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Saturday, 11 June 2016

A New Paradigm

A New Paradigm

What does it mean to have a new paradigm?  What are the steps to achieving this?

The first step is always to examine the assumptions that we make.  Every opinion or viewpoint contains certain basic assumptions.  These can be as primal as “everything strives for survival” or as societal as “success is measured in dollars”.  The key is to try to figure out the assumptions and then to assess if we still believe that they are valid.  I would like to explore the assumptions which underlie our current system of education.  Then we can discuss if they are still valid for today’s children.

Assumption #1:

The purpose of education is to produce a productive citizen.  This is part and parcel of being a capitalist society.  It has to do with changing a young child, who is a burden on society, into an asset.  Children produce nothing of value and consume large resources of time and money.  They also reduce the productivity of the parents who must miss work in order to deal with the child.  Although this may sound harsh, it is the principle underlying why we send our children to school.  Having them in school during business hours frees the parents to work productively.  Teaching them in large numbers in a central location maximizes the efficiency of the process of turning them into productive adults.  


Although a capitalistic society may feel that children are a drain on society’s resources, parents and others could easily argue that children are our greatest asset.  Put simply, without children there is no future for the human race.  But children are also an asset because they teach the adults around them.  We learn patience, unconditional love, pure charity in which we do things for another with no expectation of reward.  They also have an imagination unfettered by the conditioning and assumptions of our adult world.  Each of them carries within a unique paradigm based on unique needs and perspectives.  Perhaps it is time to respect the asset that children bring to our society and to maximize that asset instead of suppressing it in the hopes of creating another adult that can work, perhaps with no clear goal except to work.

Assumption #2:

Children learn best in a quiet, controlled environment.  They cannot learn in chaos.  This seems to be based on the general way that a majority of adults like to focus.  Many find noise or movement to distract them from their work.  If it is true for adults then it is true for children.  And I would agree if the goal is for them to complete given work.  Which falls to another assumption that the work given in school has value.  I am not questioning what is taught, since a knowledge of language, mathematics, history, science, etc. is necessary to understand our world.  I am talking about the work that they must do in order for society to feel that they are learning.  This includes essays, math problems, tests, memorization, regurgitation of facts, which have little or no connection to the life that they lead now or will lead in the future.  


Ask a hockey fan at a game what the score is and who just made that great play.  He or she will be able to answer you with no problem, despite the racket and chaos around.  The truth is that we always focus on what interests us.  The same is true for children.  Everyone is distracted by chaos if the chaos is more interesting than the object of our attention.  However, chaos provides a multitude of opportunities to learn.  Out of chaos children can select the item which interests them the most.  Then they can focus on that.  They, in fact, may seek out a quiet place so that they can focus more completely but that is their choice.  By making classrooms silent we actually highlight any sound, movement, or object that is more interesting than the subject being taught.  It is not surprising that most children zone out during lectures.  Most adults probably would, too.

Assumption #3:

In order to get a good job, you need to go to university or college.  In order to go to university or college, you must have a high school diploma.  This is an assumption from the 1960’s and 1970’s because it was true then.  When the goal of every child was to get a well paying job so that they could buy a nice house, nice car, and have money for extras, then this was the well trod route.  And it worked.   


It doesn’t work anymore.  First of all, a university degree does not guarantee a higher salary.  In fact, most students will not even be able to get a job in their chosen field, unless it is THE field in demand, which changes so rapidly that a student starting out in a given high demand field, such as cyber security, will probably face a saturation of that field by the time she graduates in four years.  Secondly, there are many well paying jobs which do not require a university degree.  Most of the high tech start-ups are led by people without a relevant degree.  Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while in his second year at Harvard.  Steve Jobs dropped out of college.  Most jobs which still require a degree are either professional careers such as doctor or lawyer or conservative fields such as banking and accountancy.  Many others only require certain certifications, which can be taken as needed.

There is also the reality that you do not need a high school diploma.  Homeschooled children are attending universities and colleges in growing numbers.  Institutions want them because they have excellent time management and work skills.  They are also usually strongly self- motivated.  In other words, they are going to university to learn, not to get a job.

