September 30, 2017
Ever since Plato, we have not agreed on the purpose of education. Is it to make good workers? Is it to make good citizens? Is it to prepare students for the next phase of life?
We spend so much time in classrooms worrying about where they are going next and if we are preparing them properly, that we sometimes forget to meet them where they are. If they are in kindergarten, they can't play all day or they'll never be ready to sit in desks in Grade 1. If they're in Grade 1, we probably shouldn't play much at all or they'll never be ready for the academic rigor of Grade 2. By Grade 3, we need to prepare them for the transition from primary to intermediate. And oh boy, if we don't give them tests and letter grades, they'll never be ready for high school. In high school, if they don't hand in their assignments on time, how will they be prepared for a job? And if they don't cite references properly or take multiple choice tests, how will they succeed in university?
Students are always going to succeed or fail at the next stage, and for the most part, it will not be because we prepared or did not prepare them at the stage previous. I was a green dot. I was a wonderful student. My teachers adored me. I got awards. When the candles I lit on my friend's birthday cupcake set off the fire alarm and we had to evacuate the whole school and the fire trucks came with sirens blaring, I didn't even get in trouble. The problem, though, is that I was miserable and had no idea who I was. I went to university right after high school. I slept through some classes and dropped others. Two years later, I dropped out entirely. I then took a long and winding road through adulthood to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. And I still don't have it all figured out. And I neither blame nor credit my education for that.
For teachers, our time in school as students did, in some ways, prepare us for our jobs. We had teachers we loved, who we want to be like, and teachers we hated, who we are hopefully not at all like. We found subjects we were passionate about. We spent years getting to know the structure of our workplace intimately, from the inside. But there are lots of parts we weren't prepared for, that we had to learn on our own. Like communicating with parents. Buying all the supplies your bare classroom needs for $200. Fundraising. Not laughing when someone falls down. Fixing malfunctioning technology. Designing assignments. Assessing student work. Using a rubric. Writing a new rubric. Facilitating a respectful debate. Not showing bias. Addressing conflict and unhealthy dynamics between students. Addressing conflict and unhealthy dynamics among our colleagues. Helping kids who are struggling. Advocating for kids in our school. Advocating in our communities and all levels of government to make education better. Understanding where education is falling short and how to fix it. Learning about the things we weren't taught in schools that we now know we must teach. Supporting kids in crisis. Knowing our students and letting our students know us. Having good boundaries. I was taught none of those things in school, but those are the things I do, every day, that have an impact. Some days I do them really well. Some days I wish I did them better.
Plato had some great ideas. He thought that education should be holistic, and art was the most important. But he also thought women's wombs moved around our bodies and could be lured back into place by nice smells. My point is, we are at this weird stage in education in BC, where we have a new curriculum that asks us to do ludicrous things like prepare students for an unknown future and jobs that don't yet exist. But it also gives us a ton of flexibility to teach in new ways, to nurture creativity and a love of learning, and to help kids figure out and pursue what they are passionate about. Yes, it's not perfect. Yes, our high school assessment requirements do not fit with these lofty ideals. But what a great opportunity to look at education in a different way and figure out what we want to do with it. And yeah, we won't get it right all the time. We will make mistakes. We have made tons of mistakes in education in the past, some of which have had devastating consequences. So we need to tread carefully and thoughtfully. But we need to try something different. And maybe, just maybe, it'll spark something in one of our students. And wouldn't that just be awesome.
- Avi G.
P.S. I don't remember a single test I wrote in high school. I do, however, remember the teacher who encouraged me to write, and who helped me believe that I had something worth saying. I also remember being humiliated in PE and singing Losing My Religion by R.E.M. in French.