Saturday, October 17, 2009

radical hope: education and equality in australia

Radical Hope: Education and Equality in Australia
It's in the latest Quarterly Essay ($17). It's over 100pp, they have just one big essay per issue.

It's a must read IMO. I'll try to explain why.

The genres are: education - learning theory - politics - social class - philosophy(dialectics) - disadvantage - indigenous australians - history

Although Pearson is an aboriginal activist and theoretician this is more an essay about social class than an essay about culture and race issues. Pearson does discuss the latter at some length and his essay is much enriched through that discussion, but the crunch issues focus around social class.

From a young age I've had the belief that schools and school systems are well constructed shipwrecks designed to select the best swimmers. That education is a subset of social class and that education alone can not overthrow social class.

The purpose of education is production and reproduction. Production is churning out the next generation of capitalists and workers, from elite to low skilled jobs. Reproduction is the reproduction and legitimisation of our existing class structure.

This truth is reflected in public Schools by techniques for managing but not educating the bottom 25% of students. It is also reflected in Society by our division between elite fee paying Private Schools and Public Schools and in many other ways. Teachers in Australia have a relatively low social status, poor working conditions / pay compared to other professionals and hence more often than not teaching does not attract high performing graduates.

But, although social class is the bottom line here, none of the above is set in stone because capitalism is a dynamic system that continually generates new ideas, knowledge and new forms of activism to tackle inequality.

One aspect of Pearson's essay is that it does provide a good summary and discussion of methods used in the USA (Charters, Teach for America, KIPP, The New Teacher Project, Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein etc.) which has had more diverse approaches to educational reform than Australia

In this context Noel Pearson is a deep analytical thinker and pragmatic activist who is doing his best to raise up aboriginal Australians who have been treated so badly. He understands all the above but still tackles with insight and determination the most intractable of problems.

What policies and methods might be successful in achieving good educational outcomes for the mass of indigenous Australians?

He advocates a "No Excuses" approach combined with the methods developed by Siegfried Engelmann (Direct Instruction) and Kevin Whedall (MULTILIT). He has also been influential in the formation of Teach for Australia.

Pearson's superficial critics label him as a Rightist. Pearson analyses this phenomenon as well. Why is it that the middle class humanistic Left comes up with solutions to our worst social problems that make things even worse?

Education is not Pearson's primary field of expertise. There are other alternative educational approaches he does not mention and perhaps has not analysed. For instance, there is no mention of Piaget, Papert, Bruner, Alan Kay or Liping Ma.

One crucial point here is the need to scale basic educational reform, meaning basic numeracy and literacy. The methods advocated by the authors in the previous paragraph require highly skilled educators.

Pearson is not prepared to wait around for one or several generations waiting until we train up skilled teachers to go to remote rural locations. He agrees that teacher quality is the central issue for education reform (p.39) but he is looking beyond that truth to what can be done now to improve education for those who have missed out.

This is an essay which I would like to discuss more with those who have read it and thought about it.

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