Let the truth set them free

The increasing availability and reach of news and information has further reinforced the struggle for influence over what we read and what we hear. The current indignation from some newspapers, about having their right to destroy people’s lives curtailed, is interesting. Yes, we need a balance to ensure that their ability to expose corruption and injustice is not impeded. However, we also need to have an open debate and the fact of the matter is that the media, by and large, enage in forms of social and political ‘propaganda’ that further undermines their case for any form of exemption.

I notice that many radio stations and wireless internet providers are SKY News based. SKY news is ‘right’ leaning and does not give the same balance of reporting as the BBC, who are required to put both sides.

All of this makes the role of education critical. We can begin, from an early age, discussing how important it is to explain things fairly. We also need to explain that people who want to tell you things will have a motive for doing so. What is that motive?

The best way is always to find out the range of views that people have before deciding on your own. It is basically a scientific method. Gather all the facts and different poits of view before trying to make sense of it. Another argument for placing philosophy and the search for truth at the heart of the curriculum.

National v Local

The centralisation of control of education is leaving schools prey to even more political influence. The pendulum will swing back – this usually happens as a result of an eventual realisation that things are not working and because of a weakening of the collective amnesia as to what the merits of the old order were.

Local management of schools brings the system closer to the parents and communities which the schools serve. One of the areas of collective amnesia at the moment is about schools being an organic element of a community – if you detach the system from its immediate roots it will inevitably wither.

Schools work best when the community and the parents feel ownership. Teachers feel valued for the wider aspects of the work that they do in supporting families and community.  The curriculum can be adapted to suit local needs. The whole process is a partnership, a joint enterprise. It surely takes the proverbial village to raise the child.

The current climate is pressing schools to collaborate – the economies of scale in the current climate are too great an advantage to forgo. The threat of take over by an external asset stripping academy chain is another driver towards local networks. What we miss at the moment is local leadership. This has been exacerbated by the relentless attacks on Local Authorities and it is difficult to see where leadership will emerge. Such a need for local leadership is not confined to schooling – locally organised responses to economic hardship, energy supply and threats from a lack of planning control also stand out.

Atomised societies are difficult phenomena to change.  What we need are successful pioneers to emerge and for their achievements to be shared and understood. There must be a community somewhere in the Western world that is leading the way, but where?

Of Pedagogy

Perhaps the failure of teaching  to establish itself as a profession on a par with medicine or the law rests with the absence of a clearly defined realm of expertise.

Teaching involves translating a body of knowledge so that it can be presented in an appropriate and effective manner. The term to describe this process is pedagogy. Pedagogy encompasses a substantial amount of decision making and a demand for expert judgements that is surely the equal of medicine or law.

Pedagogy is little used by the profession at large and when it is, often describes but one element of the process. This ‘selective’ tendency is perhaps one reason why the term has not established itself as the true descriptor and champion of the teaching profession. Other theories suggest that the term has been appropriated by the academic world (and therefore treated with caution by schools), another that government, as paymasters and keepers of the social status quo, are reluctant to encourage a true process of professionalism. If Pedagogy, as an iconic term, was more dominant, it could greatly assist not only the status of teaching, but also of the training and development of teachers.

The meaning and origin of the word pedagogy  is from the Greek for the slave that walks the child to school, i.e. the deliverer of education. So how can we outline the expertise of pedagogy? It is possible to  identify 4 inter connecting spheres of pedagogy involving knowledge of subject (Epistemological), knowledge of how such subject content can be presented for learning (Educational), relating to managing groups of children and young people (Social Pedagogy) and fourthly, the ability to reconcile and balance the competing vested interests at play in the classroom (Critical Pedagogy).

Teaching does not provide the concrete outcomes more easily accessible to medicine and the law. However, the complexity and diffusion of outcomes prevalent in education, should be recognised as contributory elements of a high professional standing, to which the term pedagogy does justice.

‘Keep up the good work’

I wonder if we need to reinforce the critical appraisal of the language we use to communicate with pupils. I know, as a profession, we have rejected the meaningless instructions and comments of the past but have we really progressed as far as we need to? How often do we use terms and phrases which we have used before and which are often the path of least resistance in a pressured day (particularly when marking), but which do not achieve the required meeting of minds? Could do better – how? Keep up the good work – how? what? Satisfactory?

