Posts Tagged ‘classroom’

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank

January 24, 2015

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank.

23 January 2015

Budgets are so tight that many Palestinian Authority schools cannot afford paper and pencils. Hard-pressed teachers must spend their own stagnating wages on supplies.

Ghadeer Rabi cannot remember a time during her five-year career as a high school teacher that her salary was enough to support her family. Without her husband’s income, the thirty-year-old says she would not be able to survive.

Rabi’s monthly paychecks are inconsistent, often coming as partial payments or none at all. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority “keeps promising us a lot, like raises, but we haven’t seen anything,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

Rabi’s situation is not unique: the PA and public servants in the occupied West Bank have been at loggerheads for years.

These problems show no sign of letting up, especially since Israel began withholding taxes it is supposed to transfer to the PA as part of the Oslo accords.

Israel is withholding $127 million worth of tax funds and customs duties on goods that pass through present-day Israel before being exported, as reported by Al Jazeera English earlier this month. The Israeli move has been taken in retaliation for the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court.

Withholding Palestinian tax transfers, which Israel has done as a punitive measure many times in the past, intensifies the already difficult economic situation for public and civil servants, among them teachers. In response to Israel’s withholding of tax money, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that “Western governments should refuse to follow suit [by imposing] their own sanctions” on the PA.

Wages stagnate

Living with her husband and infant daughter in Ramallah, Rabi teaches at the local Deir Jarir Girls High School and Mughtarabe Elementary School in the neighboring area of al-Bireh. The schools’ classrooms — which are overcrowded with upwards of forty students each period — lack heating, air-conditioning and most basic supplies.

Due to severe budgetary limitations, the twenty-eight teachers at Deir Jarir are often made to foot the bill for their own supplies, though more than 600 students attend the school. “We don’t even bother asking for additional supplies at this point,” said Rabi. “We know what the response will be.”

Aside from a one-time hourly wage increase of twenty shekels ($6) for the cost of living, “I have worked for five years and haven’t received a single raise,” Rabi said.

While the PA formally bans teachers from working a second job, Rabi said that most are forced to work elsewhere part-time.

Nidal Afafneh, a fourth-year English teacher at Anata Primary School in the West Bank, is one of those searching for a second job to supplement his income. “Some of my colleagues have even taken third jobs,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “This isn’t allowed, but they have to feed their kids.”

Afafneh, 26, said that teachers are demanding their basic rights, such as the school providing paper, pencils, and an annual salary increase to reflect the soaring cost of living, particularly in the Ramallah area. “Sometimes we don’t have electricity or water in our school for days at a time,” he added.

Israel’s harsh restrictions translate into stagnation for the Palestinian economy. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that Israeli control of the West Bank costs Palestinians some $3.4 billion each year. These restrictions have also created a dependency on foreign aid.

PA “dependent and fragile”

But critics also accuse the PA of rampant corruption. The lack of accountability within public institutions has led to widespread “embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, and exploitation of position for personal gain,” states a 2012 report by the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability, a Ramallah-based anti-corruption watchdog. “Those involved in these crimes were high-level employees, such as heads of government divisions, who were conspiring with lower and intermediate level employees.”

Alaa Tartir, program director of Al-Shabaka, a group that monitors Palestinian social and economic policies, explained that the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization “created an inherently dependent and fragile Palestinian ‘authority.’”

After years of building up its public sector, the PA today has around 150,000 public servants, Tartir told The Electronic Intifada. “When Israel decides to withhold Palestinian taxes or when the PA passes through a financial crisis — which is recurrent — those monthly salaries get majorly delayed or paid in installments over months,” he said.

“When Israel withholds taxes it does indeed commit another form of ‘collective punishment’ because it does not only punish the civil servants but also their families [and] we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are affected,” Tartir continued.

Yet, the PA’s neoliberal economic policies have only worsened the situation. A Western-backed agenda “entrenched the structural deficiencies in the Palestinian economy and created further distortion,” said Tartir. “It increased inequalities, poverty and unemployment. It created a status of individual wealth for some but national poverty for all.”

Harming the poor

The PA “created a capitalist class that are benefiting from the status quo and arguably from the mere existence of the occupation,” he noted, adding that “entrenching the neoliberal policies will only help Israel’s occupation directly and indirectly through adding another layer of repression that particularly harm the poor and [hinders] their process of liberation.”

As the costs of housing, food and utilities continue to increase, the Palestinian economy remains largely stagnant. According to a World Bank report published in September 2014, unemployment in the West Bank sat at 16 percent during the first quarter of that year.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 23.1 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza worked in the public sector during 2013. Of those, 16.4 percent were in the West Bank.

In addition to the punitive measures taken by the Israeli authorities, the constant disputes between the PA and teachers have resulted in several strikes over the last five years. Most of the more than one million students across the West Bank are affected, creating a difficult learning environment.

Citing the fall 2013 semester as an example, Ghadeer Rabi, the teacher, explained that there were several strikes, “making the actual class time very thin.”

“Strikes have made it a very difficult learning environment. Teachers go through the lessons really fast to catch up with what they miss,” she said. “And students aren’t motivated to be in class.”

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His website is www.postrickland.com. Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

What are the aims and purposes of human life? Who am I to become as an early childhood professional?

January 5, 2015

Thinking about Life and education with a focus on early Childhood

“This is one view of the nature of education, based on a conception of human nature … According to this conception, the child has an intrinsic nature, and central to it is a creative impulse … the goal of education should be to provide the soil and the freedom required for growth of this creative impulse … a complex and challenging environment that the child can imaginatively explore and, in this way, quicken his intrinsic creative impulse and so enrich his life in ways that may be quite varied and unique … governed, as Russell said, by a spirit of reverence and humility: reverence for the precious, varied, individual, indeterminate growing principle of life; and humility with regard to the aims and with regard to the degree of insight and understanding of the practitioners.” Noam Chomsky reflecting on philosopher Bertrand Russell’s humanist conception of education. (Chomsky, Otero 2003)

As an educator it would seem inevitable, given that we engage in a practice, a vocation, that demands we adopt a position that places children first. To take an ethical position means that we have to affirm that we are doing all we can to provide the best environmental circumstances to allow wholistic sensory and cognitive growth.

This is affirmed by the OECD (2006) report Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care proposing that the ‘social pedagogy tradition’ is one that best defines positively, a humanist approach within education systems,

“…The social approach is inherently holistic. The pedagogue sets out to address the whole child, the child with body, mind, emotions, creativity, history and social identity. This is not the child only of emotions – the psycho-therapeutical approach; nor only of the body – the medical or health approach; nor only of the mind – the traditional teaching approach. For the pedagogue, working with the whole child, learning, care and, more generally, upbringing … pedagogues seek to respect the natural learning strategies of young children, that is, learning through play, interaction, activity, and personal investigation. Co-operative project work is much employed to give children a taste for working together and to build up shared and more complex understandings of chosen themes. The belief is widespread that encouraging the initiatives and meaning-making of children strongly supports cognitive development.”

My Story

My journey toward early childhood education began with a significant personal event, the birth of my daughter – born in the month of December in 1990 – a decade which opened with the USA governments initiation of a new wave of invasion and war in Iraq. The latter decades and years of this century were marked by global shifts in power most significantly by the collapse of the all the former communist states. I did not know then just how profound the effect these events were to have on the struggle for social equality, and social welfare. After two decades one effect of collapsing Communist Parties is the significant absence of struggles for improved social wellbeing which has also boosted the neo-liberal, small government, market rule economists.

I remain an active socialist in the communist tradition and regard myself a Marxist. My ideas about class and socialism had found some purchase in my mind after a few years in the Royal Australian Navy. The hierarchical character of the armed forces was a rapid introduction to the larger issues of class and oppression that run through our societies. Decades latter a friend who was then an army intelligence officer, and an anarchist, articulated for me something I had understood but had not fully appreciated, the armed services in many ways is able to function because it relies on socialistic methods of organisation.

What has this to do with Early Childhood and education?

The collapse of communism and the influences of the Reagan and Thatcher era have been very disorientating politically as governments all over the globe sold-off our welfare to the corporations and so further concentrated ‘self-regulatory’ control and profits into fewer hands. As a labour movement activists I had to make sense of all this and seek new and different arguments and methods of organising. It was at this time that I came across the book ’Children First’ by Penelope Leach the British psychologist and child development and parenting expert. I vaguely knew of her, and was excited to see that someone who was a respected authority could write about the problems of capitalist society and its ill effects on children and human development generally.

“For our societies money is god, the market place is its temple and mass communications – from TV advertising to ‘motivational speakers’ – ensure that its creed is an inescapable driving force not just in corporate lives but in the lives of everyone of us.

