Archive for October, 2012

The endurance of our school/class model is evidence of it’s strength, not it’s stagnation.

Often, in educational circles, I hear the statement/complain that schools and classrooms look the same as they did a 100 years ago with the implication that this is harmful to student learning.  I feel this is a ridiculous statement; it is either untrue or at best, irrelevant.

I think the first way to respond can be found in this article: Dear Hollywood: “School Doesn’t Look Like This”  In this article, some of the differences between today’s classrooms and those of the past are presented.  Focusing on, teaching style, digital tech integration, desk or table arrangement, etc.  Of course this is not an exhaustive list, and anyone familiar with today’s classrooms should be able to expand it.  The troubling implication here is that so many in the education field don’t.  There are so many other differences in content and pedagogy to point out.  I once got a tweet from a digital art teacher who wondered if we were teaching the same as in the past; this from a digital art instructor!  He later revealed he was refering to the fact that we still teach them in batches based on age.  I have addressed that here:   Even if you don’t agree with me, we can’t perseverate on this one similarity…it doesn’t alone justify the hyperbolic claim of “sameness.”  Some similarities or consistencies will always be there (eg. schools will be to educate people).

Is your classroom just the walls and desks?  Surely you don’t teach the same as 100 years ago?  How many of us are teaching Latin or Classic civilizations (well grade 5’s are)?  Are your students in single rows?  Are you in a one room school house?  In Ontario, at least, aren’t you using a curriculum radically different from the one used in the 1990’s (which was of course different from the one used 100 years ago)?

In our board, we go to the Heritage School House or Pioneer Village to experience the differences and to learn about how different schooling was 100 years ago.  Sure I recognise the building, sure I recognise the front desk as the teacher’s…but there’s a world of difference between same and similar.  Writing the word “once” is a similar act to writing a novel that starts with “Once upon a time…”   I also recognise cars, houses, churches (even of different traditions and even 1000 of years old), boats, and all manner of other things.  Being recognizable is part of it’s essence or even Platonic quality; chair appearance hasn’t changed to the point that its unrecognizable, but the tech to build one and the ergonomics have certainly improved.  Do we need a new chair design to the point where it isn’t recognisable to prove to overly concrete and limited thinkers that it has changed?  How about schools, just because they don’t look like an airport or submarine doesn’t mean they are the same as 100 years ago.

Being old is not the same as being obsolete or irrelevant.  Anyone over 20 should intuitively agree.  Would the people who suggest that schools are obsolete because of consistent design be willing to make a similar aguement with religious people.  Would they be willing to say, “Your moral code is from the Bronze Age; you need to replace it!” to Christians and Jews.  Should old people be considered obsolete as well?

My students can instantly recognise hotels, planes, cars, hospitals and banks no matter how old they are.  Lots of things look the same but still work differently.  Schools continuously change…often teachers grumble about that.  We have a board plan for continuous improvement (change), and a school plan for continuous improvement (change)…never mind the dozens of changes implemented by Ministry and Board employees each year.  Never mind the changes that I implement each year.  You can go to school online now—can you travel online or go to a hospital online?

To reiterate: old does not mean obsolete.  That is an epistemology that has developed over the last generation or so in the Western World.  It is created largely by the market place; a market place of innovation sure, but also one of planned obsolescence, disposal-ability, and replace-ability.  A market place that sold new things by creating false needs, or by creating the desire for newer products as a value.  We used to repair now we replace and recycle.  We used to value tradition over transience.  Sometimes, things/ideas/building have staying power because they elegantly solve a problem, or because they so successfully create positive utility.

The better something is designed, the longer it lasts.  Perhaps the persistence of the classroom model should be celebrated!  It has lasted a very long time; where’s the evidence that your innovative model (or vague concept) will be better?  Where’s the staying power of your innovation?  Have you analyzed the unforeseen consequences?  Do you have enough evidence to argue it is better and therefore classrooms need to change even more than they already do?

The endurance of our school/class model is evidence of it’s strength, not it’s stagnation.



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students creating their own extra-curricular

There’s a great episode of the Simpsons…sorry, let me start again:  ONE of the great episodes of the Simpsons has Lisa talking to Homer:

Lisa: Dad, do you know that the Chinese have the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity?”

Homer: Yes! Cris-o-tunity!

Well, students are finding themselves in the middle of a crisis/opportunity this school year in Ontario.  With the cancellation or the eminent cancellation of extra-curricular activities, students are faced with a decision: whether to lament their fate and wallow in their misery, or whether they should develop their own extra-curricular without teacher involvement.

The students at my school have decided to go it alone.  They have begun to organise their own activities and organizations.  It’s a little messier, there’s been some mistakes, and there’s been some disagreements; however, they have still succeeded brilliantly.  They have made organic, democratic, and engaging opportunities for themselves and each other. 

Within days of the full realisation that clubs and teams are at least on hold, a couple of students organised a soccer league to operate at recess when there is already supervision.  They have organised the equipment, teams, a tournament structure, they have refs, and it seems to be going quite well.  It takes a little more time for them to organise at the start of each game as they are less use to submitting authority to each other, but once the game starts, it has been flawless. 

Another group tried to re-create the cross country team.  Unfortunately, school insurance issues and a desire to hold before and after school practises seems to have stalled this initiative.  When you’re learning, you won’t always be successful…unless learning is the goal of course.

The final student organization so far is the student council.  The grade eights came together and decided on the form of the council and hosted their own elections. Currently, they are organizing the Halloween dance.  Their arguments were messy but so very real and democratic…its been very interesting to watch…I wonder if, should the labour dispute be resolved and extra-curricular are restored by teachers, whether this group will want a teacher at that point.

They have become leaders…not just filling in the spaces that teachers created for them, but they have made the spaces themselves this time.  They have taken it all on, not just the little bits we typically leave them.

I wish I could say I was proud of them; however, I have had nothing to do with it and this seems patronizing to me….I can say that I am very impressed.

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