Unspontaneous Spontaneity

Throughout the open plan workspace you could hear a pin drop. Every head was bowed studiously over their desks, the only sounds the clacking of keyboards, phone calls or the shuffling of papers. As the clock clicked on to the hour a bell sounded. At that moment, all the workers simultaneously stood up from their desks and rushed to move around.

Some crowded in to the pantry, all trying to get themselves a beverage in a big rush. Others stood around in clusters, sharing a joke, chatting in hurried voices. A few went outside and ran around a bit. All too soon, the electronic buzz of the bell sounded again. Every conversation stopped, the pantry emptied with many left disappointed that they never got the drink they had been looking for. Those outside quickly rushed back in and sat down at their desks, a bit hot, sweaty and out of breath. All the heads bow down and immediately get back to work under the domineering scrutiny of the supervisor.

Sounds like a scene from 1984, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World? Or, just another day of unnatural experiences for children in schools? We’ve become so habituated to the ritualised habits of our schools that sometimes it’s considered radical when someone changes even the smallest factor. This was my first thought when I read the following article:

KQED News – Mindshift – More Playtime

The radical idea here is schools moving from one daily recess/ playtime period of 20 minutes to four 15 minute periods and the positive benefits for the children in terms of better concentration, focus and academic progress.

Well, the first thing is I’m completely unsurprised by the positive benefits. here has been so much work and research that has shown positive benefits of physical movement for concentration in schools with positive benefits on behaviour and all sorts of other issues. I recall reading some time ago of Japanese schools that basically took a short recess after every class!

However, my stronger thought is whether this is still a change that stays too rigidly within dogmatic adherence to practices that are a poor reflection of the real world that our children will grow into. As adults, we break off from our work when we need to, when it helps our concentration, fits with the natural flow of the work and is consistent with deadlines and the volume of work we need to get done. So far, during the writing of this article, I’ve got up from my seat and gone off to do other things twice – once to get a cup of coffee. There was also one other stop when i didn’t leave the chair, but checked a mail that came through that I had been waiting for.

Yet, I believe if we had learned these habits constructively as children in school, we could be evn better at them. There are times when we ought to take breaks but don’t. We feel that becaue there’s a deadline on our work and we need to get through a certain volume we will be guilty of slacking if we get up and walk away. however, all too often, that brief trip away from the work would lead to more (not less) work and of a better, ore creative and mentally effective quality.

What if we taught children in school to take breaks in their work in more natural and effective ways? What if we changed the whole relationship with time by breaking down the ‘batch processing, factory model’? Courageous educators need to be ready to re-explore our relationship with time and control in schools.

Right, time to end this piece of work. I’m off to do something physical, responding to the messages of my body.

Society or Education – Which to Change First?

I’ve shared a number of articles in the past about the ways in which modern education is failing to rid itself of the ‘industrial model’ mindset, with the result that it is poorly serving today’s young people who need to be equipped with very different skills and competencies if they are to excel in the fast changing, technological age of the Twenty First Century.

Here’s a very thought-provoking article from Mindshift, that quotes extensively from the work of John Abbott, Director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative. So many of the opinions he expresses in the article strike a chord with me and reflect issues and concerns that have been very much in my mind. Particularly, Abbott stresses that conventional schooling is not enabling young people to develop the transferable, higher-order thinking skills that they need to become true lifelong learners.

On one point I disagree with the conclusions in the article. It’s right to point out that the problems in schools cannot be looked at in isolation from the challenges in the rest of society. As technology changes the world in fundamental ways, we have options and choices about what kind of society we want to have (and therefore what education will prepare us for it). However, to suggest that the changes in society must happen forst, and then educators will adjust later is to risk leaving a generation of young people to flounder without the skills and equipment to operate effectively in the changing world. I believe those of us in education have to have the courage to look in to the future and reshape the education that will prepare young people. We cannot necessarily know what choices the world is going to make in terms of the shaping of society. However, if we help young people NOW to develop greater independence, interdependence, resilience and flexibility then they will be more empowered to deal with whatever the future holds. Sometimes I fear that too many of my peers use lack of certainty as their primary excuse for not bringing real meaningful changes in the education arena.

There was a particular sentence in the article that really stood out to me – “Adults who feel hard-pressed to predict or control their own destinies, and who feel confused about the “big issues of life,” Abbott notes, are less willing to give children the time and space they need to shape their own futures.” I read this in the context of both educators and parents. There’s no doubt that we see such sentiments from some parents at times. The more uncertain they become about their own lives and feel like so much flotsam tossed on a tumultuous sea, so they seek to control more and more aspects of their children’s lives. In plain terms – it doesn’t work! Our children need courageous parents working in collaboration with courageous educators.

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