ‘Edmund Holmes and the Tragedy of Education‘, Chris Shute goes on to say,
“At present it is very hard for anyone in the field of education to suggest that there may be more to it than a ceaseless quest for a better way to stuff information into children. To challenge the culture of standards and well-nigh continuous testing is to be unmasked as a destructive, politically motivated throwback to the supposedly lawless 60s. To all appearances the battle to drive out active learning and [re]establish traditional didacticism in its place has been won, in the public mind if not in the hearts of serious educators.”
BBC Radio 4 is currently (re)broadcasting a series called The Educators, a series that all who care about education – especially parents, teachers, politicians and students – should listen to. The series can now be heard in the prime 9.00am slot on Monday mornings.
Sir Ken Robinson is the educator featured in the first programme.
So far so good. But take a look at what the BBC website blurb says:
In conversation with Sarah Montague, he argues that modern teaching is a product of industrialisation, putting children through a factory model that prepares them for working life.
What this blurb ought to have said is that the factory model of education supposedly prepares children for working life. In fact, most of us recognise that we have no real idea of what working lives will be like as this century progresses, any more than people in 1914 understood what would happen to working lives by the middle of the 20th Century.
What we do know is that children learn ‘facts’ better and much faster when they are motivated to learn, which is when they are driven to learn by their own curiosity and their need to know things. This is true for me – I presume it’s true for you, whether or not you have a retentive or photographic memory.
[The well-known ‘educator’ Toby Young was back on the R4 “Today” yesterday – as usual banging on about ‘powerful knowledge’ and very little else, as a guest taking part in a discussion about the latest (Govian) version of the National Curriculum and what parents can or should do to support children’s learning.]
The BBC website then goes on to say,
“Ken Robinson has advised governments and businesses around the world on how to harness creativity, and believes if schools were radically different, giving creative subjects equal status, children would find their true talents.”
Er . . . not quite. Ken Robinson has repeatedly made the point that there are no such things as ‘creative’ and ‘non-creative’ subjects. Every ‘subject’ can and should be approached creatively, by both the teacher and the student, and creativity is an ability and a habit that can and must be developed throughout students’ lives in formal schooling if they are going to become habitually creative and capable adults who are also lifelong, independent learners.
Of course ‘finding their true talents’ isn’t high on the list of concerns expressed by the likes of Toby Young, whose entire focus is on high academic attainment, regardless of the interests, talents and wishes of young people themselves. Traditionalists such as Young generally decry ‘progressives’ like Ken Robinson, especially when he says children should be involved in dance and other arts subjects as often as they are involved in maths and English.
Dance? Yes, why not? Those who query this are presumably not dancers themselves. If they were then they would surely recognise the enjoyment and the fitness benefits that are produced by dancing. Dancing allows us to switch off and relax hyperactive intellects and switch on social interaction. Dancing can allow our souls and our spirits to rise up and soar. Dancing enables us to build relationships, balance, coordination, physical strength, stamina, confidence and self-esteem. Where else on the curriculum are these things done better?
Returning to Edmond Holmes and Chris Shute:
“Holmes occupied the highest position in English state education – he was the Chief Inspector of Schools. If England wanted to have an education system fit for a new century, he declared, it would have to stop telling children what to do and compelling them to do it, since this produced only passivity, lassitude, unhealthy docility or, in the stronger, more determined spirits, ‘naughtiness’ or rebellion. Uniformity was just plain bad education.”
Good luck to everyone with the new National Curriculum and prescribing powerful knowledge. Good luck with enabling children to become powerful learners – whatever their talents, abilities, interests and ambitions.
http://sirkenrobinson.com/pdf/allourfutures.pdf – All Our Futures:
Creativity, Culture and Education – the full text.
In the foreword of ‘The New Learning Revolution’ (Dryden & Vos, 2005) Christopher Ball, of the Campaign for Learning, says, ‘This book explains what is going on in the gradual collapse of the old model of education, and the advent of the revolutionary new models of learning’. He goes on to say, “The old school model is as dead as the industrial revolution that spawned it. The flight of both pupils and teachers from traditional schooling will soon become an embarrassment for governments in developed countries. Neither the curriculum (what is taught) nor the pedagogy (how it is taught) is any longer sustainable.” “What lies at the heart of this book is a shift of focus from teaching to learning, and recognition that a new philosophy of learning must lead the curriculum.”
In the 21st Century “the rewards of the good life will go to those who are most adaptable – who learn best. They will also go to those who learn to use and share the new world of interactive technology, instant communication, collaborative innovation and multimedia creativity.”
To that list we would add that the rewards and benefits will also go to those who learn to become emotionally literate and socially, instinctually, intellectually, physically and spiritually intelligent, and 3D human beings.