Dare we disturb the universe?

If you’ve been following the musings on bluyonder, you’ll know I’m no fan of the traditional model of schooling. The reason is pretty simple – the structure as it stands drives the learning. Those who have worked in schools will know the timetable controls everything – who learns what, when and with whom. Often in schools, the person who wields the most power is the one who is in charge of timetabling. Get that wrong and the system ends up coming to a grinding halt.

I’m often puzzled as to why we continue to prop up a system that constricts teacher autonomy and limits student choice. I recently heard of two examples that illustrate this point. The first was a Year 9 student who had to put in an expression of interest to take photography as an elective. The school would only deliver the subject if there were a minimum number of students. Needless to say, there was no photography this year. Similarly, at another high school, almost 40 students put their hand up to take a software development class. The school wouldn’t run two classes so they selected 30 students based on grades alone. So much for cultivating interests and passions!

It reminds me of the line from T.S Eliot’s Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, do we ‘dare disturb the universe?’ As educators in today’s world, we are obligated to disturb the universe. If not, then our learners will never have the opportunities to discover new ones. It is difficult to fathom, in an age of connected technologies, that we are still afraid to step outside the square in pursuit of learning. All of this at a time when we want students to be risk-takers and creative thinkers.

As I’ve said so many times, this is a fundamental challenge to the teaching profession itself. A new age requires a new mindset and a new approach that inspires us to think outside the square.



2 thoughts on “Dare we disturb the universe?

  1. Hi Greg,
    I totally agree with your comments and I too would love to see a revolution in our schooling model.
    However no matter how much you try to avoid the topic – “It’s all about the money!”
    Economics has produced the most effective and efficient schooling system (globally).
    The most cost efficient method is to put one teacher in front of a group of students. The number of students being determined by the financial resources of the institution/government involved.
    It provides us excellent “child minding” and with luck, hard work, enthusiasm and inspiration on the part of that teacher it sees most students getting some level of education and hopefully some great learning occurs.
    I have been part of that ‘timetabling team’ in both public and private ‘traditional’ NSW high schools (Note the process usually starts around this time of year).
    The subject selection process, i.e. ‘what subjects get to run’ is a very stressful time for principals, staff (sometimes whose position at the school depends on ‘a subject running’), parents and students. The students, those with the greatest vested interest often have the least input.
    But the decisions come down to money or euphemistically ‘resources’.
    Yes technology has given (and I am sure will continue to give) greater flexibility and opportunities for ‘individualising study patterns’.
    I note here my greatest personal success was back in the 1980’s where I pushed for one of my students to be allowed to study Japanese by ‘correspondence’ for the HSC. He is now a professor of linguistics at one of our universities. We have many collaborative and ‘on-line learning’ models being trialled. They need to be promoted, encouraged and ‘resourced’ (Remember -You’re the man with the ‘money’!)

    Interestingly I am currently in Zambia and recently visited a government primary school in Mwufe where 8 years ago the school had 480 students. The government on its funding formula can only provide 7 teachers. The school now has 950 students. Yes classes went from 64 students per teacher to technically 135 students per teacher. Fortunately the local community is very active and with additional philanthropic support has hired 4 additional teachers and built extra classrooms. So it is 80-90 students per class. Makes our plight look tame, especially with the energy and enthusiasm those kids have for education.
    So it keeps coming back to ‘resources’ = money, and yes it is useless unless you have the commitment, energy and enthusiasm of great teachers, and community support.
    I happily support you in encouraging disruption of the educational universe. Just make sure it and the staff doing the disruption have sufficient “resources’ to make it work
    and remember it includes time (and we all know ‘time is money’).

    1. Reed
      I understand your frustration and the economics of schooling and other services on an efficiency/effectiveness paradigm. Everything you say is true. However it is predicated on an acceptance that the fundamentals of the provision can’t change.

      You will know that I’ve given up on the “improvements model” ie more of the same within an ever decreasing model. We need a whole change, a transformation of the system where everything has to change. This challenges us all when you say the curriculum has to go, teachers have to change not only their practice but the very way they work, students can negotiate a learning opportunity and so on.

      Clearly this is not going to happen across the board over night but it is happening in pockets worldwide. It is inevitable given the current economic model. My approach is to be part of this new thinking with the belief that schooling can and will change.

      Thanks for the very thoughtful and challenging comment!

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