With societies’ attention, energy and excitement focused on the marketplace, areas of human endeavour that cannot be directly bought with money and sold for profit tend to be regarded as peripheral. It may be thought worthy to work at personal relationships (as parents work to relate to their children and each other), but it will be usually considered more interesting to work at professional ones (as day care workers and marriage counsellors) – and get paid for it.”

“Children are a special case. Like the very old, the very young do not earn and therefore play little direct part in the marketplace. Indeed children are doubly unproductive because their maintenance and education cost money they cannot earn for themselves, and their care absorbs adult time that otherwise would be spent producing it. But because children are the producer-consumer units of tomorrow rather than yesterday, no economy can disregard them.” (Leach 1994)

Schooling and skills, is it education?

Preparing my daughter for school had a disturbing effect upon me that I had not expected. There were many good things about my school years but school itself was an indifferent experience. School had not built my confidence, if not undermining it, we sat in isolation while were encouraged not to speak unless spoken to, or asked a question, something to be avoided as it usually ended in humiliation. All said and done fertile ground for a sense of failure, as a teacher I vowed to improve on my experiences by not repeating them on the children in my care.

Studying and completing my degrees in Philosophy and Cinema Studies I then moved on into teaching. My semester in Philosophy with Children and the method of the community of inquiry, building out of Dewey’s conception of scientific inquiry, had given me fresh insights. This philosophical approach is a fine tool for facilitating children’s dialogue, engaging with each other in thinking about themselves and the world around them.

I have never had a desire to return to school, and this remains the case. I distinguish between schooling and education and I am sure I speak for many teachers who acknowledge their enjoyment of teaching as such, but find ‘the system’ vexing. Regulation enforcing minimum standards generally works to the detriment of improving and achieving best professional practice. Fenech, Sumsion, & Goodfellow (2006) used one educator’s description of regulation through the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) as “a double edged sword” because “notions of professional decision-making and practical wisdom are not readily identifiable in either QIAS or the NSW Children’s Services Regulation.

The chief concern I believe is the problem of regulations impinging on, or driving our pedagogical practice that is detrimental to children and is therefore not best practice. Pedagogues should begin with the question, who educates the educator? Any dialogue concerning the needs of children should begin here; what are the social, community and public needs of children generally, and the children with whom I work directly?

Love and learning

What can I do to develop their ‘Love of Learning’ that I believe that they initially come to me with? The mantras of ‘Life long learning’ and ‘learning readiness’ – within our formal institutions –suggests a view of learning that is knowledge transmitted down from the teacher, in contrast to the view that we have an innate predisposition to learn. How can we overcome or transcend the economic reductionism of the Corporate State that narrows the definition, purpose and possibilities of education?

To begin by asking, what do I have to do to be accountable to The State, is to unwittingly enforce the status quo and consequently the interests of the ruling class and the nation-market-state? Considering my position as an early childhood educator is one that needs to be regarded in terms of the real politic of education played out in each school under the auspice of education departments. As Bruer (1999) observes, politicians use ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ to spin their gloss-over of practices detrimental to wholistic conceptions of early childhood education.

“Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion, discussed ‘new’ knowledge…The new thinking that I’m talking about…is the new scientific research about the way children’s brains develop. …Gillard’s statement demonstrates how politicians can play a key role in framing and/or determining policy content and outcomes… Crucially, the quality of formal ECEC provisions for children also rests, to a considerable extent, on the policy decisions of politicians.

The problem is not so much one of science or developmental models opposing post modernist and humanist conceptions of education, but rather a crudely defined ‘medical model’ imposed on teachers and enforced through their practice. My experience of some school administrators is that they use counter reforming government demands, the use of regulations, and public service acts to enforce the medical model of testing, teaching to predetermined outcomes, and collecting quantifiable data as ‘evidence’ of ‘value adding’ to children.

Questions, questions, and more questions

The questions we should ask, how do educators defend best practice and research while they maybe dealing with draconian methods imposed by hierarchies, and unreasonable authoritarian methods at the departmental and school level? Who and what are educating the educator while they are being disciplined and undermined by those in authority? How do humanistic approaches that rely on qualitative means to measure personal achievements and growth flourish in this current period of reactionary politics?

Progressive approaches understand young children as ‘already human beings, with desires and powers of their own, and not as units of production and consumption, to be improved – potentially – for the benefit of the corporate profit-and-war machine. Part of the answer lies within ourselves as professional educators, by organising power into our collegiate and collective hands, so to build our profession and thereby serve the best qualities of all human kind.

References

Bruer, J.T. (1999) In Search of … Brain-Based Education, Phi Delta Kappan, 80(9), pp. 648-657, quoted in Brown, K., Sumsion, J., Press, F., Influences on Politicians’ Decision Making for Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: what do we know? What don’t we know?

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Volume 10 Number 3 2009, http://www.words.co.uk/CIEC

Chomsky, N. & Otero C. (2003) Chomsky on Democracy and Education Routledge pp. 163-4

Fenech, M., Sumison, J., Goodfellow, J., (2006) The Regulatory Environment in Long Day Care: A ‘double edged sword’ for early childhood professional practice, Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 31, No.3 September 2006.

Leach, P. (1994) People, Profits and Parenting, Children First: What society must do – and is not dong – for children today, Penguin, pp. 4-6

OECD (2006) A unified approach to learning: The social pedagogy tradition, Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care, p59

Words 17

Oracy and Reading

January 2, 2015

  1. Learning to read begins at birth as family members read aloud to their infants.
  2. Family members have an important role to play in their children’s literacy development by talking with them and demonstrating how print is used at home and out in the community.
  3. The only reason for reading is to construct meaning. (Reading does not require the production of sound, but it may.)
  4. Readers use a range of strategies to construct meaning. They draw upon the symbols (letters, signs, numbers, icons, etc) and the associated sounds of the language, the grammar of the language and the meanings of the language.
  5. Without meaning, the associations between letters and sounds can not be known. Meaning is required to make these associations clear. (For example,  no-one can read the word ‘lead’ using phonics alone.  Is it ‘leed’ or ‘led’?  The word must be in text which gives it meaning.)
  6. The teaching of phonics is closely related to the teaching of writing; and the teaching of writing is closely related to the teaching of reading.
  7. Reading and writing are inter-related and occur in every-day life practices. Readers read for many purposes: to be informed, delighted, challenged, amused, comforted, entertained and enlightened. In our teaching of literacy, the reasons for reading are highlighted, not forgotten.
  8. Reading and writing help children to understand their own world, but also introduce them to wider worlds, both real and imaginary.
  9. Real texts invite children to want to read.  They foster curiosity, passion, joy and wonder.
  10. Real texts include print-based materials and texts on-screen (eg computers, mobile phones, automatic tellers). Print-based materials may include signs in the environment, greeting cards and many other forms of print as well as traditional books. On-screen texts may include still and moving images, voice and music as well as printed words.
  11. Reading requires an understanding that no text is neutral in its opinions.  When authors create a text, their biases, points of view and prejudices are embedded.  Readers need to be aware of how a text positions them or persuades them to the writer’s point of view.  We call this critical literacy. (It is not ‘literary criticism’ with which it is sometimes confused.)
  12. Ready access to real texts in classrooms, school libraries and community libraries is crucial.  We believe it’s essential for school libraries to be staffed by trained teacher-librarians.
  13. Decisions about classroom literacy programs and assessment are best made on site by those working with the students.  Only then can literacy instruction be tailored to students with different needs.  Students learn in different ways  –  one size does not fit all.
  14. Valid, reliable assessment is a continuous process;  not a single event. The main purpose of continuous assessment is to inform teaching and improve learning.  It is the basis of the most effective communication with parents about their children’s progress.
  15. Teachers need to be involved in continuous professional learning. They need to be able to articulate their beliefs and explain their practices to parents and the wider community.

