I read this and just had to react.
This is the key. “His teachers were wonderful, and thankfully, they made it very clear at the beginning of the year that homework was not supposed to give kids anxiety.” So why was the kid anxious? Did the “mommy” insist that the kid had to do the homework because she didn’t want the kid to fall behind others doing the homework?
Firstly this kid is primary, and I don’t know how important homework is to primary kids. For me homework was essential for reinforcement of classwork skills, occasional problem-solving to see if there were kids capable, and generally providing academic discipline. Because of collusion or other factors, not all of these goals were achieved but our education system is far from perfect.
I do not know how important my goals are for primary kids. What mattered to me with the homework was never achievement but effort, however what mattered for the kids and the parents who cared was achievement. Both kids and parents wanted the exam results so they would push – possibly creating anxiety. Now if primary school “mommy” did not care whether the kid passed exams, then there would be no concerns about homework – if you look at the teachers’ attitudes.
The issue is not anxiety about homework but anxiety about success. Mommy wants the success without the anxiety. Mommy says her kid is good – “Most of the time, it wasn’t that he didn’t know how to complete his work”, yet there is a contradiction “I have sat with all of my kids through excruciating evenings of trying to help them figure out long division and fractions.” In the article there is no assessment of the ability of the kid concerned – for obvious reasons.
Teachers have to provide opportunities. The bright kids in the class pick up the skills in the class and do not need any reinforcement. Hard workers struggle with the skills in class and through determination, whether with outside help – parents or otherwise, and can achieve the same standard. Homework gives them that opportunity. Because I worked in an exam factory, as do secondary school teachers, my rationale was always to give the students the best opportunities to pass their exams, it was up to them if they took the opportunity. Mommies also wanted those opportunities for their kids, would have been angry with me if I hadn’t provided those opportunities, and accepted with regret that anxiety over homework was par for the course especially if the kid was a “hard worker”.
I could imagine schools caving into pressure from the “scary mommy” brigade, but should they? All kids are competing for the same exams. Scary Mommy did not discuss the achievement of the school without homework – just quote dthe PR of the head. That would be my first question but I would just get flannel answers – they would have to lie. They cannot say “the standards of our school are falling compared with pay school down the road yet our kids are not anxious about homework”.
Schools are exam factories – except for a few private schools with different objectives. To pass exams you have to study because exams as they stand are just regurgitation. You need discipline to study, and that discipline needs to be built up, and starting with homework in primary school helps create that discipline.
We have an appalling education system that is just based on exams because that is what the employers want. The employers don’t say we will give you a job even though you get anxious. They say get over it or leave. For revision you either do it or fail, students have to learn how much they have to do to pass. Homework is not the issue, it is a small part of the stress that is caused by a pass/fail competitive system that has little to do with education.
Scary Mommy has a right to complain about her anxious kids but this is maternal emotional protectiveness without apparent consideration for exam consequences.
However if primary school teachers were to advise me that the discipline of homework does not help their kids with exams I might be prepared to listen. If they tell me exams don’t matter in terms of education I would agree but we are not in an education system we are in an exam system.
Change from exams to education and all the appalling misery (that leads to suicides in some cases) will disappear. A quality portfolio would make such a change.
I picked up this on twitter, and answered it because zandtao was on his “blogs I follow” – the only one???
Education does not occur without motivation but that does not mean Carl is wrong. Sadly in our education system because achievement is rewarded students become addicted to achievement reward, and therefore become motivated by them. None of this has anything to do with genuine education but a lot to do with the test-passing curriculum in schools.
Genuine motivation produces its own reward as can be seen from those who try to learn for themselves outside the education system. How useful that is to know for test-passing I am not sure.
2) Learning and Engagement
But this engagement, what percentage is it? And what percentage engagement is offered? A demanding student attending school cannot learn at their pace because it is not individual. Such a rapacious student soon gets dulled down because of classroom practicalities. Such a student never has 100% motivation as the institution can never offer it. They become partially engaged doing 10, and maybe additional problem-solving might engage them. But that has drawbacks because reduced learning motivation leads to half-assed efforts at problem-solving, a creative learning gift that requires good focus.
3) Marking and Feedback
I used to try and insist on corrections because at least the student is forced to consider evaluating the marking. Because of achievement orientation, test-passing etc., student evaluation is what score did I get and did the teacher make a mistake. Yet again testing is the benchmark and not education.
b) Generalised Skills
I have never taught critical thinking as a skill but I have taught problem-solving. If a student has the ability to solve a problem in one branch of maths in schools then it is likely that skill could transcend to other branches. The methodology of various problem-solving techniques applies across different branches, and the ability to focus and create the starting point would not be branch-dependent. At higher levels of maths this would not apply, an algebra expert might well not be able to solve geometry problems – at university and higher.
