Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Creativity or compliance - to be or not to be that is the question.

2010 is shaping up to be year when schools have to face up to choosing between developing creative teaching beliefs or implementing imposed reactionary politically inspired ideology. The other alternative is to unthinkingly to go along to get along. If this tuns out to be the case it will be sad day for creative education and the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

As soon as primary teachers get themselves back to school in a couple of weeks they will have to face up to the issue of National Standards.

If the National Standards are accepted without even a trial then teachers will be aligning themselves with a system that will distort the education of their students. It will mean developing schools as being un-educational; a source of mis-education contributing to the growing school school failure rate.

The new government has nailed its banner to a standardised approach replacing the move towards personalisation and 21st Century thinking of the previous administration.

It is a clear choice between measurable efficiency of narrow range of targets and an education focusing on developing the attributes, talents and gifts of all students required to equip them to thrive in what will be a challenging future.

The Governments standards approach will alienate students who already find school difficult.All too often schools blame their students backgrounds as an excuse for school failure happily ignoring the role school have played in creating failure.

With an emphasis on standards the schools role in failure will become obvious. While standards focus on primary schools student alienation becomes obvious in years 7 to 10. This was the conclusion of Russell Bishop's Kotahitanga project ( University of Waikato) who, while writing about the experience of Maori students, found that school did not acknowledge student's culture and largely ignored their voice and identity. This alienation for many students begins the day school starts.

It is such students that American writer Kirsten Olsen identifies in her powerful book 'Wounded by School'. She writes that 'shouldn't the joy of learning, creativity and recognising the differences of students be more important than trying to push all students into a middle of the road mold and teaching for standardized testing?' She believes our current school system harms everyone and that there is a need to challenge the industrial age assumptions behind the institution of school that damages so many of our children.

Schooling, she writes, is itself the single most important component to destroying the joy of learning.

School that comply to the government's standardisation approach will be contributing to such wounding and neglect of student's intrinsic learning.

Simple as that.

We need to look at school failure with fresh eyes. For those who would like to gain a greater depth of understanding of the issue of school ought to visit at risk advocate Bill Pages at risk students site

Page believes that the process of failure begins when they are born into impoverished home experiences that cause initial entrance into compulsory schooling to be difficult. These multiple causes ( 'deficit theory') are well known but what is not acknowledged is that educators deny their own culpability in the failure process.

All students have an inbuilt desire to learn and all require encouragement, acceptance, achievement and satisfaction but all too often by our use of peer comparisons (ability grouping) fragile self images of such students are eroded. All students need to have their questions, queries and ideas valued but all too often such desires are replaced by the teacher's planned curriculum. All students need to have their individuality and idiosyncrasy valued but all too often , through teachers influence, students products ( art, writing , research) all illustrate blandness.

After years of such invisibility and frustration a sense of school failure results. When students experience years of not achieving school standards ( many of little interest to them) all the associated behaviour associated with failure results.

Children , writes Page, who begin school behind may never catch up. We need to develop a more creative and personalised approach. Recognizing the futility of it all they readily become kids who quit trying, learning, co-operating , following procedures, or behaving. With their 'loser' image students discover disobedience is preferable to showing stupidity.

School do everything but accept responsibility for the mismatch of students with their imposed curriculum. Educational powers that be created the problem of dysfunctional schooling and only they can solve it system wide.

The sad thing the answer to all this school induced failure is with us. Creative teachers have always known the way to ensure all students retain their joy of learning and it to such teachers we need to look to rather than imposing narrow standards.

Creative teacher know the importance of establishing a non judgemental respectful relationships with all their learners. They know the vital importance of valuing the thoughts, questions, talents and queries of all their students. They understand the importance of students culture and the importance of exploring the immediate environment as as a learning resource. They see their rooms as learning communities and their role as supporting and challenging their students to do their personal best. They appreciate for students to see the need for effort and practice. They encourage their students to do fewer things well and to, in the process, acquire the lifelong attributes and disposition the future will require. In all this they need to ensure that literacy and numeracy are developed in the context of real learning.

For many of our current schools this would turn the process of teaching upside down. Imposed 'best practice' teaching in literacy and numeracy has all but squeezed real learning out the window.

Teacher have chance to fight for creative teaching rather than selling their souls by accepting standards uncritically.

Creative teaching is worth fighting for - I for one will be happy to do my best.

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