Tips for early and sustained oracy and literacy development

  • Children being expected to answer questions in developed phrases rather than just monosyllables, from nursery onwards.
  • Teachers giving more time for children to develop fuller oral responses to questions posed.
  • Teachers enabling children to pose questions of one another, in order once again that the children practise their sounds and speech patterns.
  • Direct and regular intervention/correction from staff in how children speak and pronounce their letters.
  • Volunteer staff and governors giving time to small groups of children in order to develop their conversation, vocabulary and basic social skills.
  • The development of structured and regular drama/acting opportunities in which children are expected to project their voice and practise speaking at length, with good eye contact.
  • The use of more music and rhyme to consolidate how children are hearing and repeating sounds.
  • The use of established EAL techniques (pattern, repetition, consolidation, elaboration) with children, particularly boys, whose first language is English.
  • The regular use of short dictations, across the curriculum, and with an emphasis on keen listening and high quality presentation of writing.
  • A focus on how children are actually holding a pencil/crayon and how they are forming their letters on a consistent basis.
  • The regular use of limericks/couplets/verses/short poems being set to be   learned by heart and for recitation in class groups; parents can be involved creatively in this.
  • Every opportunity taken by teachers and support staff to model and promote interesting vocabulary, orally and in writing/photos/images, to match age and needs of children.
  • An unashamed ambition and affirmative timetabling to increase the numbers of children in Year 2 achieving level 3, and level 5 in Year 6, in reading and writing – having fun with this, as with everything else!

Roy Blatchford. National Education Trust 2012.

Shared Reading: An Effective Instructional Model

Basis for Shared Reading Model

The shared reading model was developed by Holdaway (1979). It builds from the research that indicates that storybook reading is a critically important factor in young children’s reading development (Wells, 1986). The storybook reading done by parents in a home setting is particularly effective (Strickland & Taylor, 1989). However, in school, in most cases, a teacher reads to a group of children rather than to a single child. The shared reading model allows a group of children to experience many of the benefits that are part of storybook reading done for one or two children at home (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982; Schickendanz, 1978).

The shared reading model often uses oversized books (referred to as big books) with enlarged print and illustrations. As the teacher reads the book aloud, all of the children who are being read to can see and appreciate the print and illustrations.

Repeated Readings

In the shared reading model there are multiple readings of the books over several days. Throughout, children are actively involved in the reading (Yaden, 1988). The teacher may pause in the reading and ask for predictions as to what will happen next. Because many of the books include predictable text, the children often chime in with a word or phrase. Groups of children or individual children might volunteer or be invited to read parts of the story. Through repeated readings and the predictable text, children become familiar with word forms and begin to recognize words and phrases (Bridge, Winograd, & Haley, 1983; Pikulski & Kellner, 1992).

Purposes for Rereading

The repeated readings of the same story serve various purposes. The first reading is for enjoyment; the second may focus on building and extending comprehension of the selection; a third might focus attention on the interesting language and vocabulary; a fourth might focus on decoding, using the words in the selection as a starting point for teaching word identification skills (Yaden, 1989).

Benefits of Shared Reading:

  • Rich, authentic, interesting literature can be used, even in the earliest phases of a reading program, with children whose word-identification skills would not otherwise allow them access to this quality literature.
  • Each reading of a selection provides opportunities for the teacher to model reading for the children.
  • Opportunities for concept and language expansion exist that would not be possible if instruction relied only on selections that students could read independently.
  • Awareness of the functions of print, familiarity with language patterns, and word-recognition skills grow as children interact several times with the same selection.
  • Individual needs of students can be more adequately met. Accelerated readers are challenged by the interesting, natural language of selections. Because of the support offered by the teacher, students who are more slowly acquiring reading skills experience success.
  • Concepts, Strategies and Skills Needed to Become Effective Readers
  • Functions and Value of Print
  • Perhaps the most important concept that children need to develop is what is frequently referred to as the functions of print. When children understand this concept, they have begun to understand that printed language is related to oral language, that print is a form of communication, and that print and books are sources of enjoyment and information (Brown, 1991; Heath, 1982; Schicken- danz, 1978; Teale & Sulzby, 1989). Children who do not understand the functions and value of reading are unlikely to become successful readers.
  • Oral Language and Listening Skills
  • Oral language is the critical foundation upon which reading and writing build. Glazer (1989), Strickland (1991), and Teale and Sulzby (1989) have all discussed the critical importance of oral language as it relates to beginning reading and writing. Learning the meanings of thousands of words and developing an understanding of the way words are ordered to make sense (syntax) are extremely complex processes that take place in oral language development and transfer to reading and writing. Cognitive activities, such as understanding cause-and-effect relationships or chronological order, that are established through listening and communicated through speaking are the same cognitive processes used in reading.
  • All children who enter kindergarten have some foundation of oral language skills that can serve as a foundation for their reading and writing. Oral language skills can be expanded and further developed through listening activities, especially the reading aloud of stories, and eventually through reading experiences (Galda & Cullinan, 1991; Glazer, 1989).
  • There is a strong, significant relationship between listening comprehension and reading comprehension. Listening to stories is an excellent vehicle for expanding oral language patterns, for extending thinking skills, and for building vocabulary (Eller, Pappas, & Brown, 1988; Ellery, 1989; Leung & Pikulski, 1990).
  • Understandings About Language
  • To grow as readers and writers, young children must develop other understandings about language, often referred to as metalinguistic awareness. They must, for example, develop a concept of what a word is, both printed and spoken, and know how it is different from numbers, letters, sounds, and sentences. They must learn that print is read from left to right and from top to bottom (Downing, 1989; Yaden, 1989).
  • Learning Letter-Sound Associations
  • To grow as readers and writers, children must also develop an understanding of what Adams (1990) refers to as the alphabetic principle. When first introduced to print, children often think that the printed word is a concrete representation of an object. For example, they expect cat to be a longer word than mouse because cats are bigger and longer than mice (Ferreiro & Teberosky, 1982; Schickendanz, 1989). Instead, they need to develop the idea that spoken words are composed of identifiable sounds and, further, the idea that letters of the alphabet represent those sounds. In order to develop an understanding of the alphabetic principle, they must become familiar with letter forms (Adams, 1990; Barr, 1984; Schickendanz, 1989) and with the idea that spoken words have identifiable sounds in them — referred to as the concept of phonemic awareness (Adams, 1990; Griffith & Olson, 1992; Lundberg, Frost, & Peterson, 1988; Tunmer & Nesdale, 1985).
  • Importance of a Rich Literacy Environment
  • All of these understandings and skills need to develop in classrooms that present a rich literacy environment, one filled with books, posters, art, children’s work, and so forth (Morrow, 1989).
  • How Young Children Become Readers and Writers
  • The research in the area of emergent literacy suggests that the roots of both reading and writing are established in the oral language experiences of very young children (Glazer, 1989; Strickland & Feeley, 1991).
  • Home Experiences
  • Children learn much about reading and writing as pre-schoolers by observing the reading and writing that occurs in their families. They then begin to reading and writing as part of their home experiences (Heath, 1983; Taylor, 1983). They come to realize that the print that is part of their environment communicates messages that fulfill a variety of important functions.
  • Modeling Through Storybook Reading
  • Recent research clarifies the extreme importance of reading storybooks to young children both at home and in school. Very early, children begin to imitate that reading — at first by relying exclusively on picture clues and memory. With increased experience they begin to focus on the information that print conveys (Snow, 1983; Sulzby, 1985; Teale, 1987).
  • Early Writing Forms
  • Research has also shown that young children are strategic in early forms of writing. They begin by using scribbles and progress through increasingly accurate representations of the relationship between letters and the sounds for which they stand. As children think about how to represent the sounds of words through their writing, they are building skills that will be useful for reading as well (Barnhart, 1986; Dyson, 1985; Teale & Sulzby, 1986

Karl Marx and informal education by Barry Burke

January 2, 2015

How to cite this article:  (2000) ‘Karl Marx and informal education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/et-marx.htm. Last update: May 29, 2012

Karl Marx on the class struggle

So what was it that made Karl Marx so important? At the cornerstone of his thinking is the concept of the class struggle. He was not unique in discovering the existence of classes. Others had done this before him. What Marx did that was new was to recognize that the existence of classes was bound up with particular modes of production or economic structure and that the proletariat, the new working class that Capitalism had created, had a historical potential leading to the abolition of all classes and to the creation of a classless society. He maintained that “the history of all existing society is a history of class struggle”. Each society, whether it was tribal, feudal or capitalist was characterized by the way its individuals produced their means of subsistence, their material means of life, how they went about producing the goods and services they needed to live. Each society created a ruling class and a subordinate class as a result of their mode of production or economy. By their very nature the relationship between these two was antagonistic. Marx referred to this as the relations of production. Their interests were not the same. The feudal economy was characterized by the existence of a small group of lords and barons that later developed into a landed aristocracy and a large group of landless peasants. The capitalist economy that superseded it was characterized by a small group of property owners who owned the means of production i.e. the factories, the mines and the mills and all the machinery within them. This group was also referred to as the bourgeoisie or capitalist class. Alongside them was a large and growing working class. He saw the emergence of this new propertyless working class as the agent of its own self emancipation. It was precisely the working class, created and organized into industrial armies, that would destroy its creator and usher in a new society free from exploitation and oppression. “What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers”.