As for critical thinking I cannot discuss school-teaching. But having the ability to enquire is not skill-dependent. There are people who enquire as to truth in all spheres of life, they criticise and evaluate “fake news”, propaganda, and conspiracy theories in whatever sphere. Is this enquiry not critical thinking? Through enquiry insight can develop especially in conjunction with meditation. Is insight skill dependent? Having said this I don’t know what passes for critical thinking in schools. I think back to my own critical thinking about education, and feel it was minimal yet often I was considered rebellious. Now I can’t see beyond education for wage-slavery as being the dominant methodology.
I want to place the three notions of instinct, insight and maturity into an “educating naturally” context and develop the implications.
Instinct is nature’s protection for the vulnerable. This can best be seen in the relationship between mother and child in which both instinctively relate. The child needs milk from the mother, and the child’s glee brings an infectious response from the mother. This bond exists throughout the child’s life, is broken through the “double bind” (Gregory Bateson) – although for many perhaps it is never truly broken. We call this mother’s love but it is rather a valuable but disposable instinct.
The word “disposable” is crucial, and the lack of disposability is a significant weakness in our education system. The system makes little effort to dispose of instinct – naturally, and we are very much dominated by an adolescent youth-orientated culture because of this.
The instinct of mother’s love is perhaps our best instinct but it is also restrictive. Mummy’s boys never outgrow the mother’s influence, occasionally they are ridiculed for their immaturity but it is not a significant social stigma.
Adolescent sexual interaction is an instinct that does cause damage to society – more so than “mother’s love”. Adolescence is dominated by the growing pains that revolve around relationship and procreation. For the adolescence the relationship between the sexes is dominant. Our education system tends to run in parallel to this sexual development neither encouraging nor in general educating about such relationships. However that adolescent desire for sex continues throughout adult life especially amongst males. I suggest that nature’s way is that adolescent searching leads to marriage, procreation and child-rearing. But society’s focus is not on family because of capitalism – the pressure of accumulation (the instinct of greed at its worst). Rather than the focus on child-rearing the family is often conditioned to be a consumer unit, and again because of the lack of focus sexual digressions occur because that instinct has not been “disposed of”. If the focus was on child-rearing then sexual fulfilment would be satiated within the relationship for the good of the children.
This distorted development of instinct within society gets reinforced through conditioning. What might develop from adolescent searching into a mature family focussed on child-rearing gets distorted by the media messages of consumerism and sexual dalliances that threaten the mature development. Insight sees through conditioning – it could perhaps be understood as seeing without conditioning, and it is the very process that begins maturity. Instinct and conditioning are interlinked within our society, our society is based on instinct and the conditioning reinforces that. Education ought to be seeking to move beyond instinct to maturity, and the process that can take us there is insight.
It is therefore an essential aspect of natural education that strategies for developing insight be researched and introduced. Creativity is the nearest recognised strategy that exists in our current education system. Through genuine creativity we break out of our conditioning, and the process of genuine creating is the same as that of insight. Unfortunately what passes for creativity in our schools does not focus on genuine creativity but more on imitation. The skills of imitation are valuable but in themselves are not creative. Within our existing education structures creative art, music and writing are the best methods we now have for creativity.
But insight is not only gained through creativity it can also be developed through meditation. Whilst introducing the methodologies of meditation into education cannot guarantee insight, as a tool for adult life such methodologies need to be introduced into education.
In practise our education system prepares people for the world of work – in a negative but true perspective the purpose of education is to provide consumer-oriented wage-slaves. In theory education ought to be providing us with the skills to lead a mature life. Getting rid of nature youthful survival crutches – instincts – through the development of insight that sees through the conditioning ought to be a natural priority of education, and the development of insight would give us the main tool for living a mature adult life.
1) It is interesting to note that I first picked up the process of divesting instinct as part of growing-up from Ajaan Buddhadasa somewhere.
2) It is also interesting to note how this became a Matriellez blog. In the middle of writing The Arico Chronicles Chs 2.5 and 2.6 this became a significant theme.
I just received this link in which a teacher was promoting the asking of questions and developing a teaching strategy for this. His strategy appears to me to be asking questions for questions sake, and surprisingly enough this is not always learning.
It reminds me of a boy I met in care. There was nothing remarkable about this boy ie high intelligence etc, but he had learnt a skill from being in care. He was always asking questions. The response to this was quite fascinating. The old hands told him to do as he was told. Younger houseparents felt it necessary to answer his questions, and as a result his years in care had paid off – he had got their attention. They felt they should answer his questions because their rational education demanded that there should be answers. It led to difficult situations as the boy did not care what the answer was, he was just asking to get attention.
