Being an outsider

I think that there is something to being an outsider looking in and shaking your head with amazement that people on the inside just don’t get it.

Throughout history there have been so many examples of people with a vision who see their idea of something really clearly but find massive opposition from the “status quo”.

Sometimes these people get to partly come in from the outside and gain a sort of acceptance. As they age they have their books or talks lauded by a minority with some influence within the “establishment” and they gain a sort of acceptance for their ideas… but often this is more about rewards.. the “gongs” for long service and the standing ovations from the influential followers at some university on the margins of mass culture. There may be politicians in the audience who rise to their feet and applaud but go back to their daytime job and ignore the change that the visionary stands for.

In education there are a number of these people. There always have been. They see a vision of children being able to learn in a free way, of abolishing the oppression of tests and examinations, of having the chance for children to use the power of modern technology to really communicate, collaborate and learn. They state that our schools are like factories and in some cases they go further and say that our schools are like prisons. That children are oppressed within many schools and learn senseless nonsense that means nothing to them so that, as adults, they will not be able to remember a huge percentage of the work they spent hours in classrooms being “force fed”.

Sometimes these people are able to start their own movements and maybe their own schools. They collect a small band of followers and then they have the lucky children who are able to be the beneficiaries of their ideas. There is a school that is run along project based lines, where children have free access to technology and are encouraged to cooperate and learn and solve problems because these are skills that they will need when they are older. In these schools creativity is encouraged. There is a place for the arts and for music of all sorts…. there is challenge that comes from producing something that works, that moves us, that can change the world and is not just the answer to a statutory test or exam.

But these schools are the minority. We know that they exist on the margins of the main system that produces the firing of teachers because they have had a percentage slip in their children’s test results over  a period of time. These schools may seem like beacons, lights in the darkness of a system where the daylight is fading fast and where many see a descent into medieval ignorance and darkness that does not allow facts to be questioned.

So, when I consider my own feelings as I continue my learning journey I have to examine the fact that more and more I am joining the outsiders, the people marginalised by the majority  who just don’t get at what I’m trying to say about education. Strangely I find that I am enjoying being in this position because for maybe the first time in a long and largely unremarkable career in education I have crystallised my own philosophy of education.

It is strange that the first book that I read when I was training to be a teacher was “How Children Fail” by John Holt. At the time I found myself stirred by what he had to say about schools being the problem and not the solution (which is why he himself became such a powerful proponent of the “homeschool” movement). He also said that most children go through their schooling with fear as the most powerful emotion… fear of failure and fear of the consequences of not “towing the party line” as to what constitutes the information that they should know.

In some ways Holt was the example that I had in mind when I talked about being an outsider at the start of this post. He managed to convince many academics of the power of his ideas, he became accepted in a strange sort of way.There were the talks and the standing ovations, there are probably many small schools which are run with a freedom of curriculum that stems from his writings. Overall though he did not change the world and if he were alive today would no doubt be fighting against the iniquities of the “Race To The Top” and would be seeing too many children going through the same old system that he so detested and railed against.

My own career following the reading of his book was very conventional. I worked in secondary and primary schools and became slowly disenchanted with the centralisation of the curriculum in my country the United Kingdom. I saw the way that League Tables were introduced along with Ofsted to make sure that schools were getting higher and higher results that successive governments could parade as the way that education was now progressing towards “world class” status.

The children though I saw as showing the same fear that Holt had highlighted in his book. I saw that the curriculum was narrowing and that the arts were disappearing in favour of hours spent on “numeracy” and “literacy”. I did not speak out because in many ways I did not have a forum to do so. This blog and blogging in general has given me that chance. I am able to express my ideas and know that maybe, a few people (probably of like mind) will read them and sometimes, comment.

I am now aware that I have joined the minority on the outside looking in, that the education world is changing very very slowly and at this time for the bad. I do not expect that this post will be seen by thousands. It will receive no awards or standing ovations. I have enjoyed writing it though because it crystallises my thoughts and my philosophy… this is where I stand (for good or bad). an outsider and proud of it.


One thought on “Being an outsider

  1. Wow, great insightful post. I am an outsider. I believe in a better way. I’m not saying the current way isn’t great. I’m simply saying that it’s worth trying new ways to see how well they work. I guess that makes me a risk taker too?

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