Karl Marx’s relevance to knowledge and education

Karl Marx made it clear that “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” and what he meant by life was actual living everyday material activity. Human thought or consciousness was rooted in human activity not the other way round as a number of philosophers felt at the time. What this meant was the way we went about our business, the way we were organized in our daily life was reflected in the way we thought about things and the sort of world we created. The institutions we built, the philosophies we adhered to, the prevailing ideas of the time, the culture of society, were all determined to some extent or another by the economic structure of society. This did not mean that they were totally determined but were quite clearly a spin-off from the economic base of society. The political system, the legal system, the family, the press, the education system were all rooted, in the final analysis, to the class nature of society, which in turn was a reflection of the economic base. Marx maintained that the economic base or infrastructure generated or had built upon it a superstructure that kept it functioning. The education system, as part of the superstructure, therefore, was a reflection of the economic base and served to reproduce it. This did not mean that education and teaching was a sinister plot by the ruling class to ensure that it kept its privileges and its domination over the rest of the population. There were no conspirators hatching devious schemes. It simply meant that the institutions of society, like education, were reflections of the world created by human activity and that ideas arose from and reflected the material conditions and circumstances in which they were generated.

This relationship between base and superstructure has been the subject of fierce debate between Marxists for many years. To what extent is the superstructure determined by the economic base? How much of a reflection is it? Do the institutions that make up the superstructure have any autonomy at all? If they are not autonomous, can we talk about relative autonomy when we speak about the institutions of society? There have been furious debates on the subject and whole forests have been decimated as a result of the need to publish contributions to the debate.

I now want to turn to Marx’s contribution to the theory of knowledge and to the problem of ideology. In his book, The German Ideology, Marx maintained that “the class which is the dominant material force in society is at the same time its dominant intellectual force”. What he meant by that is that the individuals who make up the ruling class of any age determine the agenda. They rule as thinkers, as producers of ideas that get noticed. They control what goes by the name “common sense”. Ideas that are taken as natural, as part of human nature, as universal concepts are given a veneer of neutrality when, in fact, they are part of the superstructure of a class-ridden society. Marx explained that “each new class which puts itself in the place of the one ruling before it, is compelled, simply in order to achieve its aims, to represent its interest as the common interest of all members of society i.e.  ..to give its ideas the form of universality and to represent them as the only rational and universally valid ones”. Ideas become presented as if they are universal, neutral, common sense. However, more subtly, we find concepts such as freedom, democracy, liberty or phrases such as “a fair days work for a fair days pay” being banded around by opinion makers as if they were not contentious. They are, in Marxist terms, ideological constructs, in so far as they are ideas serving as weapons for social interests. They are put forward for people to accept in order to prop up the system.

What Marx and Marxists would say is that ideas are not neutral; they are determined by the existing relations of production, by the economic structure of society. Ideas change according to the interests of the dominant class in society. Antonio Gramsci coined the phrase “ideological hegemony” to describe the influence the ruling class has over what counts as knowledge. For Marxists, this hegemony is exercised through institutions such as education, or the media, which the Marxist philosopher and sociologist, Louis Althusser referred to as being part of what he called the Ideological State Apparatus. The important thing to note about this is that it is not to be regarded as part of a conspiracy by the ruling class. It is a natural effect of the way in which what we count as knowledge is socially constructed. The ideology of democracy and liberty, beliefs about freedom of the individual and competition are generated historically by the mode of production through the agency of the dominant class. They are not neutral ideas serving the common good but ruling class ideas accepted by everyone as if they were for the common good.

This brings us back to the notion of education as part of the super-structural support for the economic status quo. If this is the case, there are a number of questions that need to be asked. The first is can society be changed by education? If not, why not? Secondly, can education be changed and if so, how?

To test or not to test? That’s still the question by Scott Prasser

January 2, 2015

‘Government policies that rely on assessing what is easy to measure, ignoring other important dimensions of schooling, are damaging. No one questions the importance of basic skills proficiency, but schools should be supported and held accountable for achieving quality in much broader terms. The objective of a quality education policy should be to provide a well-rounded education for all…’

Professor Scott Prasser is the executive director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. February 5, 2013

A recent Whitlam Institute study of high-stakes tests in schools showed that the federal government’s annual literacy and numeracy tests placed undue pressure on children, causing stress and even illness. While these effects are concerning, the more important issue is how this narrow focus and overemphasis on basic skills testing is distorting Australia’s education policies, undermining quality and, in particular, doing little to help disadvantaged students.

As the Commonwealth continues to negotiate with the states and territories over the Gonski funding model and a national school improvement plan, the results of the national assessment program – literacy and numeracy (better known as NAPLAN) are becoming more deeply embedded into education policy. They are the proxy measure of school quality and the very basis of the Gonski funding model: the high-performing schools whose costs will determine the level of the new schooling resource standard are selected on the basis of their test results. In other words, achievements in literacy and numeracy now define school quality. The attainment of basic skills has become the main steering mechanism of schooling.

The overemphasis on basic proficiency testing disadvantages all students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In following this path, Australia is out of step with the evidence of effective education policies. While Britain and the United States are stepping back from overemphasising narrow skills tests, Australia is charging ahead, taking their role to an extreme. We are committed to using the tests to make funding and accountability decisions that go well beyond the capacity of the tests to support, ignoring evidence that the tests may be unreliable, are partial, constrict the school curriculum, limit teachers’ capacity to innovate and to cater to individual students’ needs, and are subject to manipulation, if not corruption. The higher the stakes, the bigger the temptation.

This is not to say that tests are without benefits, to students, teachers and schools. As originally conceived in the 1990s, national testing was a diagnostic tool for teachers, giving them a clearer conception of the performance standards expected, allowing them to assess individual students’ progress against a common standard for their age cohort and to adapt their teaching to meet a student’s particular needs. However, the tests do not work this way for individual students. The results are too late arriving back in the classroom and, according to the NSW Education Department’s director-general, teachers have lost the ability to use the results for their original diagnostic purpose and lack the skills to analyse the data.

As critical professionals, teachers have an array of other assessment practices to cater for individual students’ needs, as long as the demands of NAPLAN allow them the scope and time. British and American experiences shows that over-reliance on basic skills testing means too much teaching time is wasted on test preparation and the scope of teaching is limited by the imperative to teach to the test. In some cases, teaching practice is distorted by the triage effect, where students are categorised as non-urgent, suitable for treatment or hopeless cases; teachers focus on students who are on the cusp of passing. Very low achievers and very high achievers miss out.

As a benchmark, the tests act more as an incentive for avoiding poor performance than for aiming high. They contain no incentive for strong performance and distract attention from the pursuit of high academic achievement. Current education policies do not reward education excellence, despite the rhetoric. As long as basic skills tests dominate education policy, other important subjects, abilities, skills and talents are marginalised. So much time, energy and resources are devoted to mastering basic skills in reading and mathematics that students are deprived of opportunities to fully develop the content knowledge and skills they need to succeed in work, further study and life in the 21st century. Neglecting the broad range of less tangible, less testable and less quantifiable skills is detrimental to a quality education system, students and society.

This overemphasis on basic proficiency testing disadvantages all students, but especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, because their families are least able to provide them with wider educational experiences beyond the school gates. Having high expectations of all students, setting ambitious standards, believing that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels and necessary that they do so, are the underpinnings of a quality education. The rhetoric of excellence needs to be reflected in the substance of education policy.

Government policies that rely on assessing what is easy to measure, ignoring other important dimensions of schooling, are damaging. No one questions the importance of basic skills proficiency, but schools should be supported and held accountable for achieving quality in much broader terms. The objective of a quality education policy should be to provide a well-rounded education for all and to achieve the range of high-level skills needed in the modern economy and society. The result of such a policy may be a richer, more intelligent approach to testing across a wider range of areas, closely linked to the broad national curriculum. Only then will testing be worthwhile.
Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/to-test-or-not-to-test-thats-still-the-question-20130202-2dqt6.html#ixzz2KLXqiRWp

Worth a note: you cannot legislate to find good teachers by Robyn Ewing

January 2, 2015

Robyn Ewing is professor of teacher education at the University of Sydney. March 13, 2013

“A capacity to teach is something you either have in your heart or you don’t”.

One of the best teachers I ever had was Miss Greenlees, my fourth grade teacher at Harbord Primary School. She believed in me, understood me as a person, engaged me in the learning process and had high expectations of what I could achieve. Nearly everyone has a favourite teacher in their lives. Just as everyone has an opinion on what makes a good teacher, largely because it’s a profession to which we’ve all had some exposure: whether or not we have children.