This points out the flaw in this teacher’s questioning methodology, he is asking questions for questions sake. His strategy is good in the sense that the students can learn how to formulate questions, but it makes no evaluation of the purpose of the questioning. The boy I met in care would have excelled in this teacher’s class but learnt nothing because the purpose of his questioning was not to learn the answers. One could envisage a situation in this teacher’s class where questions are framed per se, and whether they came up with answers that satisfied a learning objective was irrelevant.
Fruitful questioning requires an objective. Why are you asking a question? Because the teacher told me to. Why are you asking that question? Because I am trying to learn the answer or the solution to a problem, this is enquiry. Many of the question-developing techniques that he proposes would be useful in enquiry but only if the objective is an enquiry as opposed to questions per se.
There is also a certain naivete to this questioning methodology because it does not discuss the necessity for good enquirers to learn to stop asking. On a practical level there is the questioning by students as a “red herring” – manipulating the teacher into a favourite hobby horse in order to avoid work.
But more importantly there are times when questions are not appropriate. In daily life someone might have suffered a personal loss, and asking questions just elicits hurt. And what about uncomfortable questions? Politically questions asked by whistle-blowers are not wanted.
And then there are the legitimate questions that students ask. Middle-low ability students asking why are we learning this, it will be of no use to us. Why do I go to school when I am going to work in my father’s small business? Questioning has limitation, and any discussion of questioning ought to recognise this – except there are good career reasons for not pointing this out.
And there is an important area of enquiry that ought to be discussed when considering questioning, and that is personal enquiry. Turning students in on themselves to try to get genuine enquiry going, this is a questioning methodology that would be of great use in adult life – in terms of personal stability as opposed to commercial worth. It would however require that the teacher has already done this so that they can understand the benefits. But that is a question not to ask!!
There seems to be a pattern concerning fears about modern technology and education. And it is a mechanism that is used to hammer teachers from the outside and within the profession. The notion is that teachers cannot compete with technology yet they must continually upgrade their teaching methodologies to comply with incorporating those technologies. Mostly this does not come from the students who do not seek learning experiences akin to the technology but when teachers invite such criticisms students join in. This meme reflects this pattern.
When I first started teaching there were apprenticeships in the UK. Business did not like to pay for these apprenticeships and they were phased out passing the burden onto schools without offering any financial resources. Work experience developed as a consequence but from then business complained about the quality of education.
When computers started to become part of the business world there were demands placed on schools. Computer courses that were way too difficult became part of the school system. Various operating systems were introduced as teaching Windows was far too complicated. Computer usage and education always lagged behind the business world because there was never enough money invested in either the resource or teacher education, for most of my teaching life schools did not employ a system manager/technician – the computer teacher maintained them for free. Teachers were expected to embrace every whim of the technology market and introduce appropriate education material without being given any time or training to make such developments. Younger teachers join the profession with more and more computer/smartphone experience, and this slowly pervades through the education system – SLOWLY.
Meanwhile there is ongoing pressure on teachers to incorporate technology – much driven by the vested interests of the computer companies who develop education schemes that require purchase of their products. And many teachers fall in line with this merchandising. Often teachers take a computer career path out of their own interests, and if those teachers are willing to spend sufficient personal time on such projects there are career benefits. Within schools there is always pressure to use technology, I left teaching in 2006 and for maybe 15 years it was a standard job interview question, how do you incorporate technology? Management never offered financial support but only career pressure. Undoubtedly good use of technology benefitted students and benefitted teacher administration such as reports and “markbooks”, but untrained teachers often struggled and it became a big time burden that was often imposed by colleagues – endorsed by the school administration.
When I see memes like the one above it makes me angry. The meme ignores the imposition on colleagues, those people who promote computer usage rarely demand appropriate R&D time for colleagues. Back in the 80s I made such a demand. In the National Curriculum there were maths computer components, I developed worksheets for these and the department liked them. I asked for one day’s research time and one day’s training time for the worksheets, and a supply teacher was quite rightly employed. The last year I did this however the school management placed the burden on the department, because they wanted the worksheets they accepted this. They didn’t tell me until it was already done!!! I would have refused, that happened the last year I was in that school. Because I made such a demand there was no career for me even though colleague appreciation was a good motivation. I hear libertarian attacks on unionism here, but in schools so much work is done by teachers in their “spare time” and then from outside there is criticism of quality; business automatically pays for what is required because lack of quality is lack of profits.
The meme is naïve in other ways. As a child brought up when black-and-white televisions were transitioning to colour, I was always criticised by parents for not amusing myself. But I do remember much time outside the house, football, cycling, “down the tip”, and as a teenager endless walking. As television and computers took hold young people became more and more “hooked”, less and less they learned to amuse themselves. As I said above the pressure to incorporate computing came from management who were unwilling to fund it, it was not the students. Yes the work was boring for them, it always was.
