Just listen to the teachers

21st February 2003 at 00:00
Antony Luby writes an open letter to Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, on the Scottish Executive's plans for enterprise education.

TOP tinkering about with names. Don't think about swamping teachers with "new" initiatives. Instead, listen to the thoughts and views of those who have wide experience of enterprise in the classroom; who are teaching in the classroom now; and who will have to devise the enterprising classrooms of the future.

Yes, it is important that "enterprise in education" helps to drive our future economies. But that is not the only role of education, and it is not the reason why I and the vast majority of teachers came into the classrooms. You will need to paint a bigger, broader picture, a vision no less, if you truly wish to enlist our support.

In times of rapid and complex change, business wants employees who are adaptable, motivated, skilled, and good at making decisions and undertaking new projects. Government wants an informed and committed citizenry who will espouse and practise democratic values. Education wants to get on with the business of learning and teaching, preferably with as little outside interference as possible. And the churches want a rich soil, a people who will respond to the Word when it is planted. Are all of these desires reconcilable? Well, yes, because the roots of reconciliation are already present.

In the 1980s, business and education worked in partnership under the umbrella of the technical and vocational education initiative (TVEI) and spawned initiatives such as "enterprise learning" and "flexible learning".

The wants of business were met as pupils displayed high levels of motivation and skilfully undertook new projects.

And the wants of education were also met as it proved to be the case that much of this good practice was already taking place in classrooms; primarily, it was a case of disseminating this good practice to other classrooms.

And what about the Government? Well, instead of further overburdening the curriculum with new subjects like values education and citizenship, it should look again at the values being developed by, for example, enterprise learning. As Schlechty pointed out in Schools for the Twenty-First Century, there is a direct link between a society's needs to cope with rapid and complex change and democratic virtues.

The good practice that the children learn while adopting an enterprising approach to their learning develops within them habits and dispositions that will enable them to become not only the type of employees sought by business but also the kind of democratic citizen envisaged by government.

And for education, this enterprise learning methodology has been developed within the classroom with relatively little outside interference.

But what do the churches get out of this? With an enterprise approach to learning, this daily practice of decision-making and having real responsibility develops habits and dispositions that are essentially moral in their character. And such moral practice is an excellent grounding for the development of Aristotelian "practical wisdom".

For the real bottom line is that education is a moral activity. Teachers make a host of moral decisions each day - what to teach, how to teach, how to organise the classroom. With enterprise learning, pupils take on some of this responsibility and find themselves having to learn how to make similar moral decisions.

A vision working in partnership for the common good may not be in the same league as "the lion lying down with the lamb", but it is a vision worthy of pursuit and not without hope of success.

Antony Luby teaches in the department of religious, moral and philosophical studies at Hazlehead Academy in Aberdeen.

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