Over the course of my schooling as a primary, high school and university student – and later as a teacher and teacher educator – I’ve been fortunate to encounter many exemplary teachers. I have learnt that a good teacher can change lives and have a profound influence long after their students have left the schoolroom. Indeed, good teachers touch eternity.

How sad it is, then, that many in our community seem neither to value nor understand this. How else do you explain the falling status of educators, the relatively low pay for experienced teachers and the constant deskilling of the profession through over-emphasis on high-stakes testing?

I have no issue with the notion teachers should have a strong intellectual capability, along with well-developed literacy and numeracy skills. But that is only one part of the story. Even these skills cannot be effectively measured by a one-size-fits-all test before graduation. While there are many positive features of both the state and federal announcements about attracting high-quality pre-service teachers into the profession, a good teacher must be more than a high school graduate who achieves a high Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank.

Why are we placing all our emphasis on entry scores when pre-service teachers go on to do a degree? And if intending teachers have to score in the top one-fifth of students – a band 5 – why another test before they graduate? All good questions, but did any education policymaker ask us – the teacher educators – our thoughts? And the biggest question of all is, where will the funding come from? Every year I have been in teacher education there have been real cuts to funding and increased costs to absorb.

If a test before graduation on literacy and numeracy is instituted, it will not ensure a teacher knows how to establish real relationships with individual learners to teach them how to spell or add. Or to plan lessons that are motivating and fun, that challenge students and encourage them to take risks. Such a test will not discern whether a teacher is a lifelong learner. Or whether they are imaginative and can motivate those learners who are highly anxious or do not see any point in school. Or if they can ask challenging questions and encourage children to think creatively. Or will work well with colleagues, parents, the community and others. A test cannot measure aptitude, compassion, enthusiasm, flexibility, problem solving or dedication to teaching. A capacity to teach is something you either have in your heart or you don’t. You can’t legislate it into to practice.

Like anything there are skills you can improve, but you’ve got to start with a predisposition for patience and kindness, and throw in a touch of fun (none of that is revealed in an HSC mark). When learning is fun, magic occurs in a classroom and children’s lives are changed forever. We should not impose further rules on a profession that is already underpaid and overworked. Where is the recognition for existing teacher quality? Where in the debate about teacher quality is the undertaking to improve salaries to a level commensurate with other professions that require high ATARs for university admission? Where is the discussion about responsibility for educational outcomes that depend on parental engagement?

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just about attracting high-quality people to the profession, it’s also about retaining them and finding a way to mentor and support them in our most challenging contexts. Where is the funding for ongoing professional development of teachers? In the finest Socratic tradition, to solve the education problem we need to break it down into a series of questions.

Before politicians issue their edicts, I wonder why they don’t consult the profession itself – why not ask teachers what they need to do their job? When’s the last time one of these policymakers came into a classroom? Other than for a photo opportunity? Governments should look first at the strengths of a profession already under huge pressure through lack of resourcing. Or perhaps everyone could sit down and ask themselves the question: ”Who was my favourite teacher and why?”
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/worth-a-note-you-cannot-legislate-to-find-good-teachers-20130312-2fyf6.html#ixzz2Nei9uJ4N

 

Education ‘reform’ another wrong diagnosis: union protectionism and the conventional wisdom

January 2, 2015

 I found this article in Washington Post, 12-17-09 but I omitted to save the authors name so my apologies to that person. It remains pertinent in 2015 especially here in Australia as our politicians and bureaucrats are hellbent on following one bad example after another in the name of ‘reform’. I think the article represents the opinion of many good and committed teachers. I am a committed teacher union activist however my criticisms of our unions are similar to those of the author.

The standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth

“Good teachers are the key to good schools. A major obstacle to staffing America’s school with good teachers is union protectionism.” So goes the conventional wisdom. I’m no fan of education unions. I fault them for not taking the lead in education reform, for misplaced priorities, and for a willingness to support bad legislation just to keep a seat at the federal education reform table. I was hammering union leadership on those issues decades before I could do it with the click of a mouse. That said, when it comes to education reform, teacher unions get an undeserved bad rap. No way are they the major obstacle to school improvement. Mark that problem up to institutional inertia, innovation-stifling bureaucracy, and misguided state and federal policy. Trace union bad press back to its origins and it’s clear that much of it comes from ideologues and organizations less interested in improving education than in destroying union political clout and privatizing public schools.

No, the main opposition to the education reform effort set in motion about twenty years ago by corporate heads and Congress isn’t coming from go-along-to-get-along unions. The sustained and blistering attacks come from professional educators like Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and dozens of others I could name. And me. Retired or otherwise independent, we can say what we think without fear of retribution or being accused of being self-serving. Most importantly, unlike the architects of No Child Left Behind and its gestating offspring, the Race to the Top, we’ve spent thousands of hours in real classrooms working directly with real students.

What do we think about Washington-dictated education reforms? We think they’re sufficiently abusive, counterproductive, and downright stupid to warrant a massive class action suit by parents and grandparents against those responsible. What explains the radically different views of experienced teachers and the suits in corporate suites and Congress who’re now running the education show? A sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s Princeton University office sums it up: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Data-enamoured, spreadsheet-studying, educationally clueless policymakers think Einstein was wrong. What is it, exactly, that can’t be counted? Most people think babies are born with minds like blank paper. Parents, teachers, and others, “write” on that paper, filling it with advice, information, explanations, and interpretations. Schools organize and compress the process with textbooks and teacher talk, and tests check how much kids can remember long enough to pencil in the “right” oval on a standardized test. It’s that simple. Except it isn’t. Not even close. Kids’ minds are never, ever, like blank pages. To matters they consider important, they attach explanatory theories. When a teacher or other explainer dumps information on them that doesn’t match their theories, they reject it. They may play the school game-may store the explainer’s theory in short-term memory until the test is over and the pressure is off-but rarely do they adopt it.

Kids don’t change their theories because doing so would be too traumatic. Their beliefs-about themselves, about others, about how the world works-are their most valued possessions (just as they are for the rest of us). Their theories are “who they are.” Casually exchanging them for someone else’s ideas would undermine their identities, their individuality, their confidence in their ability to make sense of experience. I learned the hard way-from thousands of adolescents-that I couldn’t teach them anything important. All I could do was try to get them to think about a particular matter, then ask them a question or give them something to do that their theories couldn’t handle and let them struggle to work it out. Changing their minds had to be their doing, not mine. Bottom line: It’s impossible to count how much kids really know. Period. Standardized tests are an appalling, monumental waste of time, money, and brains. Especially brains.

To the “standards and accountability” cheerleaders-the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, the US Department of Education, newspaper editorial boards, syndicated columnists, and so on-the complex, counterintuitive, kid-controlled, impossible-to-measure learning process I’m describing is alien. But that process lies at the very heart of teaching and learning. Trying to shield it from destruction is why older, experienced teachers are the most vocal, determined opponents of the present reform fiasco. They know the “blank paper,” count-the-right-answers theory propelling the standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth. And they know that adopting national standards and tests will lock that myth in place far, far into the future.

Towards an expression of the spiritual in a secular curriculum by Monica Bini

January 1, 2015

Dealing with the issue of ‘spirituality’ is a very current concern for many people. The concerns raised and the difficulties identified still make this article worth reading today.

This article was written as a contribution to the now extant Australian Curriculum. However the author tackles the question of spirituality and what that might mean in a school curriculum. “The curriculum must allow for the kind of delivery that will support its intentions. The awakening and development of the spiritual is often going to be something that is difficult to plan for, and teachers need to be free to capture the teaching moment and be given flexibility to work with individual student needs. And it is an area which is an investment in students’ life journeys, where seeds planted during experiences at school may for some, only really begin to bear fruit at an unexpected time in the future. But with the support of this particular quality of education students may be lucky enough to have a relatively greater proportion of their lives that is fulfilling.”

Monica Bini – Curriculum Manager (Humanities), Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. July 2009.

Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008)

The Melbourne Declaration claims a place for spiritual wellbeing in education for all Australianswhen it declares that “confident and creative individuals have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing”. How can the development and management of spiritual wellbeing be expressed in curriculum beyond faith based settings, so that it is indeed supported for all Australians? This paper outlines and then uses a way of articulating the spiritual that is independent of adherence to religious tradition or belief in the divine, to inform themes of secular spirituality that could be manifested in secular curriculum, and the skills and capacities that can be brought to these themes. In doing so, it aims to capture what is distinctive about the spiritual in the context of curriculum.