But the real assumption in this meme that makes me deride the naivety is the ignorance the teacher shows of what the purpose of education is. The underlying education methodology behind the meme is that education is meant to educate, and to educate better you should use the contemporaneous technology. Deep down education is not concerned with this. Deep down education is concerned with maintaining the status quo, kids of the 1% getting qualifications and jobs, and poor kids failing but miseducated enough that they think they need to get “loads-of-money”. Part of this conformism in education is the requirement that students accept school discipline, if you can accept school discipline then you can accept the world of work. “Boring” is part of the hidden curriculum, it is part of the training. Education is quite happy to allow teachers to put pressure on each other to include such in the curriculum (without paid Rand D), but it is never meant to be effective education – they want poor computer whizz kids to fail.
And there is an additional factor with “computer games”. Last century a small but significant proportion of computer teachers realised that computer games made for an easy life in disruptive schools. One teacher I had run-ins with made no attempt to teach computing, and just let the disruptive kids play games.
In the end, there is much wrong with this meme and the educational approach behind it. Blind self-interested careerism is a big problem in state education. When younger teachers make demands for such-and-such innovation they should also consider the implications for colleagues, but for many careerists their self-interest blinds them to consequences. This is a sad but common reality amongst the profession.
Our understanding of leadership is dominated by our egos. I recently saw this article about leaders in schools, and for me it completely missed the point. A good leader is an enabler. A leader works with the people s/he leads bringing the best out of all of them.
Why is this even questioned? Because of what is imposed on our leaders. Take the school for example. What is the primary purpose of the leader? To educate – far from it. To ensure that the school works within the rules imposed on it by society. This basically means that a school must provide a workforce for the 1%, and ensures failures so that the children of the 1% can be successful. At the same time the leader must ensure that the teachers remain sufficiently demotivated and unaware of the reality of what “education” is supposed to be. Therefore the role of leader is that of repressor without giving away that it is repression.
I recently came across libertarianism again, some of whose analysis is spot on, but whose policy and practice absolutely sucks. One aspect is that they blame a system of government, and what angered me so much about my last encounter with such theoreticians was that his mindset about government meant that he could not allow for my compassion as teacher because I worked for the government even when I told him and showed my compassion towards him. Their mindset is so limiting.
It comes down to the function of government, not in theory but in reality. What are our governments? 1% puppets. What is the function of these puppets? To maintain the delusion that there is a democracy whilst syphoning all the money and assets into the accounts of the 1%. This the government does even when there is such a farce as the Clinton-Trump election. The function of government at the moment is maintaining delusion (as discussed in Lifting the Veil) and facilitating the expropriation of money to the accounts of the few. According to Howard Zinn’s “peoples-history-of-the-united-states-1492-present” the US has always been this way despite what the constitution says, and this would be consistent with history as the US was originally a UK colony and that was UK policy.
But in theory leading is enabling. A team of people can effectively only be successful when all people are working to their optimum, that is straight-forward. When all people are not enabled to do so the leader has failed unless the objective is not to get the best out of people. In most situations in the world today this is not what the leader is tasked to do, and this is also why libertarians and the apologist who wrote the flipboard article all miss the point; fundamentally the article is concerned with maintaining the standard delusion.
A leader evaluates the team, determines their relative strengths and enables them to use their strengths and helps them overcome their weaknesses; this might involve recognition of the weakness and ensuring someone else does the work instead. In many ways the effectiveness of the leader is the ability to maintain a different purpose to that of maintaining repression and delusion but to do that usually involves personal sacrifice, and most leaders have too strong egos to sacrifice themselves on the altar of compassion. Hence many school leaders to do not enable their teachers to educate, and many government do not enable democratic involvement that includes caring for the weaker.
One might further examine governments and the nature of fascism. Here wiki examines fascism. Usually fascism is associated with the right wing, but does it have to? My view of fascism is that it has two components – authoritarianism and the use of the military wing of government to maintain itself. Although I would not describe our neo-liberal electoral democracies as fascist there is a degree of fascism when one analyses in terms of authoritarianism and the use of military.
I begin with an incident with an erstwhile friend. We had known each other for a while, and he had a very good mindset that could be described as Icke-ist. I argued with him that he needed an open mind that was tolerant and did not attach to a mindset; this disturbed him. I could not agree with some of the Icke-ist approaches involving lizards and Illuminati. This came to a confrontation where there was no agreement and I felt so psychically shattered for three days it was worse than if I had been bullied. Here the friend presented his mindset, in effect demanded I accept it and when I didn’t applied use of force, I suspect unconsciously. Is this not the approach of a fascist?
