As we languish in our banishment as trustees, it remains for us to continue to work for the schools in any way we can by other means. I spent 7 years at the table and the one thing I did unfailingly was to write a diary of each meeting and torment everyone on my vast email list with its rantings. Now I can find material which addresses literally every element of the drama of public education which with a bit of spit and polish can be selected as excerpts and why not.
I know the BC Ed Plan with all the various incarnations, its hour come round at last, slouches towards our schools to be born (grave apologies to WB Yeats) and we have had considerable opportunities to learn absolutely nothing about it offered to us by experts in this province. It started as rambling nonsense about 21st Century Learning as if we needed to be reminded which millennium we occupy.
This is a section out of my Diary of a Mad Trustee/ September 21st 2011
The opening scene of the first chapter of the novel ‘Brave New World’ is set at the “Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre”, a sterile factory which produces human beings and prepares them for their future roles in the World State. “Community, Identity, Stability” is the World State’s motto. I bet if the fictional people in this novel had bothered to ask what that was all about they would have gotten the same power point cha cha we have received within the hallowed halls of public education regarding ‘21st Century Learning.’
The role of the 21st Century design being promoted in BC is as follows – continue to pull back public funding, end elected oversight, privatise the care of facilities, rubbish unions ; the vision – convince the business sector education can -with a bit of skilled slight of hand- bestow both profit and a suitable workforce. We just have to embrace rampant self-interest, cut the problem students loose, ratchet down working conditions and give up on our obligations to equality and democracy. When you can easily craft another initiative to avoid doing the obvious- why fund our public system so it can provide learning in a quality environment with everyone getting what they need?
‘Competition’ is the slogan and as always will function to strangle liberal education without remorse. Evidently, our schools are not turning out enough narcissistic sociopaths to satisfy employers. No one wants our communities littered with human beings fundamentally hobbled by their lack of drive and competitiveness, their incapacity for pushing past others. If there is a ‘concern about competitiveness’ we are not told who is concerned or why. Families are urged to respond to the current lack of equal opportunity by turning on each other in a battle royale for the crumbs which remain.
For all future purposes when translating 21st Century lingo into English, the term ‘modernise’ will heretofore be code for ‘job training’ because god knows there is not a moment of childhood to waste in seeking wisdom, culture or civic concepts.
I suppose the whiz kids who dreamt this up said unto themselves over panini – “We will create a cultish program which can be recognised as mysteriously similar to practices already in play, give it all a silly name calculated to intimidate people by sounding terribly modern so no one will want to look like a reactionary and then use it to further cut the crap out of the schools”.
And so they did.
For entirely legitimate reasons, this has created some worry since no one from our educational leaders right down to the shop floor seems to have a clue what it all means. Even to this day, the premise remains largely undefined and certainly, we have no real idea what the government intends practically speaking. Of course, if they are holding to type there is no good news here. Trustees, teachers and parents have asked, as specifically as they can, the questions which should have led to careful explanations but to little avail.
Evidently, the ministry has consulted widely with the school community but no one in Cowichan appears to have been asked for an opinion. But in the real world how can you ask anyone their views on something about which you have provided no details?
Still I am reliably informed though we do not have any clear idea what is being expected of our districts and our schools in light of this new model, we are now in fact situated in Year One of its implementation here in Cowichan. Even at this meeting, there was a grim sense of black comedy at this revelation. Year One of something which resembles something else no one has any idea about but we are already doing it anyway so not to worry. I am worried and my guess is so are you.
Still amid the swirl, we find some hints apart from some coy yet alarming language. The BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) staged a conference last fall in Victoria which as always included carefully chosen principals, trustees, teachers and students entitled ‘Personalised Learning for the 21st Century: From Vision to Action.’
I am sure the discussion was wide ranging but the speakers welcomed to direct the central session of the conference figure prominently in something called the Innovation Unit from the UK. The aims of this organisation focus on pioneering methods to provide public services at reduced costs. While most of us are not tilted towards opposing ‘innovation’ we could be forgiven for wondering exactly what this means when it comes to our schools.
Since the ideologues in our midst have refused to supply direct talk on the intention of this new wave of education, it falls to anyone with a laptop and some spare time to define some of the lingo they have substituted for plain language and authentic conversation. Nature hates a vacuum though clearly nature doesn’t have a house full of cats.
So here goes…
“Teacher Excellence”- A condition which can only be achieved by decertifying the union and stripping said teachers of every charter right they have. That’ll beat the excellence into ‘em…
“Power Of Informal Learning”- Kids do much better in the absence of confining and old fashioned concepts of schooling like teachers, resources, buildings.
“Lifelong Learning Journey”- You will be made redundant so many times your head will spin so you must have a back up plan and a hairnet.
“Performance Culture” – Ratting out your family and colleagues for not measuring up to a unilateral standard no thinking person could agree with if they actually knew what it was.
“Personalised Learning” – You are on your own, Skippy!
“Opportunities For Education” – Assuming your only goal is to plan your own high levels of exploitation.
“Open Data”- Access to material not normally considered useful or informative.
“Accelerating Technological Change”- Making private firms who market incomprehensible software and endlessly out of date hardware as rich as Croesus.
“Holistic Transformation”- Transforming our schools into holes.
“Hands On Learning” -Here is a stick – now go play in the mud.
“Flexibility”- Being able to bend over far enough to hold your ankles.
“Consultation” – Giving the peasants a chance to vent after the authorities have already made the decisions.
There are things far more important to address besides putting a fresh false face on our approaches to educating our kids.
We need 21st Century Poverty Eradication; 21st Century Democracy; 21st Century Labour/Management Relations; 21st Century Full Cost Accounting and we need those now and far more than some Houdini exercise in sleight of hand to keep us sweet while our schools shrivel away.
When I was a kid I knew despite my fervent hopes, we would not have flying cars by the 21st century but I would never have guessed our fearless leaders would be wasting our time trying to cheat us out of the public education system our forbearers envisioned and fought for.
There is every reason to sit as citizens and craft better learning environments. Our children and the people who teach them deserve the best. However, these days the only element up for debate in the public realm is a conversation about cutting costs. The needs of our schools are not relevant in this discourse.
When it comes to 21st Century Learning, the only relevant goal is brainwashing us into believing our hopes and dreams are unrealistic and the grown up solutions can be found in finding ways to provide our kids with an education which will not disturb the fiscal priorities of commerce.
It is not ‘brave’; it is not ‘new’.
It is an empty hostile gesture indifferent to our kids and their well being.
Your Trustee Pal in Exile
These two links will put you in touch with some of the power point patter.
If some of this does not keep you awake in a cold sweat, I will be surprised.
I welcome your analysis.
Scroll Down for the Fall 2010 conference material
Click on Summer Leadership Academy presentation
Deputy Minister of Education, James Gorman