The Melbourne Declaration goes some way to articulating a secular spirituality when it links spiritual wellbeing to self worth, self awareness and personal identity. It takes a position that there is something distinct from the emotional, mental and physical in what it is to be human. If secular curriculum wants to claim education of the whole person, then the curriculum needs to address this aspect of being human.

Developing the themes of secular spirituality

Stating what might be further said about the spiritual in a secular sense will inform how curriculum can give expression to this goal. Some of the literature avoids defining the spiritual, as it is not only complex, but partly an experience and therefore partly ineffable. However for the secular to stake a claim in the spiritual it is necessary to show how it can be conceived without an appeal to religion or the divine. For educators, it gives them the language needed to understand the thinking behind any spiritual themes in the curriculum and to support them in engaging in discourse on the spiritual.

The spiritual is something that is perhaps better experienced than explained. It is a particular quality of consciousness that responds to the awesome in nature and the awesome in human creation or expression, where paradoxically in the experience we are drawn out of ourselves and yet deeper within ourselves. It is that part of ourselves that we are not happy with characterizing as emotion. It is, at times, linked rather with a deep sense of satisfaction or fulfillment. This sense of satisfaction is often linked to goals that are in fact unattainable, for example perfect wisdom. And yet it responds to meaning and purpose and can create meaning and purpose. The spiritual is associated with a detachment, that is, a separation from the egotistical aspects of the self, rather than the world or the other.

The Melbourne goal speaks of having a sense of self that enables management of wellbeing, including spiritual. The term ‘management’ suggests cultivating a certain kind of discrimination or discernment that in the first instance begins to recognize the spiritual in the self, in response to particular kinds of experiences and then is ultimately used to make choices that support wellbeing and in turn refine the self. One of the most important contributions that curriculum can make is to assist students as they develop and attend to this faculty or key skill, in what is for most, a lifelong journey.

What follows links the broad conception of spirituality introduced above with ways that this may be manifest in the curriculum. It should be recognized that many of the areas overlap and that somewhat artificial distinctions have been made to draw out distinguishing characteristics of each area.

Themes of secular spirituality that could be manifested in the curriculum:

Awe and wonder:

– providing for engagement with the beautiful in nature and human endeavour, including the bigger or more profound stories, that may resonate, inspire or allow for moments of gratitude and appreciation.

– giving permission to wonder, not only intellectually but a deeper, reflective wonder.

Meaning and purpose:

– providing opportunities to serve something larger than oneself. By isolating such service from material gain, students have a chance to notice a different kind of satisfaction.

– enabling the development and expression of vision.

– engaging students with concepts such as truth, courage, including moral courage, honour and so on, and recognizing their contentious nature yet central role in human endeavour .

– allowing for meaningful self expression. In a wider sense this may be personal meaning realized in public contexts.

Being and Knowing:

– providing opportunities for students to integrate knowledge with action; to ethically bring both considered rational judgment and intuitive insight to bear on practical problems.

– engaging with concepts such as justice, compassion and other areas of ethics.

– assisting students to be aware of and attune the quality of their consciousness in action and thought, for example the level of integrity.

– supporting human dignity by for example valuing the welfare, learning journeys and stories of the students and giving them a voice in their education.

Developing the skills or capacities that can be brought to these themes

What the student brings to the opportunities for awe and wonder, meaning and purpose and exploring being and knowing is important. For example, being presented with the beautiful is enriched with a capacity to notice and attend to the response of the self. Students can build skills to assist in the interpretation of experience. The key skill here is a kind of discernment or discrimination. Developing the ability to discern or discriminate in the context of secular spirituality is particularly related to the following elements of the curriculum:

– building the capacity to notice and attend to the self and how it engages with and responds to certain experiences. For example, noticing different levels of fulfillment. This can occur not only through quiet reflection and silence but through dialogue.

– developing students’ capacity to engage with and express the ineffable, for example in powerful literary and visual metaphors and other non-verbal means of expression such as dance, or design and creative process.

– assisting students in developing the language to express to others and themselves what can be said about secular spiritual experiences.

– allowing the creation and expression of what is deeply satisfying for the student, for example in athletics, woodwork or social activism. Here the student can practice and test their developing discrimination. This may ultimately impact on their choice of life pursuits as well as in a more generic way.

Disciplinary or Interdisciplinary?

Spirituality can be triggered and nurtured by different things for different people and in this sense is interdisciplinary, where students are given the chance to widely explore and test where spiritual wellbeing may lie for them. Students can be invited to engage with facets of the spiritual in the context of a discipline or learning area. For example, service learning in Civics, aesthetics in Mathematics, ethics in Philosophy, or vision in History or Science. Key skills can also be developed in this way, for example through the study of poetry in English or participating in the design process in Technology. The extent to which the spiritual is brought in will be linked closely to pedagogy.

Bringing spirituality into the curriculum in this sense need not be so much about an addition to the curriculum but rather involves considering the disciplines through a particular qualitative lens. The nature of this qualitative lens does need separate documentation however, and this paper attempts to go some way towards supporting educators in this.

Early years learning framework (2009)

The themes of secular spirituality in this paper were used to inform the definition of spirituality in the national Early Years Learning Framework. The framework is built around the concepts of Being, Belonging and Becoming, recognizing that life is more than transactional. A range of groups gave strong feedback that spiritual aspects of young children’s lives should be recognized. In particular it was thought that the play experience for a child had a spiritual dimension. The groups identified a need to capture in a secular way the spiritual dimension of what it is to be human.

Recognition of the spiritual is not unusual at a higher policy level – for example both the 2008 Melbourne and the 1999 Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling, or the 1957 NSW Wyndham Report (naming spiritual values as one of eight key aims for the education of the individual). These high level statements aim at all sectors including faith based, but this aspect of the goals of schooling has not traditionally been picked up by the government sector in particular. One significant gap has been the lack of translation of this part of the goals into formal curriculum structures. This is a necessary part of the mechanism by which high level documents ultimately get delivered in the classroom. Creating a key definition of spirituality began to close the gap.

A definition of spirituality was proposed and welcomed :   “Spirituality refers to a range of human experiences including a sense of awe and wonder, a search for purpose and meaning, and the exploration of being and knowing.” A paper underpinning this definition was a valuable part of the process as it supported decision-makers in understanding that an interpretation of the definition compatible with the secular was possible. At the same time the definition does not exclude the faith based sector, while acknowledging that these settings may bring elements of their different religious traditions into how they interpret it.

Challenges

National Curriculum

The national curriculum will be accountable to the goals for schooling. ACARA’s Curriculum Design paper states at 4.2b that “the national curriculum documents will indicate how much learning in each area contributes to the national goals.” Articulating themes of secular spirituality may assist in the mapping of this aspect of the goals to the curriculum. Curriculum writers have been given some discretion beyond literacy, numeracy, creativity and ICT in how other general capabilities and indigenous, sustainability and Asia related cross curriculum perspectives will be embedded into the curriculum.

The spiritual is a qualitative aspect of the curriculum that cuts across disciplines, general capabilities and cross curriculum perspectives. In this sense it is likely to be more clearly expressed in content elaboration rather than content description, although content description sets the framework that allows particular teaching and learning activities to be developed. For example if students will learn to analyse indigenous history in Australia (as a content descriptor) then content elaboration could include learning about vision and Aboriginal people of vision in this context. In Science a content description derived from the content organizer of science as a human endeavour could be something like ‘students will learn to analyse and evaluate the role of science in human endeavour’ which in turn could lead to content elaboration regarding discussion of meaning and purpose within science or what concepts like moral courage might mean in scientific contexts. The curriculum has many demands placed upon it and selection of more overtly spiritual aspects needs to be not only well informed but judicious.

Spirituality is a personal journey and teachers must be given the flexibility to work with student needs and to allow time for and response to the student voice. A curriculum dense with prescriptive content would work against this.