What about western neo-liberal electoral democracies? They demand that we accept the delusion that they are genuinely democratic. We can choose to vote for candidates who ensure the system remains in favour of the 1%, and at times will use the police force to ensure there is no dissent against the prevailing system. Look at some of the atrocities that occurred against the Occupy movement. Whilst it would not be appropriate to describe such systems as fascist, they are authoritarian and do use the military if required. However mostly these neo-liberal societies have a social compliance where in general people accept the systems as they are and are happy with the delusions that are maintained. Usually as well they claim that there is free speech, and point to the lack of free speech as a facit of fascism. But in neo-liberal systems free speech is controlled in the sense that any criticism of the system is countered and the free speech is effectively useless. Such a liberal authoritarianism maintains a delusion but does not have an effective means of change based on democratic will except through a controlled electoral choice. It could be described as fascism without obvious repression.
This neo-fascism or neo-liberalism is what our western leadership is about. It is a style of leadership that does not enable the people in the same way as the leadership styles of the <a href="http://article do not enable teachers and do not enable education. The one good thing about Trump is that as a Republican leader he has exposed the delusion of the Veil in US politics, it will be interesting to see whether there will be any implications of this following the election – that I expect he will lose.
Just before the end of this term I attended a retirement do at the village school I volunteer for. This do was for two teachers, and it was fundamentally a community event.
I first met this community aspect 6 or 7 years ago at the kindergarten I taught at. Once a year the parents have a do at the school in which the kids dance (prepared by the teacher) and the parents bring food. A pleasant day but typically a tedious school event. Various officers from the education department also attended, and I got dragged into a formal meal with them. It was PR but the parents brought the food and it was community.
The retirement do had a lot more. The school had a day off, and the event started at 07.00 am. The thought of attending a school function (in Thai) from that time until early afternoon did my head in, but I wanted to show respect because I had worked with one of the teachers so I attended from 10.30. My Principal who is one of the few Principals I have ever had time for always parades her Native English speaker, and I don’t like it. I do not blame her, my working there apparently increases her school’s selection but I do not like it – it is a Thai community event.
At 10.30 the two retirees were sat on the stage, and the students all went on the stage and poured water from a small cup over the hands – a traditional gesture of respect, I think. I looked at it and became self-conscious as the Principal asked if I wanted to do it. My ego was sufficiently low to realise that if I didn’t it would be disrespectful so I overcame my self-consciousness and did it. This has no relevance at all to this blogpost.
After the whole hall, including parents, education office, police – monks had been there earlier – had paraded past, the dancing started. Every class did some form of Thai dance. I happened to be sat next to the two retirees – I suspect placed there by the Principal to be seen, and I watched as all kinds of people came up to the two teachers. Ex-students were there, and again I suspect that many adults who paid tribute were also ex-students and had made time to come back and pay respect.
I had lunch, the photos were still happening, and went home. I would hate to have to do that too often – tedious. But the teachers had something to remember. However genuine this display of community respect was it at least had the appearance of respect for a person who was important to the community and parents – a year 6 and year 4 primary school teacher.
I want to compare this with long-serving teachers in the UK who I had worked with. It was in two different schools, the three teachers had “risen” to Deputy Head, and had worked hard for their secondary schools. There were announcements in assembly, and the students were polite. Staff associations organised leaving dos, and more of an effort was put in for these people – and that was it. No parental involvement, no community involvement, the students did little. When I watched what this small village school and its community did for these two retirees and compared it with the lack of respect shown the long-serving Deputy Heads I had worked with, I just felt anger.
Despite all the politics surrounding education teachers are community lynchpins, these people are community elders, and our western communities are deeply lacking in their respect.
The article has a teacher recommending teachers increase online profiles, what do the parents give back for this? I do not blame parents it is the escapist ethos that is manipulated around teachers – as well as the pressure placed on parents’ time. But whilst I don’t blame the parents shouldn’t they be ashamed by comparison with this small farming community? Shouldn’t the communities? Parents, teachers and students should be working together despite the politics that intentionally divides them.
The relationship with parents has been severely damaged by politics especially in the state system, I am writing this in response to this. Essentially in education there needs to be an alliance between teachers, parents and students. The teacher is the professional who guides the content. Parents and students provide the motivation (that includes nurture) that is essential for the student to learn, the teacher reinforces that motivation, and if necessary informs the parent with regards to that motivation. If the parent feels there are extenuating circumstances that the teacher should know about affecting that motivation, the teacher should be advised and should choose as the professional how they respond to the information.
