Thursday, August 02, 2012

 

Enlightenment from Costco’s magazine—Sir Ken Robinson on education reform


The current systems of education were developed in the 19th century to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution, and it shows itself in two ways. One is in the organizational culture of education, which for the most part is very regimented. It’s organized a bit like an assembly line. Children are divided into age groups, for example, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture. Why? We don’t do that in families or in the general community. It’s done in schools for reasons of organizational efficiency, not for effective education.

We divide each day up into 40-minute periods, for the same reason. And then the day is divided into separate subjects. We have standardized testing at the end of it. It’s very much like an industrial process…
—Sir Ken Robinson in The Costco Connection


by Larry Geller

Somehow I have managed to avoid encountering the writing of Sir Ken Robinson until this morning. How that can be, I can’t explain. Hawaii could use some of his wisdom if we truly want to improve our schools. So I’m playing catch-up today and reading whatever of Robinson I can get my hands on.

Robinson is a recognized expert. I do feel validated now in some similar things I’ve written on my own, so I thought I would take up the subject again before Mitt Romney’s next gaffe draws my attention away, for example. These thoughts are my own, except where indicated.

These days, school continues to exist largely to fulfill commercial needs. That is, to prepare workers to take jobs that are in demand. And to babysit, of course, while parents are both at work.  I think both are true, and after that, we enter a swamp of fuzzy or indistinct ideals and imperfect objectives. Only occasionally have objectives been concrete—for example, when Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union, leading to a demand for engineers in this country. The educational system had a clear objective and produced a small army of newly minted engineers in subsequent years. We no longer need engineers (no jobs) so we’re back to fuzzy logic. In fact, we no longer train for work even at the secondary level. High college tuition and onerous student debt mean that the country no longer has this resource. If Sputnik challenged us today, we would be unable to meet the call. Yet, we continue to let business shape and dictate our educational priorities. Why? Because now privatization of education has become a corporate priority.

“Every child deserves a good education.” Yes, of course, but what does that mean? Does passing a high-stakes test indicate that a student is getting a good education?

“Our children are the future of this country.” Yes, that’s unavoidable, but we today condemn them to a certain future they might not select for themselves, a future of struggle, joblessness, and hopeless dreams.

Hawaii’s state government is quite clear that cookie-cutter standards and high-stakes testing are being implemented for the sake of that $73 million “Race to the Top” money. If the model is wrong to begin with, as Robinson asserts in the pull-quote above, then I suggest that refining a bad model is not likely to produce dramatically better results.

Besides, it is the corporate-education model that is designing (and profiting from) the measurements. Implicit in Robinson’s writing and in his talks is that there are other values by which education and educational achievement should be measured—including creativity. I would add critical thinking.

Hawaii’s governor has appointed business people, not educators, to the Board of Education. The board regularly limits or eliminates parent input through strict and arbitrary time limits on testimony and by scheduling its meetings for a time when parents cannot attend. What kind of a model can these business leaders, who are not educators,  create other than the same unsuccessful model that Robinson is criticizing? If a parent has something important to say, only someone disinterested in that parent’s views would cut them off at the two minute bell. That’s corporate-think, it’s insensitive and inefficient, and it has taken over our educational system in Hawaii.

Hawaii has a businessperson with no pedagogical background as its Superintendent of Schools. Regardless of her positive characteristics, Kathryn Matayoshi is not likely to be a person steeped in educational theory or one who is capable of or likely to break the mold and set our children’s minds and imaginations free. New York City had its own Kathy, actually Cathie, also a businessperson rather than an educator, appointed in their case by the mayor, who runs the city school system. It didn’t take long for a grass-roots rebellion to oust her.

[Cathie] Black was never able to gain the public's respect, though, failing at the politics of the job and earning even more criticism with various gaffes and confrontations.

Even if she had been a stellar politician, however, Bloomberg might never have been able to make the public as confident as he professed to be in her appointment. The primary concern from many critics was that, given her background in business and publishing, Black had no education experience to speak of.

[Huffington Post, Cathie Black Departure Has Important National Lessons, 4/7/2011]

There has been no similar public outcry in Hawaii—quite the opposite. Probably, the public is conditioned to believe that the schools are so bad that new leaders are needed to fix it.

But the model remains the same. So an ill-fitting model is merely to be polished up a bit and made more efficient, not more relevant.

If corporate needs drive the educational system, then Hawaii’s school system is not doing badly at all, at least from the viewpoint of our primary industry, tourism. I’ll have to admit some shock to hear a tourism representative express great satisfaction with our educational system in a film clip that lead off a special program Jade Moon hosted at the UH Art Auditorium many years ago. It was a time when the Felix lawsuit was raging, demonstrating what a colossal failure the DOE had been at least with regard to educating special needs students. Of course, if the jobs that students can look forward to involve mainly  low-paying work such as cleaning floors, making beds or waiting tables, the tourism representative was correct. Hawaii’s schools graduate exactly the students he needed.

Shouldn’t Hawaii’s K-12 students have the same shot at good jobs as students elsewhere? Yes, but the students know that those jobs don’t exist here. I tried at one time to interest students in telecommunications jobs. Although I described a variety technical jobs and opportunities in visits to high school classrooms, the students weren’t fooled. Very few, if any, of those jobs existed here. They’d have to leave family and friends behind, move to the Mainland, and date strange people in order to land one of those jobs.

So the incentives here do not seem to track those on the Mainland. Nor does the one-size-fits-all model designed in Washington  fit students in Hawaii.

All the more reason to give up the current model, not to try to “race to the top” of it, and to try something such as Sir Ken Robinson suggests—schooling individualized to the students. By that I mean the students of Hawaii, not some US-government-standardized student.

Experience an incredible TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson at the link or by clicking below—the video has had almost 11,500,000 views. The TED page includes a full transcript.

Actually, we lived in a place called Snitterfield, just outside Stratford, which is where Shakespeare's father was born. Are you struck by a new thought? I was. You don't think of Shakespeare having a father, do you? Do you? Because you don't think of Shakespeare being a child, do you? Shakespeare being seven? I never thought of it. I mean, he was seven at some point. He was in somebody's English class, wasn't he? How annoying would that be? (Laughter) "Must try harder." Being sent to bed by his dad, you know, to Shakespeare, "Go to bed, now," to William Shakespeare, "and put the pencil down. And stop speaking like that. It's confusing everybody."

What kind of an education would Shakespeare have had if he were attending school in this country today? In Hawaii?



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