Then there is the tragic reality that most public high schools inadequately prepare students for university studies.  Students lack the necessary writing skills, time management skills, and organizational skills to succeed.  One third of all first year university students in Canada drop out during the first term.  

The final point is that many children today will not be working traditional jobs when they are adults.  The largest growth areas are in entrepreneurship and service industries.  But the services being offered were not even dreamed of yesterday.  Horse masseur, wedding attendant, traveling cat groomer.  These are just some of the careers popping up.  Who knows what the future will hold?  Certainly not the colleges or universities.  They only create programs for fields that already exist.  So, to best prepare our children for the future, we need to teach them the skills that they will need to forge their own paths: creativity, imagination, perseverance, the ability to value failure, the ability to see opportunities.  These are not, at present, being taught in school except by some exceptional teachers who go above and beyond the requirements of an archaic curriculum.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Reform Rant

I am going to rant. For most of my adult life I have been frustrated and angry. So I am going to rant. Every day thousands of children in this province (and assuredly all over the country, even world) reluctantly go to school. Many out and out hate going to school. This is not only wrong, it is a crime against our own children. Childhood gives us the best years for growth of all kinds. Children and teens are loaded with curiosity, energy, creativity and drive. So we push them into schools which kill all of these things. 

Our education system is over a century out of date and all the experts know it. Some of the greatest education reformers, who are still praised and quoted today, wrote those criticisms in the 1960's! And still we do nothing. We quietly sit here and believe that this is the only way. Just like in generations past people went to the doctor when they didn't feel well. He (and it was always a man) gave you some pills and told you to come back if they didn't work. And people did just that. But no longer. Now we take control of ourselves and our health. We want to understand what is happening. We prowl the internet. We question our doctors. We search out other possible remedies. And we blithely send our children to schools which not only don't teach them what they need to know but also kill their natural enthusiasm. 

Understand, and I will repeat this as many times as it takes for you to hear, I AM NOT criticizing the teachers! I am not even really criticizing the curriculum. I am damning the system. It doesn't work. It hasn't worked for a long time. And yet we cling to it. How many times have I heard: “Well, I survived it. He (she) can, too.” “Bullying is just part of growing up.” “School is just something you have to get through.” All along the lines of, perhaps, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger? What a crock! But the worst part is that everyone knows that it is broken and yet no one wants to do anything. 

I am very happy that some parents can find good school solutions for their children in the alternative schools, however many will find that these programs do not exist in their areas. Alternative schools are only in places of dense population. What do we call it when some people have access to certain public services and others do not? We call it discrimination.

We certainly can look at education systems elsewhere in the world, like Finland. We can learn from alternative private systems like Montessori. We can study the words of education reformers like John Gatto or Sir Ken Robinson. But ultimately we will have to find a uniquely Canadian solution. By our very nature, we are multi-cultural. We also have a small population in a huge geographical space. These make it impossible to simply transplant other solutions to Canada.

As parents we strive to get the best for our children. For many years I worked very hard to provide my children with a good education. I picked up, along the way, as many other children as I could. This is no longer enough. It is time that we think of all the children of Canada. From the smallest village in the far north to inner city Toronto, we need a better public education for all. This can only happen if we start the conversation. With parents and grandparents, with teachers and school administrators, with employers and businesses, and with our politicians. How can we claim to be an advanced modern nation when our school system is locked in the early 1900's?

Perhaps I should mention that not only am I a parent and teacher but also I have a Masters in Education. Since my children entered school here in the 1990's I have been fighting for change. My frustration at the blind adherence to an archaic system has reached boiling point. It is no longer enough to point out that the system can be changed. We need to know that it MUST be changed.

And there are things to do. First of all, get mad. For your child, your grandchildren, all the other children. Second, find like minded people. There are pockets, getting bigger, all over the place.  Search Facebook, find blogs, find others.  Watch “Beyond Measure”, a movie about groups in schools who have actually done something.  It takes place in the United States but has a lot of things we can learn.  Third, talk about it with everyone. Yes, because I have been in education for over 30 years, I do have a plan for reform. If anyone is interested, read my last blog.  Feel free to share it, comment on it, amend it.  Just do something!  But my point is not to promote my own solution, but to get others moving. Only united can we give our children the education they deserve. 

Who else is angry and has had enough?