Local voices in education

The Minister of Education for the Province of New Brunswick will be meeting with people in our area on the topic of “Building an Educated Workforce for New Brunswick”. I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days and trying to collect my thoughts on public education. First of all, I’m not keen on the Minister’s chosen topic, because we need to focus on more than just an educated workforce, we need an educated and informed citizenry. That said, here are some threads I want to weave together and would appreciate advice on this, as I doubt that I’ll get more than five minutes to either ask a question or make a point.

Sense of Urgency: Rob Paterson made an excellent initial foray into recommendations for education on PEI and this comment resonates with me as well:

By 2015 over 50% of Islanders will be over 50. By 2030 50% will be over 65. We know for sure that every child will be precious and that we have to have as many young as possible who can be both good citizens and flexible. They don’t have to all be PHD’s – they have to be net contributors – they have to be like their great grandparents who also had to cope with a lot of change.

We have to ask a big question first. What kind of person needs to emerge from our school system that will enable us to get through the crisis of – the end of cheap oil, the end of commodity agriculture, climate change, a health care cost crisis, a world torn by conflict over religion, oil and water?

What is the product of our existing approach? Is it that most of kids will be able to cope or not?

The Technology Battles: Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach shows how disconnected our schools are from the reality of the Internet Age:

We have a generation of students arriving in our classrooms that are more and more comfortable with technology, in fact, more comfortable than we will ever be. And that makes many of us very uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that we react with banning and filtering rather than modeling how to connect with content experts and teaching responsible net citizenship.

From the Trenches: The resident experts on public education in our home, both teenagers, gave two pieces of advice for the Minister. One said to get rid of homework; “I actually like going to school, but the homework on top of classes is what ruins it”. The other just wants to have motivated teachers.

My own sense is that the current education system will remain as it is for the next decade at least, unless there is such failure that new approaches, such as abolishing schools, will be attempted. We are stuck with the current system, and many vested interests such as unions, administrators, bus services and dual-income families do not want to see major systemic changes. That said, I feel that a pragmatic approach, without destroying the school system, would be to allow for experimentation. Let motivated teachers, parents, businesses and non-profits get together and create options. The Minister needs to foster a climate of decentralized experimentation. Options include the International Baccalaureate program or cooperative training and education with the local community.

The great weakness of this industrial education system is that it is a monoculture, based on a standard curriculum, and like an agricultural monoculture is more susceptible to disease and rot. To prepare for a climate, society and economy that none of us can predict with certainty, we need diversity in our thinking and in our skills. No single system or approach can do that.

6 Responses to “Local voices in education”

  1. graham Watt

    In my view, your last paragraph has the word I’d like the Education Minister to recognize as a key to improvement. That word is “thinking”, critical and otherwise. I think our technological society has unwittingly put all the elements in line to produce a thinkless generation, super convenient access to information, deluges
    of trivialities, laptop software that brings the authority of neatness to vapid ideas, and the democratization of opinion then wikied as fact.
    We need more bohemians and iconoclasts, fewer pedants. More turmoil,
    less rigid assessment, more argument less acquiescence.
    I like the options idea you have, for an IB program, cooperative learning etc. Screw literacy, it’s thinking that’s died

  2. Harold

    Good point, Graham. Makes me wonder whether I would prefer working with a thinking illiterate partner or an unthinking literate one. I know the answer.

  3. Marco Polo

    we need diversity in our thinking and in our skills. No single system or approach can do that. In other words, we need to dump the idea of a system, a centrally organized, national system. Just as John Taylor Gatto has suggested (scroll down to the summary of Ch.18). Is this what you are suggesting, too?

  4. Harold

    That’s quite the list Marco, but I would agree with it:

    Dismiss the army of reading and arithmetic specialists.
    Let no school exceed a few hundred in size.
    Make everybody teach.
    Measure performance with individualized instruments.
    Shut down district school boards.
    Install permanent parent facilities in every school with appropriate equipment to allow parent partnerships with their own kids and others.
    Restore the primary experience base we stole from childhood by a slavish adherence to a utopian school diet of steady abstraction, or an equally slavish adherence to play as the exclusive obligation of children.
    Recognize that total schooling is psychologically and procedurally unsound.
    Admit there is no one right way to grow up successfully.
    Teach children to think dialectically so they can challenge the hidden assumptions of the world about them, including school assumptions, so they can eventually generate much of their own personal curriculum and oversight.
    Arrange much of schooling around complex themes instead of subjects.
    Force the school structure to provide flex-time, flex-space, flex-sequencing, and flex-content so that every study can be personalized to fit the whole range of individual styles and performance.
    Break the teacher certification monopoly so anyone with something valuable to teach can teach it.


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