There are those who argue that teaching is about measurable outcomes — numbers to record: credits earned, percentages of students who pass, results on provincial and international standardised tests. Or teaching is about a different kind of numbers: costs per square foot to operate the facilities, costs per student for textbooks and supplies, costs to upgrade technology, costs of salaries. Whichever set of measures anyone uses, the bottom line is, it is suggested, that taxpayers demand value for their tax dollars. They want the biggest bang for their buck. They, we are lead to believe, want bankable objectives — new cadillacs for the cost of used VW bugs.
From my standpoint, as a retired teacher, I could generate my own set of measures that would reduce my career to statistics only: 21 years spent as a student, four university degrees, five subject certifications, training in three different divisions and in four subject areas, coaching for 25 years, teaching for 33 years for three different school boards in three different schools and under ten different principals, teaching about 5400 students. The bare bones, dry statistics of a teacher’s career. But these statistics lose sight of the life and energy of all my time spent in education.
Reducing education to numbers and statistics loses the human element. Education is not about numbers. It is about people. Teaching is not about how much stuff I can cram into any student’s brain. It is about how I can help my students learn to find answers when they need them, use information to craft relevant solutions, learn how to work with others, learn how to trust themselves, develop the self-confidence to know that they are able.
To reduce our educational system to one of rewards for success and punishments for not meeting ‘the standards’, of rules and dogma about expectations deadens the entire process. Lauding the business model of tally sheets, expectations, rewards and punishment, winning and losing as the model for education locks education into a model which no longer serves our world. The educational system as it is now prepares our students to live their lives designed to match some ‘expert’s’ vision of what they should know, want, do, and be capable of. Picture it — teachers unquestioningly replicating what they experienced as students and the beliefs, values, and attitudes which the existing system promotes as useful and necessary about what is taught and what our students are capable of learning. It all seems Chaplin-esque – automatons doing the same thing and in the same way every day. Assembly-line education.
Knowledge grows exponentially. Education — learning — is a quantum experience where change is often instantaneous not merely incremental. Education and learning are alive and energetic, buoyant and vibrant with possibility. They become more even as they happen. Each educational event and experience immediately changes what will follow it. Either our students learn how to find out what they seek to know, assimilate and accommodate new information, and create new knowledge or learning will grind to a halt burdened by its own dead weight.
Unless we choose, with intention, to nurture education to become more than it has been, it will continue to be shaped and limited by the values, beliefs and attitudes of preceding generations. If that remains the case, we will condemn out students, and by extension our world, to surrender who they are capable of becoming.