Friday, February 09, 2007

the politicisation of education

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has just launched another attack on school curriculums, claiming some contain "incomprehensible sludge"
Only months after Education Minister Julie Bishop infamously claimed school curriculums were "straight from Chairman Mao", the Prime Minister used yesterday's launch of conservative education consultant Kevin Donnelly's book, Dumbing Down, to lob another salvo in the schools' culture wars
- Howard attacks 'fad' schooling
I have to agree that SACSA is incomprehensible sludge and just about a total waste of teachers time

Education is becoming very politicised and clearly Howard sees votes in it in the next election

I know plenty of science teachers who want to stand up the front and teach hard science and are frustrated at attempts to soften the curriculum, to make it more fun. They see this as "watering down"

This back to basics approach feeds off a sort of fuzzy progressivism. For example, read this post, Let Loose the Racoons: Student Engagement Yesterday and Today and the comments at arti's blog. In response to arti's critique of bureaucratic waffle about "engagement", "rich and authentic”, "student inquiry" and "authentic contexts" there was raised in the comments other approaches to science education that were innovative and which did work.

I don't agree with back to basics as promoted by PM Howard because it reinforces an instructionist approach to teaching which just doesn't work very well because it is clueless about how people learn.

On the other hand, I know other teachers, usually on the humanities side, who are making heroic attempts to introduce life long learning skills into their classrooms, for example, by focusing on the 16 Habits of Mind. I think these approaches are great and need to be explored further. And they need to be extended more into science and maths education in ways that work.

New, innovative approaches are complicated and don't always work the first time around. Sure, teachers who are trying them out ought to be accountable in some way. But then they also ought to be encouraged and not intimidated by our bellicose PM on the campaign trail.

Somewhere in between the back to basics movement and the fuzzy, poorly thought out discovery learning there are ways in which students can be engaged with rigour. It's what Papert called "hard fun" in the logo days (still a great concept) and it's what those who blog about education today are trying to figure out.

It's hard in this contested and increasingly politicised environment to be heard. The real progressives will have to speak up!

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