If you want to build a diverse, just, and equitable society, you cannot do it with the current educational system.
That may sound harsh, but there’s no use pretending otherwise.
Consider for a moment not what happens on the surface of most schooling — not the math, history, chemistry, or civics…. Consider instead what’s happening beneath these, about the structural armature over which all the diverse disciplinary practices and activities have been stretched. Think about what happens in most classrooms, regardless of the learners’ age, the subject their teachers are addressing, or the country or city in which they’re located…
Working to do the best for learners, teachers demonstrate a principle, concept, or skill. Then they ask learners to complete an exercise designed to implement and solidify this lesson. Most teachers would love to try a different, more creative or student-centered approach, but they just don’t have time. They’re overwhelmed with too many students and too much bureaucratic paperwork. So they ask all students to complete the same assignment. It’s sheer, handy pragmatics. This way, teachers can compare one learner’s performance with another’s to ‘see who’s getting it and who isn’t.’ It’s objective, scientific, clear.
With instructionist education throwing up its hands in the face of the pandemic and the ‘education industrial complex’ peddling the same old information-centric instructionalism that drives home-bound teens to sedition and insurgency, it seems appropriate to ask “what should we build instead?”
Yet despite the itch to make something new, even our well intentioned first instincts are likely to point us in the wrong direction. As Paul Rand famously observed, “The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.”
This is just as true for education, as Paulo Freire cautioned. Ask most parents about their own experience with school (not with their pals or their favorite teachers, but their overall academic experience) and you’ll often get a tepid saga of boredom, frustration, irrelevance, and dissatisfaction. Yet ask those same parents about their kids breaking away from tradition to try something new, and you’ll witness suspicion, resistance, and a vindication of those ‘old ways’ likely to contain the phrases “I turned out okay” or “it builds character….” Many teachers and school leaders demonstrate this same cognitive dissonance.
An edifice systematically built on the foundation of F.W. Taylor’s “scientific management,” the misguided application of standardization, and the emphasis on testing and human ‘data’ originally developed during the Second World War has come crashing down under the weight of something so small you can’t even see it: a virus.
Of course, had that edifice been as solid and sturdy as it pretended, it would have taken far more to bring it down. Its solidity was always illusory, and its slipshod construction had been increasingly on display. No one should have been surprised that it all fell to rubble, yet many educators, administrators, parents, and legislators seem to have been blindsided.
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