Especially in the UK this relationship was politically undermined. Back in the 80s manipulating electoral demographics Thatcher gave parents excessive power in schools. Because this power was given to support divisions in the state sector, involvement of interfering parents became a problem. Instead of accepting the professionalism of the teacher these parents were encouraged to tell teachers what to do, and this brought the professionalism of the teachers into question. Teachers became the brunt of parent criticism, and teachers were increasingly used as an escapist buffer for the failure of education policy – a policy teachers had no control over.
I left this cauldron of negativity in 1993 but returned for one year in 2003 and felt it was no better. Maybe it has changed now.
Personally I always welcomed parental involvement, and never found parents’ meetings a chore. It was always good to work with parents to improve student motivation. When I was in Africa I helped introduce parents’ day, it had benefits but unfortunately it was introduced as additional work for the teachers – although few seemed to object. I was amused by one teacher who used the opportunity to hit on the parents!!
I was never really happy with parents’ contact in private education because the parents saw they were paying for the teachers rather than paying for a professional service. Very often adminstrators colluded with this inappropriate approach because they were more interested in fee-paying parents than they were in supporting teachers. This was a particular problem in the Middle East where wealthy parents saw teachers as high-paid workers rather than professionals, and the administration did little to assuage this because they had teachers on two-year contracts and could replace them. This led to whimsical sackings based on personality clashes between children of influential parents and the teachers – with teachers usually being chastised by the administration. Here teachers were a different form of scapegoat, this time the fees being the driving force.
I welcome what I called “Quality Portfolios” but note here they do take time to prepare; I have discussed quality portfolios in detail throughout Matriellez. At one school in the late 80s when Thatcher policies were leading to increased parental interference, portfolios were introduced by a headmaster who was weak and allowed himself to be manipulated by this interference. Whilst a big PR number was made of presenting such portfolios to the parents, in my view it had limited success because the content of the portfolios was shallow eg honour marks and so on. I have always felt parents were participants in the qualifications game, and deluding shams seemed not to be of interest – weak students would buy into it.
I have never used online systems that effectively show parents the markbook, my only objection would be the amount of time it takes to complete such an exercise. Over my later teaching years I saw an increasing amount of time being used for computer systems, systems that were never usually designed with teacher time as a valuable resource. I suspect over the last 10 years more of such systems have been introduced. I enjoyed the student response in the article about parents getting on their case but would be concerned if such online monitoring led to increased parent-response that used teacher time, time the teacher does not usually have. I would also note that a significant part of assessing a test is teacher judgement, I regularly took a long time discussing test results – such judgement cannot be reflected in online figures.
I have a feeling PR portfolios have become increasingly used. I have seen one in a private school where photos of student participation in events are taken and comprise a portfolio at the end of term. This portfolio can be used by parents in a constructive way, those who wish to be involved in their child’s work but I hate to think how much time they took to prepare. In my view such time would be better used in actual education.
I do not believe the portfolios are in any way conneced to the Quality Portfolios I discussed – as they were an improvement to an inappropriate exam system.
I am always pleased when there is talk of introducing mindfulness in schools but it can be seen as a bandwagon for those advocating it – part of the non-mainstream careerism that abounds in education.
Mindfulness as a concept was “originally” raised by the Buddha (as discussed in Samyutta Nikaya 45). The mindfulness peddled in western education has nowhere near this quality of tradition and experience. I am also not so sure of the quality of those who are advocating it. Typified by this Flipboard article the western approach seems to require scientific justification, and to my mind any scientific acceptance of benefit is only the tip of the iceberg. There has been much scientific work done by the Dalai Lama with the Mind and Life Institute, I would always start there.
Having said that bringing mindfulness in schools can only have positive benefits – at worst students would think they get nothing from it, how can it hurt? Adults often wonder whether they get anything from meditation.
The real issue is how to get mindfulness into schools, not whether it should happen. Mindfulness is clearly an individual activity, and therefore does not lend itself to the classroom situation. To discuss mindfulness academically – as part of an exam or PSE – is meaningless, students have to do it. Here in Thailand meditation in schools is common place because Buddhism is the national religion. In my volunteer lessons with kindergarten kids, with the help of the class teacher we always finished with a short meditation before eating lunch; it definitely helped. Kids were sat still sitting in lotus position, both of which would be virtually impossible in the UK.
In Nigeria I had a bunch of rowdy year 7’s. They came into the room, I made them shut up, and we did meditation for a couple of minutes. This was for discipline purposes, I have previously made kids stand in silence when they come into the room for discipline – meditation is better. Both discipline techniques really applied only for younger kids. Some of the Nigerian kids actively liked it, others were just this side of disrupting the activity.
