the backward slide rant..

Lockdown is mostly done, the kids are going back to school. Now there are the inevitable conversations about the backward slide, all those gains that school makes in your kids have gone… 

This is wrong on so many levels:

The assumption is that what they learn at school is the stuff that counts. That life skills such as conversations with the people in your bubble, all that baking (I’ve personally done more cooking and altering recipes than factorising of equations, though maybe there is a cross over between cooking and factorising hmmm). I’ve seen so many more families out walking and biking than than we do on any weekend, people all working on their communication skills with the people who really care and the people you can take risks with as when you totally stuff up they will still love you. We’ve all been making do, doing stuff without that trip to where ever to pick up something, when the glue sticks are used up we turn to being creative with stuff so that they are no longer necessary. I am impressed at all the people trying new stuff, turning to the old ways, doing what their parents/grandparents had to do, like bread making, cooking from scratch, preserving, crafts, making cakes they’d usually buy. People are feeding others. These are life skills that actually help us with our actual lives. Is this the old problem of the economic worth of women’s’ work at home counting for nothing!

I was saddened when I heard a Principal of a low decile (low socio-economic group) high school berating the slide and that there would be children who won’t be coming back to school as they are leaving because they have jobs to help support their family. I have no doubt he wants the best for his students but these were people that have been with their family, seen what was needed and totally stepped up. That is awesome. It is what we should be doing, supporting our families. Considering that the ranks of unemployed is growing by the day I have the greatest respect for the kids leaving school to work and I feel we should be loudly lauding them. Our system is wrong. Why do we make out that school/learning/training has to be a straight line that can’t afford any backward slide? Just because you are helping your family out of necessity doesn’t mean that’s it for the rest of your life or that it will lead to nothing. Helping your your family is never nothing. Do schools still think that you get your job and it’s for life, you follow some foreordained linear progression? Isn’t it more important to have free access to education when you need it, when you realise it’s worth to you, when you are doing it because you want to? I spent years doing night classes, until the last government destroyed them with their users pay axe. I learnt skills I didn’t at school which I still use. There is also the assumption that you better your self by being a white collar middle class worker, that academic learning provided by schools is the best, higher pay, higher kudos way. We have not prioritised providing other pathways of learning like practical apprenticeships, relying instead on immigrants, contracting out such education to other countries and using these immigrants so the government can use them to also falsify “economic growth.” Employers use to treat workers as a valuable resource, training them up but now we have a “now” culture, Mc’Jobs, 0 hour contracts, and the gig economy. The Teachers refresher module I’m doing contains research showing the importance prioritising culture to reach Māori students, isn’t this is how we could by allowing a diversity of choices and prioritising family and cultural expectations about what to learn, when and how.

How can kids being at home following their own interests and desires, doing independent learning, learning how to learn, be a backward step? Self directed learners is what we want. We want people with a wide range of passions and interests ready for the modern world that doesn’t exist yet. I’ve never had to make myself learn the name of an artist I like, or even don’t like, or force myself to read about them. If I loved trigonometry it would be in my life, I’d have found a space for it. What we need to know is how to be open to learning, to know where to look, and to be self motivated, to have a myriad of experiences and this is what we are working on when we follow our own interests, when no one is telling us some other stuff is more important, devaluing what’s important to us. It is also in this way of being free to learn we learn what is culturally important within our multicultural society. I admit I have used the periodic table in pub quizzes but do I need to know it? No. It is important who chooses the what, maybe people don’t realise that the what and when (I did maths at school my Dad did at university) at schools is made up by someone in an office somewhere. 

What is it with wanting kids to leave school with certain bits of paper?  I assume that the paper means a standard, because I have this piece of paper I can do x. Or is it that the person knows how to use a rubric and has little understanding but regurgitated the right stuff at the right time under pressure? I think of this as part of the old white men problem, the men who hire the engineers, for example, want employees who have learnt the same stuff they did and will do things the same way. Those men who become the boss just can’t conceive an alternative way of learning stuff that isn’t by the rituals and hierarchical conventions that they suffered under… late hours (what family), right school etc. Innovation and creativity often happens when things that don’t usually come together do. We need to see the person not the paper.

Then there is our actual brain Rodrigo Quian Quiroga is a brain researcher, he says our brain is designed to forget stuff, it just sorts out the important bit, gets us to remember the deeper understanding, the why, the big idea and files/forgets the rest. He makes the point that if you forget it, backslide, you didn’t know it in that deeper understanding way anyway. I totally know this. I got 90 something percent in a stats course a mere 8 years ago, I even have a bit of paper to prove that I did. However I don’t remember the detail, I wish I did. Some of the useful probability stuff has remained, I knew the doctor telling me now I was 50 mammograms are more accurate isn’t reassuring because of some reason I’ll have to look up, but I know where, and who to ask.

I have been feeling somewhat blue about this amazing opportunity presented to us by lockdown, feeling that nothing would change then I heard Ragne Maxwell from Porirua College who actually talked to families and their kids and is questioning the education system- she found students like learning at their own pace, they like deciding what to learn, what time and where. They like having power. Their parents like this. She said what schools should be doing is enabling kids to be independent learners, learning without their teacher beside them… awesome, so like how life actually is. Her school is talking about actual individual learning plans, rather than curriculum delivery and suggesting University being open entry to give people the opportunity to prove themselves. Yay. 

It’s time to rise up and change things… 

Additional note, something has been festering in my mind about what I wrote above and I am angry that it is kids from lower socioeconomic areas, that are predominantly Māori and Pacific are the ones who are leaving to help their families, it’s their families who don’t have any financial security. Our racist, colonial, unequal society is just being high lighted once again.

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