If there is a more noble occupation in the world than teacher I’d like to know what it is. Einstein once said “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” [i], of course, he was 100% correct. To Awaken Joy in Creative Expression and Knowledge is a Supreme Art. To be an indifferent teacher is at best negligence and at worst a form of child abuse; not as serious as physical, emotional, mental or sexual abuse of course, but abuse nonetheless. The theft of time through mediocrity, indifference, bullying or egocentricity cannot be excused and any teacher in this position should abandon the profession and go and do something else, for their own sake, that of their students and for society at large. Teachers should approach their relationships with their pupils and indeed their whole professional duties as one of the most important covenants that any human can ever undertake; because it is.
According to Professor Robert Schwartz of the Harvard Graduate School of Education “the single most important input variable [in education] is the quality of teaching” [ii]. Philosophy, methodology, pedagogy, organisation, resources, curricula and support staff are all necessary for a functional education system but teachers are the single most important factor for a holistic, creative, effective, efficient and compassionate education system. The balance of repetition and challenge are fundamental cobblestones on the road to mastering skills and inculcating knowledge, but for this to be enacted effectively and efficiently requires teachers using an evidence based pedagogical approach in addition to having joy in their hearts and a love of both life and learning. If joy, skill, passion, creativity, dedication and vision are not defining characteristics of the teachers in a school then education is little more than glorified babysitting for potential shoplifters and/or rioters. To put education at the heart of any sustainable postcapitalist system, as it must be, requires compassion, dedication and professionalism of an exemplary level from its teachers.
Many youngsters have often seen formal education as a waste of their time & energy and, unfortunately, they have far too often been correct in their assessment. That is a tragedy. It sounds obvious but if young people are compelled to attend schools with overly prescriptive irrelevant curricula which do not engage them, with median and modal class sizes of 25-35, then education is far too often a complete waste of everybody’s time. Performance poet, rapper and singer Kate Tempest says this of her, all too common, secondary school experience,
“I just wanted to play music and listen to music and read books. I did want to learn, but on my own terms and at my own pace. I didn’t understand why we were sitting in these classrooms doing stuff that I didn’t care about. The whole thing seemed a farce and made me very angry and disruptive (my emphasis). In the end I think they just got sick of me.” [iii]
The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance in Education, a 2012 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit states,
“Educators might hope that this or similar bodies of research would yield the ‘holy grail’: identification of the input, or set of inputs, that above all else leads to better educational results wherever it is applied. Alas, if this report makes nothing else clear, it is that no such magic bullets exist at an international level (my emphasis) – or at least that they cannot, as yet, be statistically proven. Nonetheless, our research – which is also based on insights gathered from experts around the world – provides some definite signposts…
Culture is extremely important
There is no substitute for good teachers
There is no single path to greater educational outcomes”
Although there does not exist a one-size-fits-all solution to education, there are certain organisational principles, pedagogical approaches and values that have evidentially been shown to be superior to the strategy of prescriptive standardised testing so beloved of the so-called ‘standards movement’. Young hearts and minds must be nurtured like orchids or turnips or coca shrubs or coconuts or maize or olive trees or potatoes or rice paddies since, like plants, what nourishes one may well be anathema to another. Politicians should NEVER be allowed to dictate educational policy. Educational strategy and philosophy must be shaped by evidence-based research and professional educators in consultation with the local community. There is solid evidence which indicates that a median and modal class size of 8-16 is necessary to allow other evidence based pedagogical approaches, such as individualised feedback, to occur. Although larger lecture style classes might be chosen in particular circumstances, this would be the exception not the rule as they are now.
When education becomes box-ticking, i.e. a glorified admin exercise, riot-control and/or baby-sitting, students are correct to think that their time would be best spent doing something else and act accordingly. School must be something that youngsters are eager participants in, and not something they do indifferently to or are bullied into. American teacher & writer John Taylor Gatto comments,
“Is it possible that compelling (sic) people to do something guarantees that they will do it poorly, with a bad will, or indifferently unless you are willing, as the army is, to suspend most human rights and use any degree of intimidation necessary? And if the latter is the only way that compulsion can produce results, what is the human (sic) value of using it if it diminishes the quality of human life?” [v]
The alternative to holistic & Sustainable education is a system of compulsion, coercion and state mind control. Although it is fair to say that the some of the educational systems that have emerged in the post WW II period have been reasonably functional and have been beneficial for some children, many systems have been used primarily as baby sitting institutions and systems of social control that have been largely dysfunctional to millions of children around the globe for a myriad of different reasons. Many of these children were deprived opportunities to find their individual mediums and instead were labelled as failures and drop-outs. Although it is true that some of these ‘drop-outs’ went on to become successful entrepreneurs after they left school, they are outnumbered by the ones who ended up in menial low-paid work, homeless or in prison. This is both a human tragedy and a massive socio-economic loss for societies around the world.
This raises at least two important philosophical questions about education. What is the purpose of education? How can we achieve those goals? For a sustainable system the answer to the first question can only be; to nurture free-thinking mentally well-balanced creative people with a broad range of skills and to have a positive enjoyable learning experience. The second question will be answered over the course of the remaining blog posts.
This is an extract from my book, The Tao of Sustainable Development: The Five Minimum Charachtersitics of a Post-capitalist Utopian Paradigm, available as an Amazon kindle and paperback from Amazon.
Part 2 coming October 12
[ii] The Learning Curve P. 22
[iv] The Learning Curve P. 6-8
[v] Taylor-Gatto P. 84
Economist Intelligence Unit (2012) The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance in Education Pearson
Taylor-Gatto, J (2002) Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling New Society Publishers