Nigeria also had some very devout Christians. I noticed that just before a test they would pray – they would even use part of the test time to pray because there was test silence. I thought it would have been good to have a silent time before the start of a test – a “5-minute” mindfulness time. It would go something like this. Give out the papers so that everyone is ready to start the test. Then have a mindfulness time in which the emphasis would be calming down ready for the test, and by agreement there would be a period of the mindfulness time for prayer if students wished – or they could just continue to try to be calm. At an important exam I got a bad case of the “wobblies” after reading the paper, I lost nearly 10 minutes of the exam; in the end meditation helped with this.
Mindfulness and concentration are associated in Buddhism (see Samyutta Nikaya 45 again). In maths I felt there was a particular place for both with regards to problem-solving. Much of maths is technique but for many students they can remember the technique but do not know how and when to apply it. Most teachers overcome this by cramming – past papers, the students do not solve problems they just remember similar problems and apply the techniques the same way. I investigated meditation/mindfulness approaches for doing this under the umbrella of study skills but only after I retired so am unable to describe whether it would be effective. LINK
A slightly different approach to this could be considered. I don’t know whether it is common in all Muslim schools but one Muscat school I worked in had a prayer room. With cooperation a prayer room could also function as a “mindful prayer room”, “chanting” v Muslim prayer battles would not be conducive.
Mindfulness could be greatly beneficial to students, and attempts to introduce all students to mindfulness techniques is long overdue. But it does need to be practitioners who introduce it, and not a curriculum-required talk on its use in an ignored PSE lesson.
I began thinking about slavery in meditation yesterday. Have I always been free? This question is the wrong way round:-
Have I ever been free?
Have I always been a slave?
Discounting my childhood as I was definitely not free to make decisions then as I was not developed enough, life decisions came when I was 21. At that stage I had some debts, I was qualified, and was considering where to enter the world of work.
But even these assumptions need examining in terms of freedom. Look at the assumptions, “I was considering where to enter the world of work.” I assumed I had to enter the world of work. Now this assumption can be considered in different ways:-
I needed money to live.
Now these assumptions socially became mixed up with
In my own case I never consciously considered any of these assumptions, I went to school, went to university, took the course of least resistance – maths, became qualified, and looked for a job. I was lucky, I got a good job in a computer consulatncy, was not suited to it, got a worse programming job that I screwed up so much that I rightly got sacked. Mixed in with this mess up was a lot of booze, I took time out, decided I needed to get back into the world of work, my compassion started to kick in eventually leading me to be a teacher. Not a pleasant decision process but eventually I made the decision to be a teacher.
This decision solved some of the assumptions, I earned money, had a decent standard of living, and I was contributing to the community. I even had a career path although at the time it didn’t matter to me. Sounds sorted, doesn’t it? Growing pains, and then freedom of choice?
But to consider this properly it then becomes necessary to examine my choices when I was a teacher. In my year of studying education I became aware of alternative education. I studied some but got a good education about education, and as a result of the year was equipped to make a good decision, and here it is:-
I decided to work in Inner City schools because that is where most education was needed. I was never going to be able to educate properly – self realisation, but to use an appalling US phrase “I could make a difference”. Theoretically I understood all the limitations of education, and I thought I could do something.
Once involved in teaching I got sucked into internal battles. I accepted that I was a teacher, began fighting for education, eventually rationalising being the deliverer of exam results. At one stage I had a crisis of conscience. In the Brixton school I remember “my cute little black girls” who worked with me after school. They worked hard but it wasn’t enough to counter all the disruption that was the classroom discipline throughout the school. They weren’t stunningly intelligent but far more intelligent than some of the oiks that got exam results from nose-in-the-air private school; their results were poor. They blamed themselves because I had worked so much with them. It was a kick in the teeth. I resigned to work on a youth centre magazine part-time. That magazine was worth doing, I chose that. But then I fell in love, moved and needed to find work to keep the woman and her family. After that disaster was over I never questioned teaching again until I retired early.
Why didn’t I question the meaning of teaching again? When my relationship broke up, I had debts and I was drinking so I needed the money. Even though I stopped drinking 2 years after the relationship, I was spending what I was earning – first the rent then buying the flat; I had been sucked in. Then financially I was forced to teach overseas, and from then on it was never a choice as to what I did it was just where I did it, even though once overseas I realised how much freer I was than living in the UK.
Was there freedom in my retiring? How did the decision come about? I left state education in Botswana ostensibly because I needed money for retirement. It is worth considering my final speech to the kids. I didn’t plan it but I found myself saying I had found meaning in education again, and there is still the haunting “we’ll miss you” from Kereng. But overall in Botswana I felt I was getting brain-dead. Botswana’s lifestyle was fun. The women were mostly fun even though they ended in disasters, and the game parks were a wonderful memory. But after working on the M Ed and a mid-life re-evaluation I realised I was brain-dead and needed money for retirement. There is no doubt that in Botswana I experienced a good deal of freedom, it was the time I was most free when I was working because it was the time when education had the least impact on my life. But was it also the time in which I was least on my Path?
