Teaching Our Kids To Think For Themselves

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Janine Rees 8th September 2016

With so much information available via the World Wide Web, now more than ever, we need an education system that encourages our children to think for themselves. We have expert advice coming from every corner of the world and we often take information at face value without fully knowing the entirety of said expert’s level of psychopathy. Everyone is an expert these days. I love going to the beach- it doesn’t make me an oceanographer.

One of the gurus in Education at the moment is John Hattie. Hattie has many years of experience in educational research, he is highly regarded and seems like a lovely fellow. Some of his findings I agree with and others I disagree with. The system that I taught in took on Hattie’s research and book, “Visible Learning” with gusto; spending bucket loads of money in-servicing teachers on reconfigured information that many already know (once again).

One of Hattie’s findings is that class size has minimal effect on learning outcomes. Well we know that an inadequate teacher is an inadequate teacher no matter how many kids there are in the class but they are going to be more inadequate with a larger class and less time per student. This is where we throw common sense out the window and big systems get to tell parents… it actually doesn’t matter that your child is in a class of 32 students with one teacher, because Hattie tells us that class size doesn’t matter! This is exactly what my daughter’s principal said to me when I questioned the large class of 32 students she was placed in for years 5 and 6. Luckily she had experienced, excellent teachers for those two years, but I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be them having to try to cater to 32 students. I’m fairly sure it is against every guideline that we have in Queensland as well to have such a large class with many and varied needs.

We teachers know from experience that a class of 22 has a much better year than a class of 32. It is just common sense that the teacher will have more time for each child in a smaller class and any good teacher will tell you it is the teacher student relationship that makes all the difference. When you don’t have the time to get to know the students you are always on the back foot.

I watched the recent series “Revolution School” and was utterly disappointed. It was a giant Hattie advertisement. Some gains were made when teachers evaluated their performance, but isn’t that what all good teachers constantly do? Well they try to, when they have the time, after implementing the grossly overcrowded, dry curriculum. How about something really revolutionary like redesigning classrooms for the 21st Century? What about redirecting teachers as mentors and facilitators of student directed learning? What about having students aligned with teachers akin to their passions and strengths that become as close as a family member?  Likeminded adults to be there for them throughout their schooling experience.

I’m sure we all have that one teacher who understood us and changed our lives, imagine having them follow you and support you throughout your primary or secondary schooling. Most primary school students change teachers yearly, some will have two or more teachers throughout the year depending on leave and other issues. It takes a term to get to know your students depending on class size, so that’s seven wasted terms in the average primary school child’s life, or seventy weeks! What could you learn in seventy weeks???

As teachers we are spoon feeding our students a one-size-fits-all curriculum; all year 3 students learn the same content, all year 7 are fed the same content, whether or not they’re already all over that content or are nowhere near ready for that content. It is information in, information out for the purpose of assessment and ranking. Children regurgitate information and then are graded on a 5 point scale on their regurgitation abilities. The experts tell us this is what we must do to keep up in the world education market.

Teachers know they are damaging students but if they want to keep their jobs they can do nothing, their hands are tied. Is it all just a money making scheme? We know that the education industry is big business, a lot of people are making good money out of our kids. NAPLAN tests alone and all the practice tests that schools and parents buy to train their kids to succeed at taking tests make good money. We teachers can tell you it is certainly not us making the big bucks!

With so many sources of information available today, thanks to the internet, we need to teach our children to think critically, to think for themselves.  The implementation of the national curriculum, I believe, takes us further from this outcome than ever before. So for the moment parents its up to you! If you must have your child in the current mainstream education system please explain to them that there are many ways to learn and there is so much beautiful learning to be done that one life time is not enough. Maybe it would be worthwhile discussing what a cog in the corporate wheel might look like. Show them how to play the game whilst still teaching them to think for themselves and follow their passions.

At the moment students are at the mercy of their teachers, teachers are at the mercy of the principal. Principals are at the mercy of the system in which they work, and all are at the mercy of the professional politicians whom, it seems, often do not have the students best interests at heart.

Teach your kids that it is unfair, it’s not right, that throughout history good people have given their lives to fight the good fight for what is right and just. Teach them that’s how it is at the moment but there are many like minded people trying to change things for the better. People who are inspired by doing what is right and not inspired by their hip pockets or narcissistic power trips. Teach them that there is strength in numbers and that it is important to speak out and stand up for what is good and true. Teachers and parents can get behind groups like Protecting Childhood or start their own petitions in their schools and communities. What greater gift could you give your child than teaching them to think for themselves!

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