What Scared Me Today

2 Jun

I began the day with the usual optimism and jubilance. As I entered my office at around 6:30 this morning my mind passed the same thoughts it had since the beginning of this week, ‘I can make a difference today’.

Coffee in one hand, briefcase in the other I sat down, switched on my Macbook, warmed the photocopy machine up and plugged into the matrix. (OK, that last bit didn’t happen)

The newfound optimism can be attributed mostly to the fact that my film festival, a project I have tried to get up and running for the past two years at my school, is going to be nicely funded by the administration this year. This means it has a great chance of being a big success.

So, I put my promoters hat on and have been shamelessly creating propaganda for the event all week long; posters, 30 second online ads, promotional booklets – you name it, I’m making it.

My first class this morning was a diverse and relatively enthusiastic group of year 10 students. Diverse in that there are a number of different attitudes and personalities, enthusiastic in that they are always ready to get to work on any media project and willing to learn. I think that the learning however, has stopped. At least the willingness has.

When vibrantly talking about the festival to the students this morning (I may have gotten carried away at one point with far too man hand movements and jumping up and down) I made a point of it to let them know that the film festival is open not just to media students whom I teach but also to staff at the college. This means that teachers can create productions to submit.

This piece of news seemed inconsequential to the students. All the students, except one. The expression on his face quickly turned from joy to fear as the news that adults would be entering the festival entered his mind.

Immediately his hand shot up. “Mister! That’s not fair!”

“Excuse me, why isn’t that fair?” I asked in reply.

“Because…” and here’s the kicker, “Teachers know more than students”.

This is the phrase that has haunted me ever since 9:45 this morning.

“Teachers know more than students.”

What, may I ask, kind of society are we living in where a 15 year old believes that in every aspect of their lives, an adult knows more than they do?

I thought that the old way of thinking, ‘Adults know best’, went out years ago. This isn’t true. It may ring true with a number of things that have come with experience such as raising children, property investment, financial responsibility, but it ends there.

We do not have the answers. Just because we may hold a high school/TAFE/University graduation, have a full-time job, drive a car and pay bills, that does not mean we are an oracle to be questioned for all of the answers in life. We don’t have the answers! And yes, sometimes we may have a few of the answers, but it’s up to the young to work them out for themselves.

I blame our education system. Students are graded in each subject area. These grades are based on informal and formal assessments such as tests, quizzes, expository texts, artistic and mechanical creations, fitness levels and exams. None of these assess the students ability to function in society – to contribute to society.

I hate grades.

I blame the concept of grading, of ticking or crossing a box, of giving a score, of assessing an outcome, of conditioning the student to behave in a manner that they normally would not just for the almighty “A”.

I hate it. This isn’t a reflection of real life. So many students and teachers talk about the ‘real world’, as if it is separate from their school education. Why can’t we actually approach teaching like we are in the ‘real world’?

So many of us in education are obsessed with ticking boxes and keeping students sheltered from reality. When will the day come where an educational institution doesn’t just attempt to educate and allow the students to learn, but to contribute something to society. When will our institutions provide, not only realistic expectations, but demonstrate real world goals and objectives to prepare our children.

So much fear, conformity and following of conduct is evident in a school. Students are full of fear to the point where self-expression has disappeared. Simply saying ‘no’ for a good reason or cause rather than ‘no’ just to be outwardly defiant is not evident anymore. Once upon a time, saying ‘no’ meant something. It meant defiance in the face of a lack of personal rights – right to privacy, right to speak up, right to a decent education.

We have created grade-grubbers who do not know how to think for themselves. We are creating a future void of any independent thought and motivation.

It is scary how that one phrase, “Teachers know more than students”, means so much more than just being a general quip by a high school student. This is the society that we have created and that we must very soon transform.

If we don’t, then the future looks very bleak.

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5 Responses to “What Scared Me Today”

  1. monika hardy June 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    nice post. well. true post.

    it’s got me curiously wondering..

    do most kids really think we know more? or do they just think we know more about school stuff.
    which to them… doesn’t matter so much.. which is why they don’t know more about it.

    what would happen if we unleashed them.. let them pick what they learn. i mean really pick.. not just select from given schooly choices.

    who would know more then?
    how cool would that be…

    • simoncarabetta June 3, 2010 at 12:00 am #

      Thanks, Monika. Interesting to think about what it would be like if options for students were much broader and less constrictive than they currently are.

      Cheers for the comment!

      Simon

  2. Tristan Maiolo June 3, 2010 at 7:58 am #

    I have to agree with you here. Grades certainly do not tell us anything about the students at all! They may tell us how much effort a student is willing to put in, but it does not ever test how intelligent a student may really be.

    How can we test a whole group of students and say oh those students must be dumb because they did not get a high grade. How is that possibly a measure of intelligence? If a student isn’t willing to do something they are far less likely to put any effort into that task. They will inevitably perform a lot worse than a student who is actually enjoying what they do.

    I always resented the fact that we were lumped into 3 different categories at school and that was top middle and bottom. I never put in any effort at school, I just couldn’t be bothered and didn’t see the point in wasting my time doing stuff I either already had an understanding of or I didn’t really enjoy. I did the minimal amount of work I could to pass and graduate. I wasn’t a bad performer at school but I definitely wasn’t the best either but it really shit me off to see students being classed as bottom students or middle students when they clearly could be top students if they had any desire to be. They were always looked down upon as the dumber class of people. Quite often I would see questions posed that would make many teachers think twice about things they would never normally give a second thought. We had some great teachers at school many of whom understood that as students we had much to offer them in the same way they had as much to offer us.

    The problems I see nowadays with many of the younger generation is that they are told they are either this or they are either that. They aren’t given an opportunity to evolve and become something different. They are lumped into either top middle or bottom with that paving the way for how they will probably turn out for the rest of their lives. These poor students are destined to be robots dictated to how they shall turn out in their lives. They think that they can’t challenge what they are being taught because they would never know. How can we expect to advance when young people are made to feel inferior and not made to realise they have a lot of potential to challenge the world they live in.

    Intelligence cannot be measured by a simple test nor can it be segregated into groups. A student should always be encouraged to ask questions no matter how ridiculous they may sound because ultimately it’s these questions which lead to the human race advancing. Where would we be if Isaac Newton didn’t ask what made the apple fall and hit his head? It’s questions like these which make us strive to find answers. There is so much in this universe which is still unanswered. Questions as simple, “as why is glass see through?”, Require extraordinarily complex answers. I think the more we encourage younger people to ask these questions and to strive to find answers to the questions they ask by themselves rather than handing them the answers, it will help them to discover their own untapped abilities. It isn’t the students fault they think they are inferior it is more their elders who make them feel that way.

    I seem to have rambled a bit but I am just trying to give my point on how I see it. I wholeheartedly agree with you on this Simon!

    • simoncarabetta June 3, 2010 at 10:51 am #

      Nicely put, Tristan. And don’t worry about rambling on; you made some very valid points. Cheers again, mate.

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