Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The problem with education is...

This was written by Dan Scratch who is a social studies teacher in Edmonton. He blogs here and tweets here. This post was originally found here.

by Dan Scratch

Everyone has been a student at some point in their lives. Everyone has had to endure bad teachers and benefited from great ones. Many of us (including myself) have felt marginalized by the education system as students when we had to memorize useless facts for a test or fought against the tyranny of the "hat rule" as high school students (I really love hats and hate that rule!)

It is because of these experiences that many of us feel we can comment on the education system and the teachers within it, as there are many stakeholders involved. Teachers, parents, students, and the greater community are all impacted by the success of our schools and our students. However, I think it is time that teachers need to stand up and claim our status as the proficient professionals and intellectuals that we are. For too long have we sat idly by having to endure bad education policy and the dictates of failed theories that came before us.

All of us, including parents and teachers, often revert to thinking that if we were able to overcome bad teaching and policy, then why shouldn't my child/students? In other words, "If I had to deal with a crappy education system, and I turned out OK, then why shouldn't my child/student"? I realize that no one actually says this phrase, but it is essentially what we are saying when we tell teachers and the education system to go "back to basics" or "life is tough, get used to it".

This is an extremely harmful ideology on many levels. If we want to create good citizens then our classrooms should be models of what we would like our world to be. We cannot revert back to the harmful ways we were taught. Just because we persevered through it, does not mean that every student will or should. We need to engage and promote an education that will serve the interests of all students and meet their individual needs.

We often get upset when the latest round of test scores come and the results didn't work out in our favour. This is an easy ploy used by the corporate ED agenda, columnists, and politicians to try and poke holes in the education system and demand that teachers and students work harder and "pick yourselves up by the bootstraps". This is an easy statement to make that generally does resonate with the majority of the population (unfortunately). However, it would be at our disadvantage to take this advice. Testing is not the be all to end all in education. In fact, as most teachers know, it offers a very limited scope of our students ability. Teachers should be getting students to create work and assessments that they will be using throughout their entire lives. At no time in my professional career has my employer said to me, "Dan, I want you to complete this task, however, you cannot use any resources or talk to anyone and you have to have it done in 90 minutes, sound good"? In the age of the Internet, memorizing and regurgitating information on a test serves very little purpose. We must move past this if we are going to create the critically thinking, informed, and compassionate students of the future.

The future of education should be a conversation between teachers, parents and students. Teachers are intellectuals and it is time we use what capital we have to build our reputation to a higher regard. People love to criticize what we do, but would they go to a doctor and tell her/him how to perform surgery? Probably not. Teachers are the guardians and creators of the future. We need to earn our respect back as a force within our communities.

Lastly, let's not forget the one voice we often leave out of these conversations. The students voice. How often do we include their voices when we make policy that will impact their education? We have to start giving students more credit and respect in terms of what they know about teaching and education. Their voice matters and it must be heard. If we want them to strengthen our democracy of the future, then teachers and parents shouldn't act like authoritarians in their present.

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