Fireworks on Facebook

24th January 2014 at 00:00

If you want to give yourself something to think about, do a Google search for "Rocketship Charter School". I had been going to start this piece with "If you want to give yourself a serious case of the willies ... " but you should make up your own mind.

Based in the US, Rocketship schools pay their teachers slightly above average wages. However, they have a slightly lower than average number of teachers. This is because, for part of the school day, 100 kids at a time spend 100 minutes in a Learning Lab - a huge room with computers that run learning games - and are supervised by people earning something akin to the UK minimum wage. I came across this on social media in what was probably a biased report, but I reposted it anyway.

A US-based, British-born friend responded to my post saying the article illustrated that the US public education system was about turning out unthinking drones.

I made a conscious decision to take offence at this on behalf of teachers in US publicly funded education, despite not knowing anything much about the system. I did this partly because that's what Facebook is for, but it did go deeper. I'm happy to generalise myself, but I don't like it when someone else's generalisation swoops close to home. Therefore, I always counter posts about the police being the army of the state with the story of my brother and his colleagues having to rehearse being fire-bombed prior to the Gleneagles G8. (As it transpired, no police officers were killed at that summit, although George W did run one down on his bike.)

Back to education. My problem with the "drone" comment was that it implied complicity by the teachers. My friend and I back-and-forthed a bit. Unlike me, he knew some American teachers and found them frustrated at having to teach to the test at the expense of creativity. Feeling guilty, I thought back to my own teaching.

There were many times when I probably gave students the impression that the SQA was a faceless, impersonal entity, uncaring in its application of marking rules. We had to spend a bit of time learning how to play their game at the expense of getting down with the physics. "If you write down the formula, stick in the figures and find you can't do the calculation, make up an answer and stick in the units," I'd say. "They can only take off half a mark if you do that." No drones coming out of my class, then.

Even so, I don't believe that our Scottish education system sets out to produce unthinking, compliant employer-fodder. I do hold with Einstein's comment that not everything that is important is measurable, and not everything that is measurable is important. But some things that are important can be measured and some things that can't be measured aren't important.

Time to hit Facebook with some half-baked ideas about the difference between creativity and self-expression.

Gregor Steele is a head of section at the Scottish Schools Education Centre.

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