The research into effective learning (in particular Hattie) points us towards the best support for learning – individual feedback. It therefore puts pressure on us to choose our words very carefully. We are not helped by a profession that adopts and entertains jargon and acronym with ease. We are not helped that exam syallabi are very rarely written in student accessible language. We are not helped by our own education and upbringing, which often makes it difficult to be conscious of the ease with which we use language and the many who do not enjoy such an advantage. We could go deeper into the territory of Friere (Critical pedagogy) Bernstein (Restricted code) and draw a parallel between colonial suppression  and the middle class hegemony (via language) of our own culture.

I am fortunate to be able to observe teachers in the classroom and I am continually struck by the critical importance of making sure a class is comfortable with the necessary key words (use and spelling), the importance of sharing aims and objectives in accessible language and making sure that there has been a proper transaction of understanding. Individual exchanges, either in class or via marking also need to be clear about meaning.

Teaching is a time tortured activity involving dozens of daily decisions about where time is needed. I suspect that time spent ensuring that the pupils have the awareness and understanding of what they need to do to develop their understanding and skills, is time well spent. Easy to say and often said, but worth repeating. I can remember the fog surrounding my own education around the age of 8 or 9, so much so that I convinced myself that all the teacher wanted was things done as rapidly as possible ( becuase that was what seemed to achieve praise). Consequently I am still cursed with a degree of impetuousness. Perhaps the art of exposition has been slightly lost in the starter/trigger/intro culture. I note that Hattie’s (ibid) meta analysis places instructional quality a close 3rd behind feedback and prior ability in the list of the most effective learning agencies .

Written On The Heart

New Year’s eve in Stratford at the Swan Theatre to see the RSC perform David Edgar’s play about the King James Bible. Wonderful – not only for the usual brilliances of acting and stagecraft but for the insights – the incredible courage of the men and women who were incinerated at the stake for their belief that the Bible should be read by all and that the difference between the original text and the subsequent inventions of  priests (men) should be clear to all.  The controversy about key words – are we to be a flock (and to have free will) or to be enfolded (to have none)?, are we to be a church (controlled) or a congregation (to control)? and are we to be ruled by priests or by elders?.

The other fascinating insight I took from the play was the process of compromise that constituted the final text – some of the words indeed fell to a puritan interpretation, others to the traditional  Catholic preference , thereby incorporating and  marrying the two extremes in the one.

‘Written on the heart’ refers to the quotation from the play that explains that none of the text can be properly understood unless the reader has both love and compassion written upon their heart. Not a bad lesson for 2012 – the basic rule of all faiths and none- if we have no love for one another and for our children, we shall not see beyond our own selfish world and are likely to create a violent and greedy one.

We can talk about an ethos, but in the spirit of the King James Bible, let us speak plain, we need love to provide the respect, compassion and self esteem that underpins a just society.

Role models for young people: politics

Whatever history decides about the decision on a European veto last week, one cant help reflecting on the messages that it sends out. One such is about how to behave when your friends need you – perhaps rather than walking away (or being out manoevered and taking off in a huff) we might stay to talk through the issues and be seen to go the extra mile?. If you are in partnership with the leader of another party, how honest are you about your prior intentions? When you return from having done the deed, how do you behave? With humility? Or hold a banquet for your ecstatic supporters?  How much do you rely on public opinion, opinion which has been fed distorted information about the EU for years by the all powerful Murdoch press?  Are the most important group in this country the financiers or is it the millions who rely on European markets for their jobs? Best for Britain? We simply dont know so why take precipitative action? Is leadership about high principle or calculated sectional interest? Niccolo Machiavelli or Mahatma Ghandi?

A new school curriculum for the digital age

If we are to compete with the world and find some growth in the teeth of the economic gale , we will need to encourage innovation. In effect, we need to equip young people to exploit the digital age. This will mean that digital devices will need to become the medium for learning. We shall need to have a curriculum that teaches enough about coding and applications to support the sort of creative thinking that we can, as a country, be so good at. The one glimmer of light in this age of unemployment and a rapidly ageing population is the availability and ease of access to the web. 

A couple of hurdles, which can be overcome. The practical, digital expertise in schools often resides with the pupils – we need to support the ‘flipping’ of the curriculum so that teachers can support and learn with the students in school. A second problem is the rigidity of the national curriculum  and the conservative, lethargic processes that hinder change – we need to quickly cut schools some slack.

David Miliband has recently argued for the concept of Community Leadership. The reform of the curriculum I am suggesting,  could be closely linked to the community, as many of the innovatory applications of new technologies will need to relate to energy, the environment, the elderly, health and social care. Miliband also argues for a counter balancing cohort of comprehensive school headteachers who will challenge the elitist notions that accompany the free school and academy chain models. This group of heads would be the best advocates of an inclusive and enabling new curriculum for the rising generation, a generation who will need to rescue the rest of us.