Friday, March 14, 2008

Diggers and concrete mixers

We have had a huge amount of entertainment outside our very frint door in the last two weeks.

We have had diggers most days making a trench, and yesterday we watched a concrete truck slowly inch its way along the road laying new curb and channel.

The little kids (and big ones too) have been most fascinated with the whole process. We have spent many happy hours on the front door step watching, and waving to the 'workmen'.

We have also had our own personal drawbridges. First a shonky metal one (very bouncy, and not at all safe feeling), and finally, last night, a wooden plank - as in "walk the ...".

Needless to say parking has been a bit of a mission during all this time. In fact, most of the houses on our side do have driveways and garages - they just have not been able to get to them.

It has been very interesting, but I'll be happy when we get our footpath back. (And can park right by our house again.)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

What is the purpose of education?

This is, in fact, an extremely broad, highly important, but increasingly contested question.

The economic rationalists tell us that education is to enable the individual to become a contributing member of the workforce, and take their place in the Market as a provider of services, and a consumer (of course).

Me, I don't think that's good enough. A society of individuals, who are, by definition, motivated by their own best interests, will fall apart like a house of cards at the first puff of breath.

My Curriculum and Assessment paper is run by a lecturer called Jim. Jim has taught the course for about 12 years, and has now written a book covering the lectures within it. So, we don't have a book of readings. We just get one chapter of his book for each lecture. (The book failed to make it to print before the start of the course - otherwise we'd be buying the book.) Next week will be the 2nd week. I'm reading chapter 2. You can work that out!

This phrase caught my eye: "What do these expert systems, both sincere and insincere,
produce? First, they enfeeble two things that ought to animate education: curiosity and wonder."

(Don't worry right now about expert systems - you can always read the book!)

This caught my eye because it sounds like something I have written myself.

"Through learning in a supportive play environment, children develop the curiosity and courage to try new things and the motivation to extend themselves."

If I had to talk about the more important purposes of education, it would include the ideas of developing curiosity and courage (which are learning dispositions - more later), because if a child (or an adult for that matter) does not have curiosity they will not care to learn about anything new, and if they do not have courage they will not risk taking any new steps.

(I may not have expressed that as well as possible, so will have to work on it.)

Oddly enough, where you have a curriculum and an education system which is more and more prescribed, you find that curiosity and courage are early causalities. For example, the National Party talks about having more testing of school pupils. In fact, testing leads to less education, because the stress of having to achieve the test means that only the prescribed topics are discussed, and are looked at in a limited way as may be met in the test. This effect is felt by both teachers and pupils. You don't have to try new things (only the 'approved' things). You don't have to want to learn (only to 'achieve'). And you don't have to develop the emotional resources of bravery (because you'll be led by the hand by a teacher whose job depends on 'passes').

(By the way, this thinking isn't limited to 'rightist' politics.)

As a teacher, I'm very aware that the first thing a small child (this also applies to older children, and adults, by the way) needs in an environment is to feel "settled and happy". This relates to the Te Whaariki goals of Well-being and Belonging, and they are part of the common human experience. Once they feel "settled and happy" it is possible to learn to become part of the group, be an active agent, care for others, set ones own learning goals, and follow them through. "Settled and happy" are such primary human needs that it is impossible (I think) to talk about courage and curiosity until these have been established.

(All good stuff, but am going to have to leave it here and have tea!)