I HATED school (Part 1: What's the point anyway?)

Fortunately, things have changed​

I hated school.

You can ask my parents, my kindergarten teacher, the school secretary and anyone who knew me. I used to cling to my parents' each day at the school gates while the office lady pried my raging arms off my dad's legs. I refused to go inside the building, i didn't understand the point of going, and found no satisfaction from being there.

I used to think Horace Mann messed us all over with his so-called "public education reforms" and belief that education was for everyone.

Did you really know who Horace Mann was? Yes. As a kid my parents told me to complain to the person who started "school", so I looked up who to blame, only to find that he'd been dead for 130 years.

"Useless endeavour", I thought to myself.

"If only I could have been born before Horace Mann", I would say, "then I wouldn't have to put up with all this all-kids-go-to-school mumbo-jumbo. Back then I could have just been a commoner with no right to education and could happily sleep in, play with the dog, wreck my brother's Transformers (sorry) and build my Brio train set. Yeah, that would be the life!"

The lack of logic and timing of those inventions didn't resonate with the seven-year-old me. Photo of Horace Mann, pictured above, by Southworth & Hawes; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9521026

Fast-forward 25 years

Fortunately for everyone (society, my parents, the school secretary), my views on education have come around and I now see extraordinary value in it (when it is delivered well). But it took awhile. It took me finding areas of interest in what I was learning, being a part of sports teams, having the freedom to work with others and create videos, books, articles that helped bring laughter and joy to others. It took me, venturing on a journey of confidence, self-and-spiritual-discovery, to find real joy, value and purpose in being in school. And how many people ever discover that? It's a good question; one worth asking.

I’ve recently been challenged on a long-held belief about the purpose of school. I’ve traditionally (and yes, very recently) said something like this:

The point of school is to create independent, successful learners who can enter and happily contribute to society.

Sounds good, right?

I thought so too…

But then I came across this:

Chris Watkins’ Three Ways of Viewing Classrooms

A good friend and colleague introduced me to a new way of thinking that was not just about me performing well as a teacher or creating independent learners. In this simple three-column document, Chris Watkins (http://www.chriswatkins.net/) breaks down three different ways in which teachers view classroom learning which directly influences how they teach and view students. In future weeks I’ll look into these in greater depth as I understand it, but today is just an introduction.

First way (first column) Learning is being taught something by an expert (teacher-led)- this is a traditionally held view of education and one that can be summarised as teacher-led learning. In teacher-led learning, all learning is created by, delivered by, assessed by, and monitored by the teacher because they are the experts. The teacher is "the fount of all knowledge". There are few shared duties in teacher-led learning unless the teacher has directed it him/herself. In most traditional subjects, this is likely how we were taught growing up.

Second Way (second column)

Learning is individual sense making (teaching independence)- this is the belief I used to hold. I thought that if I understood something well enough and I could tell others about it, explain it, and talk about it with conviction I will have learnt something well. In this way of viewing classrooms, teachers know their students well and create meaningful learning experience where students can thrive, succeed and achieve.

Third Way (third column)

Learning is creating knowledge as part of doing things with others (collaboration)- this to me is a social learning model that essentially says “We learn more by doing things with our friends because the reward of completing an objective is actually in the process it took for us to reach it. The reward is in doing things with others and what we have learnt as a result. This reward also comes from being praised by our peers. In a classroom context this means that kids would rather get praise from their friends than the middle-aged teacher (as cool as I think I am, this is likely true)!

Now what?

Let me say that I believe each of these ways of viewing classrooms is valuable. There is a place for each in a school and classroom environment, particularly where new skills can be be modelled by the teacher prior to being mastered by the student. However, I now believe the goal for school, life and preparation for the real world must be to help all of our kids acquire the skills necessary to live and thrive in a society that puts increasing value on inter-dependence and collaboration.

There are, of course, barriers to this which we'll look at over the next few weeks but, for now, what do you think? Which of these three do you see your views aligning most with as a parent, teacher, or general curious reader? I’m going to go into each a bit more over the next few weeks and explain some benefits and drawbacks I see with each, but I first wanted to put this out there this week to see if it has challenged any of our notions of the point of school!

Until next week…