The first chapter in Educating Gen Wifi is a brief summary on the origins of schooling. I have to admit it was a late edition in the drafting process but in hindsight the chapter is critical. How many parents or even teachers for that matter have an understanding of the factors that have shaped modern schooling? I find it interesting that we spend 13 years at schooling without ever really getting a lesson in the history of schooling. Why were schools designed like factories and primary schools seen as a vehicle for transmitting social norms?
To understand why schools are as they are is to understand why the prevailing model is ‘out of date’. Not everyone would find the origins of schooling as interesting as I do but there are many who have been able to succinctly explain this through various analogies like Stephen Heppell’s railways vs cars or Sir Ken Robinson’s industrial vs organic model of schooling. Different analogies but the outcome is the same.
Our ability to re-imagine schooling (including parents) is weakened if we do not understand something of the origins of schooling and why we have diverged from a path of education that is humanising and stresses deep understanding to one that has largely served the needs of the economy.
We ask teachers to critical reflect on their practice but I believe we need to be critically reflecting on the language of schooling.
In June this year, the Hon Barry Jones delivered a brilliant paper to the Australian College of Educators on how creativity fell off the agenda. Barry Jones is described on Wikipedia as a polymath – he is one of Australia’s most learned politicians, a former high school teacher and lawyer.
In his ACE address, Jones succinctly reasons why creativity has fallen off the agenda by highlighting the distinction between education and pedagogy. Jones admits that pedagogy ‘is one of his least favourite words’ because the ‘pedagogue’ was the ‘slave that escorted
children to school.’
Jones asks what the purpose of education is? Is it instrumental (ie. an emphasis on training and predictable outcomes) or is it developmental (ie. focus on imagination, creativity, wisdom, values)? He writes “the measurement controversy asserts that in education/training/pedagogy the only things of importance can be recorded precisely (while creativity cannot).”
The paper explains that the philosopher Isocrates saw education as a commodity and is therefore associated with the word pedagogy. Plato on the other hand rejected pedagogy and viewed education as ‘the drawing out of individual talents, and encouraging the search for truth, value and meaning in life. In one system, the outcomes are predictable; in the other, they are uncertain.”
In reflecting on our current state of education, Jones writes:
In Australia in 2013, Pedagogy is the overwhelming dominant model but in practice it inevitably leads to self-limitation. Pedagogues are enthusiasts for measurement and precision and look for certain outcomes. Educators assume that the most important elements in human life are uncertain and speculative, defying precise calibration.
We talk about the need for a cohesive narrative in education but I wonder whether we actually understand the genesis of old narratives. Are we pedagogues or educators? Can we be both in today’s world? Can Plato and Isocrates’ models of education co-exist?
These are the philosophical questions that I hope will generate discussion at schools and among school communities. Just as Jones’ paper uncovered certain truths for me, it is in the discussions that we will discover new truths and new ideas that will help create a blueprint for 21st century schooling.