October 24, 2005

Teaching in an institution

AJ, JH, Aaron, have all posted recently about the restrictions and dilemmas that inevitably result (it seems) when passionate teachers, who are genuinely interested in learning and teaching, and in their students' progress work in an institution of higher learning. I've been thinking about why this should be, and while I don't have clear answers yet, I want to try and tie together some of the loose threads generated in my mind by AJ, Aaron, JH and several others.

The obvious answer (as in to the question "why this conflict?", not as in a "solution"), is that educational institutions are not geared primarily towards learning, but towards accreditation, supporting the corporatist purposes of the state by providing a labour pool for industry and commerce. In other words, they have a different agenda. If you look at the history of the development of schools since the 18th century, you see that they were essentially created (or adapted from the existing system, if that's not too big a word for what existed then) to create a labour force for the rapidly growing industries and urban centres of the Industrial Revolution.

Schools are created to be convenient to manage, and to be economically viable. Brian McVeigh takes the lid off higher education institutions in Japan, suggesting that it is a myth that these places are primarily concerned with education.
John Taylor Gatto points to the real reasons why schools were created (as if we didn't know). (Talk about someone examining their own beliefs and sacred cows, check this out: Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. My license certifies me as an instructor of English language and literature, but that isn't what I do at all. What I teach is school, and I win awards doing it.
John Holt kept a fascinating diary while he taught maths in a private elementary school in the US. It clearly shows his frustrations with how institutions create a mindset in children which he saw as so antithetical to real learning that he eventually gave up trying to change schools, and instead focused on home schooling.


JH said...

I may have written this before but the metaphor a factory taking raw material and making a nice modern product out of it reflects how institutions view their students. I think that we need to help students realize that although there might be a lot they don't know about yet, nobody knows everything and that they are much more than just raw material.

aaron said...

Accreditation seems to be the focus for most. I don't think that will change in education until society becomes more accepting of alternative methods. Perhaps the e-portfolio approach would be more indicative of a student's achievements than a GPA or the stamp of an institution? In terms of creating opportunties, it's what matters in the "real-world" right? What you have done and what you can do?