What Are We Teaching?

 

Education has many problems that it needs to address – things that have to change if education is to have any relevance or to be of any great value to children in their preparation for life tomorrow. One of the biggest of those issues concerns the fact that teachers are good learners who obtain their self-identity from their ability to acquire knowledge, facts and information and then to pass that on to learners.

Or, that’s what they think! Even if, in the Google anything age, it still made sense to fill our children’s heads with large quantities of facts we would still have a vast problem. Because, TEACHERS ALL OVER THE WORLD KEEP TEACHING CHILDREN WRONG FACTS!

Now, that’s a pretty bold statement that I’m sure has got lots of teachers hot under the collar. So, I’m here going to share a video. It comes from TED and features Hans Rosling and his son, Ola Rosling in 2014. I hope that some will agree with me that it’s a worry that this video hasn’t been shared more often in learning and education environments. Hans Rosling sadly passed away in 2017. In his lifetime he built a formidable reputation as a phenomenal thinker on world health issues and also sought to use simple data and graphs to show how people’s understanding on many things has been distorted.

Rosling’s delivery is highly amusing and more than a little uncomfortable for many viewers. One of his most telling statements in the video is, “The first thing to think about the future is to know about the present.”

And yet we see from this video that the majority of people (including school teachers) hold false notions about the present. For example, should we be surprised if children are concluding from their lessons that poverty in the world can never be eliminated. And then we wonder why there’s a lack of public energy behind actions to eliminate the poverty that still remains.

I was particularly interested by the data on income distribution, because one of the biggest implications of Mr Rosling’s graph is that what’s happened for most of the last 40-50 years has been right and appropriate in terms of average wealth rising, removal of the lower hump in the camel graph and a shift to a more to be expected standard bell curve. The reality is that wherever the average goes, up or down, there will always be some people richer and some people poorer. it could well be argued that gobalisation has had the effect of creating this shift to the bell curve. Incomes have risen far faster in those places where they were lower, more slowly where they were already high. hence, we shouldn’t be at all surprised at the unhappiness of vast numbers of the people in those previously wealthier places. They feel worse off.

Personal bias + outdated facts + news bias = ignorance

And so, teachers, the bad news is that all over the world, in thousands of little ways, ignorance is being taught and perpetuated. Young people are shaping faulty world views that then influence their political inclinations, job and business decisions and life choices.

This raises interesting thoughts for educators who espouse the virtues of being a ‘lifelong learner’.  Presumably, the very first criteria for bearing such a title must be the openness to challenge our own knowledge, to test its validity and whether it stands up to factual scrutiny. Further, a greater degree of humility on the part of teachers so as to not lead learners to believe that every fact they are given is cast iron certain.

RIP Dr Hans Rosling. The world needs more minds like yours.

Monday Positivity

The idea of positive thinking or having a positive mentality gets a bad rep these days. Somehow, people have got in the habit of suggesting that encouragement to think positively is all a bit woowoo, that it doesn’t work (generally because they’ve failed at it at least once!)

Well, here’s living proof of the power of positive thinking – Sam Berns. The views Sam expresses here would be mature and inspiring if coming from any seventeen year-old. However, when the seventeen year-old in question suffers from the kinds of challenges this young man does, it’s worthy of attention.

Whilst watching this, it’s important to know that those suffering from Progeria generally don’t live beyond their teen years. In fact, Sam passed away not very long after this film was made. This makes his positivity even more overwhelming.

Watching this video should be guaranteed to make the coming week that bit better for all of us. If Sam could, we can.

 

EI – Superheroes

As Ahmedabad based Educational Initiatives set out to create a series of videos with insights in to the thoughts of some of India’s most important educators I can’t think of a better start than an interview between two of my favourite educators (and people) in India, educators I respect enormously and have known since about 2004.

Sudhir Ghodke interviews Kiran Bir Sethi, the founder of Riverside School.

Kiran, like many of the founders of the better schools in India took her initial motivation from the needs of her own children and the failures and inadequacies of the existing system. What she’s gone on to create in Riverside is a wonderful, bold and innovative school, with all the right motives. In the interview it quite rightly highlights many of the issues that challenge those who create schools in a climate where inertia forces conventional thinking.

I especially liked her matter of fact response to the issues of not simply delivering what parents ask for, but having the courage to deliver what’s needed, bold and worthwhile and to help the parents to adjust and understand why it’s right.

Both Sudhir and Kiran highlight in the discussion something that’s always been important to me – if you’re school’s doing the right things, the evidence will come through what you see, hear and feel with the children themselves. Kiran acknowledges the values in creating Riverside that she had the freedom of time and space to innovate without being rushed by others’ agendas and also that some of the right things are done intuitively and then you acquire the language to explain those things later.

It will always require courage to innovate, especially in a field like education where so many take so personally the work that you do. In such a scenario the world needs many more with the courage and dedication of Kiran and Sudhir.

Love you, guys.

Two Kinds of Love

A great TED video for the weekend for every teacher or anyone who cares about education, and children's learning.

The two loves a teacher can bring to the classroom every day; their own love for the subject they're teaching and their love for the children.

Joe Ruhl in this great TED talk shows that many of the greatest strengths and skills a teacher can have are really not so very new.

Schools of Possibility and Hope

Moving Learning Forward

Here’s a great new TED talk that will particularly appeal to anyone who’s bought in to the ideas and concepts of growth mindset. Whilst the headline and the promotion of the video may be focused on adults who want to get ‘unstuck’ in making progress in the things that matter to them in their lives, I believe it also carries some important and valuable lessons for education.

When planning for lessons and supporting children’s learning, it’s vitally that educators have clarity in their intent about when an activity is geared to learning and acquiring knowledge or competency and when it’s designed for practice. Too often, there’s a muddy vagueness about which we’re trying to achieve and a belief that if they’re merged together there will be discernible progress.

This process can also be made more overt and transparent with the young learners – so that they understand at any point in time whether they’re engaged in a learning activity or a practice activity.

Will You Choose to Matter?

Seth Godin, extending on one of his ideas in the ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’ manifesto for education.

Can we create schools in which both educators and children are motivated to do work that matters – not just simply to ‘play the game’, go through the motions and give us what the system expects? Can we develop cultures and environments where more people have the desire to go beyond mere success, who don’t feel the need to apologise away their passion and who truly yearn to stretch to their limits to understand what is really possible for them?