Assessment

The question of the assessment of spiritual development in students is more broadly related to the question of assessment of those aspects of the curriculum concerned with dispositions, values and attitudes. Curriculum is tending more towards the provision of a holistic education while at the same time there is a growing assessment culture. Are there limits to what a teacher can confidently assess? Dr. Ruth Deakin Crick identifies four stations in the learning journey that are useful to consider:

“Using the metaphor of ‘learning as a journey’ there are four ‘stations’ which learners and their mentors attend to in the process of learning. The first is the learning self, with its particular identity, nested sets of relationships, stories and aspirations. The second is the personal qualities, values, attitudes and dispositions for learning….The third is the acquisition of publicly assessed knowledge, skills and understanding. The fourth is the achievement of publicly assessed and valued competence in a particular domain – such as being a competent citizen, or artisan, or carer.” (Deakin Crick, 2009, p.78)

The spiritual is clearly related to the first and second stations but there is interplay with the third and fourth as spiritual development occurs and is expressed. Deakin Crick has developed a self assessment tool of values, dispositions and attitudes of effective lifelong learners. The rationale for this being a self assessment tool is relevant to spiritual development too:

the first two stations are personal and unique to the learner, and although formed in the context of community and participation, and thus not necessarily private, the authority to create and make judgments in these domains rests with the learners themselves.”(Deakin Crick, 2009, p. 78)

Assessment of learning belongs in the 3rd and 4th stations of the learning journey where authority to make judgments lies outside the self. This kind of learning is accountable in a public way that spirituality is not. It is fair to set achievement standards for these stations of the learning journey but somehow unfair, if not absurd, to grade students on their spiritual development. The difficulty in gathering direct evidence would also make this attempt invalid and unreliable and could indeed be counterproductive. It would be more coherent to undertake assessment of the educator’s provision of opportunities for deep learning and expression.

A partnership is necessary between all the stages of the learning journey to result in a holistic education. Deep engagement with learning is not guaranteed and neither should it be demanded, but rather invited. But it is important that the educator at least present the opportunity not only through good curriculum but also good pedagogy. Spiritual development is thus a well supported ‘hope’ of the curriculum rather than a demand. (Rossiter, 2006).

Conclusion

The curriculum must allow for the kind of delivery that will support its intentions. The awakening and development of the spiritual is often going to be something that is difficult to plan for, and teachers need to be free to capture the teaching moment and be given flexibility to work with individual student needs. And it is an area which is an investment in students’ life journeys, where seeds planted during experiences at school may for some, only really begin to bear fruit at an unexpected time in the future. But with the support of this particular quality of education students may be lucky enough to have a relatively greater proportion of their lives that is fulfilling.

References

NSW Government 1957, Report of the Committee Appointed to Survey Secondary Education in New South Wales (the Wyndham Report), p.40

Bigger, Secular Spiritual Education?, e-journal of the British Education Studies Association, Vol 1(1) August, 2008

Crawford and G. Rossiter, Reasons for living – education and young people’s search for meaning, identity and spirituality, ACER Press, 2006

Deakin Crick, Inquiry-based learning: reconciling the personal with the public in a democratic and archeological pedagogy, The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2009, 73-92

Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI), owned by the University of Bristol and the Lifelong Learning Federation, at http://www.ellionline.co.uk

Thomas and V. Lockwood, Nurturing the spiritual child: compassion, connection and a sense of self, Early Childhood Australia Inc., Research in Practice Series, Vol. 16., No. 2 2009

http://www.acsa.edu.au/pages/images/Monica%20Bini%20-%20secular%20spirituality.p

Education is thinking and Thinking is education

January 1, 2015

Education is thinking; Thinking is education

The best child protection is a community that is engaged with providing a safe and stimulating place to facilitate holistic approaches to pedagogical practice that provides the best opportunities for people exercising their powers. This means mutually recognising and respecting our rights as adults to actively defend the right of children to be in a safe place. Mutual respect is made possible when the community’s members share a safe space to communicate with each other about the meaning and purpose of learning and teaching, and defining the place as a safe place for evolving and productive pedagogical practice.

Learning to be powerful; Powerful to be learning

To empower others implies that those who facilitate this historical and epistemological process are themselves exercising power. A highly engaging curriculum can only by provided by highly engaged teachers and learners. Highly engaged and knowledgeable learners and teachers are powerful people.

A highly engaging curriculum acknowledges human being as a species being – Nature, an objective, global, scientific view; and as an historical and epistemologically organised social construction – Second Nature, the subjective and particular cultural window with a landscape defined partially by the objective window of a global scientific view.

Appropriately localised curriculum content provides sequentially organised and integrated content that is meaningful and procedurally purposeful. This is achieved by defining essential concepts or Big Ideas that persist as from that are metaphorically intertwining, as expanding flux, that spirals out from beginning to end – K to 6.

Theory and practice.

It is worth noting that the key theorists associated with early childhood are not early childhood theorists as such. Rather there are theorists who most influence the practice of early childhood educators primarily because as theorists they have a cogent view of human cognitive and social development from birth to adult. There is a danger that others who were or are not directly engaged with early childhood and the compulsory years of education have less to offer. For example, Paulo Freire’s development of learning and teaching methods for adult literacy provided extraordinary insights into the social and political dimensions and purposes of education per se. Given his profound impact on pedagogy and practice it would be mistaken to exclude such figures from the early years ‘pantheon’. The same can be said for Malaguzzie of Reggio Emilia and Penelope Leach.

Developing empathetic systems.

As an approach that is both exemplary and comprehensive the Reggio Emilia experience has overwhelmingly the most to contribute to hypotheses and practices of Early Childhood practitioners and educators. The approach developed in Reggio Emilia for early childhood education can be defined as exemplary because as practitioners they have a system with a clearly defined purposes and goals, are able to operate and develop practice according to the needs of children, rather than the overt interference of any politician’s whim, and most significantly, out of reach of powerful social and economic forces that are antithetical to the interests of good child development and childhood.

This is most evident when here in Australia our current Minister of Education has expressed her government’s belief that education is to provide the means for the corporations’s single-minded pursuit of profits. In essence the approach developed by Reggio Emilia, while not a blueprint, provides an example of what it means to pay close attention to providing a safe place for pedagogical practice and in so doing demonstrating the provision of a child-centred antidote relatively free from the economic imperatives of corporate-mass-media-culture.

The social and cultural contexts of learning and teaching.

Understanding human activity as social and cultural provides the ‘philosophical’ foundation for child-centred pedagogical approaches to learning and teaching. Education ideally is a partnership between, educators, children, and parents all of whom are acting in the best interests of all children. Educators particularly take the greater share of this responsibility because they are to provide for needs and develop relationships not only within their own pedagogical space but those too of their immediate community and ultimately the system.

All good learning is driven by curiosity. Sharing, discovering and applying mutual concerns in regards to pedagogy assists to organise the curriculum and pedagogical activities, and ipso facto our learning community. Children too learn by asking questions about their relationships with others and their place within The World around them. As soon as they can speak coherently this curiosity is articulated as questions, Who, What, Where, When, How and Why? We know that children come to school with their own experiences and knowledge. Parents, and particularly early years educators should recognise and account for this in their pedagogical practice.

Valuing curiosity and imagination

Learning proceeds from experience and inquiry thereby providing the foundations for the ongoing development of intelligent cognitive and social behaviours, or habits, for the transition into the compulsory the middle to upper primary years.

Key Assumptions of Experiential and Inquiry learning. The place of Dialogue with Children and building strong foundations for good habits.

Education is essentially learning to think. Young children live imaginatively and have ideas largely unburdened by facts. It is critical to keep curiosity and the desire to learn from this curiosity alive. The desire to know, ask questions and seek answers underlies the key purpose of all our learning.

Educational play-based -productive (cognitive) activity is an important element of our classrooms. A ‘play-based’ approach provides for the use of the arts in all aspects of their learning wether it is literacy, numeracy or imaginative play. The Philosophy with Children program adds an equally important ingredient to all aspects of their learning and our teaching.

By encouraging the skills of respectful and sincere dialogue between children and their teachers, and the teachers themselves, the importance of dialogue, questioning and thinking are emphasised and explicitly stated and connected. Equally there are profound connections between inquiry, philosophy, the arts, the natural environment and becoming literate. Education is essential for active citizenship and productive democracy.

The Development of children: there are two distinct lines of development:

the Natural and Cultural.

  • Natural – biological growth and maturation of physical and mental structures.
  • Cultural – learning to use cultural tools and development of human consciousness that emerges through cultural activity.
  • Children’s cultural development occurs first as social or interpersonal plane and then on the individual or psychological plane.
  • People are social-beings and the creations and makers of their social, cultural, and historical contexts.
  • Social interaction and participation in authentic cultural activities are necessary for development to occur.

The place and role of language and dialogue in human culture

The acquisition of language is the most significant milestone in children’s cognitive development.

