The McDonaldization of Education: the rise of slow

Originally posted on Wright'sRoom:

5792035508_fb667bdb01_zSlow.  I love this word, and yet it tends to have many negative connotations  in education. Which is too bad because it’s the very philosophy we need to save our education system, and give kids the time and space necessary to grow into the thoughtful, articulate citizens we desperately need them t0 become.

The 20th Century is known for many things. It’s mass destruction. Statistics show we managed to destroy each other and plunder the planet at a rate unequal to any other time in history. At the same time, it was also a time of great exploration, innovation and technological advance. The exploration of space. The eradication of disabling and fatal diseases. Increased global awareness. Gaining at least some measure of equality for groups who are disenfranchised.

However, the thing that stands out most vividly is what Canadian journalist Carl Honore describes as “the cult of speed”.  Slow ways of life have largely…

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The whole picture

I found this excellent article from UKedchat about a school in Lancashire that sent every pupil in Year 6 an accompanying letter along with their Sat results.
Here is the text of the article with a photo of the letter below:

Feature: Lancashire School Celebrates the Whole Child
Posted on July 15, 2014 by @Chilledu in Feature, Slider

At this time of year, many primary schools in England start receiving their SATs results, sharing the scores with parents and pupils. Many teachers and leaders go straight to the analysis, number crunching the figures (RAISE / FFT etc!!!), worried about the impact of SATs, or the condemnation of OFSTED, should they spot any slip in the scores – thus concerns about standards falling. However, an inspiring Lancashire school has looked beyond this, writing a letter to each leaver celebrating the individual traits and strength of their pupils despite having high levels of test scores.

The letter (pictured below) reads…

..we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you – the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your best…the score you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.

So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.

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4 is too early for formal education

Yesterday I was at a 21st birthday lunch. There was a young father there with his little 4 year old daughter (whose birthday was coincidentally that day). The young man introduced his daughter and told me that she was starting primary school in September.

I found ot hard to believe that, in this  country,  children now start formal schooling at the age of 4.
I looked into this and found a really interesting article that presents the evidence for not starting formal learning until the age of seven.

The article is by David Whitbread of the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University. 

Because it  comes with a Creative Commons Share and acknowledge Licence,  I am sharing the main body of his text below.

I hope it helps to further the campaign against the madness of starting formal learning at so early an age as 4!

School starting age: the evidence

In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four. A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).

This is a brief review of the relevant research evidence which overwhelmingly supports a later start to formal education. This evidence relates to the contribution of playful experiences to children’s development as learners, and the consequences of starting formal learning at the age of four to five years of age

There are several strands of evidence which all point towards the importance of play in young children’s development, and the value of an extended period of playful learning before the start of formal schooling. These arise from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies. Anthropological studies of children’s play in extant hunter-gatherer societies, and evolutionary psychology studies of play in the young of other mammalian species, have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups. It enabled humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers. Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions.

In my own area of experimental and developmental psychology, studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretence play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development. Perhaps most worrying, a number of studies have documented the loss of play opportunities for children over the second half of the 20th century and demonstrated a clear link with increased indicators of stress and mental health problems.

Within educational research, a number of longitudinal studies have demonstrated superior academic, motivational and well-being outcomes for children who had attended child-initiated, play-based pre-school programmes. One particular study of 3,000 children across England, funded by the Department for Education themselves, showed that an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households.

Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later. In a separate study of reading achievement in 15 year olds across 55 countries, researchers showed that there was no significant association between reading achievement and school entry age.

This body of evidence raises important and serious questions concerning the direction of travel of early childhood education policy currently in England. In the interests of children’s academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously

Aaron Swartz: an American tragedy

Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup

Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was looking at a Facebook post yesterday from Scott Barry Kaufman: it was following his viewing of the documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” . Scott wrote:

If you haven’t watched this documentary about Aaron Swartz, I highly recommend that you do. It’s maddening how strongly the F.B.I. went after him, and the movie makes a lot of excellent points about the importance of academic freedom and the dissemination of scientific knowledge. I can’t remember the last time a movie made me cry, but I’m still wiping away tears thinking about the loss of this brilliant mind, and the insanity of the priorities of our criminal justice system.

I found that the film,in keeping with the open access to information that Aaron Swartz so brilliantly championed in his short but amazing lifetime, is free to view online on the “Internet Archive“. It can be found at the following address: https://archive.org/details/TheInternetsOwnBoyTheStoryOfAaronSwartz .

