Wandering in Fields of Idiots

My Blog

The State of Education and Authority

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Having previously worked in education and still maintaining an interest in life-long learning I find it interesting to read what people have to say about the state of modern education. Regularly I see tweets and blog posts from the likes of @Euan and @MMetcalfe about teaching and learning. Not specifically from the aforementioned people, but one thing I often hear maligned is lecturing, the process by which teaching is done from the front and experience is shared, essentially lecturing to the audience. This is in compliment to the Socratic Method, in which lecturing is used with questioning to establish a pattern of feedback to measure student understanding and pace.

Recently The London Evening Standard has been doing a series of articles about literacy in London and how it affects us. Apparently four in ten job applications are now rejected on the basis of poor grammar and spelling and I saw this in action when I was lecturing because I would mark reports that I could barely understand. I was occasionally told that I shouldn’t mark a student down because of their ability with English but I never respected that view, if you can’t communicate then you deserve a lower mark people need to be driven to success. I’ve often discussed this with friends and family, and it seems to me, and a few others, that one of the biggest problems that we are having today is discipline and respect. I don’t mean in a Victorian punishment kind of way, but in terms of the way those in authority are respected, or not as it seems now. No longer are teachers and the police given the veneration that they need to do their jobs. Parents and guardians no longer tell their children that they must respect and obey teachers and policemen.

Now, I know there have always been disruptive students, there have been since the beginning of time, but once upon a time students knew who the boss was and these days it is politically incorrect to have a boss. I am not the most disciplined person in the world, but I know who is in charge and I like to think I also know how to take some authority when needed. Learning the basics of language really takes routine and practice, boring repartition and positive re-enforcement. Sometimes children need to sit down and try, and fail, and then try again because if at first we don’t succeed… Looking from a far there is a great deal of effort going into finding ‘alternative’ ways to teach children, when actually if that effort was spent doing boring stuff then the children might learn the virtue of doing mundane tasks. Because there are virtues in learning to do mundane tasks that a person in authority requires you to do and you shouldn’t always question authority.

Of course children need to be educated in critical thought, analysis and debate, I feel this more now than I have ever done, but they must also learn about self-discipline and motivation. In school my Design and Technology (metal and woodwork) teacher, who was very much old school, insisted that we couldn’t leave the class at the end until we had correctly answered a multiplication-table question. This forced us to look it up and learn them, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to leave and we would be a little embarrassed. Some might see this as bullying, I don’t, I think it was a cleaver way of motivating us and remember this man wasn’t a maths teacher he was just a man passionate about ensuring we had the right level of numeracy, which is more than I can say about some mathematics teachers I have known.

Perhaps I am getting more conservative in my old age (;-) but I look at society and the way that the suitability of employment candidates has fallen in recent years and I think it is a shame. I want the world to thrive and I don’t want the Western states to become the new third-world. Remember that in many third world countries children can’t all go to school but a child will do as much as they can just for the chance to be educated, yet in Europe they children will happily commit crime just to avoid going to school! So, I believe parents need to take an active role in ensuring that children respect teachers and uniformed authorities, this is quite controversial in itself and then I think teachers need to start concentrating on getting the basics sorted through routine not through time-wasting creativity. I feel teachers should be inspiring through their leadership and enthusiasm, not so much through dressing up and entertaining students, after all teaching should be engaging but it doesn’t have to be entertaining. It would take years to get back into some sense of order in schools, but perhaps then students would start turning up at higher education who can actually write something which makes sense and companies wouldn’t have to do remedial education for their students.

Also, testing and exams might not be pleasant and they don’t represent everyone’s abilities, but when combined with practical work and essays I think they are effective measures of students. The idea of not being competitive at schools is ridiculous, I want people to be acknowledged as being a bit thick so they can be motivated to succeed. I wasn’t much use at sports, but discipline forced me to participate more than I would have done of my own free will and I even found some things I was good at in sports. Everyone has something they are good at, I believe this, but some people are better than others. This doesn’t have to be a Plutocracy in which success is dictated by wealth, but it doesn’t have to exclude people from doing well and it seems to me that it is unacceptable to push one group ahead because it might offend those who are less able.

That is my rant, you are welcome to it.