Sunday, August 16, 2009

The assembly line

I recently wrote about my hope that education can break away from our 19th/20th century industrial model via a revolution of ideas.

Okay - I'd like to expand on this during this post. But first - a revolution requires knowing which way we want to go.

This exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat sums up our situation in 2009:

Alice - Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here

Cat - That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Alice - I don't much care where

Cat - Then it doesn't matter which way you go

I know which way I wish to go - away from the old industrial model which has so far lasted in New Zealand schools until the present day, and towards the complete delivery of an inquiry model (that actually is the basis of our new New Zealand Curriculum document).

Basically I want to get away from this picture presented in a 1947 training film but which could have been filmed today. Take a look, even if it's just for a few minutes.

What we have currently is this industrial model: desks in production rows, the teacher as oracle at the front dispensing information, conformity and obedience, a rigid timetable structure of discreet subjects, age determined class cohorts, uniform criteria for success, standardised curricula, and therefore students without focus. Look familiar?

The industrial model, which emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, aimed to improve efficiency and to prepare young people for factory jobs requiring repetitive tasks. As a consequence, intended or not, the industrial model tended to preserve the status quo. The industrial model was further characterized by strict rules and regimented behavior, identical curricula and expectations for all students, and an emphasis on basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

Clearly we no longer need to prepare young people for factory jobs exclusively, just as we no longer need to prepare them to become university professors exclusively. Why then do we preserve the status quo model of education?

Standing in contrast is the inquiry model of education, in which learning is active, social, contextual, continuous, and holistic. It requires pedagogies of engagement, learning designs that connect students to knowledge-making activities and to one another, critical thinking, adaptability, creativity, multi-age classes, authentic/diverse assessment practices, teacher as facilitator and co-learner.

Basically, I think we need to revisit a text I had to read at university in 1977 Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society. Some of his messages have stayed with me. This for instance:

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of
unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by
being 'with it', yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth
with elaborate planning and manipulation.

I don't understand what he meant by "being 'with it' ", but I certainly agree with him about the need for a "meaningful setting".

I'll try an explore what these meaningful settings may be over some upcoming posts.

Sources: Christine H. Leland and Wendy C. Kasten, “Literacy Education for the 21st Century: It's Time to Close the Factory,” Reading and Writing Quarterly, vol. 18 (2002), p. 13.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Definitely agree with you. Read this article for McLuhan's take on the very same thing (over 40 years ago!)