I watched the film and it did not make me cry. I had cried my tears for this remarkable young man when his suicide became an internet sensation. No, it made me angry that, as Lawrence Lessig states in the film, “a beautiful mind that still had so much to give to the campaign against political and commercial control of the web and the importance of the free availability of academic information, had left us so early. His hounding by the Federal Government and the State of Massachuesetts is beyond dispute, but the most unpleasant thing for so many of us who have always admired them, was the role in the prosecution (indeed some might say persecution) of Aaron Swartz by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.).

The film is an important one and needs to be seen by as many people as possible, which is why I felt the need to publicise it on my blog. It is the modern political history of the United States, it is about a young genius who died before he could contribute so much more to the world he loved and wanted to change. It is about the hounding by the “Old World” of a champion of the “New World” (as one of his girlfriends puts it in the film: “The Old World killed him!). In the end though it has the stuff of great fiction, it is, without doubt a modern American tragedy.

I shall end with the wonderful words of Sir Tim Berners Lee, standard bearer for the World to come and inventor of the World Wide Web, that he gave away free so as to encourage the free flow of information:

Aaron is dead.

Wanderers in this crazy world,
we have lost a mentor, a wise elder.

Hackers for right, we are one down,
we have lost one of our own.Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders,
parents all,
we have lost a child.Let us all weep.

 

14 John Wooden Leadership Qualities for Your Career

http://www.digitalsparkmarketing.com/employees/leader/john-wooden-leadership-qualities/

I have become a real admirer of the late, great basketball coach, John Wooden.

This man was probably the greatest coach in basketball history and arguably the greatest in all sporting history.

To get an idea of why this man was so great read this useful post about Wooden written for leaders.

I believe that Wooden’s ideas are important to all lifelong learners. The journey is the thing not the ultimate arrival. Along the way we need to fail and learn the valuable lessons of failure. We need to strive for personal progress and not be concerned with artificial barriers and instituted markers.

The idea that a coach leads by example and understanding and one-to-one connection to his charges is valuable to any leader in any context.

Don’t plan your life: explore your interests and passions

The 2014 Weinberg College of Midwestern University Commencement speech by Daniel Pink was a really good piece of advice for the graduates present. It was also something that I feel every student present and future can benefit from seeing.

Pink states that he took a Linguistics degree from Weinberg and people asked him the usual question, “what are you going to do with a Linguistics degree?”.

I have to say that I had much the same said to me when I did a Politics degree. “Are you going to become a politician?”

Pink states that the value of a degree is in the process not the content. He states that too many people go to University with a preset plan and they have their lives mapped out for them. Unfortunately, these people often fail to enjoy their careers or get to truly find the thing that expresses their true self.

My profession, teaching, is full of would-be’s. We are the artists that never were, the failed scientists, doctors and in my case, ironically, academics. There are too few who go into the profession because they want to really teach. I found it a haven after a failed attempt to become an accountant, which I knew would condemn me to a life of drudgery.

My reasons for “drifting in” to teaching are that I had a life plan that was disrupted by my inability to do exams. I now realise that I should have drifted, explored and tried a lot of things which may have led me to truly achieve what I feel I was capable of and maybe taken me to areas of experience that I would now be looking back on (from the vantage point of retirement) with feelings of gratitude and pleasure.

I would recommend Daniel Pink’s wise words to any future or present student who asks themselves the age-old question, “what career path should I take and what is the best degree for me?”

 

 

The cartoon that says it all

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I love the way that cartoons can capture the essence of a story. The above cartoon says all that needs to be said about the over-hyped World Cup in Brazil where very rich and mostly average-skilled footballers are able to parade their “talent” ( or lack of it) for the World’s media and enhance their commercial viability for selling perfumes, soft drinks or mobile phones.

In front of the stadium made from huge dollar bills lay  the ramshackle hospital and school. This is the reason for the protests you are not allowed to see. For the violence just down the road from the stadium that is brutally dealt with by the toughest policemen that can be used ( maybe they took lessons from China or Turkey).

The circus that is the Fifa World Cup will leave town. Many of the stadia will become unused white elephants. The ramshackle schools and hospitals will remain as the media moves on and the world forgets the real problems of poverty, crime and lack of education in Brazil.

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