January 09, 2006

Worldviews

There were some interesting comments to David Warlick's post in which he quoted a comment of mine.

We all have a worldview. This worldview creates its own blinkers. In other words, our worldview has to make sense and for it to make sense it has to exclude, filter out, facts or realities that conflict with that worldview.

A worldview that says teachers' roles are to prepare students for the future, which says that that future is all about survival and competition, must necessarily exclude certain realities. One excluded reality is birth; another is death! To this worldview, these realities are anomalies, irrelevancies, they get in the way, they cannot be explained by the worldview, and therefore tend to be ignored. A further reality that tends to be ignored in such a worldview is, as I mentioned in my comment, handicapped people. In "survival of the fittest", handicapped people are an unfortunate anomaly, except to the extent they can be trained to become productive citizens, helping to keep the nation competitive in the world market. Eugenics is an extreme example of such a worldview.

But let's examine this reality for a moment. Handicapped people are alive, they were born, one day they will die, and in that time in between they want to have fun, just like the rest of us. For some of them, like for my Downs Syndrome daughter, they are incapable of comprehending the worldview of survival of the fittest, of competition; my daughter has only a vague grasp of "tomorrow", and certainly cannot yet understand that if today is the 9th, then the 12th will be in 3 days' time. For her, everything future is "tomorrow". For such a person, what value a university education? Of "being a productive citizen"?

My daughter has a blast every day. I want a world that allows her to continue to enjoy herself every day, for as long as she may live.

A good friend of mine once told me about a documentary he saw about a completely paralyzed young girl, able to move only her eyes. Her parents had built a special machine that allowed her to "type" messages by moving her eyes. She had been in this condition since birth. My friend was just overwhelmed with the sadness of this girl's situation and that of her parents. What a life! Yet when this girl was asked, "How do you feel?" she replied, "I am very happy." The conclusion my friend drew was that even this girl had been given her share of joy, just like everyone else; the ability to enjoy, to appreciate. As far as this was concerned, there was no disability.

Of course, I bear in mind the skills, the education, the "competition" perhaps, that was required to build the machine that allowed this girl to communicate. All I am saying is that a worldview should be as realistic as possible, and not conveniently exclude elements that don't seem to fit that view. If elements don't fit, the worldview needs to be changed, not the other way around.

Further questions beg to be asked, such as "productive" from whose point of view? Preparing for whose future? For whose vision of the future?

Readers of this blog are no doubt sick of hearing me quote Gatto, but I do recommend his book, particularly to those who are questioning the role of school or their own role in school. He makes a cogent argument: that if schools could be improved, to truly help prepare young people for the future, the improvements would have been made by now. School are already designed to prepare young people for the future. The difficulty or misunderstanding arises over whose or which concept of the future we are talking about. To understand this better, I think it helps to know the history of how compulsory schooling was introduced.

2 comments:

Artichoke said...

Gatto and Illich help me make sense of that black comedy that is teaching and learning - I will never, never get sick of reading interpretations of their significance in education.

Your comments about an education system that meets the need of all learners including those with for example Down's Syndrome capture mine today - I attended a requiem mass for the 13yo son of a friend this week - much of the service focused on the gifts of identity, connection and understanding he brought to our lives - I don't feel so comfortable about the gifts our education system brought to his.

Graham Wegner said...

I hear what you are saying in regards to kids with specific learning needs, my oldest son has a learning disability (I'd rather not say specifically what in a public forum)and he is definitely not future driven or aware of where he is going in life. However, I am confident that the Australian public education system will customise the curriculum appropriately. Some of the greatest thinkers, inventors who contributed amazing things to our world of technology and science have been people who the mainstream have not seen as important. The "survival of the fittest" is the poorest way an education system can be structured. I think a better analogy (especially where kids with special needs are involved) would be an ecosystem where every piece plays its part and every learner has a role and contribution to make. Sorry if that sounds a bit sappy. Keep the good work on your blog - your posts challenge me daily.