The elephants in the mansion.

Education is a large mansion. It is full of rooms, each is room a different aspect of education. I have been in some of those rooms, and in every one of them, I have found an elephant. What I have also found is that few people want to talk about them. Why?

It would be easy here to ascribe this unwillingness to discuss the issues around education to a particular moral cowardice, or an avoidance of controversty. The truth, I suspect, is not these things but rather, what can be said? How can it be said? Important questions for sure, but as yet, unanswerable.

Understanding the language used to describe problems is critical to understanding the problems. This is where some very smart people fall down, they have not really developed a generalized language around the issues confronting education. Some have tried, like Sir Ken Robinson, he does it well, but he is still talking about the same issues he was some years ago. And that is another part of the same elephant- the lack of progress of the debate.

One of the major problems around education is the Public-Private debate in this country. It is just not going anywhere. To challengers, it becomes somehow an attempt at re-igniting the class war or some other such thing. The debate has devolved down to funding and the supposed benefits of private schooling over public schooling. These things have never been the major issues that they have been made out to be. These things are distractors, they take attention away from the underlying issues; is education a commodity or a social necessity and should education be plutocratic and profitable or egalitarian and social. In short, in modern neo-conservative terms if you have money, you can get an education, if you don’t, well – tough. Is this really good enough for our future?

The argument goes something like, if schools were competitive and education profitable, then the best teachers would be attracted to teach the best students and Year 12 results will slowly improve. The argument has never really been challenged, and if there is evidence to support the argument, it is well hidden. Careful searching has revealed that where these arguments have been applied, average results are still slipping. Sure there are individual cases of success, but these are meaningless if the overall position deteriorates further. This argument seems to have as much relevance to education as does the “trickle-down effect” to economics. Sounds good, but is damaging to everyone except those at the top.

The lack of adequate language presents us with yet another problem. Teachers are reduced to political correctness on a level that has never been seen before. This taints everything they do. Many teachers I talk to complain their reports no longer use plain language to describe failings of a student. Many more complain that some students seem to think they can attend and that is all they need to contribute. It is, somehow, the teacher’s fault they are not learning. The appalling part of that is there are many politicians and parents who agree.

This is where the “inspirational teacher” argument has been used so effectively by those wanting to denigrate the public system. It starts with, “We all have that one special teacher who inspired us to do it better, someone we learned something from.” But then it goes, ”If we have one such teacher, why can’t all teachers be like that?” That is universal popularity stuff, a woeful argument to enforce political correctness onto teachers. My inspirational teachers have all been hateful types. Ogres, who clearly demonstrated to me the person I did not want to be. We take our inspiration from wherever we find it and that is not always a positive perception.

Another facet of this elephant is that whenever a teacher says anything that is in any way critical of the system, then they are no longer a team player, they are suspect and may be an enemy. So many school leaders and parent councils see that even reasonable assessment of what they are doing may be a threat, if it is viewed as being critical in any way. This threat is obviously undermining their authority, their position and must be treated in the most harsh way that can be visited upon the miscreant who dares challenge them. This is not like whistle-blower territory, but views expressed honestly and openly about agreed policies or decisions implemented.

<begin texttype=”radical”>All policies should be under constant review to ensure relevance, suitability and practicality. To suggest this, though, is dangerous to future prospects for some reason. Schools tend to react very negatively to such suggestions. Time to get over yourselves and join the real world, I would offer.</end texttype>


About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to be more than "just" a teacher.
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