Friday, 10 October 2014

Assumptions and Motivations

There is an assumption, a set of related assumptions in fact, behind all of these observations, comments, criticisms and proposed solutions, an assumption that may not be shared by all readers. The assumption is that the purpose, the only important purpose, of education, is to prepare young people to make the most of their future in the world.  This view is certainly not shared by most of the people who create and maintain our systems of education. The main aim of this work is to encourage people to consider and come to share that assumption, but those who do not initially share it may well be rather mystified by much of what I have to say.

That assumption, so easily and regularly forgotten, is something I can never forget, because of the other major motivation of this blog, which is not theoretical but personal and practical:

I benefitted enormously, to a degree that can scarcely be overstated, by having parents who understood that hard work brings a better life, and transmitted this idea by their daily example (which is the only way that actually works). This combined with the luck of having a decentish brain, and going to very good schools (in the case of my primary school because we were Catholics, and the Grammar school because it still existed and I found a way through the 11+).

A lot of luck, yes, but that combination of circumstances should be, and could be, much more readily available than it is. Even the example, which cannot always, or even often, come from parents, but there are other people who could give that example. I have seen now a generation of children come and go, and the majority have had to settle for far less than they might have had, for reasons that do not need to exist, and without ever really understanding that things could be different.

John Steinbeck, who came to understand the art of teaching (which most teachers do not possess) said that good teachers do not tell, they catalyze a burning desire to know. An education system should not process and control children, it should inspire them, most of them, to desire and demand a future and an intellectual life which can turn them into something they never imagined they could be.

I have spent many years observing a number of different forms and systems of education, in two different countries, and reading a great deal about others, that once existed, and that exist now in other countries. In the course of those years I have identified many failings, deficiencies so great, so damaging to the people whose lives they affect, that they must be solved, and yet I have seen little or no understanding of that imperative need, or will to seek solutions, in those who are involved and in a position to do something about them.

This work attempts to identify the major problems of our education system, to persuade the reader that they are, indeed, serious problems, to explain how they have come about, and to set out such solutions as the writer thinks may be introduced in practice.


Vincent said...

When you say "The assumption is that the purpose, the only important purpose, of education, is to prepare young people to make the most of their future in the world" it is hard for a reader outside the system to grasp its force and point without being able to compare it with the view(s) shared or not shared "by most of the people who create and maintain our systems of education."

Also one must imagine that educators are answerable to those who put up the money, so that one has to understand what the wider society expects from education. I would have thought that your primary assumption is unarguable, so a little background would help see the problems.

Vincent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Hickory Wind said...

Despite the length and depth of thought that I've given to it, I still find it very hard to explain what I mean here. I am sort of assuming, as a working hypothesis, that the money is available and that it is worth spending it on education. As you may remember, but other readers may not, I tend to leap to the defence of the taxpayer against the predation and waste of government, but I am trying very hard not to make political arguments here. Since a proper reform on the lines I shall, very slowly, set out, would be much better and much cheaper than what we currently have, it should be relatively easy to sell to those who will have to pay for it.

On the other point, which I shall be saying a lot about in the fullness of time*, there are very many people involved in creating and running the education system, and their incentives do not lead them to put the benefits of students first: teachers want a regular wage and a quiet life; they can get these things without achieving much in the way of education; the administrators are concerned with making work for themselves, paperwork primarily; the politicians who devise the rules are motivated by what motivates politicians, with the result that the laws that bind schools are bureaucratic, populist, aspirational and impractical.

The general point is that the interests of students are not paramount.

*This slow-motion blogging is not at all what I intended, but life, in the form of work, mostly, has decided that it must be that way.

Vincent said...

Thank you for this heartening reply. The thing takes a leap forward in my mind, freeing itself from shackles which caused stasis or rather a ritualistic gnashing of teeth as interests & theories collide. I sense that Rousseau must have worked to a similar framework of freedom when he started drafting Emile in his head.

Never mind the slow-motion blogging. It's an ideal stimulant and tranquillizer combined. No stress of deadlines, yet something always to be developed and clarified. In this medium, you can even argue with yourself and lose. That's one of the best ways of self-teaching and learning, I find!