Why our kids have lost faith in school (Part 1)

A road less travelled: the realities of education that we are not yet facing

I have been pondering on this blog post for a number of months now; not due to the uncertainty of ‘what’ to say; but rather ‘what not’ to say. The raison d’être of this blog has always been to serve as a sounding board for innovative initiatives in learning and teaching, and the last thing I want is to alienate our dedicated contributors and followers. While restraint might be the best policy; many will agree that “enough is enough”.

Facilitating the ultimate success of our students (as all teachers strive to do), the collective patience is being stretched beyond reasonable limits. How much longer are students, teachers and parents to endure the political platitudes of certain senior administrators and educational glitterati who claim that, after all has been said and done, ‘our system’ (emphasis on ‘system’) is not flawed after all? They proudly proclaim that, apart from a few minor adjustments to alleviate pedagogical constraints such as report cards or “to provide more fun”(!), the current approach to education is actually one of the best in the world. How do we know this? Well, because they tell us so … Ironically, such claims are often based on the results of the exact standardised testing that bears the brunt of their criticism. In all fairness, it is hard to quantify ‘engagement’ and ‘love of learning’, but still …

The one notion that all seem to agree upon is that ‘personalisation’ lies at the very heart of successful learning. Given the vast extremities between current mainstream systems of education and authentic learning, there can be very few grey areas … minor adjustments will not suffice (and superficial changes in curriculum are just downright insulting). As teachers have been stating for what seems to be ages, the fundamental issues revolve around student/teacher ratios and subsequent imbalances. Over the coming weeks and months, my goal is to look at a number of those issues.

As you may have noticed, I am going to wade in beyond ankle deep …Personalisation

Dialogue: Challenges and Change in Education

I have the great privilege to work with a forward-thinking organization, Action Canada.  A leadership program for young Canadians, Action Canada explores topics of national interest and investigates ways to make improvements for Canada’s future.  This year, their theme is:  Does Canada have the education systems it needs to meet the economic and societal challenges of the future?

Today, at the Wosk Centre, Action Canada presented a Public Dialogue on Challenges and Change in Canada’s Education Systems.  The task forces brought together panels of experts to spark conversation on three topics:

  • Standardized Testing in Canada
  • Teaching Questions Not Answers
  • Who Cares About Young Caregivers?

Fortunately, I was able to take part in the second session:  Teaching Questions Not Answers.

This particular task force explored the subject of adapting Canada’s education system for the 21st century.  At the end of September, the Fellows had come to St Alcuin College, a liberal arts K-12 school offering a 21st century skills-based program.  They were especially interested to experience firsthand our unique learning environment, and how that was different from mainstream education.  After speaking to the faculty and students about what it meant to be living the learning revolution, one Fellow observed that at St Alcuin, changing education was a movement.  We can attest that education reform is a movement that requires intense energy, as stated today by Mr Rod Allen, Superintendent of the Ministry of Education’s Learning Division.

It was not a surprise to hear that the panellists were espousing the principles upon which we are founded at St Alcuin:  highly personalized education, community partnerships and an emergent curriculum.  One question posed to the panel was why it was not easy to implement this educational reform in schools across Canada.  One of the panellists, Dr. Roland Case, executive director and co-founder of The Critical Thinking Consortium, identified five “winning conditions” for educational reform.  As I understood them, they are:

  1. Students are engaged in their learning.  Instruction is not transmission from the teacher.
  2. There is sustained inquiry for learning.  This is a regular practice.
  3. Students have self-regulated control of tools.  They don’t just produce the action when required by a teacher, but know how and when to use the skill.
  4. Assessment is timely and supportive.
  5. Learning is digitally enhanced.

At St Alcuin College, in keeping with our studies in Big History, we recognize that these are the five ‘Goldilocks conditions’ to educational change.  These are our guiding principles in our daily teaching.

Thank you to Action Canada and the Fellows for bringing us together to discuss Canada’s education systems and the challenges to change.  It is a subject that so many are passionate about, and it is this passion that continually drives us to create these ‘Goldilocks conditions’ at St Alcuin College.

On the British Proposal of bringing the Armed Services into the School-system

In their article of 9 July in The Telegraph, the British shadow ministers for education and defence put forward the idea that the military (especially its veterans and reservists) ought to have a stronger role in the British education system.

While this may seem a rather radical idea, it does make some degree of sense. As the shadow ministers (equivalent to the critics in Canadian legislatures) point out, reservists already use civilian skills to do good in military contexts; surely ‘the reverse should also be true’. The armed services are built on the ‘values of responsibility, comradeship, hard work and a respect for public service’, ideals which are essential in helping children to become active citizens in our modern age. Other virtues of the armed services that make them well-suited to being involved in education, but which are not mentioned in the article, are their discipline, their respect for tradition, their custom of rewarding excellence and achievement, and, of course, their strong emphasis on physical fitness.

Whatever one’s thoughts on having soldiers teaching and interacting with children, the principle behind the idea is sound. As has been said on this blog and elsewhere, the time has come to search for creative ways to teach our children. Perhaps the military ideals of discipline and loyalty toward one’s peers and one’s superiors (e.g. the teachers) are just what some schools need to help to serve their students better. As with any model, however, it will not be appropriate for every school.

I myself was at first rather alarmed by the idea of having soldiers in schools, but as I’ve thought things through, the idea has grown on me; though, of course, I would not tolerate the presence of any firearms, or even the wearing of battledress. I do think, however, that, in underprivileged communities (which were particularly on the shadow ministers’ mind when they conceived the plan), the presence of authority in a nurturing role, rather than a law-enforcing one, coupled with the promise, almost unique to the military, of promotion through the ranks for those who work hard, could be precisely what’s needed to help students to rise to their full potential.

The shadow ministers’ suggestion, while creative, is controversial: one particularly impassioned  user on The Telegraph’s website went so far as to say that it was a ‘fascist [and] authoritarian’ proposal. What are your thoughts on this? Is it a troubling recommendation that would militarise our schools and society? Or is it a worthwhile, innovative idea that could help to improve education? Have your say in the comments section below!

Outward Bound Canada and Blyth Education: Sustainability for the 21st Century

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Realising the Revolution: Walk the Chalk

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Sir Ken Robinson: The Learning Revolution continues …

“The reason I think we need a revolution [in education] is really captured in a phrase you hear politicians often misuse. They talk about the need to ‘get back to basics’ in education; and, I think, we should. The problem, I think, is that many politicians, when they say “get back to basics”, seem to believe the basics are a group of subjects that they did when they were at school; and in particular, they tend to emphasise literacy and numeracy and science. Well, of course, they are fantastically important; but the basics of education are not a group of subjects. The basics in education are fundamental purposes …”

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