  • Language is the primary cultural tool used to mediate activities and is instrumental in restructuring the mind and informing higher order and self-regulating thought processes.
  • Language plays a crucial role in forming minds as it is the primary means of communication and mental contact with others.
  • Language is the major means for representing social experience and is an indispensable part of our thoughts.
  • Language is the bridge between our social-cultural worlds and individual mental function.
  • Mental abilities develop out of the need to communicate and function as a collective.
  • The development of the individual and complex, higher mental functions occur through social interaction

Education, Development and Sociability

  • Formal education and other cultural forms of socialisation are key to developmental pathways toward adulthood
  • Thinking is contextualised and collaborative – it emerges from particular activities and social experiences. Forms of thinking are products of specific contexts and cultural conditions. Higher forms of thinking are socially and culturally contextual – members of these contexts share them.
  • To understand the development of individuals it is necessary to understand the social relations of which the individual is a part.
  • Social influences are ever-present in cognitive skill development.
  • Social engagement is a powerful force in transforming children’s thinking.
  • School and associated literacy and numeracy activities are a powerful context for shaping and developing thinking and action.
  • Mastery of academic tasks assist in transformations of memory, concept formation, reasoning, problematising and problem solving.

Zone of Proximal Development or Scaffolding and other minds.

  • The social and cognitive are essential aspects of each other.
  • Ways of understanding reality are similar across human beings we all have the same biological equipment for interpreting experience: The human brain and body.
  • Thinking is not bounded by the individual brain or mind and body inseparably joined (intertwined) with other minds.
  • Thinking is a profoundly social phenomenon. Social experiences shape the ways we interpret and think about the world.

A critical discussion about the current concerns in the public education system

January 1, 2015

The purpose of this document is to encourage a critical discussion about the current concerns that teachers are dealing with in the public education system. I am a practicing primary school teacher in a state system so consequently the emphasis is on early childhood and primary education; however I am sure that many of the issues raised have implications for the middle years of compulsory education – Grade 5 to year 9. While the concerns outlined below are mainly those of teachers I also encourage anyone who has an interest in public education and pedagogy to participate with their comments.

Any discussion about education and attempting to define its meaning and purpose for our children and society proposes the need to provide an analysis of our society. That we live in an age of mass production should be a given but what then are the implications for our educations within a mass-culture? Presumably we must also talk about education generally as mass-education for the masses. I have an idea that an educator’s aim is to encourage each other to be autodidacts. Where we are able to learn for ourselves and learn from each other. Who educates the educator?

Finally, before you proceed a point needs to be emphasised.

The following article is informed by the following assumptions.

  • That the primary objective of public education is to promote and foster wholistic human development of the individual while understanding that human beings are fundamentally social animals.
  • That there should be a constant focus on understanding how we learn. How we learn is a question we should always keep asking and attempting to define. In this regard we need to ask who is asking and for whom? We know something about human cognition from a scientific point of view but there is increased interest in a holistic understanding of learning and teaching, and consequently that good personal relationships make a significant contribution to effective teaching and learning.
  • That ‘life long learning’ is an essential characteristic of human beings’ development. That education should be directed toward developing our capacities to educate each other and ourselves in the manner of the autodidact. It should not be seen in the negative sense of constant retraining to meet the changing demands of the corporate economic and political system.
  • The role of the teacher is then not to reproduce the next generation of ‘wage slaves’ ready to provide their labour power for the benefit of capitalists and their ‘enterprises’. We need to be able to critically appraise the prevailing industrial model and the corresponding transference of its ‘values’ into the public education system.
  • Standardisation through systemetised testing; terms such as value adding; line managers; classroom management are contrary to the previously stated aims of education in that they are management tools which have little to contribute to teachers’ pedagogical concerns or the social and emotional development of children and adolescents in the positive sense. overtly about building cooperative caring teams are an – language such as communities – communities of inquirers
  • That Citizenship – benign and abstracted from contemporary circumstances- for what a parliamentary democracy a participatory democracy? – what does empowerment, taking action, making a difference mean? Service charity etc
  • The Victorian Governments Blueprints for Victorian Government Schools, The Victorian Essential Learning Standards and the Principles of Learning and Teaching provide the framework for effective teachers, and teaching and learning. The Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority supports integrated and inquiry approaches that supports this holistic understanding of learning, education, and our purpose as teachers.
  • In addition to the Victorian Essential Learning Standards and the Principles of Teaching and Learning the approach provided within the series Primary Connections produced in collaboration with the Academy of Science: Linking Science with Literacy using the ‘5Es’ teaching and learning model; Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate, supports the understanding that we learn best when we are allowed to work out explanations for ourselves over time, through a variety of learning experiences structured by both learners and the teacher. Making sense and meaning of our experiences and connections between new information and our prior knowledge in relation to the natural and cultural worlds is the intention of this content framework.

Teaching is most rewarding when there are opportunities to provide for, and participate in learning experiences with students. Younger children particularly enjoy time in the garden when they are digging, collecting and sharing their observations with their peers and teachers. Older students can be more difficult to engage when they have not had the opportunity of these early playful foundational experiences.

My observations and experiences with children in such learning environments convince me that when we allow possibilities for exploration, experiment, observation and questions students generally become, and are, actively engaged in learning. A young third grade boy, unsettled and made anxious by his first two years of ‘schooling’ elsewhere, remarked to his mother, “It doesn’t feel like work because it is fun”. Described as experiential learning, this approach provides the means for serious but ‘playful’ engagement in the learning process and the childrens’ self-development and self-understanding as active learners with an emphasis on the social context. Emergent and integrated inquiry learning and teaching relies on an ongoing, evolving dialogue, a narrative constructed over time by the collective, or community of students and their teachers.

Accepting that knowledge is socially constructed means that purposeful, and meaningful engagement with ideas and concepts is only possible when they connected to, and are built out of our own experiences. If we accept that learning is the struggle for knowledge then we need to then accept that teachers need to provide a learning environment and situations that provide students’ with the possibilities, and the means, to construct knowledge for themselves. Because knowledge is socially produced childrens’ ideas become particularly meaningful when they are shared with others and have arisen out of common events and shared experiences.

Because knowledge is socially constructed and reconstructed the way we learn, and gain knowledge of the world does not change fundamentally as we progress from infant to adult. What does change is the degree of sophistication of our understanding of elements, processes, and the complexity of our conceptual descriptions. Our subjective commonsense, everyday beliefs and opinions are invalidated or validated as we seek to discriminate by finding evidence for objective judgments.

This is also the case for teachers’ professional development. Leading the evolution of a program that provided for students’ participation in a kitchen garden, and developed their appreciation and involvement in the surrounding natural environment, was key to fruitful and meaningful engagement with these learning process precisely because they were central and common experiences for both students and teachers.

Understanding teaching practice as an imagined continuum, as an evolving project, benefits from being alert to opportunities provided by the It has been through of an inquiry approach for the evolution of a student-centred, emergent, and integrated curriculum that evolved Given the many demands of classroom teachers’ time and other issues around ‘covering the curriculum’, careful attention must be given to building connections between concepts and activity in all these areas by demonstrating how they can be developed in an integrated way and arts program

An example of this was the evolution of my students’ mould project. During one of our forays into the garden we had plucked from it a very large squash. The children were amazed by its size and we set to weighing, measuring, drawing and writing about it. We had also noticed that the skin had been punctured. Over the following weeks we observed that mould had begun to grow over the puncture mark. The children continued to observe and record the changes that were taking place over time. Many weeks later our large squash had been reduced to a small, hard, and unrecognisable disc about the size of a fifty-cent piece. These observations provided no end of discussion and speculation. Questions and hypotheses abounded as we struggled for plausible explanations. This all lead to further mould experiments and back into the garden of course to discover even more about life within a compost bin.

For teachers’ creating interest in the mundane, everyday world, could at first appear uninteresting. However this story alerts us to what it actually means to ‘localise’ the curriculum, and as well provide meaningful learning that connects to, and builds on childrens’ experiences. The complexity of any curriculum framework can be made manageable by uncovering the interrelationship of knowledge and skills across the three strands and sixteen domains in regard to VELS. It is critical to appreciate that the development of any program that involves cultural change within a community takes time. It requires bringing everyone involved on the journey with you.

Understanding the intention of any curriculum framework as defined by education departments is an absolute given, but the significant challenge is the interpretation of that ‘abstract’ framework into one that is localised and gives meaning to the term authentic learning and teaching for both students and teachers.

A ‘localised curriculum’ must meet both the education department’s and the school community’s expectations. It is necessary to continually remind ourselves that the purpose of the teacher, and teaching, is primarily to provide opportunities for meaningful experiences, and carefully introduce and develop substantive content in an engaging way for students. It is difficult to improve teaching practice personally and generally when it is compromised by misinformed parental expectations, and demands to satisfy political and commercial agendas that have little to do with the welfare and education of students.

Negotiating the daily demands of creating a productive and engaging classroom program with the students’ involvement provides the educator with rich learning experiences too. My ongoing participation in subject associations, the Teacher Environment Network and the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools have all reinforced for me the evolving nature of the educational process for both students and educators, and the importance of collegiate teams and peer-to-peer learning in this regard.


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