The international schools were not easy places to work in, and they were places where the job took over. They were places where the teachers worked for the money, and there was limited concerns for education. They were exam factories in which the school owners were unashamedly profiting from education. The teachers worked for money to travel, and one teacher laughed at me for “principles”. I accepted that package as a lifestyle, took on HOD, and became two people – the teacher and second the person experiencing freedom on holidays because I had the money to travel. And that travel was usually to Thailand.
But over that time it became harder and harder to return to teaching as who I was as a teacher and who I was on holiday became so different. Once I got over the death of my parents I realised that I had the financial wherewithal to retire to Thailand. As is evidenced by the fact that I do volunteer teaching, I still got some enjoyment from teaching but that holiday distance was too great.
It is worth considering that current teaching enjoyment as it is a good indicator of freedom. I enjoy working with the kids, and teach them English. What I do just fits in with the prevailing system, but I intentionally have limited contact with that system. There is no change caused by my teaching, there is no self-realisation for the kids – I basically give them some skills that the system accepts. Because I volunteer I am free to accept that compromise or not, and as I have no other choice as to what I could teach where I live I am happy to do it.
But it is not genuine education, the kids will become Thailand’s wage-slaves and I will have done nothing to help them understand the Path and nothing to enable them to understand the corporate paradigm. And this brings me to the real point about freedom. I was never free to choose what to educate. In ILEA I was able to work in my spare time on “anti-racist maths” but that never had significant impact. So throughout my time in education I am comfortable in saying I never worked on anything I chose to educate about. So even though I chose education, in my teaching I never actually chose what I did. The subject content was chosen by the exam boards, the curriculum was chosen by the government’s education department. There is no choice in what you teach – what I taught, a teacher is a worker who delivers what someone else has decided what to deliver. In reflection this is so clear even though when I was involved in teaching I deluded myself into thinking I had more choice. To be fair to myself I was quite uncompromising – to my career detriment, and with that lack of compromise I have absolutely no doubts that I did act as a partial buffer to the corporate paradigm (see Matriellez). But the reality is that I was a slave. Overall I taught what they wanted me to teach – maths, I did not teach self-realisation in any form. However when I was younger I knew what I didn’t want, now with the Matriellez book I have given more of an idea. But even then it is so far from actually defining a curriculum, maybe the Zandtao book is more about that. In practice for a school that genuinely educates, there would need to be a coming together of parents and educators in a particular community in order to determine the model of the school; both books could form a basis for discussion that could lead to a free education.
The more I examine my working life the more I see slavery, and what is so crazy is that the more I examine my life in comparison with others the greater the level of freedom there has existed in my life. What an anomaly, and such a sadness to see that the human spirit is so enslaved. To see what few options we have that relates to genuine freedom. Yes we can find a compromise to fight for, but a life that is genuinely free is not possible. That is so saddening.
But in the Path there is hope, because the Path gives happiness in a society where there is no freedom. That is what is so wonderful about the Path. The Path allows us to weave our way through all the prisons that life throws us into, and find freedom in what we do. Despite my overall reflections there was freedom in what I did. I strayed from the Path often but overall I have been lucky in that I followed the Path mostly. Whilst I was never genuinely free, I did create freedoms that allowed expression of the Path – no compromise. Who is to say whether that gave genuine education?
Am I free in retirement? Now that I have money to live I am free to do what I want, and I have made good decisions about that. But there is something very significant to understand about retirement, you have limited social impact. There is community impact, the community you are a part of that becomes your life. But work is where our lives are fashioned. Work is where government makes decisions, where our food is produced, where people are healed and cared for, and where education occurs; work is where the corporate paradigm operates. Retired people have no impact on this corporatocratic world of work – life. Basically in my current freedom I choose to be free but in that choice I choose not to be working in an arena that has impact on people generally. And if I did choose to work in that arena I could have no impact. So again we can see there is no freedom, yet there is always the Path.
I am reminded of Anjali. Her youth gave her the strength to say “Get it done”, but if she lives her life waiting to see if it is done she will not be happy. For it never will be done. Throughout education I could say “Get it done”, but there is no chance. For freedom in the world of work there is a tightrope that is walked, a tightrope of freedom that is the Path, but a tightrope that retrospectively will seem that nothing was done.
Will it ever be different? That is for karma to say. The Buddha said the world is dukkha, and the Buddha is timeless – there will always be dukkha. But we have no choice we have to fight,that is the anomaly of the Path. We have to fight, we will never be free, and in that the Path gives freedom.
What a laugh.